Range of Available Sources

Texts written in Arabic by Muslims provide the most obvious material to reconstruct Arabic-Islamic perceptions. However, sources written in other languages by non-Muslims may also contain relevant evidence. Latin sources can be of great value, especially if they pertain from periods and regions scarcely dealt with in

Arabic-Islamic records, e.g. early medieval Italy or southern France^8 Moreover, they occasionally describe how Latin Christians believed Muslims perceived them. The Vita Iohannis purports to reproduce what the Umayyad caliph 'Abd al-Rahman III said about the Ottonian realm during a conversation with the diplomatic envoy John of Gorze in 956.29 Rodulfus Glaber (d. 1047), who relates how Muslim raiders abducted the abbot Maiolus of Cluny around 973, explains that they hoped for a high ransom, suggesting that interest in financial gain and not an obscure jihad-ideology motivated their activities. When one captor purposely trod on Maiolus’ Bible, his companions reprimanded the transgressor for not showing the respect due to the prophets. This provides Rodulfus Glaber with the opportunity to comment on how the ‘Saracens’ regarded the prophets of the Jewish and Christian tradition.[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] The Genoese historiographer Cafaro (d. 1166) relates that two ‘Saracens’ questioned the legitimacy of the Genoese attack on Palestine Caesarea in 1101 in front of the patriarch of Jerusalem and the papal legate.31 Raymond of Aguilers (early 12 th cent.) claims that the ‘Saracens’ generally used the term ‘Franks’ to designate the crusaders.32 Thus, sources written by non-Muslim authors in languages other than Arabic can serve to reconstruct how Muslims perceived Latin Christians. Since relations between the Latin-Christian and the Arabic- Islamic sphere also involved members of other ethnic, religious, and linguistic groups, Greek, Syriac, Hebrew, Armenian, and other texts may also contain relevant material, but are neglected here for want of the necessary linguistic skills and because of the sheer quantity of material.

Arabic-Islamic sources obviously provide the brunt of evidence on the main subject of this study. The range of perceptions characteristic of the remnants of pre-Islamic Arabic and early Arabic-Islamic literature—as far as it can be reconstructed—seems to have been confined to the wider Middle East. However, since its emergence in the seventh century, Arabic-Islamic literature reflected the processes of expansion and assimilation outlined above. Focusing on Muslim operations, the earliest works on the expansion itself include data on regions subjected to the rule of Arabic-Islamic elites. From the late ninth century onwards, works of geo-, ethno-, and historiography comprise data on an area framed by Iceland in the northwest, Timbuktu in the southwest, the Asian steppes in the northeast, and China in the southeast.

Not only the geographic horizon of this literary culture expanded. It also gained historical depth. Pre-Islamic and early Arabic-Islamic literature still approached the remote past rather unsystematically and failed to integrate it into a chronological system. By using various means of computation, universal histories produced from the late ninth century onwards began to incorporate the pre-Islamic past into their Arabic-Islamic vision of history. These histories generally begin with the Creation, deal with the Israelites, the Macedonian Empire and its aftermath as well as the imperial worlds of Rome and Persia before turning to pre-Islamic Arab history and, finally, the history of the Islamic world and its neighbours up to the time of the respective author. Given Western Europe’s growing impact on the medieval Mediterranean, it was accorded more and more space in Arabic-Islamic historiography.

  • [1] Cf. Kreutz, Normans (1996); Senac, Musulmans (1980), pp. 47—57.
  • [2] Iohannis abbas, Vita Iohannis, ed. Pertz (MGH SS in folio 4), § 136, pp. 376—7, trans. Parisse, p. 161.
  • [3] Rodulfus Glaber, Historiarum libri quinque, ed./trans. France, p. 20; cf. France, ‘Rodulfus’(1988), pp. 497-508.
  • [4] Cafaro, Annales Ianuae, ed. Pertz (MGH SS in folio 18), a. 1101, p. 13; cf. Kedar, Crusade(1988), pp. 97-8.
  • [5] Raimundus de Aguilers, Historia Francorum, ed. Hill and Hill, § 168b, p. 52; cf. Haas,‘Kreuzzugschroniken’ (2008), pp. 86-95.
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