Emerging Intellectual Infrastructures

In the course of the seventh to ninth centuries, Arabic-Islamic culture developed imperial characteristics. Regions from the Iberian Peninsula to Central Asia had been subjected within the scope of approximately one century; the elites of a former periphery had become masters of a world empire. The expansion and the ensuing processes of empire-building gave a decisive impetus to the development of an Arabic-Islamic scholarly culture capable of looking beyond the confines of its early intellectual environment. According to later tradition, the second caliph 'Umar (ruled 13_23/634-44) already promoted the acquisition of knowledge about conquered regions. He allegedly wrote to a contemporary Arab scholar:

God has granted us conquest of the lands and we want to settle the earth and live in the military camps (al-amsar). So describe the cities (al-mudun) to me as well as their climate, their dwellings and the influence exerted by the earth and the climate on their inhabitants.[1]

The heuristic effects resulting from the creation and early administration of an Arabic-Islamic empire bore further fruit in the eighth to tenth centuries. The Abbasid era witnessed a significant ‘secularization’ of literary production and the creation of various forms of ‘belles-lettres' (adab).7 Moved by practical considerations such as the need to guide postal messengers through the expanses of the Islamic world,[2] [3] Middle Eastern Arabic-Islamic scholars developed new genres with titles such as Routes and Realms (al-masalik wa-l-mamalik) and The Image of the World (surat al-ard). Although centred on a description of the Islamic world, these genres provide data on pre-Islamic peoples and describe what lay beyond the confines of the Islamic orbit, thus resulting in what Andre Miquel has called a ‘geog- raphie totale’.[4] Additional perspectives soon seconded this view from the imperial centre. The subjection, settlement, development, and increasing independence of newly gained provinces became the subject of many a treatise.[5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] Consequently, the expansion stood at the beginning of an Arabic-Islamic historiography of local and regional character.n Universal historiography of a later date made use of such writings, thus preserving local and regional traditions in abbreviated form.12

While an Arab empire, ruled from Damascus, gave way to a multipolar Islamic world governed by Muslim elites of various ethnic and cultural origins/3 acculturation and assimilation in the wake of the expansion made new intellectual resources available. The new social order quickly assigned a place to a large range of ethnic and religious groups/4 As a result of subjection, collaboration, and conversion, new groups and peoples with their respective expertise were integrated into the folds of the emerging Arabic-Islamic superstructure—from the Christianized Arabs of the Fertile Crescent and the former subjects of Sassanid and Byzantine rule to Berber groups in North Africa and the Romano-Gothic population of the Iberian Peninsula. Looking back on the foundation era, Ibn Khaldun (d. 808/1406) describes the emergence of an Arabic-Islamic world that discovered, appreciated, and appropriated many elements of its new environment, acquiring skills and knowledge by drawing on the expertise of its subject peoples/5

However, many steps had to be taken, from the third decade of the seventh century onwards, to propel the original synthesis of Arabhood and Islam to the height of a civilization able to draw on the multiple heritages now assembled under the aegis of Islam. More than a few decades were necessary for the dust to settle after the upheavals that accompanied the expansion, early infighting and the creation of an Umayyad state, the transition to an Abbasid Empire as well as its ensuing fragmentation. ^

The human resources capable of transmitting the heritages of the past were not reared overnight. The so-called ‘Graeco-(Syriac-)Arabic translation movement’ of the eighth to tenth centuries provides a case in point in that it can be seen as the result of a process of mutual acculturation in the wake of the expansion. Among other things, it acquainted an increasingly thriving sphere of Arabic-Islamic scholarship with ancient geographical texts and an extended vision of the inhabited world.[12] [13] [14] [15] [16] [17] [18] Kept alive thanks to the endeavours of Middle Eastern Christians of various denominations, 1® the Greek heritage was linked to the legacy of Christianity and thus furnished the backbone necessary to understand the social and political history of the Roman Empire and the historical constellation that gave rise to Latin-Christian Europe.w Translation from Greek and Syriac to Arabic involved the difficult task of creating a comprehensible conceptual terminology and of phrasing ideas hitherto foreign to the Arabic language^0 Such a task could only be performed by those who simultaneously mastered older and new linguistic skills. The earliest translations from Greek to Arabic involving Byzantine administrative documents are attested for the late seventh century. The translation of scientific and other literature, however, only gained momentum in the course of the eighth and ninth centuries. Consequently, the first large bulk of Arabic-Islamic scholarly literature that dedicates a significant amount of space to non-Muslim societies only appeared around the middle of the ninth century in a Middle Eastern context, marked by centuries of interaction between Greek, Syriac, and Arabic and under Muslim rule since around two hundred years.21

By this time, i.e. the middle of the ninth century, the Arabic-Islamic world already looked back on approximately one and a half centuries of direct relations with the Latin-Christian sphere in a flexible contact zone stretching from the Iberian Peninsula, via the coasts of southern France, to the Apennine Peninsula.22 But whereas Latin-Christian chroniclers from the Iberian Peninsula, the Carolingian realm, the Apennine Peninsula, and even the British Isles recorded meticulously when and where the ‘Saracens’ struck in the eighth and ninth centuries^3 Arabic-Islamic scholars were neither available in sufficient numbers nor at the right places to record directly what happened in the western Mediterranean.'24 Due to its later conquest, the Muslim West lagged behind with regard to the many preparatory developments necessary to facilitate large-scale processes of transmission, reception, and assimilation.25 Aside from al-Andalus and Sicily, most western regions did not remain under Muslim rule for long and, from a Muslim viewpoint, mainly functioned in terms of a raiding economy.26 Because they lacked security, stability, and, in consequence, institutions of learning and erudition, raider bases were neither able to produce nor to attract Muslim intellectuals, who, in the seventh and eighth centuries, were concentrated in the well-established urban centres of the Islamic Middle East. In the Muslim West, urban centres only emerged as notable sites of cultural productivity in the ninth century.27 Direct and frequent communication between raiders and urban scholarly elites cannot be taken for granted. Raiding activities were not necessarily the product of centralized government decisions taken in one of the centres of Muslim power, but often involved haphazard activities of local groups and leaders^8 This explains why Latin-Christian records on the ‘Saracen’ sack of Rome in 846, the negotiations of Muslim raiders with pope John VIII in around 878, collaboration and confrontation between Muslims and the cities of Salerno, Naples, and Amalfi, as well as other instances of interaction on the Apennine Peninsula, have no Arabic-Islamic counterpart.'[19] [20] [21] [22] [23] Even the long- lasting raider bases of Bari and Fraxinetum rarely figure in Arabic-Islamic scholarly works, always written by authors who had not been there themselves.[24] [25] [26] Curiously, not even Sicily, generally acknowledged as one of the hotspots of Islamic culture in the western Mediterranean, produced its own local historiography.31

Thus, a cultural environment that recorded what happened in the neighbouring non-Islamic orbit only emerged in al-Andalus with its comparatively stable and long-term Muslim presence. Even here, the situation was not very advantageous in the early chaotic years following the invasion. However, the conquerors seem to have begun recording geo- and ethnographical data as soon as the demands of taxing and administrating the new territories made such a procedure necessary.3' If this had not been the case, later Andalusian historiographers would not have been able to provide material on contemporary events, including relations with neighbouring Christian societies in this early period.[27] Although unknown persons attached to the early governors and Umayyad rulers of al-Andalus must have kept record of events in the eighth and early ninth centuries, a proper Andalusian historiography did not yet exist. The earliest known Arabic-Islamic historiographer from al-Andalus is Ibn Habib (d. 238/853). Up to his lifetime, historiographers interested in the history of al-Andalus all seem to have lived in Egypt.3[28] [29]

  • [1] al-Masudl, muruj, ed./trans. Pellat, § 973, p. 179 (AR), p. 369 (FR): ‘qad fataha Allah alaynaal-bilad wa-nurid an natabawwa4 al-ard wa-naskun al-amsar fa-sif li al-mudun wa-ahwiyatihawa-masakiniha wa-ma yuaththiruhu al-turab wa-l-ahwiya fi sukkaniha’; cf. Sezgin, Geschichte, vol. 1(1967/1997), pp. 339—40. Al-Mas'udls (d. 345/956) statement is confirmed by the earlier Theopha-nes (d. 817—18), Chronicle, trans. Turtledove, annus mundi 6131 [= a. 639—40], cap. 341 (30.6.2.7),p. 40, reproduced by Anastasius Bibliothecarius (d. c.879), Historia ecclesiastica, ed. Bekker, p. 169:‘eodemque anno iussit Humar universum describi orbem, qui sub ipso erat. facta est autem descriptiotam hominum quam iumentorum et frugum.’
  • [2] Khalidi, Thought (1996), pp. 1—7, 83.
  • [3] Cf. Ibn Khurdadhbah, al-masalik, ed. de Goeje, pp. viii—x, xix—xx; Arendonk, ‘Ibn Khordadhbeh’ (1927), p. 422.
  • [4] Miquel, Geographie (2001), vol. 1, pp. 85—92, 267—85.
  • [5] Hinds, ‘al-Maghazi’ (1986), p. 1161; Khalidi, Thought (1996), pp. 62—8.
  • [6] Cf. Sezgin, Geschichte, vol. 1 (1967/1997), pp. 339, 361—5, on al-Andalus.
  • [7] See what Ibn al-Athir (d. 630/1233), al-kamil, ed. Tornberg, vol. 4, AH 92, pp. 439^0(Leiden), p. 556 (Beirut), writes on the historiography of al-Andalus.
  • [8] Overviews provided by Hourani, History (1991/2001), pp. 1—208; Lapidus, History (1988/2002),pp. 3—196; Haarmann, Geschichte (1987/2004), pp. 11—323.
  • [9] Planhol, Minorites (1997).
  • [10] Ibn Khaldun, tarikh, ed. Zakkar and Shahada, vol. 1, pp. 313—14, 632—3; Ibn Khaldun, Muqad-dimah, trans. Rosenthal, vol. 3, cap. VI,18, pp. 115—18.
  • [11] Hawting, Dynasty (2000); Kennedy, Caliphate (1986); Nagel, ‘Kalifat’ (2001), pp. 101—65.
  • [12] Nallino, ‘Al-Huwarizimi’ (1894), pp. 3—53; Maqbul and Taeschner, ‘Djughrafiya’ (1965),pp. 575—89; Gutas, Thought (1998), p. 182. Cf. O’Leary, Science (2002); Walzer, Greek (1962);Rosenthal, Heritage (1975).
  • [13] 1® On their contribution, see Klinge, ‘Bedeutung’ (1939), pp. 346—86; Spuler, ‘Denken’ (1980),pp. 13—26; Troupeau, ‘Role’ (1991), pp. 1—10; Teixidor, ‘Antioche’ (2001), pp. 249—62.
  • [14] 19 Cf. Rosenthal, History (1968), p. 77; Radtke, Weltgeschichte (1992), p. 160; Branco, Storie(2009), p. 30. See the beginning of Chapter 2.2.1. as well as Chapters 3.3.1. and 4.1.
  • [15] Endrefi, ‘Ubersetzungen’ (1989), pp. 103—46.
  • [16] Gutas, Thought (1998), pp. 17—20.
  • [17] Cf. Jansen et al., Mediterranee (2000), pp. 17—34.
  • [18] See Chapter 2.1.3. 24 See Chapters 2.2.1. and 7.1.1.
  • [19] The conquest of the Middle East took place in the middle of the seventh century, the Maghrebin the late seventh century, al-Andalus and Septimania at the beginning of the eighth century, Sicilyand parts of the Italian mainland in the ninth century; cf. Kennedy, Conquests (2007), pp. 66—224;Chalmeta, Invasion (2003); Clement, ‘Province’ (2006), pp. 18—25; Senac, Musulmans (1980),pp. 15—25; Metcalfe, Muslims (2009), pp. 4—25.
  • [20] 26 See Rodulfus Glaber, Historiarum libri quinque, ed./trans. France, p. 20, on the ‘Saracens’ ofFraxinetum.
  • [21] Cf. the cases of Kairouan and Cordoba summarized by Talbi, ‘al-Kayrawan’ (1978), p. 824;Seybold and Ocana Jimenez, ‘Kurtuba’ (1986), pp. 509—12.
  • [22] Guichard, ‘Debuts’ (1983), pp. 55—76; Senac, Musulmans (1980), pp. 47—57; Senac, Provence(1982).
  • [23] Cf. Engreen, ‘Pope’ (1945), pp. 321—2; Kreutz, Normans (1996), pp. 18—101.
  • [24] Musca, L’Emirato (1992), p. 11; Senac, ‘Contribution’ (1981), pp. 7—8; cf. Engreen, ‘Pope’(1945), p. 322, and his concept of ‘border-Christianity’.
  • [25] See the texts collected in Amari, Biblioteca Arabo-Sicula (1857/1881—82). Traini, ‘Sikilliya’(1997), p. 582, speaks of ‘the almost total absence of prose, whether in the context of historiographyor of parenesis or, more especially, of adab Arabic-Islamic texts on Sicily were mainly written by visitors such as Ibn Hawqal in the late tenth century, Ibn Jubayr in the twelfth, and Ibn Wasi l in thethirteenth century. However, see Yaqut, mu jam, ed. Wustenfeld, vol. 1, lemma ‘al-Biyawu’, p. 774, ona history of Sicily (tarikh Siqilliya) by the jurisconsult (al-faqih) al-Hasan b. Yahya.
  • [26] See Chapter 2.2.1.
  • [27] See Chapter 6.2.1.
  • [28] Pons Boigues, Historiadores (1898/1972), p. 29; Sezgin, Geschichte, vol. 1 (1967/1997),pp. 361—2; Clarke, Conquest (2012), pp. 29—33.
  • [29] Cf. Collins, Conquest (1989); Chalmeta, Invasion (2003), pp. 251—358.
 
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