Assessing the Value of Acquired Data

This variety cannot obliterate that Arabic-Islamic sources on medieval Western Europe are often highly repetitive. Data once acquired was often copied from generation to generation, exposing textual filiations and regional information networks that cut across the centuries.'[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] The lack of alternative information may account for many a scholar’s hesitation to discard data, even if he harboured serious doubts as to its authenticity. Legendary descriptions of Rome,'37 for example, are often accompanied by comments that simultaneously bear witness to scepticism and reluctance to part with inherited knowledge, resulting in apologetic justifications of omissions and abbreviations. Ibn Rustah (d. after 300/913) wrote:

We have omitted mentioning many things, hesitating to put everything down in writing in a manner that may seem immoderate or excessive, since many a thing resembles a lie while other things seem true. However, all of this features in books that circulate among people who have endorsed and accepted this information and have agreed to confirm its authenticity.238

Yaqut (d. 626/1229) ended his description of Rome in the following way:

the reader of these pages has surely never seen the like of the many things said about this topic, and God knows best. This may serve as an excuse for my failure to transmit everything that has been said. Rather, I chose to abbreviate a bit.239

Ibn Khaldun (d. 808/1406), in turn, scoffed at a legend related by al-Mas'udl. According to the latter, the inhabitants of Rome extracted their oil from olives that were brought to a statue by sparrows. Ibn Khaldun commented: ‘Look how little this has to do with the normal process of extracting oil!’'40 Even in less obvious cases, Arabic-Islamic scholars renounced responsibility for the information received from others. Frequently, this was done by ending a report with the formula ‘wa-llahu a'lam’, ‘and God knows besf.241

Arabic-Islamic scholars also had to cope with conflicting theories, often juxtaposing various opinions without coming to a conclusion, as in the case of al-Mas'udl (d. 345/956). In an early part of his treatise muruj al-dhahab, al-Mas'udl claims that a people called Ashban’ (Hispani) were the ancestors of the pre-Islamic rulers of al-Andalus. According to the most widespread opinion on their origin as formulated by the Muslims of al-Andalus, the last pre-Islamic king Roderic had been of Galician origin.242 In a later part of his book, he points to other theories on the origin of the ‘Ashban’, stating that the latter

are one of the ancient peoples who ruled Syria, Egypt, the Maghreb and al-Andalus. People have different opinions about them. In his book futuh al-amsar [Conquest of the garrison-cities], al-Waqidl mentions that their origins lie with the people of Isfahan and that they set out from there. This would mean that they preceded the first generation of Persian rulers. 'Ubayd Allah b. Khurdadhbah states about the same thing, and a group of biographers and scholars support both of them. The most well-known thing about them, however, is that they represent the progeny of Yafeth, the son of Noah, and that they can be identified with the rulers of al-Andalus called the Roderi- cians (al-Ladhariqa), one of whom was Roderic (Ludhriq). Another debate revolves around their religious adherence. Some believe that they adhered to Zoroastrianism (din al-majusiyya), others that they adhered to the religion of the Sabeans (madhhab al-Sabi'a), and others that they venerated idols (min 'abadat al-awthan). But as we have said, the most well-known thing about them is that they are the progeny of Yafeth, the son of Noah.243

This is not the only case where al-Mas'udl refrains from final judgement. He also gives two contradictory descriptions of the Franks—a powerful and well-organized people in his earlier muruj al-dhahab,244 northern barbarians lacking the intellectual facilities of civilized peoples in his later kitab al-tanbih.245 It is curious that al-Mas'udl should have preferred the ancient ethnographic stereotype used [6] [7] [8] [9] [10]

in his later work^46 to the earlier and more detailed description taken from a Frankish chronicle. It is not clear if he failed to notice the contradiction or was unable to decide between two incongruent definitions. In other cases, al-Mas'udl dared to back a certain opinion. With regard to the origins of the Norman raiders who attacked towns on the Iberian coastline around 300/913, he stated:

the people of al-Andalus claim they are Magians (al-Majus) who appear in this ocean every two-hundred years and who come to their lands via a channel that connects to the surrounding ocean, but which is not the channel featuring the bronze beacon [i.e. the Strait of Gibraltar]. My opinion, but God knows best (wa-llahu a lam), is that this channel is connected to the Sea of Asov (bahr Mayutis wa-Nitas) and that these people are Rus, whom we have mentioned earlier in this book, because they are the only ones who traverse these seas connected to the surrounding ocean.247

Ibn Khaldun (d. 808/1406) provides another example of an Arabic-Islamic scholar who had problems dealing with conflicting data. His chapter about the nations of the earth and their genealogical relationship begins with a disclaimer that addresses the difficulty of formulating a coherent theory in view of many conflicting opinions^8 Drawing back on a random selection of sources, Ibn Khaldun mentions several peoples from the northwestern hemisphere including the Franks, the Goths, the ‘Burjan’, the Spaniards (al-Ashban), the Latins (al-Latin), and the Slavs. According to the conflicting theories at his disposal, these peoples stemmed from one of the descendants of Noah. Failing to mention several ethnonyms known to Arabic-Islamic scholars of the twelfth to fourteenth centuries including himself, Ibn Khaldun does not decide which theory to follow and remains rather noncommittal^9 In a later chapter, another effort to clearly distinguish Latin Romans (al-Latiniyyun) from the ancient Greeks (al-Yunan), by tracing their genealogical origins, ends with a confused ‘wa-llahu a'lam’.25°

Aside from the Persian historiographer Rashid al-Din (d. 718/1318),251 Ibn Khaldun is the only medieval Muslim historiographer who mentions events that led up to the foundation of Rome at the hands of Romulus and Remus. According to his first source Orosius, Aeneas (Anash) had ruled Troy (Taruba) at the time of its destruction at the hands of the Greeks (al-Ghariqiyyin). Although this version ignores the dramatic flight from Troy that forms part of Roman tradition, it credits [11]

Aeneas’ son Askanios (Ashkanish) with the foundation of Alba (Alba).[12] According to his second source Josippon, Romulus’ ancestor was a certain ‘SafWa. The biblical Joseph sent this descendant of Esau to North Africa. He ended up with a people called ‘al-Kaytam’ who appointed him king over Spain (Asbanya). One of SafWa’s descendants was Romulus.[13] [14] [15] [16] [17] In this context, Ibn Khaldun asserts that other scholars also believed Esau to be Romulus’ ancestor.254 Later, he cites scholars who repudiated the theory of the Romans’ descent from Esau ('hu) but confirmed that their genealogy led back to Romulus (Rumallus).255

The same problem of dealing with two or more conflicting sources of information arose in connection with the reign of emperor Diocletian. Ibn Khaldun’s first source, the Coptic chronicler Ibn al-Amid, mentions an emperor called ‘Diqladyanus’ while his second source, the kitab Hurushiyush, uses the name ‘Diyuqaryan’. Since the activities ascribed to this person were similar, Ibn Khaldun concluded that both names applied to the same person:

It seems that the ruler called Diqladyanus by Ibn al-'Amid is the one Orosius calls Diyuqaryan, because what is related afterwards is very similar although the names differ. In consequence, it seems appropriate to place the name of the one in the place of the other. But God most high, may he be praised, knows bestA6

Here, the conclusion was correct. However, this was not always the case. Moreover, Roman history was not the only topic to confuse Arabic-Islamic historiographers. The Mamluk chancery secretary al-Qalqashandi (d. 821/1418), for example, had problems harmonizing references to the ‘lands of Aragon’ (biladArghun) taken from al-Himyari (13th-14th cent.), al-'Umari (d. 749/1349), and Ibn Nazir al-Jaysh (fl. 762-78/1361-76). According to al-Himyari, these lands were ruled by a certain ‘Gharsiyya b. Shanja, probably Garcia Sanchez (d. c.1000), count of Aragon and king of Navarre. However, al-Qalqashandi complains, al-Himyari ‘has not mentioned in which sphere (hayyiz) and in which region (qutr)’. Al-'Umari’s work al-tacrif, al-Qalqashandi continues, mentioned the title ‘king of Aragon’ (al-rid Araghun) among the honorary titles of the ‘master of Constantinople’ (sahib al-Qustantiniyya) while the manual al-tathqif by Ibn Nazir al-Jaysh attributed it to ‘Alfonso, the master of Toledo’ (al-Adfunsh sahib Tulaytula) in al-Andalus. Al-Qalqashandi concludes that it is ‘necessary to verify who of the two rules this petty kingdom (taifafd^7 Al-Qalqashandi’s confusion is surprising in view of his many references to the ‘realm of Barcelona’ (mamlakat Barshaluna), the ‘king of Aragon’ (al-rid Araghun, malikRaqun or Radaraghun), and the ‘Catalans’ (al-Kitlan, al-Faranj al-Kitlaniyyin). These prove that he made use of a respectable amount of information that, presented in chronological order, could have furnished the basis for a short history of this Iberian polity.258

  • [1] Compare Ibn Hayyan, al-muqtabis 11-2, ed. Makki, pp. 130—1; Ibn Idhari, al-bayan, ed.Colin and Levi-Proven^al, vol. 2, p. 108; Ibn al-Khatib, amal al-alam, ed. Levi-Proven^al, p. 22,on a Frankish king who allegedly commissioned a richly adorned picture of Jesus, ordered hispeople to venerate this image, and then sent it to the ‘Lord of the Golden Church’. Also compareSibt b. al-Jawzi, mirat al-zaman, ed. facs. Jewett, AH 644, pp. 505—6; al-Dhahabi, tarikh, ed.Tadmuri, vol. 47, AH 644, p. 27; Ibn Kathir, al-bidaya, ed. al-Turki, vol. 14, AH 644, pp. 288—9;Ibn al-Furat, ed./trans. Lyons, vol. 1, AH 644, p. 11 (AR), vol. 2, p. 9 (EN), on the pope’s attemptto murder Frederick II.
  • [2] Guidi, ‘Roma’ (1942), pp. 10—21; Nallino, ‘Descrizione’ (1964), pp. 295—309; Nallino, ‘Mira-bilia’ (1966), pp. 875—93; El-Munajjid, ‘Rome’ (1968), pp. 51—61; Miquel, Geographie (2001), vol. 2,pp. 368—77; Mohring, ‘Konstantinopel’ (1989), pp. 73—83; Samir, ‘Confusions’ (1991), pp. 93—108;Traini, ‘Rumiya’ (1995), pp. 612—13; Scarcia, ‘Roma’ (2002), pp. 129—72; Simone and Mandala,‘L’immagine’ (2002); Penelas, ‘De nuevo’ (2005), pp. 343—52; Branco, ‘Roma’ (2006), pp. 312—20;Mandala, ‘Descrizione’ (2010), pp. 45—60.
  • [3] 238 Ibn Rustah, al-a laq al-nafisa, ed. de Goeje, p. 132: ‘wa-qad tarakna min dhikr dhalik ashyakathira karahna ida jamf iha hadha al-kitab istisrafan wa-stiktharan wa-li-annaha bi-l-kadhib ashbahminha bi-l-sidq wa-in kana jami dhalik mudawwanan fi l-kutub yadur bayna l-nas qad istahsanuhuwa-qabiluhu wa-ttafaqu ‘ ala l-tasdiq bihi’.
  • [4] Yaqut, mu jam, ed. Wustenfeld, vol. 2, lemma ‘Rumiya’, p. 872: ‘wa-innama yashkul fihi anal-qari’ li-hadha lam yara mitlahu [sic] wa-llahu a lam fa-amma ana fa-hadha ‘ udhri ‘ ala innani lamanqul jami ma dhukira wa-innama ikhtasartu al-ba d’.
  • [5] Ibn Khaldun, tarikh, ed. Zakkar and Shahada, vol. 1, p. 48: ‘wa-unzur ma ab‘ ad dhalika ‘anal-majra al-tabf i fi ittikhadh al-zayt’.
  • [6] Cf. the use of this formula in al-Mas'udl, muruj, ed./trans. Pellat, § 717, p. 34 (AR), p. 270(FR), to terminate his discussion of the origins of the title ‘Caesar’ (qaysar); in § 715, p. 32 (AR), p.269 (FR), to end a discussion on the Romans’ origins; in Yaqut, mu jam, ed. Wustenfeld, vol. 2,lemma ‘Rus’, p. 840, to judge Ibn Fadlans travel account on the Bus; in Ibn Khaldun, tarikh, ed.Zakkar and Shahada, vol. 2, p. 229, to cast into doubt if Cleopatra had poisoned Augustus; in vol. 1,p. 633, to comment on the cultivation of philosophical studies north of the Mediterranean.
  • [7] al-Mas'udl, muruj, ed./trans. Pellat, § 398, p. 191 (AR), pp. 145—6 (FR).
  • [8] Ibid., § 747, p. 49 (AR), p. 280 (FR): ‘wa-hiya ba'd al-umam al-salifa, wa-qad kanat mimmanmalaka al-Sham wa-Misr wa-l-Maghrib wa-l-Andalus, wa-qad tanaza'a al-nas fihim, fa-dhakaraal-Waqidl fi kitab futuh al-amsar anna bad’ahum kana min ahl Isbahan wa-annahum naqila minhunaka, wa-hadha yujab annahum min qabl muluk Faris al-ula, wa-qad dhakara 'Ubayd Allah b.Khurdadhbah nahwa dhalik, wa-sa'adahuma 'ala dhalik jama'a min ahl al-siyar wa-l-akhbar, wa-l-ashhar min amrihim annahum min wuld Yafith ibn Nuh wa-hum muluk al-Andalus al-Ladharika,wahiduhum Ludhriq, wa-qad tanwaza'a fi diyanatihim, fa-minhum man ra’a annahum kanu 'ala dinal-majusiyya, wa-minhum man ra’a annahum kanu 'ala madhhab al-Sabi’a wa-ghayruhum min'abadat al-awthan, wa-qad qulna inna l-ashhar fi ansabihim annahum min wuld Yafith b. Nuh’.
  • [9] Ibid., § 910, p. 145 (AR), p. 343 (FR). See Chapter 6.4.1.
  • [10] al-Mas'udl, al-tanbih, ed. de Goeje, pp. 23—4. See Chapter 6.4.1.
  • [11] 46 In his chapter on ‘The influence of climate upon human character’, Ibn Khaldun, tarikh, ed.Zakkar and Shahada, vol. 1, p. 109, claims that al-Masudi drew back on Galenus. In his murujal-dhahab (§ 191, § 1319—28), al-Mas udi mentions several Greek scholars of geography, e.g. Ptolemy.For the Greek origin of the theory, see Backhaus, ‘Hellenen-Barbaren-Gegensatz’ (1976), pp. 170—85;Muller, ‘Perspektiven’ (1999), p. 57. 247 al-Mas udi, muruj, ed./trans. Pellat, § 404, p. 193 (AR), p. 147 (FR): ‘zaama ahl al-Andalusannahum umma min al-Majus tazhar ilayhim fi hadhihi al-bahr fi kull miatayn min al-sinin wa-annawusulahum ila biladihim min khalij yatarid min bahr Uqyanus wa-laysa min al-khalij alladhi alayhial-manar al-nahas wa-ara wa-llah alam an hadha al-khalij muttasil bi-bahr Mayutis wa-Nitas wa-anhadhihi al-umma hum al-Rus alladhi qaddamna dhikrahum fi-ma salafa min hadha al-kitab, idh kanala yaqta hadhihi al-bihar al-mutass i la bi-bahr Uqyanus ghayruhum’. 248 Ibn Khaldun, tarikh, ed. Zakkar and Shahada, vol. 2, p. 4. 249 Ibid., vol. 2, pp. 3—15. 25° Ibid., vol. 2, p. 219. 251 Rashid al-Din, Frankengeschichte, trans. Jahn, pp. 45—6.
  • [12] Ibn Khaldun, tarikh, ed. Zakkar and Shahada, vol. 2, p. 232; cf. Orosius, Historiae, ed. Arnaud-Lindet, lib. I, cap. 18,1, p. 68, who provides less information than Ibn Khaldun.
  • [13] Ibn Khaldun, tarikh, ed. Zakkar and Shahada, vol. 2, p. 233.
  • [14] 254 Ibid., vol. 2, p. 233: ‘wa-dhahaba jama a min al-ikhbariyyin ila anna l-Rum min wuld Isu b.Ishaq alayhi al-salam . . . ’.
  • [15] Ibid., vol. 2, p. 251.
  • [16] Ibid., vol. 2, p. 250: ‘wa-yazhar anna hadha al-malik alladhi sammahu Ibn al-'Amid Diqladyanushuwa alladhi sammahu Hurushiyush Diyuqaryan, wa-l-khabar min ba'da dhalik mutashabih wa-l-asma mukhtalifa wa-la yakhfa alayka wad' kull ism fi makanihi min al-akhar wa-llah subhanahuwa-ta'ala a'lam’.
  • [17] al-Qalqashandi, subh al-asha, ed. Ibrahim, vol. 6, p. 84: ‘wa-qad dhakara fi l-rawd al-mi tarbilad Araghun wa-qala: huwa ism bilad Gharsiya bin Shanja, tashtamil ala bilad wa-manazil wa-a'mal,wa-lam yadhkur fi ayy hayyiz hiya wa-la fi ayy qutr. wa-qad raaytu hadha al-laqab fi l-ta'rif li-l-maqarr
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