A HERITAGE GAINED LOSES APPEAL

The Arabic-Islamic reception of Visigothic history can be divided into three phases.

Between the early eighth and the middle of the tenth century, Visigothic history was mainly recorded by scholars in Egypt and the Middle East who drew on information provided by Muslims involved in the conquest of the Iberian Peninsula. This furnished the basis to develop an early standard narrative of Visigothic history, a narrative that only encompassed the ultimate phase of the Visigothic kingdom of Toledo under Roderic. This narrative preserved the earliest Arabic-Islamic impressions of the Visigothic kingdom and was reproduced up to the end of the period of investigation.

In due course, new sources of information were disclosed in al-Andalus of the late ninth, tenth, and eleventh centuries. By this time, Muslim al-Andalus had developed a strong regional identity. Members from converted indigenous families such as Ibn al-Qutiyya contributed new material on the era of invasion, while scholars descending from immigrated Arab elites began to display curiosity for the region’s pre-Islamic past. This sociopolitical climate favoured the exchange of information between Christian and Muslim intellectuals, as well as several initatives of translation from Latin to Arabic, and resulted in the systematic study of the Visigothic heritage. Arabic translations of Latin historiography, i.e. Orosius, Isidore of Seville and his continuators, provided many an Andalusian historiographer with an overview of Visigothic history, from their intrusion into the eastern provinces of the late antique Roman Empire up to the Muslim invasion of the Iberian Peninsula. While scholars from the Muslim West produced these earliest Latin-based narratives between the first half of the tenth and the late eleventh century, Middle Eastern scholars confined themselves to copying the early standard narrative and only slowly began to understand that new information had become available in the west.

In the third phase of reception, roughly between the middle of the twelfth century and the early fifteenth century, the Latin-based narrative diffused to the east. Here it was first integrated into the universal history of Ibn al-Athir, only to become part of the standardized knowledge demanded from Mamluk chancery secretaries in the most important centre of late medieval Middle Eastern Muslim power. In the Muslim West of the same period, the Latin-based narrative seems to have lost importance. The fact that western Muslims were under attack from Christian powers who laid claim to the Visigothic heritage probably favoured the production of historiographical works that focused on the Iberian Peninsula’s Muslim rather than its pre-Islamic Christian past.

 
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