From the Franks to France

Among the most widely used terms to classify Western Europeans in Arabic- Islamic scholarship is the term ‘Franks’, transcribed ‘al-Ifranj’, ‘al-Ifranja’, ‘al-Faranj’ or ‘al-Ifranjiyyun’. Focusing on its use in writings from the Muslim West that deal with the Christian polities of the Iberian Peninsula and the adjacent Frankish realm, Franpois Clement already pointed to certain intricacies of the term’s semantic evolution.[1] The present chapter intends to explain the logic of this evolution in a larger overview that also considers Middle Eastern sources.


The Frankish realm only emerged forcefully during the course of the late fifth and sixth centuries.2 Since pre-Islamic, early Islamic, and later Arabic-Islamic sources on the pre- and early Islamic period fail to mention the Franks, it seems legitimate to consider if Arab groups of the sixth and early seventh centuries were aware of the Franks’ existence. According to Ibn Khaldun (d. 808/1406):

the Arabs of this period did not know the Franks. In Syria (al-Sham), they had only fought the Byzantines (al-Rum). Because of this, they believed that they [the Byzantines] ruled over all Christian peoples (umam al-nasraniyya), and that Heraclius (Hiraql) was the ruler over the entire Christian world (al-nasraniyya). Consequently, they imposed the name al-Rum on all Christian peoples.[2]

  • [1] Clement, ‘Nommer’ (2009), pp. 89—105. 4 Ewig, Merowinger (2006), pp. 9—41.
  • [2] umam al-nasraniyya’; Ibn-Khaldoun, Histoire des Berberes, trans. de Slane, vol. 1, p. 208.
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