Middle Eastern Records on Frankish-Abbasid Relations

The above-mentioned sources prove that fresh data about the Franks entered al-Andalus via different channels. From the tenth century onwards, this new data began to be transmitted to the Middle East, occasionally with surprising speed. The Frankish list of kings offered to the future regent al-Hakam II in 328/939-40, fell into the hands of al-Mas‘udl in al-Fustat in Egypt only seven years later in 336/947.52 The brief reference to a Frankish king called ‘Charles’ (Qarula) by the Middle Eastern geographer al-Istakhri (4 th/10 th cent.) could be of Andalusian [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6]

origin as well.53 However, Middle Eastern texts of the late ninth, tenth, and eleventh centuries also contain data that bears no relation to al-Andalus.

To some extent, such data became available thanks to the assimilation of the Graeco-Syriac heritage. The earliest Arabic translations of Ptolemy’s geographical oeuvre date from the beginning of the ninth century.54 The ancient Greek heritage did not contribute much to an understanding of the Franks, who only emerged as a discernible group in Latin sources around a century after Ptolemy wrote his geographical works in the middle of the second century.55 However, it did acquaint Arabic-Islamic scholars with ancient Greek geographical categories and terminology hitherto unknown, including the terms ‘Europe’ (Urufa)56 and ‘Celtogalatia’ (Qaltughalatiyya). 57

More important are records on contemporary relations between the Frankish and the Abbasid sphere. Apart from the aforementioned references to Muslim incursions into the Frankish realm, some Middle Eastern scholars of the late ninth century also mention Frankish-Abbasid trade relations. A treatise on sword making by al-Kindi (d. c.252/866), for example, discusses the quality of ‘Frankish’ swords.58 Robert Hoyland and Brian Gilmour have argued that, in this case, the specification ‘Frankish’ serves as a generic term for the northern, i.e. Slavic and Viking sphere.59 It seems probable, however, that Frankish swords, also mentioned in an Andalusian context^0 reached the Middle East.61 Ibn Khurdadhbah (d. c.300/911) claims that swords were imported from ‘the west’ (min al-Maghrib)62 and mentions a Frankish king (malik Faranja) in connection with the trading network of Radhanite Jews, which covered an area extending from the Frankish realm to the borders of China.63 The Iraqi author Ibn al-Nadim (d. c.385-88/995-98) refers to ‘Frankish’ inscriptions on the hilts of swords of ‘Frankish’ origin. He distinguishes clearly between ‘Greek’ and ‘Frankish’ writing and equates the characters used in the inscriptions with the characters he had seen in an official letter of Frankish origin dating from 293/906. This seems to rule out that he mistook Greek, early [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] [14] [15] [16] [17]

Slavic, or Runic letters for ‘Frankish’, i.e. Latin characters.64 In any case, the swords’ definition as ‘Frankish’ attests to the Franks’ ‘international’ reputation as manufacturers of arms.

Middle Eastern Arabic-Islamic scholars also reported on other links to the Frankish sphere. Ibn al-Nadim reproduces samples, unfortunately lost, of ‘Frankish’, ‘Saxon’, and ‘Lombard’ writing in his index of Arabic books.65 Moreover, he associates the above-mentioned ‘Frankish’ inscriptions on sword hilts66 with a letter sent by a ‘Frankish queen’ (malikat al-Ifranja) to the Abbasid caliph al-Muktafi bi-llah in 293/906.67 According to a later source of disputed authorship/8 the letter was sent by a certain Bertha, daughter of Lothair (Barta bint al-Awtari), who has been identified as the daughter of Lothair II of Lotharingia and the Caro- lingian wife of Adalbert II, the margrave of Tuscany/9 Bertha’s letter was allegedly delivered to the caliph by a certain 'All, who had served the North African ruler Ziyadat Allah b. al-Aghlab (ruled 290-96/903-09) before he fell into Bertha’s hands. After training him in her service/0 she used him to communicate with the caliph. No one at the Abbasid court was able to read her letter since it was written in a strange script, ‘similar to the Greek script but more evenly formed’ in the ‘Frankish’ language (al-Firanjiyya). Eventually, a certain ‘Frank’ in the garment treasury produced a Greek translation that was transferred to Arabic by the translator Ishaq b. Hunayn (d. 289/910-11)/1 Bertha informed the caliph that she had maintained relations with the Aghlabids of Ifrlqiya before getting in touch with him. She promised a large quantity of presents, which she never seems to have sent, and allegedly even proposed marriage to the caliph. Moreover, she procured the Abbasid court with a rather distorted image of her own rank in the concert of powers on and beyond the Apennine Peninsula:

I, Bertha, daughter of Lothair, queen of all the Franks, send you, Lord King, my greetings. There was formerly friendship between me and the ruler of Ifrlqiya because I never conceived there could be any ruler mightier than he, who governs such ample territories. Then my ships sailed out and seized the ships of this ruler of Ifrlqiya, which were commanded by one of his eunuchs called ‘All. Him I captured, along with a hundred fifty men who were with him on the three ships, and they remained in my hands for seven years. I found him to be wise and intelligent, and he informed me that you are the ruler over all rulers. Many had come to my realm, yet none had told me the truth concerning you except this eunuch, who now bears you this letter of mine. . . . [18] [19] [20] [21] [22] [23] [24] [25]

I am informed by ‘All that there is friendship between you and the ruler of the Byzantines residing in Constantinople. Yet, thanks be to God, my authority is wider and my army greater than his, my sway extending over twenty-four realms, each having a language different from that of the one alongside it. The great city of Rome also lies within my realm. Thanks to God.[26] [27] [28] [29]

The caliph is said to have reiterated Bertha’s claims of rule over twenty-four polities and the city of Rome in a comparatively polite letter. However, it failed to reach its addressee because her envoy died on the way back/3

This image of Bertha—queen of the Franks, female ruler over twenty-four Frankish realms including the city of Rome, more powerful than the Byzantine emperor—obviously fails to accord with the political constellation on the Apen- nine Peninsula at the beginning of the tenth century. Although the story seems fantastic, some arguments can be brought forward to support its disputed authenticity/4 Arabic-Islamic sources are rather silent on the Apennine Peninsula of the ninth and tenth centuries/5 Bertha’s embassy, however, is recorded by two independent sources, one of which, the index of Ibn al-Nadim, is generally regarded as reliable. The main argument in favour of the letter’s authenticity relates to the question of why Bertha should appear in these sources. If they mention Frankish anthroponyms at all, Arabic-Islamic sources up to the crusading period usually reproduce royal names. There is no reason why they should have recorded the existence of this rather insignificant Carolingian, including her father’s name, if she had not made the effort of communicating with Baghdad.

  • [1] al-Bakri, al-masalik, ed. van Leeuwen and Ferre, § 1532, p. 914: ‘wa-kanat mamlakatuhummujtami'atan wa-amruhum multa’iman hatta thara ‘ala rajul min mulukihim yusamma Qarluh qumisma'a malik yuqal lahu Rudbirt, wa-dhalika fi 'ahd al-imam ‘Abd Allah, fa-hashada lahu Qarluhwa-zahafa ba'duhuma ila ba'd fa-qatalahu Qarluh wa-asara ashab Rudbirt Qarluh fa-makatha asiranarba'at a'wam, thumma halaka bi-aydihim fa-iftaraqa mulkuhum wa-iqtasama.’ The passage has beenreconstructed by drawing on citations by the later al-Himyari, see ibid., p. 914 n. 1532/1. Cf. thereconstruction of events in Koziol, ‘Charles’ (2006), pp. 355—90.
  • [2] Mentioned, for example, by al-Bakri, al-masalik, ed. van Leeuwen and Ferre, § 550, p. 334. Thejuxtaposition of al-Bakri, and, based on al-'Udhri, al-Qazwini, draws attention to the common source,Ibrahim b. Ya'qub. See Jacob, Berichte (1927).
  • [3] al-Bakri, al-masalik, ed. van Leeuwen and Ferre, § 354, p. 240, § 1503, p. 898, § 1531—2,pp. 913-14.
  • [4] Ibid., § 1488-9, p. 891.
  • [5] Ibid., § 1532-3, pp. 914-15: ‘wa-abna al-ashraf 'indahum yastardi'unahum fi l-aba'id wa-laya‘rif al-ibn abawayhi hatta ya‘qil, wa-idha ‘aqala radda ilayhuma fa-yarahuma ka-l-sayyidaynwa-yakun lahuma ka-l-'abd.’ On this phenomenon, see Haubrichs, Anfange (1988), p. 67.
  • [6] 52 al-Mas'udi, muruj, ed./trans. Pellat, § 912, p. 145 (AR), p. 344 (FR).
  • [7] al-Istakhri, al-masalik, ed. de Goeje, p. 43, defines the Franks as the infidel neighbours ofal-Andalus and claims: And their king is called Charles (yuqal li-malikihim Qarluh)
  • [8] 54 Nallino, ‘Al-Huwarizimi’ (1894), pp. 3—53; Plessner, ‘Batlamiyus’ (1960), p. 1100; Maqbul andTaeschner, ‘Djughrafiya (1965), p. 575; Gutas, Thought (1998), p. 182.
  • [9] Ewig, Merowinger (2006), pp. 9—10.
  • [10] Ibn Khurdadhbah (d. c.300/911), al-masalik, ed. de Goeje, p. 155: ‘fa-minha Urufa wa-fihaal-Andalus wa-l-Saqalib wa-l-Rum wa-Faranja wa-Tanja wa-ila hadd Misr’; cf. ibid., p. 3, where IbnKhurdadhbah refers to Ptolemy; Ibn al-Faqih, mukhtasar, ed. de Goeje, p. 6; al-Hamdani, sifat jaziratal-’Arab, ed. Muller, vol. 1, p. 32.
  • [11] al-Hamdani (d. c.334/945), sifat jazirat al-’Arab, ed. Muller, vol. 1, p. 32, refers to Ptolemy, cf.Miquel, Geographie, vol. 2,1 (2001), pp. 34—5.
  • [12] Hoyland and Gilmour, Swords (2006), pp. 22—3, 42—3. 59 Ibid., pp. 57, 77.
  • [13] 60 Ibn Hayyan, al-muqtabis V, ed. Chalmeta and Corriente, fol. 179, p. 268: ‘sayf sarim ifranji
  • [14] al-jins’ with a detailed description of the sword’s ornaments.
  • [15] Further arguments for their Frankish origin in Zeki Validi, ‘Schwerter’ (1936), pp. 22—6.
  • [16] Ibn Khurdadhbah, al-masalik, ed. de Goeje, p. 153; copied by Ibn al-Faqih, mukhtasar, ed. deGoeje, p. 84; Ibn Hawqal, surat al-ard, ed. Kramers, p. 110.
  • [17] Ibn Khurdadhbah, al-masalik, ed. de Goeje, pp. 153—4. Cf. Gil, ‘Merchants’ (1974), pp. 299—328;Ashtor, ‘Apenju’ (1977), pp. 245—75.
  • [18] Ibn al-Nadim, al-fihrist, ed. Flugel, p. 20, trans. Dodge, vol. 1, p. 38. On the equation of‘Frankish’ and ‘Latin’, see Chapter 3.2.1.
  • [19] Ibn al-Nadim, al-fihrist, ed. Flugel, pp. 16, 20.
  • [20] Ibid., p. 20: ‘wa-rubbama ra’ayna dhalika 'ala l-suyuf al-faranjiyya’, trans. Dodge, vol. 1, p. 38.
  • [21] Ibn al-Nadim, al-fihrist, ed. Flugel, p. 20.
  • [22] On the question of authorship, see al-Rashid b. al-Zubayr, al-dhakhaiir, ed. Hamidullah,pp. 9—17 (Introduction), trans. al Hijjawi al-Qaddumi, pp. 11—13 (Introduction); Halm, ‘Buch’(2005), pp. 79-84.
  • [23] Cf. Mor, Lettera (1954); Levi della Vida, ‘Corrispondenza’ (1954), pp. 21-38; Renzi Rizzo,‘Riflessioni’ (2001), pp. 3-47; Gandino, Aspirare’ (2007), pp. 249-68.
  • [24] al-Rashid b. al-Zubayr, al-dhakhaiir, ed. Hamidullah, pp. 50-1, trans. al Hijjawi al-Qaddumi,§ 69, p. 92.
  • [25] Strohmaier, ‘Ishak b. Hunain’ (1978), p. 110; Strohmaier, ‘Hunain b. Ishak’ (1971), p. 578.
  • [26] al-Rashid b. al-Zubayr, al-dhakha'ir, ed. Hamidullah, pp. 51—2: ‘ana, Barta bint al-Awtari,al-malika ‘ala jami‘ al-Faranjiyyin, aqra u, ya sayyidi al-malik, ‘alayka al-salam. innahu jarat bayniwa-bayna malik Ifriqiya sadaqa li-annani lam akun atawahham anna malikan yakun fawqahu yamlukal-ard ila hadhihi al-ghaya. inna marakibi kanat kharajat, fa-akhadhat marakib malik Ifriqiya. wa-kanaraisuha khadiman lahu, yuqal lahu ‘All, fa-asartuhu wa-mia wa-khamsin rajulan kanu ma‘ahu fithalathat marakib. wa-baqu fi mulki sab‘at sinin, wa-wajadtuhu aqilan fahiman. fa-alamani annakamalik ala jam!' al-muluk. wa-qad kana sara ila mamlakati khalq kathir. fa-lam yusdaqni minhum ‘anka illa hadha al-khadim alladhi yahmil ilayka kitabi hadha____wa-‘arrafani anna baynaka wa-bayna malik al-Rum al-muqim bi-l-Qustannniyya sadaqa. wa-ana fa-awsa‘ minhu sultanan wa-aktharjunudan li-anna sultani ala arba‘ wa-ishrin mamlaka, kull mamlaka lisanuha mukhalif li-lisanal-mamlaka allati taliha wa-fi mamlakati madinat Rumiyya al-‘uzma. wa-l-hamdu li-llah.’ Translationadapted from Book of Gifts, trans. al Hijjawi al-Qaddumi, § 69, p. 93.
  • [27] al-Rashid b. al-Zubayr, al-dhakha'ir, ed. Hamidullah, pp. 48—54, trans. al Hijjawi al-Qaddumi,§ 69, pp. 91-8.
  • [28] Doubts in Christys, ‘Queen’ (2010), pp. 149-70. Kolzer, ‘Adalbert’ (1980), cols 96-97, regardsthe letter as evidence for Bertha’s political ambitions.
  • [29] Musca, UEmirato (1992), p. 11; Konig, ‘Ausstrahlung’ (2010), pp. 11-12, 44-5.
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