France and the Franks

From the eleventh century and, in particular, from the thirteenth century onwards, Arabic-Islamic scholars developed an increasingly clear notion of a realm called ‘France’. However, the new ‘French’ terminology only partly obliterated the older ‘Frankish’ terminology used for this polity and its ruler. The Middle Eastern scholar Yaqut (d. 626/1229), for example, does not mention an Arabic term for ‘France’ in his geographic encyclopaedia. The rather curious and outdated blend of information found in his lemma on ‘the Franks’ could have also been written before the crusading period:

Afranja: A great nation that possesses vast lands and many realms. They are Christians and are related to an ancestor whose name is Afranjash whom they call Farank. It is adjacent to Rome and the Byzantines, and they are in the north of al-Andalus, extend to Rome in the eastern direction and have Nukabardah as their capital, an imposing city. They have 150 cities, and before the appearance of Islam, their original countries were in the Muslim sphere on the island of Rhodes in the middle of the Syrian Sea that faces Alexandria.240

Yaqut’s lemma contains a hitherto unknown etymology of the term ‘Franks’ and applies a name to the Frankish capital that is usually used for the Langobards or Lombards in Arabic-Islamic geographical literature. Other data is taken from older sources, in particular al-Mas'udl (d. 345/956) who also mentioned 150 cities in the Frankish realm.241 Other lemmata in Yaqut’s geographic encyclopaedia show that he applied the term ‘Franks’ to various Western Europeans, e.g. Normans occupying cities in North Africa,242 Iberian Christians involved in the reconquest of al-Andalus,243 crusaders in the Syrian Levant244 and on Crete,245 Hungarians^6 the pope in Rome,247 the Pisans,248 the rulers of Sardinia^9 and Lombardy and the Lombards.250

  • 240 Yaqut, mu'jam, ed. Wustenfeld, vol. 1, lemma Afranja’, p. 324: Afranja: umma azima laha bilad wasi'a wa-mamalik kathira wa-hum nasara yunsabun ila jidd lahum wa-ismuhu Afranjash wa-hum yaquluna Farank wa-hiya mujawira li-Rumiyya wa-l-Rum wa-hum fi shamali al-Andalus nahw al-sharq ila Rumiyya wa-dar mulkihim Nukabardah wa-hiya madina azima wa-lahum nahw mia wa-khamsin madina wa-qad kana qabla zuhur al-Islam awwal biladihim min jihat al-muslimin jazirat Rudas qibalat al-Iskandariyya fi wasat bahr al-Sham.’
  • 241 al-Masudi, muruj, ed./trans. Pellat, § 911, p. 145 (AR), p. 343 (FR). Cf. Yaqut, mu'jam, ed. Wustenfeld, vol. 2, lemma ‘Rudhis’, p. 832, citing al-Masudis theory of the Franks’ origin from Rhodes.
  • 242 Yaqut, mu'jam, ed. Wustenfeld, vol. 1, lemma ‘Ifriqiya’, p. 329, on the Normans’ (al-Ifranj) conquest of North Africa in 543/1148.
  • 243 Ibid., vol. 1, lemma ‘Urilya’, p. 229, conquered by the Franks (al-Ifranj) in 533/1138; lemma ‘Ashiqa’, p. 281, held by the Franks; lemma ‘Ifragha’, p. 323, conquered by the Franks in 543/1148; lemma ‘Uqlish’, p. 339, ruled by the Franks; lemma ‘Bakka’, p. 477, held by the Franks; vol. 2, lemma ‘al-Zallaqa’, p. 939, on the battle between troops led by Alfonso VI of Leon and Castile (al-Adfunsh malik al-Afranj) and the Almoravid ruler Yusuf b. Tashfin; vol. 4, lemma ‘Lashbuna’, p. 356, conquered by the Franks in 573/1177.
  • 244 E.g. ibid, vol. 1, lemma ‘Antakiya’, pp. 385, 387, on a port called ‘al-Suwaydiyya’, used by the Franks to transport their wares to Antioch. Conquered by the Franks in 491/1097, the city still remained in their hands; lemma ‘Barzuwaya’, p. 565, and lemma ‘Baghras’, p. 694, cities in the Syrian Levant held by the Franks but reconquered by Saladin.
  • 245 Ibid., vol. 1, lemma ‘Aqritish’, p. 337, held by the Franks (al-Afranj).
  • 246 Ibid., vol. 1, lemma ‘Bashghird’, pp. 469—70, a land inhabited by a people called Hungarians (al-Hunkar), defined as ‘a Frankish nation’ (umma min al-Afranj). Here, the pope (al-baba) is defined as ‘leader of the Franks’ (ra4s al-Afranj), while the Muslims from Hungary mentioned in this article claim to speak the ‘Frankish language’ (lisan al-Afranj), do not shave their beards as do the Franks (kama tafal al-Afranj), and wear military dress (labasa al-silah) like the Franks (mithla l-Ajranj).
  • 247 Ibid., vol. 1, lemma ‘al-baba’, p. 452, on the authority of the pope over ‘all lands of the Franks and what lies near them’ (jami' bilad al-Faranj wa-mayuqaribuhum).
  • 248 Ibid., vol. 1, lemma ‘Bizan’, pp. 787—8, on the Pisans as ‘a branch of Franks’ (jilmin al-Afranj), whom ‘we have gotten to know as rich traders in Syria’ (wa-raaynahum bi-l-Sham tujjaran dhawi tharwa). The encyclopaedia features no lemmata on the Genoese or the Venetians.
  • 249 Ibid., vol. 3, lemma ‘Sardaniya’, p. 73.
  • 250 Ibid., vol. 1, lemma ‘al-Ankaburda’, p. 392, on Lombardy as a part of the ‘lands of the Franks’ (bilad al-Afranj).

Likewise, al-Himyari’s (13th-l4th cent.) geographic encyclopaedia does not contain an Arabic transcription of the term ‘France’ and proffers an outdated description of the Franks in the corresponding lemma. Information on the realm’s geographical borders, its neighbours, and the character of its people has been taken from al-Bakri (d. 487/1094). Deriving in part from al-Mas'udl (d. 345/956), it characterizes the Frankish realm of early medieval times.251 In other lemmata, the author mentions that Western groups summarized under the term ‘Franks’ had taken control of the Syrian Levant for a certain period.252

The above-mentioned texts from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries show that a clear-cut and generally accepted distinction between ‘French’ and ‘Frankish’ did not exist. Scholars who made use of the new French terminology often did not bother to comment on the difference between ‘Franks’ and ‘French’. Seemingly up to date, the Mamluk secretary al-Nuwayri (d. 733/1333), in Egypt, mentions a ‘land of France’ (bilad Ifransiya) in the geographical overview at the beginning of his oeuvre,253 and accurately dates the arrival of the ‘French king’ (malik Ifransis) in Acre to 12 Rabi' al-awwal 587/9 April 1191.254 However, his chapter entitled ‘News on the kings of the Franks and the Galicians’ (dhikr khabar muluk al-Ifranja wa-l-Jalaliqa) only reproduces the data on Merovingians and Carolingians already collected by al-Mas'udl in the tenth century, summarizing later events as follows:

This is what al-Mas'udl proffered on their history in his book entitled Meadows of Gold and Mines of Gems (muruj al-dhahab wa-ma‘adin al-jawhar). After this their realms grew, their hands reached out and they conquered most western lands (bilad al-gharb) as well as others.255

In a chapter entitled ‘Mention of what the Franks—may God most high abandon them—have conquered among the Islamic lands on the Peninsula of al-Andalus after the conquest of Toledo’, al-Nuwayri lists places conquered by the ‘Franks’ (al-Ifranj), also called ‘al-Rum’, on the Iberian Peninsula up to the year 715/1315.256 In line with other Middle Eastern scholars, he used the term ‘Franks’ as a generic term for Western Europeans without clarifying the position of ‘France’ within ‘Frankish’ Europe.

Other scholars provided some sort of explanation as to how the Franks and France were related to each other. A subchapter in the universal history of the Syrian historiographer Abu l-Fida (d. 732/1331) entitled ‘the nations who entered [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6]

the religion of the Christians’ only classifies certain societies of Western Europe as ‘Frankish’. It suggests that these Frankish societies represented extensions of a medieval Frankish realm known by two names, i.e. ‘Faranja’ or ‘Faransa’. In this passage that employs an ethnic classification not used in the larger oeuvre,257 Abu l-Fida’ distinguishes between the Germans (al-Alman), the Burgundians (al-Burjan), the Genoese (al-Janawiyya), the Venetians (al-Banadiqa), the Galicians (al-Jalaliqa), and the Hungarians (al-Bashqurd) on the one side, ‘the Franks’ (al-Ifranj) on the other side:258

The Franks are many people and the basis of their lands is Faranja, which is also called Faransa. It is adjacent to the Iberian Peninsula (jazirat al-Andalus) in the north. Their king is called al-Faransis and he is the one who set out for Egypt and took Damietta____The Franks have taken control of the greater part of the Iberian Peninsula and they possess several well-known islands in the Mediterranean (bahr al-Rum) such as Sicily (Siqilliya), Cyprus (Qubrus), Crete (Aqritish) and others.259

Apparently following the same logic, al-Qalqashandi (d. 821/1418) defines the ‘King of France’ (al-rayd Ifrans; al-Faransis) as the ruler of the ‘ancient Frankish kingdom’ (mamlakat al-Faranj al-qadima) inhabited by ‘the French’ (al-Ifrans)?60

In his description of ‘the most well-known land-based realms of the venerators of the cross’, the Mamluk secretary al-'Umari (d. 749/1349), in turn, largely ignores the original meaning of the word ‘Franks’ and uses it as the terminological equivalent to that which modern scholarship would define as ‘Latin Christians’. Here, France constitutes an independent and powerful realm within a conglomeration of Frankish societies that inhabit the regions north of the Mediterranean, control several Mediterranean islands, and that in the past had also ruled the crusader principalities in the Middle East.261 Having dealt with France (Faransa), Christian Spain (biladal-nasara bi-l-Andalus), Germany (mulk al-Laman), the Provence (Abrans), the Lombards (al-Lunbardiyya), Frankish Burgundy (Burghuniya al-Faranj), the Venetians (al-Banadiqa Finisin), the Pisans (al-Bizan), the Tuscans (al-Dushqan), the Anconitani (Ankunitin), the Florentines (Afarantin), the Genoese (ahlJanawa), the Catalans (al-Katiran, al-Katilan), Cyprus (Sibirya), Sicily (Siqilliya), and Mallorca (Mayurqa), al-Umari concludes:

all Frankish lands (jami bilad al-Faranj) are fertile and rich in fruit except for citrus fruits, which do not exist there . . . , and the prices there are either low or tolerable . . .262

  • 257 Abu l-Fida’, al-mukhtasar, ed. Zaynuhum 'Azab et al., vol. 4, p. 171, for example, also uses the term ‘Franks’ to define peoples under the sway of the emperor.
  • 258 Ibid., vol. 1, pp. 119-20.
  • 259 Ibid., vol. 1, p. 119: ‘wa-minha: al-Ifranj, wa-hum umam kathira wa-asl qa'idat biladihim Faranja, wa-yuqal Faransa wa-hiya mujawira li-jazirat al-Andalus min shimaliha, wa-yuqal li-maliki- him al-Faransis wa-huwa alladhi qasada diyar Misr wa-akhadha Dimyat. . . . wa-qad ghalaba al-Faranj 'ala mu'zam jazirat al-Andalus, wa-lahum fi bahr al-Rum jaza’ir mashhura mithla Siqilliya wa-Qubrus wa-Aqriti sh wa-ghayriha.’
  • 260 al-Qalqashandi, subh al-a’sha, ed. Ibrahim, vol. 5, pp. 412, 485.
  • 261 Cf. al-'Umari, Condizioni, ed./trans. Amari, pp. 11-15, on the downfall of the Latin East.
  • 262 Ibid., pp. 1-11, p. 11: ‘wa-jami' bilad al-Faranj dhawat khayr wa-fawakiha illa l-fawakiha al-jurumiyya fa-innaha la tujad biha . . . wa-l-as'ar biha imma rakhi[s] a wa-imma mutawassita . . .’.

Thus, Arabic-Islamic scholarship of the later Middle Ages provides two models to distinguish between ‘Frankish’ and ‘French’, but fails to give a differentiating definition of both. This makes it necessary to define the exact meaning of the term ‘Franks’ according to context.

  • [1] al-Himyari, al-rawdal-mitar, ed. 'Abbas, lemma ‘Ifranja’, p. 50.
  • [2] In ibid., lemma ‘hisn Karak’, p. 203: the ‘lands of the Franks’ (bilad al-Ifranj) clearly designatecrusader territory.
  • [3] al-Nuwayri, nihayat al-arab, ed. Qamayha, vol. 1, p. 218.
  • [4] al-Nuwayri, nihayat al-arab, ed. Fawwaz and Fawwaz, vol. 28, p. 288.
  • [5] al-Nuwayri, nihayat al-arab, ed. at-Tawil and Hashim, vol. 15, p. 223: ‘hadha ma awradahual-Mas'udi min akhbarihim fi kitabihi al-mutarjam bi-muruj al-dhahab wa-ma'adin al-jawhar.thumma ittasa'at ba'da dhalika mamalikuhum wa-inbasatat aydayhum wa-istawlu 'ala akthar biladal-gharb wa-ghayriha.’
  • [6] al-Nuwayri, nihayat al-arab, ed. Tarhini, vol. 24, p. 212: ‘dhikr ma istawla 'alayhi al-Faranj—khadhalahum Allah ta'ala—min bilad islamiyya bi-jazirat al-Andalus ba'da akhdh Tulaytu la.’ Cf. ibid.,vol. 23, p. 268, where he claims that the Castilian forces led by Alfonso VI in the Battle of Zallaqa(479/1086) were ‘Franks’.
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