Neglected Traces?

Notwithstanding, Muslim raiders returning to their home countries may have transmitted scraps of information about the sack of Rome and related raiding activities.

The many descriptions of Rome in Arabic-Islamic geography and historiography from the late ninth and early tenth centuries never mention the sack of the city in 846.20 However, they do focus on topics that were of interest to raiders. They emphasize the city’s vast extent, grandeur, opulence, and, last but not least, the large quantity of precious objects to be found there, among others in the church of Saint Peter.21 According to Samir Khalil Samir, Giuseppe Mandala, Marco di Branco, and others, many descriptions of Rome actually apply to Constantinople^ However, some sources from the period in question draw a clear distinction between between both cities.23 Ibn al-Faqih al-Hamadhani (d. after 290/902), for example, mentions a certain Hasan b. 'Ariyya, who asserted that a city lying beyond Constantinople and named ‘Rumiyya’ would some day be conquered (yuftah) by the Muslims.24 Since other predictions of conquest mentioned by this author in the same context also lack a specific chronological or geographical context, it would seem appropriate to classify this statement on Rome along with other topoi of medieval Arabic-Islamic geography. One could also argue, however, that Ibn al-Faqih, without necessarily being aware of events, reproduced a reaction formulated in the aftermath of the Muslim sack of Saint Peter. Indeed, Rome had been sacked, but not conquered.

It is conspicuous that contemporary Latin-Christian and Arabic-Islamic sources are remarkably similar as concerns their description of a shipwreck in the wake of a Muslim raid in the western Mediterranean. In their descriptions of the Battle of Ostia (849) the Liber pontificalis and the Annales Bertiniani claim that a strong wind drove the Saracen ships returning to North Africa against each other so that they broke apart and sank. The Liber pontificalis confirms the authenticity of this piece of news. More accurate, the Annales Bertiniani assert that treasures taken from the church of Saint Peter were washed up on the coast.25

Ibn 'Abd al-Hakam’s (d. 257/871) history of the Arabic-Islamic expansion to the west contains very similar narrative elements. Here pillagers returning to North Africa by boat hear a warning voice asking God to drown them all. Although the passengers try to alleviate God’s wrath, a strong wind drives the ships against each other and sinks them.26 This story is part of a series of paraenetic anecdotes that feature descriptions of divine punishment brought about by uncontrolled pillaging and the refusal to hand over a certain percentage of the booty to the Muslim [1] [2] [3] [4] [5]

authorities.27 Ibn 'Abd al-H akam fails to mention how news about the shipwreck reached Muslim North Africa and places it in a different geographical and chronological context to that of the Liber pontificalis and the Annales Bertiniani. In Ibn 'Abd al-H akam’s version, the story immediately follows his description of the Muslim invasion of the Iberian Peninsula. His claim that the story was transmitted from Yahya b. Sa'id via Malik b. Anas via 'Abd al-Malik b. Maslama78 figures of the eighth century, tends to challenge the hypothesis that it is related to the sack of Rome, a city not mentioned once in Ibn 'Abd al-H akam’s work. If Ibn 'Abd al-H akam’s story was inspired by a different shipwreck or even a Quranic verse (10:22),29 then the similarities between the Latin and the Arabic versions would have to be explained as the product of chance and the parallel expression of a specific religious mentality characteristic of early medieval Christian and Muslim authors alike. However, there remains a slight possibility that the Arabic version of the story actually originated in events suffered by Muslims returning to North Africa after the Battle of Ostia. Ibn 'Abd al-Hakam finished his history around 860, that is, in the decade following the battle[6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] and, more important, mentions a dispute concerning the point of departure of the sunken ships: according to the people of Egypt (ahl Misr), those who drowned in the shipwreck did not hail from al-Andalus but from Sardinia.31 The dispute shows that Ibn 'Abd al-Hakam was insecure about how to contextualize the story that, after all, mainly seemed important to him because of its moral value. Considering the geographical proximity of Rome, Sardinia, and the North African coast, news about a Muslim shipwreck after the Battle of Ostia may have found its way to Rome and North Africa, where it was developed and contextualized differently during the ensuing processes of transmission and reception.

Only the Andalusian scholar al-Bakri (d. 487/1094) mentions a pope affected directly by Muslim raids on Rome and the surrounding countryside. A bishop (usquf) of Rome named ‘Yuwanish’ is said to have commissioned the construction of a new city beyond the river of Rome.32 This activity recalls the construction of the ‘civitas Leonina’ at the hands of Leo IV (sed. 847-55), which took place in reaction to the sack of Rome in 846.33 The bishop’s name, however, probably applies to John VIII (sed. 872-82), the pope who was ultimately forced to pay tribute to marauding Saracen groups.34 Al-Bakri draws no explicit connection between ‘Yuwanish’ and Muslim raids on Rome. Once again, an Arabic-Islamic scholar was unable to contextualize available data.

Scraps of information about Muslim raids against papal Rome eventually seem to have reached Arabic-Islamic scholars. Since pathways of transmission were long and complex, the available scarce data was often subject to much distortion. Consequently, Arabic-Islamic scholars of the late ninth and later centuries were not able to contextualize this information correctly. If this hypothesis is correct, it would be possible to mitigate the statements of Renato Traini and Umberto Rizzi- tano, according to whom the Saracen attacks on Rome left no trace in Arabic- Islamic sources.35

  • [1] Cf. Ibn Khurdadhbah, al-masalik, ed. de Goeje, pp. 113—15; Ibn al-Faqih, mukhtasar, ed. deGoeje, pp. 149—51; Ibn Rustah, al-a4aq al-nafisa, ed. de Goeje, pp. 128—30; al-Masudi, muruj, ed./trans. Pellat, § 128, p. 74 (AR), p. 55 (FR); § 722, p. 35 (AR), p. 271 (FR).
  • [2] Samir, ‘Confusions’ (1991), pp. 93—108; Simone and Mandala, Limmagine (2002); Branco,‘Roma’ (2006), pp. 312—20.
  • [3] Also noted by Scarcia, ‘Roma’ (2002), p. 137.
  • [4] 24 Ibn al-Faqih, mukhtasar, ed. de Goeje, p. 149; Mohring, ‘Konstantinopel’ (1989), p. 86.
  • [5] Liber pontificalis, ed. Duchesne, vol. 2, cap. CV (Leo IV, sed. 847—55), § 495, 523—5 (§ V,LII-LV), pp. 106, 118—19: ‘Omnes enim cum vellent, iniquitatis ac depraedationis scelere perpe-trato, ad Africanam qua venerant regionem revertere, vasto maris pelago, vi ventorum procel-larumque, sicut certa relatione cognovimus, Deo permittente demersi sunt . . . ’; cf. Herbers,‘Mirakeln’ (2002), p. 124; Herbers, Leo IV (1996), pp. 114—15; Annales Bertiniani, pars II auctorePrudentio, ed. Waitz (MGH SS rer. Germ. in us. schol. 5), a. 847, p. 35: ‘Saraceni, oneratis thesau-rorum multitudine, quas ex basilica beati Petri apostoli asportarant, navibus, redire conati, cum internavigandum Deo et domino nostro Iesu Christo eiusque apostolis ore pestifero derogarent, ortorepente inevitabili turbine, conlisis in sese navibus, omnes pereunt; quaedam thesaurorum in sinibusdefunctorum, quos mare litoribus reiecerat, inventa, ad beati Petri apostoli memoriam revehuntur.’ 26 Ibn 'Abd al-Hakam, futuh Misr, ed. Torrey, p. 209: ‘asaba al-nas fiha ghana im fa-ghallu fihaghululan kathiran hamaluhu fi l-marakib wa-rakibu fiha fa-lamma wasatu al-bahr samiu munadiyanyaqul Allahum gharriq bihim fa-da u Allah wa-taqalladu al-masahif qala fa-ma nashibu an asabathumrih asifa wa-darabat al-marakib ba'duha ba dan hatta takassarat wa-ghuriqa bihim’, trans. Jones, p. 23.
  • [6] Ibn 'Abd al-Hakam, futuh Misr, ed. Torrey, pp. 208—10.
  • [7] Ibid., p. 209. 29 Clarke, Conquest (2012), p. 30.
  • [8] 30 The list of judges of Egypt attached to the work ends with the year 246/860; cf. Rosenthal, ‘Ibn
  • [9] 'Abd al-Hakam’ (1971), p. 675.
  • [10] Ibn 'Abd al-Hakam, futuh Misr, ed. Torrey, p. 209: ‘wa-ahl Misr yankiruna dhalika wa-yaqulunaanna ahl al-Andalus laysa hum alladhina ghariqu wa-innama hum ahl Sardanya . . .’.
  • [11] al-Bakri, al-masalik, ed. van Leeuwen and Ferre, § 804, p. 478.
  • [12] Krautheimer, Rom (2004), p. 136.
  • [13] Iohannes VIII papa, ep. 89, ed. Caspar (MGH Epp. in Quart 7), p. 85; cf. Engreen, ‘Pope’(1945), pp. 318—30, esp. 321—2; Scarcia, ‘Roma’ (2002), pp. 158—9; Simone and Mandala, Limmagine(2002), pp. 29-30.
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