UNITY AND DIVERSITY OF THE LATIN-CHRISTIAN SPHERE

Medieval Arabic-Islamic scholarship never coined an Arabic term for ‘Latin Christendom’ and refrained from depicting the Latin-Christian sphere as a clear-cut and self-contained cultural entity.92 The geographic concept of ‘Europe’ (Urufa), used by a few scholars of the ninth and tenth centuries influenced by the GraecoSyriac heritage,93 never gained a foothold in medieval Arabic-Islamic scholarship.

The division of the world into four quadrants also failed to become widely accepted.[1] [2] Most Arabic-Islamic geographers preferred to follow the Ptolemaic division of the world into seven climate zones, situating Western European toponyms in the fourth to the seventh climate zones together with places farther east that were regarded as displaying the same climatic characteristics.95

Neither did Arabic-Islamic scholars believe that Western European peoples constituted a single ethnic groups6 Genealogical theories, which linked various peoples north of the Mediterranean to a common ancesto^7 or defined them as the progeny of the third of, all in all, seven primeval peoples,98 did not represent scholarly consensus99 and rarely play a major role in actual descriptions of these peoples, their territories, customs, and activities. Although Arabic-Islamic scholars, especially of Middle Eastern origin, used the term ‘Franks’ for several Western European peoples, this term lacked a precise definition that was accepted unanimously. Western Muslim scholars tended to exclude the Christian peoples of the Iberian Peninsula, with the exception of the Catalans or Aragonese. Middle Eastern scholars, in turn, tended to impose the ethnonym ‘Franks’ on many if not all Western European peoples, but also acknowledged that these ‘Franks’ were made up of several peoples, each meriting an individual ethnonym. In later works of universal history, the term applies equally to the Franks of early medieval Europe as well as to the Western European proponents of Latin-Chris- tian expansionism. Even among Middle Eastern scholars, there was no unanimous consensus on the question which western peoples were ‘Frankish’ and which not.

Arabic-Islamic scholars also refrained from defining Western European peoples as members of a distinct religious community. Peoples such as the Galicians and Franks, rulers such as Clovis, and institutions such as the papacy were repeatedly classified as ‘Melkite’.[3] [4] In this regard, Western Europeans did not differ from the Byzantines (al-Rum), who were also regarded as Melkites by most Arabic-Islamic scholars,ioi as opposed to Nestorians, Jacobites, Maronites, and other Christian groups of the Middle East. When the Mamluk scholar al-Qalqashandi deals with the correspondence between the Mamluk court and non-Muslim rulers, he does not clearly distinguish between ‘Frankish’ and ‘non-Frankish’ Christians, but between non-Muslim rulers in the west including the ‘Frankish’ rulers of al-Anda- lus and France on the one hand, non-Muslim rulers in the north including the pope, the Italian maritime cities, and the Byzantines on the other hand.[5] [6] [7] Only in the late Middle Ages, in a passage on the council of Ferrara-Florence (1438-44) written by al-MaqrlzI, does an Arabic-Islamic scholar acknowledge a confessional discrepancy between ‘east’ and ‘west’ by pointing to the fact that the Byzantines and the papacy differed in matters of faith.103

It seems absurd to consider that Arabic-Islamic scholars believed that Latin Christendom constituted a political entity. From the early Middle Ages onwards, Arabic-Islamic scholars acknowledged the existence not only of various peoples, but also of a multiplicity of rulers in this part of the world. High and late medieval scholars addressing the role of the pope vis-a-vis the rulers and peoples of Christendom, the position and role of the emperor, the communal system of the maritime republics of Italy, or the titles and offices held by various Western European authorities, clearly understood that the Latin-Christian sphere featured different political entities and systems of rule.

Notwithstanding, Arabic-Islamic scholars also highlighted regularly that strong links connected the peoples of Western Europe with each other. Once again, al-Mas'udl led the way, asserting that Rome had and still constituted the capital of a greater Frankish realm encompassing the entire northern hemisphere, and that various northern peoples regularly cooperated against the Muslims in al-Andalus and on the Apennine Peninsula.In spite of the terminological incongruities of the term ‘Franks’, this ethnonym was often used as a generic term for various Western European groups and peoples. Hostility and joint activism directed against the Islamic world certainly fortified the notion that Western European peoples constituted some kind of entity. Ibn al-Athir, who regarded the Norman conquest of Sicily, the Leonese-Castilian takeover of Toledo, and the crusades as different expressions of ‘Frankish’ expansionism, is probably the most explicit in this regard.105 Definitions of the pope as the spiritual, the emperor as the political leader of the Franks show that some Arabic-Islamic scholars even recognized institutional links connecting the various groups and polities of Latin Christendom.106

Arabic-Islamic depictions of Latin-Christian Europe meandered between descriptions of diversity on the one hand, the acknowledgement of unity on the other. The notion of diversity was expressed in terms of an inconsistent terminology, the acknowledgement of various different peoples, polities, and political systems, as well as, last but not least, the description of change. The notion of unity can be summarized in terms of a Frankish sphere of Melkite persuasion capable of joint action against the Islamic world and represented by the pope, several Frankish peoples and their rulers, including an emperor. In view of the complex history of late antique and medieval Europe, it is hardly surprising that Arabic-Islamic depictions of the Latin-Christian sphere oscillated between these two poles.

All in all, medieval Arabic-Islamic scholars undoubtedly had a notion that a ‘Latin-Christian’ sphere existed. In the period under investigation, they became aware of the western dimension of the Roman Empire, traced the rise of the Franks and the papacy, and recorded the emergence of high and late medieval powers such as Aragon, Castile, England, France, Genoa, Germany, Hungary, Portugal, and Venice. Perceptive, clear-sighted scholars such as al-Mas'udl understood very early that shared Roman roots and the willingness to cooperate against common enemies of different ethnic origin and religious affiliation bound Western European peoples together occasionally. His later peers were able to look back on an additional halfmillennium of shared history and intensive interaction with an orbit that had surged forth into the Mediterranean sphere under the sign of the cross and in search of profit. Consequently, those gifted among al-Mas'udl’s later colleagues were able to retrace the rise of the Latin-Christian, alias the ‘Frankish’, sphere from its Roman origins to the polities and societies of late medieval Europe. In this sense, a Latin-Christian sphere, arisen from the debris of the western Roman Empire of Late Antiquity, emerged in the writings of medieval Arabic-Islamic scholars. Their understanding of medieval Western European cultural unity, however, was as vague and imprecise as their ‘Latin-Christian’ contemporaries’ sense of cohesion.107 As a clear-cut entity, Latin-Christian Europe remains difficult to [8] [9] [10]

grasp—not only in the writings of Arabic-Islamic scholars. Giving way to the Europe of differing written vernaculars and rival Christian denominations at the end of our period of investigation, it constitutes an ephemeral phenomenon, a mental construction—partly medieval, partly imposed on the medieval period by scholarship—that emphasizes cultural uniformity to the detriment of diversity.[11]

  • [1] al-Masudi, al-tanbih, ed. de Goeje, p. 23; Said al-Andalusi, tabaqat al-umam, ed. Bu Alwan,p. 38.
  • [2] Konig, ‘Historiographers’ (2012), pp. 431—2. 5 6 7 8 Ibid., pp. 432^.
  • [3] al-Mas udi, muruj, § 917—19, ed./trans. Pellat, p. 150 (AR), p. 346 (FR); al-Mas udi, al-tanbih,ed. de Goeje, p. 147; al-Bakri, al-masalik, ed. van Leeuwen and Ferre, § 567—8, pp. 340—1; al- Umari,masalik al-absar, ed. Schiaparelli, pp. 306—7; Ibn Khaldun, tarikh, ed. Zakkar and Shahada, vol. 1,p. 292; al-Qalqashandi, subh al-aesha, ed. Ibrahim, vol. 5, p. 472; vol. 6, pp. 93^; vol. 8, p. 42.
  • [4] al-Qalqashandi, ibid., vol. 6, pp. 93^, groups the Franks (al-Ifranja), the pope (al-bab), andthe Byzantines (al-Rum) together in his presentation of Melkite Christianity, which is largely based onal-Shahrastani.
  • [5] In a chapter dedicated to the writings sent by the Mamluk court to foreign rulers, al-Qalqashandi,ibid., vol. 8, divides the infidel rulers (muluk al-kuffar) into the following categories: 1) non-Muslim rulers in the West in al-Andalus and what lies behind it in the north of al-Andalusand on the Great Continent (muluk al-kuffar bi-bilad al-Maghrib min jazirat al-Andalus wa-mawalaha mimma huwa shamal al-Andalus min al-ard al-kabira). These are, pp. 23—4: a) the master ofToledo (sahib Tulaytula), b) the master of Lisbon (sahib Ashbuna), c) the master of Barcelona etc.(sahib Barshaluna), d) the master of Navarre (sahib Bird). The chapter repeatedly mentions the Kingof France; 2) non-Muslim rulers in the East. These are, pp. 27, 29: a) kingdom of the Georgians (mamlakatal-Kurj), b) kingdom of the Armenians (mamlakat al-Arman) 3) non-Muslim rulers in the South. These are, pp. 39, 41: a) the Abyssinian-Amhari ruler (sahibAmhara), b) the master of Nubia (sahib Dunqula... mamlakat al-Nuba)'; 4) non-Muslim rulers in the North, that is the Byzantines and the Franks ordered according to thedifferent peoples (muluk al-kuffar bi-l-janib al-shamali min al-Rum wa-l-Faranja ‘ala ikhtilafajnasihim). These are, pp. 42, 46—51: a) the pope (al-bab), b) the Byzantine ruler (malik al-Rum wa-huwa sahib al-Qustantiniyya), c) the rulers of Genoa (hukkam Janwa), d) the master of Venice (sahibal-Bunduqiyya), e) ‘sahib SanuF (?) near the Byzantines and the Turkomans, f) the master of the Bul-gars (sahib al-Bulghar), g) the ruler of Rhodes (malik Rudus), h) the master of the island of ‘al-Mastakanear Alexandria, i) the ruler of Cyprus (mutamallik Qubrus), j) the ruler of Montferrat (malikMunfurad), k) the female ruler of Naples (sahibat Nabul). The subchapter dedicated to letters received by non-Muslim foreign rulers (ibid., pp. 119, 121,123) divides them into the following categories: 1) rulers of Georgia (muluk al-Kurj), 2) rulers ofAbyssinia (muluk al-Habasha), 3) Byzantine rulers (muluk al-Rum), 4) Frankish rulers in al-Andalusand northern regions (min jihat muluk al-Ifranj bi-l-Andalus wa-l-jihat al-shamaliyya wa-ma waladhalika).
  • [6] юз al-Maqrizi, al-suluk, ed. 'Ata, vol. 7, AH 843, p. 446.
  • [7] See Chapters 4.2.1. and 6.4.1.
  • [8] Ibn al-Athir, al-kamil, ed. Tornberg, vol. 10, AH 491, p. 185 (Leiden), p. 272 (Beirut); cf.Chevedden, ‘Interpretation’ (2006), pp. 96—8.
  • [9] 1°6 Ibn Wasil, mufarrij, ed. Rabf and Ashur, vol. 4, AH 626, pp. 250—1; Ibn al-Furat, ed./trans.Lyons, vol. 1, AH 644, p. 11 (AR), vol. 2, p. 9 (EN); Ibn Khaldun, tarikh, ed. Zakkar and Shahada,vol. 1, p. 292.
  • [10] See Haas, ‘Kreuzzugschroniken’, pp. 86—95; Konig, ‘Historiographers’ (2012), pp. 444—5.
  • [11] Cf. Konig, ‘Historiographers’ (2012), pp. 427—30.
 
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