. 1
( 10)





Volumes published
1 Anglo-Saxon Cruci¬xion Iconography and the Art of the Monastic Revival by
b a r b a r a c . r aw
2 The Cult of the Virgin Mary in Anglo-Saxon England by m a r y c l ay t o n
3 Religion and Literature in Western England, 600“800 by pat r i c k s i m s - w i l l i a m s
4 Visible Song: Transitional Literacy in Old English Verse by
k at h e r i n e o ™b r i e n o ™k e e f e
5 The Metrical Grammar of ˜Beowulf™ by c a lv i n b . k e n d a l l
6 The Irish Tradition in Old English Literature by c h a r l e s d . w r i g h t
7 Anglo-Saxon Medicine by m . l . c a m e r o n
8 The Poetic Art of Aldhelm by a n d y o r c h a r d
9 The Old English Lives of St Margaret by m a r y c l ay t o n and h u g h m a g e n n i s
10 Biblical Commentaries from the Canterbury School of Theodore and Hadrian by
b e r n h a r d b i s c h o f f and m i c h a e l l a p i d g e
11 Archbishop Theodore: Commemorative Studies on his Life and In¬‚uence edited by
michael lapidge
12 Interactions of Thought and Language in Old English Poetry by p e t e r c l e m o e s
13 The Textuality of Old English Poetry by c a r o l b r a u n pa s t e r n a c k
14 The ˜Laterculus Malalianus™ and the School of Archbishop Theodore by j a n e s t e v e n s o n
15 The Text of the Old Testament in Anglo-Saxon England by r i c h a r d m a r s d e n
16 Old English Biblical Verse by pa u l g . r e m l e y
17 The Hymns of the Anglo-Saxon Church by i n g e b . m i l f u l l
18 Scenes of Community in Old English Poetry by h u g h m a g e n n i s
19 The Old English Apocrypha and their Manuscript Source: ˜The Gospel of Nichodemus™ and
˜The Avenging of the Saviour™ edited by j . e . c r o s s
20 The Composition of Old English Poetry by h . m o m m a
21 Trinity and Incarnation in Anglo-Saxon Art and Thought by b a r b a r a c . r aw
22 Heathen Gods in Old English Literature by r i c h a r d n o r t h
23 ˜Beowulf™ and Old Germanic Metre by g e o f f r e y r u s s o m
24 Ælfric™s Letter to the Monks of Eynsham by c h r i s t o p h e r a . j o n e s
25 The Intellectual Foundations of English Benedictine Reform by m e c h t h i l d g r e t s c h
26 Apocryphal Gospels of Mary in Anglo-Saxon England by m a r y c l ay t o n
27 Representations of the Natural World in Old English Poetry by j e n n i f e r n e v i l l e
28 Anglo-Saxon Gestures and the Roman Stage by c . r . d o d w e l l
29 Literary Appropriations of the Anglo-Saxons from the Thirteenth to the Twentieth Century by
d o n a l d s c r a g g and c a r o l e w e i n b e r g
30 Rewriting Old English in the Twelfth Century by m a r y s wa n n and e l a i n e
m. treharne
31 Text and Picture in Anglo-Saxon England: Narrative Strategies in the Junius 11 Manuscript
by c at h e r i n e e . k a r k o v
32 Paradise, Death and Doomsday in Anglo-Saxon Literature by a n a n ya j a h a n a r a

katharine scarfe beckett
©¤§ µ®©© °
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Cambridge University Press
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Published in the United States of America by Cambridge University Press, New York
Information on this title: www.cambridge.org/9780521829403

© Katharine Scarfe Beckett 2003

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relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place
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Acknowledgements page vi
List of abbreviations vii

1 Introduction 1
2 Islam during the Anglo-Saxon period 27
3 Anglo-Saxon contacts with Islam 44
4 Arabs and Arabia in Latin 69
5 Ismaelites and Saracens in Latin 90
6 Arabs, Ismaelites and Saracens in early Anglo-Latin 116
7 Pseudo-Methodius and the sons of Ismael 140
8 Arabs, Ismaelites and Saracens in Old English 165
9 Persisting theories about Saracens in post-Conquest England 190
10 Conclusions 223

Bibliography 244
Index 273


Many thanks to the scholars who have generously contributed from their
expertise towards parts of this book at various stages: George Beech, Mark
Blackburn, Patricia Crone, Michael Metcalfe, Katherine O™Brien O™Keeffe,
Michael Lapidge, Andy Orchard, Jonathan Riley-Smith and Philip Stewart.
I am particularly grateful to Michael Lapidge for his encouragement and
helpful comments on the text from its earliest stages. Needless to say, all
remaining errors are my own.
The work might never have been done without the goodwill of the
Amman of¬ce of Prince El Hassan bin Talal, while the path was greatly
smoothed by the help, friendship and hospitality of Yacoub Abu Ghosh,
the Bisharats, Richard Dance, Safa Jafari, Patsy Knight, the Na« ouri family
and the Scarfe Becketts; thank you all very much indeed.
Warm thanks are also due to the editors of the CSASE series, to Cambridge
University Press and especially to Caroline Bundy, who has most good-
humouredly overseen this book™s publication; to the staff of the Cambridge
University Library, for much help; and to the Department of Anglo-Saxon,
Norse and Celtic, Cambridge, which delivered the original thesis.
Dedicated to Mark McQuade, for an old promise, and to all good teachers
for the future.


Full titles are listed in the bibliography. Sigla of Old English psalter-glosses
are listed in the bibliography under ˜Old English psalter-glosses™.
Annales ESC Annales: ´conomies, soci´t´s, civilisations
e ee
ASE Anglo-Saxon England
ASPR Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records
BL British Library
BJRL Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of
BNJ British Numismatic Journal
Bodley 163 Oxford, Bodleian Library, Bodley 163
Cameron Frank and Cameron, A Plan for the Dictionary of Old
English (cited by item number)
CCSL Corpus Christianorum, Series Latina
CCCM Corpus Christianorum, Continuatio Medievalis
CHI Cambridge History of Islam
CPL Clavis Patrum Latinorum, ed. Dekkers
CSASE Cambridge Studies in Anglo-Saxon England
CSEL Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum
EETS Early English Text Society
EI2 Encyclopedia of Islam, second edition
Etym. Isidore, Etymologiae
GA Graeco-Arabica
Gameson Gameson, The Manuscripts of Early Norman England
(cited by item number)
Gneuss Gneuss, Handlist of Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts (cited
by item number)


Historiae Orosius, Historiae aduersum paganos
In Hier. Jerome, Commentarius in Hieremiam prophetam
In Ezech. Jerome, Commentarii in Ezechielem
In Isaiam Jerome, Commentarii in Isaiam
LHNom. Jerome, Liber interpretationis hebraicorum nominum
LQHGen. Jerome, Liber quaestionum hebraicarum in Genesim
MGH Monumenta Germaniae Historica
” AA Auctores antiquissimi
” SS Scriptores
” Ep.Car.aeu. Epistolae Carolini aeui
” Ep.Mer.&Car. Epistolae Merouingici et Carolini aeui
” ES Epistolae selectae
NC Numismatic Chronicle
OE Heptateuch The Old English Version of the Heptateuch, ed. Crawford
OE Malchus The Old English Life of Malchus, ed. Assmann
OE Orosius The Old English Orosius, ed. Bately
PL Patrologia Latina, ed. Migne
PMLA Publications of the Modern Language Association of
Reuel.1 Reuelationes of pseudo-Methodius (¬rst recension),
ed. Sackur
Reuel.2 Reuelationes of pseudo-Methodius (second recension),
ed. Prinz
Royal 5.F.xviii London, British Library, Royal 5.F.xviii, 29v“32v
Salisbury 165 Salisbury, Cathedral Library, 165, 11v“20r
Settimane Settimane di studio del centro Italiano di studi sull™alto
Vita Willibaldi Hygeburg, Vita Willibaldi episcopi Eichstetensis


In AD 786, Bishop Georgius of Ostia, papal legate to England, wrote a letter
to Pope Hadrian recording the decrees of two synods he had just attended
in Mercia and Northumbria. The list of decrees reads unremarkably until
the ninth item:
Item nine. That no ecclesiastic shall dare to consume foodstuffs in secret, unless on
account of very great illness, since it is hypocrisy and a Saracen practice.1
Why does the author introduce the idea of Saracen eating habits? Benjamin
Kedar suggests that Georgius or his colleague, Theophylact, had some
notion of Muslim fasting practice during the month of Ramadan, when food
and drink may only be consumed between dusk and dawn. In the course of
the synod, one or the other conveyed this information to the assembly as an
example of how not to fast as a Christian.2 There is no evidence that any
Muslim had travelled as far west as England by this time. Arabic was not
studied in Christian Europe before the late eleventh century; the Qur™¯ n was
not translated into Latin until the twelfth. The assembled Anglo-Saxon
clerics can hardly have had the tenets of Islam at their ¬ngertips. Still, they
were able from this synodal decree to understand Saracenus as a pejorative
term three centuries before the Crusades.
Within a few years of the synod, Offa, king of Mercia, had a peculiar gold
piece struck in his name. This coin, now held by the British Museum, bears
˜Nono capite, ut nullus ex ecclesiasticis cibum in secreto sumere audeat, nisi pr[a]e nimia
in¬rmitate, quia hypocrisis et Saracenorum est™; ˜Georgii episcopi Ostiensis epistola™, ed.
Dummler, MGH Ep.Car.aeu. II, 22. Unless otherwise indicated, translations into English
are mine.
Kedar, Crusade and Mission, p. 30.
D™Alverny, ˜Deux traductions™, p. 71, and Bobzin, ˜Latin Translations™, pp. 193“6.

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

the legend Offa Rex and also, surprisingly, somewhat bungled Arabic in-
scriptions on obverse and reverse in imitation of an Islamic dinar.4 That the
script was not understood by the imitator is clear both from its miscopying
and from the fact that it represents the Muslim declaration of faith in one
God of whom Muhammad is the prophet. A number of explanations have
been offered for this remarkable artefact: it may, perhaps, have been part of
a gift to the pope, or an example of high-denomination coinage for inter-
national trade.5 It is possible that the same Georgius and Theophylact who
attended the synods of 786 brought the prototype of Offa™s dinar to England.
These two curious survivals, the allusion by Georgius and Offa™s dinar,
present the observer with a number of questions. From what sources other
than Rome might the Anglo-Saxons have learnt about Islam? If George
means to denigrate Muslim fasting practice, why does he refer to Saraceni
rather than to Arabes or some equivalent of the word ˜Muslim™? Do other
references to Saracens, Muslims or Arabs survive in Anglo-Saxon literature?
Did any objects other than coins reach England from Islamic territories? Did
Anglo-Saxons in the late eighth century, or later, perceive any connection
between the Arabic inscription on the coin (which was thought worthy of
imitation) and the Saracen fast (which was most emphatically not)? What “
if anything “ did they think about the newly instituted religion and empire
of Islam? The aim of this book is to explore these questions and to attempt
some answers with reference to texts and objects which have survived from
Anglo-Saxon England. More broadly, the argument also draws upon Anglo-
Saxon perceptions of Arabs, Ismaelites and Saracens to contextualise and,
to some extent, dispute the theory of Orientalism as formulated in Edward
Said™s famous book Orientalism, ¬rst published in 1978.
Mutual perceptions and contacts between medieval Europe and the
Islamic world are the subject of a number of specialised ¬elds of study,
including the history of trade across the Mediterranean, numismatics, so-
ciety and culture in the Iberian peninsula, the Crusades, Muslim writings
about Europe and western Christian manuscript culture. Even a select bib-
liography on so many topics is precluded by constraints of space; works par-
ticularly relevant to Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Arabs and Saracens are
cited below. Apparently no cross-Mediterranean trade records, visual repre-
sentations of contemporary Muslims or transcripts of dialogue with Muslims

Illustrated in North, English Hammered Coinage, I, pl. 3, item 37.
See below, pp. 58“91.


survive in England, and archaeological evidence for direct contact is scant.
Evidence for Anglo-Saxon awareness of the Islamic world survives mostly
in the form of literary records, and so, with two exceptions, the chapters
below are concerned with written accounts of the Arabs and Saracens.6
Many studies have already addressed medieval literature on Islam in
a wider European context “ more or less ambitiously. One of the earlier
English writers to take a critical stance towards earlier authors on the sub-
ject was Henry Stubbe (1631“76), whose own engaging account of Islam
and Muhammad sadly only circulated in manuscript form.7 During the
¬rst half of the twentieth century, Byron Porter Smith composed a mono-
graph describing the story of Muhammad in English thought from the
Middle Ages to Carlyle. Stubbe™s 1954 editor, Ha¬z Shairani, provided
an appendix ˜Containing Early Christian Legends and Notions Concerning
Islam™ which mentions examples of imaginative Christian calumny of Islam
from Matthew Paris to Alexander Ross. Richard Southern wrote his well-
known account, Western Views of Islam in the Middle Ages, in 1962, and in it
emphasised early medieval ignorance in contrast with later knowledge of
Islam. The late Dorothee Metlitzki published The Matter of Araby in Me-
dieval England in 1977 to investigate more deeply the literary use of Islamic
and Oriental sources in medieval English literature.
More recently, interest has tended to focus on the swift and exciting
developments in western perceptions of Islam which took place during
the eleventh and early twelfth centuries, at a time when other European
links with the Islamic world were also undergoing great change.8 Thus,

The exceptions are the ¬rst and second chapters, devoted respectively to a brief and basic
history of Islam between the sixth and eleventh centuries, and to the travel of objects
and people between Anglo-Saxon England and territories under Islamic rule. It should be
noted here that this book does not address the subject of the monstrous races of the Orient.
Useful works on the idea of an Oriental ˜Other™ as portrayed in early medieval accounts
of the wondrous East have been undertaken by Campbell in The Witness and the Other
World and Orchard in Pride and Prodigies. On pictures of Ismael in Anglo-Saxon England,
see Ohlgren, Insular and Anglo-Saxon Illuminated Manuscripts, s.v. ˜Ismael™; Schapiro, ˜The
Bowman and the Bird™; Farrell, ˜The Archer and Associated Figures™ (with the caveat that
his treatment of Latin sources is occasionally unreliable); and Mellinkoff, ˜The Round,
Cap-Shaped Hats™.
Stubbe, Mahometanism, ed. Shairani, pp. iv“xiii and 151“65; noted by Daniel, Islam and
the West, pp. 309“10, and Porter Smith, Islam in English Literature, pp. 71“2.
Many studies, therefore, address the image of Saracens (Muslims, Arabs, etc.) in the chansons
de geste: for example, Meredith Jones, ˜The Conventional Saracen™; Gregoire, ˜Des dieux

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

following the ground-breaking work by Charles H. Haskins and Marie-
Th´ r` se d™Alverny some decades ago, the activities of the ¬rst western
Arabists and the introduction of Arabic learning into north-western Europe
constitute a topic in themselves, and have been the subject of many studies.9
Other western portrayals of Muhammad and the religion of Islam from this
period have been described by a number of scholars including d™Alverny,
Norman Daniel and Jean Flori.
Analyses of Islam and the Muslims as they appear in texts dating from
the Anglo-Saxon period, between the seventh and eleventh centuries, are
somewhat scarcer. They usually form prolegomena to more detailed ex-
aminations of the later literature.10 However, they provide partial answers
for some of the questions raised above. J. M. Wallace-Hadrill, for example,

Cahu, Baratron, Tervagant™; Y. and C. Pellat, ˜L™id´ e de Dieu chez les Sarrasins™; Edmonds,
˜Le portrait des Sarrasins™; Bancourt, Les musulmans dans les chansons de geste; White, ˜Saracens
and Crusaders™; Daniel, Islam and the West, pp. 338“43 (Appendix 1, ˜The Imputation of
Idolatry to Islam™); idem, ˜Sarrasins, chevaliers et moines dans les chansons de geste™; idem,
Heroes and Saracens (includes a useful bibliography); and Flori, ˜La caricature de l™Islam
(the notes of which cite further recent works). Other portrayals of Islam at this time have
been tackled in, for example, d™Alverny, ˜Pierre le V´ n´ rable et la l´ gende de Mahomet™;
ee e
Munro, ˜The Western Attitude toward Islam™; Hill, ˜The Christian View of the Muslims™;
Daniel, ˜The Impact of Islam on the Laity™ and ˜The Critical Approach to Arab Society™;
Kedar, ˜De Iudeis et Sarracenis™; and Kelly, ˜“Blue” Indians, Ethiopians and Saracens™. Still
useful is the compendious article written in 1889 by d™Ancona, ˜La leggenda di Maometto
in Occidente™. The above list constitutes a brief selection of literature on the topic.
Charles Burnett recently lectured on The Introduction of Arabic Learning into England
(Panizzi Lectures, 1996); see also his editions of collected articles by d™Alverny: La trans-
mission des textes and Pens´e m´di´vale en Occident. A good overview is provided by the articles
e ee
in The Introduction of Arabic Philosophy into Europe, ed. Butterworth and Kessel (including
Burnett™s ˜The Introduction of Arabic Learning into British Schools™, pp. 40“57). Use-
ful earlier works in this ¬eld are Haskins, Studies in the History of Medieval Science, and
d™Alverny, ˜La connaissance de l™Islam en Occident™ and ˜Deux traductions™. Early astron-
omy in England is also discussed by McCluskey, ˜Astronomies in the Latin West™, and B.
Eastwood, ˜The Astronomies™. Makdisi suggests that the rise of scholasticism in twelfth-
century western Europe was inspired by contemporary scholarly method in the Islamic
world (see his ˜Interaction™, pp. 288 and 308“9 and, more particularly, ˜The Scholastic
See, for example, Southern, Western Views of Islam, pp. 1“33; Daniel, The Arabs and
Mediaeval Europe, pp. 49“79, and his Islam and the West, pp. 11“23. Daniel acknowledges
the work of Kedar and Rotter on the early period of European understanding of the Arabs
(Islam and the West, pp. 16 and 28“9). Wallace-Hadrill has discussed Bede™s perceptions
of the Saracens in some detail (˜Bede™s Europe™, pp. 76“80).


discussed Bede™s knowledge of contemporaneous Muslim activity in Europe
around the turn of the seventh century.11 Richard Southern and Norman
Daniel have sketched some history and medieval usage of the terms Saraceni,
Ismaelitae and Agareni, concerning which Daniel makes the signi¬cant point
that, during the Middle Ages, Arabes “ a word used comparatively rarely “
indicated something quite different from Saraceni and the others.12 It should
be noted here too that ignorance of Islam was not necessarily the same as
ignorance of Muslims. Daniel points out that until the twelfth century,
the Muslims were generally portrayed by western authors as mere invaders
without a religious aspect, which suggests that the early medieval imag-
ination did not distinguish between (pre-Islamic) Arabs and Muslims.13
To the important analyses by Southern and Daniel should be added the
useful ¬rst chapter of Crusade and Mission by Benjamin Kedar, who further
emphasises the key part played by early medieval writings in shaping later
apprehensions of Islam.
These works focus on European writers who lived during or after the
rise of Islam. The discussions by Daniel and Southern are furthermore
chie¬‚y concerned with ˜attitudes and opinions of Latin Christians, and
not primarily with the data available to them™, and for the most part
are also ˜strictly con¬ned to matters of religion™. So Daniel outlines his
aims; so also a general emphasis in modern scholarship on new western
perceptions of Islam as a religion during the eleventh and twelfth cen-
turies.14 However, K. B. Wolf, among others, has elsewhere argued suc-
cinctly for the importance of the monastic curriculum of scriptural and
patristic writings in shaping western perceptions of the Muslims.15 If, as

Wallace-Hadrill, ˜Bede™s Europe™, p. 79.
Daniel, The Arabs and Mediaeval Europe, p. 53; Southern, Western Views, pp. 16“17. S´ nac
suggests that medieval authors used the terms Saraceni, Ismaelitae and Agareni in a state
of confusion (L™image de l™autre, p. 14); I hope to demonstrate that this was usually not
the case in Anglo-Saxon England.
˜As in the early Carolingian period, so through the ninth, tenth, and eleventh centuries,
and until armed aggression became rewarding in the new epoch of success, the impact
of the Arabs, usually as invaders, was not the impact of Islam or of anything speci¬cally
Islamic. No one clearly differentiated Arabs from other invaders, even uncivilized North-
men and Hungarians . . . References to the religion of the Arabs in all this period are
sparse and slight™ (Daniel, ˜The Impact of Islam on the Laity™, pp. 107“8).
Islam and the West, pp. 24“5.
˜Christian Views of Islam in Early Medieval Spain™, p. 86. Lamoreaux, too, points out that
eastern Christian authors ¬rst viewed the Muslims in the context of previously conceived

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

Daniel suggests, medieval authors did not distinguish between pre-Islamic
and Islamic Arabs, it follows that authoritative pre-Islamic statements
about the Arabs may have in¬‚uenced medieval conceptualisations of the
In fact, the very use of the name Saraceni to refer to Muslims suggests
this kind of in¬‚uence. A people called Saraceni had already been described
by Jerome in the fourth century. Medieval authors in the West applied
the same name to the new conquerors in the seventh century, attributing
pre-Islamic characteristics to ˜Saracens™ who by then had become Muslims.
This is acknowledged by Ekkehart Rotter in Abendland und Sarazenen, a
detailed and widely ranging analysis of western perceptions of the Muslims
during the seventh and eighth centuries.16 Rotter notes that many early
accounts of the Muslims drew upon writings which date from before the
rise of Islam.17
As far as Anglo-Saxon literature is concerned, however, Rotter does not
suf¬ciently emphasise the continuing in¬‚uence of pre-Islamic authorities,
especially Jerome. The writings of such authorities were not merely cited but
recopied and read in their own right throughout the Middle Ages. Works by
in¬‚uential ¬gures such as Jerome, Cassian, Augustine and Isidore combined
prestige with currency. These and other authors are discussed in chapters 4
and 5 below to show how Arabs, Ismaelites and Saracens were presented
in the kind of literature that many Latinate Christians contemplated on a
regular, perhaps daily basis.18

stereotypes of the Arabs (˜Early Eastern Christian Responses to Islam™, pp. 11 and 24).
Ogle shows that even in the twelfth century, Petrus Comestor depended on the writings of
Jerome for his description of the Muslims (˜Petrus Comestor™, pp. 323“4). See also below,
n. 17, on examples given by Rotter of patristic in¬‚uence on early medieval accounts of
See the review article by Daniel, Al Mas¯ q 1 (1988), pp. 39“41.
Rotter, Abendland und Sarazenen, p. 12 (Jerome cited by Adomn´ n); p. 70 (Jerome drawn
upon by a continental chronicler); p. 90, n. 92 (Isidore cited by Bede); pp. 141“3 (Jerome
as a source for Aldhelm™s prose De uirginitate); and pp. 235“6 (Jerome cited by Bede). See,
too, the articles in both the ¬rst edition of the Encyclopedia of Islam (ed. Houtsma et al.)
and the second (EI2 ), s.v. ˜Saracen™, and Rotter, Abendland und Sarazenen, pp. 68“77 and
130“45. The topic is addressed in more detail in chapters 4“9 below.
Lapidge, ˜Anglo-Latin Literature™, p. 4: ˜meditation on the writings of Ambrose, Au-
gustine, Jerome, and Gregory would have been the lifelong occupation of a monk™. See
pp. 1“5 for an outline of the kind of literary curriculum which an Anglo-Saxon student
of Latin might have addressed in a monastic school. On Latin learning in Anglo-Saxon


Such surviving in¬‚uences from the past were complemented by various
contemporary references to Islam. Rotter and Kedar argue that news of
Islam both as a religious and a military entity was widely available before
1100 in even the extreme west of Europe.19 Kedar mentions, for exam-
ple, a reference by the mid-ninth-century biblical commentator Paschasius
Radbertus which indicates that he knew Islam to be a monotheistic faith
with similarities to Judaism and Christianity.20 However, such an informed
opinion seems to be exceptional. European commentary on Islam before the

England in general, see Lapidge™s volumes of collected articles, Anglo-Latin Literature
600“899 and Anglo-Latin Literature 900“1066.
Kedar comments: ˜. . . it is evident that a considerable amount of information about the
Saracens did reach Catholic Europe between the mid-seventh and early eleventh century,
and therefore it is inaccurate to describe this period . . . as the age of ignorance™, and
˜lack of interest rather than ignorance characterized the Catholic European stance toward
the religion of the Saracens in the period under discussion™ (Crusade and Mission, p. 35;
see also pp. 25“34 on early medieval knowledge of Islam). Rotter notes: ˜England und
Irland liegen zwar am Rand der Welt, aber sie sind “ wie solche Beispiele verdeutlichen “
keineswegs vom Informations¬‚uß abgeschlossen™ (Abendland und Sarazenen, p. 144). On
English perceptions of Islam, Rotter discusses pilgrimages to Jerusalem which were made
by or known to Anglo-Saxons (pp. 31“65) and refers to the writings of Bede, Aldhelm
and Alcuin on the Arabs and Saracens.
Kedar, Crusade and Mission, pp. 30“1; he cites the original passage by Paschasius Radbertus
on p. 205. See Paschasius™ Expositio in Matheum, CCCM 56B, 1163; he describes Islam as a
corrupt monotheistic faith which adopts material from both the Old and New Testaments
but identi¬es itself with neither Judaism nor Christianity. This comment on Islam should
be viewed alongside two others in the same work which together considerably strengthen
Kedar™s case for the availability of accurate information on Islam by the ninth century.
In the ¬rst, discussing the description in the book of Daniel of the corruption of the
Jewish faith and the desecration of the temple, in templo abominatio desolationis, Paschasius
comments: ˜In tantum ut in loco quo prius templum et religio fuit, Sarraceni phanum
culturae suae habeant in modum sancti templi ad prophanationem sanctuarii quod sua
lingua ut aiunt Myschydam uocant™ (Expositio in Matheum, CCCM 56, 146). The second
passage, in a similar vein, again connects the Saracens with the prophecies of Daniel:
˜Unde idem propheta: “Consummatio, inquit, dabitur super desolationem Hierusalem”. . .
Sed in eodem ciuitatis loco nunc phanum Sarracenorum est in modum templi in quo nullus
Iudeorum audet introire™ (Expositio in Matheum, CCCM 56B, 1167). These remarks are of
considerable interest both for the manner in which they describe the Saracen religion and
places of worship as false copies of ˜real™ Christian faith (cf. Said, Orientalism, pp. 58“63,
on perceptions of Islam as an imitation of Christianity) and for the fact that Paschasius
Radbertus had encountered a genuine religious term from the Saracen language: myschyda
is a fair Latinisation of the Arabic word masjid which also gives the modern English

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

Crusades is striking to modern readers for its lack of curiosity. It suggests
that western thinkers were the more disinclined to realise the novelty of
Islam because they already knew about ˜Saracens™ from the numerous earlier
Clearly, it would be of considerable interest to draw together and correlate
all known references to the Saracens which were available to European
readers over the ¬ve centuries between the rise of Islam and the more
frequently studied period of the Crusades. Such a collection would, ideally,
include not only mentions of the Saracens from works contemporaneous
with the Islamic conquests, but also comments written before the rise of
Islam which were known to later authors. One might then address the
question not only of what relationship obtained between inherited and
contemporary accounts of the Saracens during this period, but also what
conceptual context for Islam already existed by the time it was ¬rst noticed
in the West, and what changes (if any) took place in western perceptions of
Islam between the early seventh century and the Crusades. As yet, however,
no such broadly based catalogue and analysis exists; and on a European scale
the sheer quantity of relevant material would be impossible to treat within
the bounds of a single study.
However, a more limited investigation based on a number of texts known
in Anglo-Saxon England can succeed, for a variety of reasons. The pe-
riod of Anglo-Saxon literacy coincides almost exactly with the centuries
in question (from the beginning of the seventh century, when Augus-
tine™s mission began preaching Christianity in England and Islam was
revealed to Muhammad, to roughly 1100, when the increasing domi-
nance of Anglo-Norman culture and the success of initial crusading efforts
provide a convenient terminus ante quem). Furthermore, information about
Islam could only arrive from or via the Continent, while many works by
Anglo-Saxons such as Bede and Aldhelm were also known abroad. To the
degree that western Christian authors and audiences drew upon a com-
mon literary corpus, information about Islam that arrived in Anglo-Saxon
England is representative of that which circulated on the Continent. At
the same time, a particularly rich legacy of Old English writings raises
the possibility of discovering peculiarly Anglo-Saxon literary responses to
imported accounts of the Saracens. Thus, though conclusions about early
English perceptions of Islam and the Saracens in general would not nec-
essarily be applicable across medieval Europe, they would provide a useful


starting point for further studies. Chapters 3 to 8 explore the available
Bearing in mind the possibility of studies ranging further in time as well
as in space, chapter 9 of this book then pursues two ideas about Saracens
which were known to Anglo-Saxon readers and which persisted through
subsequent centuries of textual production in England. For centuries, it
remained possible for the authors of Christian texts to state that the Saracens
had named themselves wrongfully and associated their religious practice
with the planet or goddess Venus. Examples are given from the twelfth to
the seventeenth century. In the light of the later examples it can be seen
that Anglo-Saxon readings and writings about the Saracens contributed to
a long history of transmission in which similar information, repeated over
and over again, was altered only as necessary to ¬t comfortably into new
contexts. This remained as true after the Conquest as it had been before.
The later examples may cause us to reconsider our ideas about authority and
authorial intentions during the Middle Ages and they certainly prompt a
re-examination of the idea that signi¬cant western awareness of Muslims as
Saracens began more or less with the Crusades.
Brie¬‚y, new information about the religion and empire of Islam did
reach England before the Norman Conquest, but it arrived in a context
dominated by older, inherited images of the Arabs, Saracens and Ismaelites.
Examination of Old English texts leads to a re¬nement of this picture:
Saracens in the vernacular were presented in simpler and more concrete
terms than their counterparts in educated Latin. Western writers sometimes
combined old information with new but their explanations of people we now
term Muslims were formulated within a framework of received ideas and
de¬nitions which often bore little relation to the contemporary situation in
Rare exceptions, such as the comment on Saracen fasting cited above,
or a description of Muslim bureaucracy in the Holy Land by the English
pilgrim Willibald, underline the discrepancy between received opinion
and new information. The relationship between contemporary references to
Muslims in Anglo-Saxon England and earlier Latin writings is addressed
especially in chapters 3, 6 and 8 below. As Kedar noted, conservatism
prevailed in the bulk of learned references to the Saracens while a scattering
of contemporary witnesses recorded aspects of the changing political and
religious scene.

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

o r i e n ta l i s m i n a n g l o - s a x o n e n g l a n d
According to Edward Said, a comparable gap between inherited traditional
concepts and new observations on Islam characterised Orientalist writings
of the nineteenth century:
As the commercial, political, and other existential encounters between East and
West increased . . . a tension developed between the dogmas of latent Orientalism,
with its support in studies of the ˜classical™ Orient, and the descriptions of a present,
modern, manifest Orient articulated by travelers, pilgrims, statesmen, and the
like. At some moment impossible to determine precisely, the tension caused a
convergence of the two types.21
What place does postcolonial theory have in an examination of early views of
Saracens? There are several reasons for looking more closely at the portions of
Said™s Orientalism which might apply to ˜the Middle Ages™. Firstly and most
simply, he characterises modern Orientalism in very general terms which
invite comparisons with earlier periods. Secondly, his picture of Orientalism
in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries includes a supposed historical
link with some kind of medieval Orientalism but “ between the diffuseness
of Said™s de¬nitions of ˜Orientalism™ itself and the selective evidence he
provides in Orientalism for the medieval centuries “ it has been hard to know
whether or not he has a plausible case. Thirdly, an examination of Anglo-
Saxon perceptions of people whom Said assumes to constitute ˜Oriental™
subject-matter shows that Crusade-dominated and Empire-centred versions
of history may cause us to read early medieval Arabes and Saraceni in a
particular and inappropriate way. Fourthly, in relation to the second and
third points, Said™s own discussion more than hints that it would like to
construct a Christian Middle Ages as the bad source, to some extent, of
modern evils, and this is provocative enough in itself to warrant further
Nothing is clearer from Orientalism than that discourses construct what
they purport to describe. Said initially divides ˜Orientalism™ into three
types. A generally Orientalist attitude had pervaded European thought
since the earliest records of ˜the basic distinction between East and West™.
Another kind of Orientalism consisting of expertise about an identi¬able
Orient might also relate to some authors read in Anglo-Saxon England.
A third, corporate institution of Orientalism can be observed from the
Said, Orientalism, pp. 222“3.


late eighteenth century onwards.22 In the passage cited above, Said also
distinguishes the categories ˜latent Orientalism™ and ˜manifest Orientalism™.
˜Latent Orientalism™ is an inherent attitude and ˜manifest Orientalism™ a set
of stated views and sometimes actions.23 However, ˜latent Orientalism™, as
used above, seems further to mean a conservative body of statements while
˜manifest Orientalism™ seems to signify statements about the immediate
Orient in the here and now.
It is dif¬cult to ¬nd a plausible alternative to the term ˜Orientalism™
when describing Anglo-Saxon perceptions of Saracens in relation to Said™s
thesis. This may be partly because it is dif¬cult actually to point to a distinct
corresponding phenomenon in Anglo-Saxon texts until the word itself, with
its imperial freight, has been invoked, at which point it becomes dif¬cult to
see anything else. This problem is discussed in more detail in the concluding
chapter below. In the meantime I have used the word quite vaguely, as Said
does, glossing over the problem of whether ˜Anglo-Saxon™ can represent
˜West™ while ˜Arabs, Ismaelites, Saracens™ represent ˜East™. Said™s own bias
is towards an ˜Orient™ represented by ˜Islam™. It is more dif¬cult to guess
what might have constituted the East or the Orient to Anglo-Saxon readers.
Said™s ˜basic distinction between East and West™ may not be any more basic
than other medieval divisions of the cosmos. This clearly circles back to
the question of whether to see an omnipresent ˜Orientalism™ which then
requires the construction of its corresponding ˜Orient™, or whether it is the
appearance of an Orient in the literature which indicates that, a process
of Orientalisation having taken place, Orientalism must be alive and well.
At any rate, it seems that Said™s ideas about medieval representations of an
Orient must be clari¬ed, if at all, by engaging with the texts themselves.
The problem of nomenclature arises again for less critically charged
words. Not only have survivals such as Arabs, Turks and Muslims changed
considerably in their usage, they also fail to overlap usefully with now-
archaic terms such as Saracens, Ismaelites, Hagarenes or Mahometans which
themselves are far from coterminous. A clear difference between Arabes and
Saraceni emerges from surviving Anglo-Saxon literature “ and it is doubtful
whether ˜Muslim™ should ever automatically translate Saracenus in a text
from this period, even when the text quite clearly refers to the (originally
northern Arabian) adherents of Qur™¯ nic religion who assumed rule of Asia,
Africa and Europe during the seventh and eighth centuries or later. Where
22 23
Said, Orientalism, pp. 2“3. Said, Orientalism, p. 206.

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

a modern proper name seems to me too narrow to refer to people under-
stood by Anglo-Saxon readers as Saraceni, for example, I have resorted to the
modern English ˜Saracen™, intending to re¬‚ect medieval perceptions rather
than my own and not expecting it to be thought equivalent with ˜Arab™,
˜Muslim™ or indeed any later brand of imagined Saracen such as those found
in Sir Walter Scott™s stories.
Reference to historical entities like ˜the Arabs™, ˜the caliphate(s)™ or ˜the
Muslim world™ is also imprecise in the absence of any very clear contempo-
rary agreement on the edges and gaps of the terms. Where I use ˜Muslim™
or ˜Islam™ in the course of discussion, it is for convenience and refers to our
present-day identi¬cation of a religion and polity of Islam after the 630s.
(The idea that there is one Muslim religion and one polity called Islam is of
course itself untrue, although it was a single caliphate after Muhammad™s
death.) Other generalisations employed below, again for the sake of conve-
nience, are ˜Europe™, ˜Christendom™, ˜Christian thought™, ˜the West™ and so
forth. As suggested above, use of ˜Muslim™, ˜Islam™, etc. should not be taken
to indicate that an Anglo-Saxon could conceive of a Saracen religion and
government distinguished by any features which we would today recognise
as characteristically Islamic.
In the passage cited above, Said is discussing ˜latent™ and ˜manifest™ Ori-
entalism in the early nineteenth century. During the nineteenth century,
according to Said, these two kinds of Orientalism coincided, for reasons
intimately bound up with western territorial expansion in the Orient and
the new role of the Orientalist as governmental policy advisor.24 His de-
scription raises interesting questions about the medieval perceptions which
are supposed to have nurtured the most broadly de¬ned and longest-lived
aspect of his ˜Orientalism™. Might it be that during the late eleventh cen-
tury there occurred in the literate European understanding a comparable
convergence of traditional and contemporary conceptions of Saracens which
was equally bound up with western territorial efforts against Islam and the
political role of the church? Without necessarily identifying ˜Islam™ with
˜Orient™, it would be interesting to propose a ˜proto-Orientalism™ in liter-
ary representations of the Crusades, which Said does not deal with in any
detail except to describe modern responses to them.25 Daniel has raised

Said, Orientalism, pp. 221“3.
See Said, Orientalism, pp. 58, 75, 101 (Walter Scott on Crusaders), 168, 170, 172
(Chateaubriand on Crusades) and 192.


the question of what relationship obtained between western writings on
Islam and western territorial expansion during the Crusades. Like Said on
the later phenomenon of Orientalism, he seems doubtful as to the exact
nature of their mutual in¬‚uence at this point; he suggests that the mili-
tary activity perhaps did not inspire the literature so much as arise from
the same context.26 On the other hand, Daniel quite clearly states a case
elsewhere for a similarity between the medieval apprehension of Islam and
nineteenth-century European empire-building, which he links explicitly
with the idea of Crusade.27
It seems to be the case that in a number of literary exercises from the
Crusades period, such as the translation of the Qur™¯ n by Robert of Chester
in Toledo, Christian polemic or the chansons de geste, a new and perhaps
more aggressive attitude towards Islam may be seen. Authors began to
imagine the subjugation of the Orient, not in terms of apocalypse or God™s
punishment but as a present, active interference by the Christian West
in Saracen territories. Both as a religion and an empire, Islam was to be
corrected by means of the conversion of Muslims (hence the need for a
Latin Qur™¯ n and an improved knowledge of Islamic belief) and forceful
repossession of previously Christian territories (the act of which is celebrated
in the chansons de geste, for example). Earlier representations of the Saracens,
including those known in Anglo-Saxon England, tended to convey the idea
of Christian superiority through examples of resistance and steadfastness
rather than premeditated attack. Only at the end of the tenth century do
we ¬nd examples in Old English literature of battles between Christian and
Muslim armies.28 Even in these cases, it is by chance that the Christian
forces meet with Saracens who initiate hostilities. The early descriptions of
Christian resistance may have been profoundly hostile towards the Saracens,
but their authors apparently did not conceive of Christian armed forces
wilfully entering Saracen territories en masse in order to seize control there.
This returns us to the question of literary constructs and the relationship
between text and event, important considerations in Said™s construction of
Orientalism and his call for ˜worldly™ criticism engaged with real experi-
ence. Muslim armies never reached Anglo-Saxon England. Saracens, unlike
˜I must stress that there is no proven causal relation between the Crusade and the litera-
ture . . . Without demonstration to the contrary, we should consider the mental and the
physical expansion that took place in that age as concomitant phenomena™ (Daniel, ˜The
Impact of Islam on the Laity™, p. 108).
27 28
Daniel, The Arabs and Medieval Europe, pp. 321“2. See below, pp. 181 and 185.

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

Vikings, did not impinge directly upon Anglo-Saxon daily life. However,
they had a long history in Latin ecclesiastical literature and a special status
in Christian thought as the conquerors of the Holy Land. Many perceptions
were shaped by text before Islamic events of European signi¬cance were
generally known to have occurred. Anglo-Saxon awareness of Arabs and
Saracens was governed by statements in conservative Latin works which
circulated in their own right, were collated and redeployed by scholars such
as Bede and also interacted with vernacular and (presumably) oral culture.29
The textual interactions took place in literate environments, which is to say
church, monastery and court. Ideas about the Arabs, Ismaelites and Saracens
subsequently entered Old English primarily through translations from the
Latin. The early medieval church played a crucial part in disseminating
information from the Latin. Scholars have noted that the church mediated
between Latin literacy and Germanic orality in the codi¬cation of Anglo-
Saxon laws, for example. Latin has been described as ˜the language of cultural
and political power™ during the early medieval period.30 Richard Fletcher
offers many examples of European Christian conversion motivated by the
promise of material gain and discusses the ˜top-down™ approach of mission-
aries who sought royal and aristocratic converts as a means of effectively
disseminating the faith and gaining patronage for the church.31 Alexander
Murray summarises the appeal that literate Christianity must have had for
many in proposing that it offered ˜the means for a better articulation of
space and time . . . it could articulate higher human mental capacities™.32
Brown, ˜Latin Writing™, p. 53. O™Brien O™Keeffe discusses examples of the interaction of
Latin and vernacular orality and literacy in her in¬‚uential study Visible Song; see especially
pp. 1“14, 23 and 192.
Rivers, ˜Adultery in Early Anglo-Saxon Society™, p. 21, and Brown, ˜The Dynamics of
Literacy™, p. 110.
See Fletcher, The Conversion of Europe, pp. 160“92 and 236“55.
See Murray, ˜The Sword is Our Pope™ (review article discussing Fletcher™s The Conversion
of Europe), p. 17, and Green, Medieval Listening and Reading, pp. 7“9 and 15“17. Graham,
in Beyond the Written Word, examines the nature of the Qur™¯ n as a spoken book; the
impact of writing on oral cultures is further analysed by Goody in The Interface Between the
Written and the Oral, especially pp. 132“8, to which Green refers on altered perceptions of
space and time in a literate society. For other recent discussions of literacy and orality in
Anglo-Saxon England, see (generally) Olson, ˜Interpreting Texts™, pp. 123“4 and 136“
7; Erzgr¨ ber, ˜The Beginnings of a Written Literature™; Meier, ˜Writing and Medieval
Culture™; and Schaefer, ˜Ceteris Imparibus™. Stock™s The Implications of Literacy, an analysis
of orality and literacy in the tenth and eleventh centuries, remains important; likewise


The technology of such improved articulation was the written word “
initially, the Latin written word.33 As Ælfric noted, learning Latin brought
its students closer to God but a little Latin learning was a dangerous thing.34
I use the term ˜literate™ to mean the ability, however minimal, of an individ-
ual to understand something from Latin or Old English writing, or from
hearing spoken Latin. Thus one who could recite a handful of psalms and
had a vague idea of their meaning was in some sense literate, even if un-
able to read.35 ˜Literacy™ was a quality of Anglo-Saxon society in general in
that many who did not or could not read had access to written information
through those who did and who talked afterwards about what they had
read, or read it out loud to an audience. This access too would have been
Christianised to some extent. The notion that conversion, literacy and insti-
tutional power were inextricably linked in the early medieval period raises
interesting questions about the role played by the church in propagating
views of the Arabs and Islam. Since Saracens were a written phenomenon
in Anglo-Saxon England, how did their representation sit with the general
function of literate endeavours at the time, which was to serve the Christian
cause by bringing people closer to God “ and further away from those who
were not deemed godly?
In Orientalism, Said does not take up such themes, but then his con-
cern is to emphasise the general continuity of certain western modes of
thought. He indicates that medieval perceptions of Islam have already

Clanchy™s From Memory to Written Record, a fundamental work on the shift from oral to
literate mentality in England; see especially pp. 149“50, 177“8, 186“9, 232“3 and
263. On literacy and orality as evidenced in speci¬c Old English texts, see, for example,
Opland, ˜From Horseback to Monastic Cell™ (Beowulf and poems by Cynewulf); Near,
˜Anticipating Alienation™ (Beowulf); and Kelly, ˜Anglo-Saxon Lay Society and the Written
Word™ (legal documents). Richter emphasises the continuing importance of oral culture
in a newly literate society (The Formation of the Medieval West, pp. 45“77). Huisman, in
˜Subjectivity/Orality™, offers an alternative view; see especially pp. 313“14 and nn. 8
and 35.
Brown, ˜Latin Writing™, pp. 36“7 and 39; Stock, The Implications of Literacy, p. 9; and
Ong, ˜Writing is a Technology that Restructures Thought™, pp. 31“5. Medieval Christian
literate and Latinate culture are also discussed by Irvine in The Making of Textual Culture,
pp. 88“117.
Ælfric, Grammar, pp. 2“3 (on the necessity of learning Latin), and Old English Preface to
Genesis, p. 77 (on priests with little Latin who take the Old Testament literally).
Brown, ˜Latin Writing™, pp. 40“1.

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

been described by such scholars as Daniel, Southern and Metlitzki.36
Said takes his examples mostly from the eleventh century or later and
his engagement with early medieval authors consists of portraying Bede
(c. 673“735) and Luther (1483“1546) as joint representatives of a con-
tinuum of medieval European prejudice against Islam.37 His exposition,
though admirably clear, somewhat begs the question of how enlighten-
ing it is to compare western perceptions of Islam at the beginning of
the eighth century, when Bede™s literacy was exceptional and the Mus-
lim armies were only just entering Spain, with those of the sixteenth, when
Europe was dotted with universities and Turkish pirates raided the English
Not surprisingly, Orientalism has during its in¬‚uential life prompted a
variety of responses, including charges of inconsistency and neglect of sig-
ni¬cant areas of scholarship.38 Of particular interest with regard to the
medieval period is the publication by Nabil Matar of Islam in Britain
1558“1685. Matar discusses a variety of ideas about Islam that permeated
western Renaissance society in complicated and in¬‚uential ways before the
development of the western colonial interests which occupy Said. As Matar
points out, western engagements with Islam during this period re¬‚ected the

Said, Orientalism, pp. 16 (on Metlitzki, The Matter of Araby) and 60“2 (on the work
of Daniel and Southern). Said describes his methodology and choice of material on
pp. 15“25.
Said describes ˜a general European attempt from Bede to Luther™ to ˜make it clear to
Muslims that Islam was just a misguided version of Christianity™ (Orientalism, p. 61). It
is perhaps somewhat misleading to include Bede in this attempt, since he was, so far as
can be determined from his surviving writings, ignorant of Muslim religious belief and
not writing for a Muslim readership. Said is more persuasive when he writes that in the
works of Bede, ˜the Orient and Islam are always represented as outsiders having a special
role to play inside Europe™ (Orientalism, p. 71). Said comments more brie¬‚y elsewhere
on the medieval period; see, for example, Covering Islam, p. 5. The question quid Said
cum Anglo-Saxonicis? has already received one answer in the study of Orientalism and
Anglo-Saxonism by Frantzen (Desire for Origins, pp. 27“61, ˜Origins, Orientalism, and
Anglo-Saxonism in the Sixteenth and Nineteenth Centuries™) who does not, however,
address Anglo-Saxon perceptions of Arabs, Ismaelites or Saracens.
Many of the initial criticisms are usefully summarised by Mani and Frankenberg in ˜The
Challenge of Orientalism™, a survey and critique of responses to Said™s work to the mid-
1980s. Said himself takes up some of the charges in his ˜Afterword™ to the 1995 edition
of Orientalism. See also Daniel™s careful analysis in ˜Edward Said and the Orientalists™.
˜Orientalism™ as de¬ned by Said has continued to provoke comment and reaction, the
numerous instances of which are not listed here.


fact that the Islamic Ottoman empire was the great political power of the
day. Western writings at this time were not characterised by ˜the authority
of possessiveness or the security of domination which later gave rise to what
Edward Said has termed “Orientalism”™; Matar notes as a consequence that
it would be inappropriate to apply Said™s theory to the sixteenth and sev-
enteenth centuries.39 Said™s argument that certain kinds of prejudice have
continued to characterise western literature about the Orient would appear
to be only partly borne out by Matar™s comment that Renaissance English
references to the Saracens and Islam were in places indebted to medieval
writings and ideas.40
But “ as Matar then points out later in his discussion “ it is nevertheless
possible, as Said had partly done, to identify certain long-standing character-
istics in Christian European representations of the Orient. Matar™s example
is the continuing use of the Bible.41 On the one hand, then, Islamic success
and resistance during the Renaissance period provoked responses which
cannot happily be de¬ned as ˜Orientalist™. On the other, because of that
same success and resistance, Islam and Muslims ˜would always remain the
implacable “Other”™,42 a statement which draws close to Said™s that ˜Orien-
talism is never far from . . . a collective notion identifying “us” Europeans as
against all “those” non-Europeans . . .™43 Said™s brief, generalised model of
Renaissance Orientalism is both expanded and corrected by Matar™s closer
inspection. It is Said™s aggressive sweep across literary history that makes the
thesis of Orientalism so provocative for other scholars, whether they agree or
disagree with it. This suggests a methodological problem: how to do justice
to the complexity of an individual period or theme (Islam in Renaissance
England, Saracens in the chansons de geste, Saracens in Merovingian texts,
etc.) whilst trying also to do justice to the entire history of some of the
ideas found within that period or theme (Saracens are devoted to Venus,
Muhammad is an Ismaelite, etc. “ which Said does not take up)? Or, as Said
asked concerning his own approach, ˜How then to recognize individuality

Matar, Islam in Britain, pp. 11“12; on capture of Christians, western ineffectuality and
the religious attractions of Islam, see, more generally, pp. 1“19.
Matar, Islam in Britain, p. 157.
˜Indeed, as Edward Said has shown, Orientalism, which became the overarching venue
for “representing” Islam and for justifying Western colonization of the Levant and North
Africa in the modern period, had extensive roots in Biblical images and allusions™; Matar,
Islam in Britain, pp. 186“7.
42 43
Matar, Islam in Britain, p. 187. Said, Orientalism, p. 7.

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

and to reconcile it with its intelligent, and by no means passive or merely
dictatorial, general and hegemonic context?™44
Daniel and Said both generalise from selected evidence to propose that
European authors have always striven to denigrate Islam and the Orient, as
conceived in literature, in ways which somehow remain medieval (or even
ancient Greek). Concerning Anglo-Saxon England, there are reasons why
Said™s approach especially might be thought anachronistic in some respects,
and these reasons are outlined in more detail below.45
As noted above, Anglo-Saxons, Franks, Gauls and other western Euro-
pean peoples of the Middle Ages ¬rst encountered the Muslims and the
Orient through the Christian Latin literature of late antiquity. Here is
the Venerable Bede (c. 673“735), interpreting Gen. XVI.12 on an angel™s
prophecy regarding Ismael, the son of Abraham by the slave Hagar:
It means that [Ismael™s] seed is to live in the wilderness “ that is to say, the wandering
Saracens of uncertain abode, who invade all those living beside the desert, and are
resisted by all. But this is how things used to be. Now, however, to such an extent
is ˜[Ismael™s] hand against everyone and everyone™s hand against him™ that they
oppress the whole length of Africa under their sway and, moreover, inimical and
full of hate towards everybody, they hold most of Asia and a considerable part of

Bede wrote this passage at a time when the Islamic armies were making
great advances into previously Christian regions, and there is no doubt
that the Saracens he refers to are these Muslim forces.47 However, ˜Saracen™,
as noted above, was not a new word. Bede and other erudite ecclesiastics
had learned from pre-Islamic patristic writers that the name ˜Saracen™ had
been adopted by the Ismaelites or Hagarenes of the Old Testament. The
Ismaelites had taken their new name (according to western authors) in order
to claim descent from Abraham™s wife Sarah rather than from their real but

44 45
Said, Orientalism, pp. 8“9. See below, ˜Conclusions™, pp. 231“40.
˜Signi¬cat semen eius habitaturum in eremo, id est Saracenos uagos, incertisque sedibus.
Qui uniuersas gentes quibus desertum ex latere iungitur incursant, et expugnantur ab
omnibus. Sed haec antiquitus. Nunc autem in tantum manus eius contra omnes, et manus
sunt omnium contra eum, ut Africam totam in longitudine sua ditione premant, sed et
Asiae maximam partem, et Europae nonnullam omnibus exosi et contrarii teneant™ (Bede,
Commentarius in Genesim [CPL 1344], CCSL 118A, 201; he cites Gen. XVI.12).
See below, pp. 32“3.

less reputable ancestor, the slave-woman Hagar, who was Ismael™s mother.48
The terms Saraceni, Ismaelitae and Agareni had been used by Jerome (d. 420),
a Christian scholar, to refer to Arab peoples living in the Sinai peninsula and
Syrian desert. By the time the Muslims of the seventh century inherited
the label Saraceni, it had been in use for several hundred years, and in a
learned Christian context it rendered the conquerors immediately familiar
and explicable.
The identities and characteristics of Old Testament Ismaelites, pre-
Islamic Arabs and Muslims congregated and eventually mingled within
the singular embrace of the name Saraceni. The process was of considerable
signi¬cance for the history of western perceptions of Islam. For centuries
afterwards, western authors de¬ned and characterised Muslims using neg-
ative imagery from biblical exegesis and apocalyptic literature. This kind
of interpretation continued alongside (and sometimes in) learned scholarly
works on Islam well into the period dealt with by Said in Orientalism.49 For
Said, this kind of familiarisation represents a means of controlling the dis-
quieting novelty of the Orient by rendering it tame: ˜known, and therefore
less fearsome, to the Western reading public™.50 Yet he does not provide
evidence for such a process of familiarisation in early medieval Western per-
ceptions of ˜the Orient™ nor note the distinct Christian scholastic in¬‚uence
in his notional background of ˜Orientalist-inclined™ thought.
Still, several examples of what at ¬rst reading appear to be ˜character-
istically Orientalist thought™ may be teased out from the passage by Bede
cited above. First, there is the idea that Orientalism consists largely in the
implicit boundary which separates the necessarily different and very often
As Daniel (among others) has noted, the terms Agareni or Ismaelitae were thus often
included alongside Saraceni as a corrective (Daniel, The Arabs and Mediaeval Europe,
p. 53).
Josiah Conder, for example, whose substantial work An Analytical and Comparative View
of All Religions was published in 1838, elsewhere drew on Rev. IX.1“10 to describe the
Muslim conquerors of the seventh and eighth centuries as a plague of diabolic man-eating
locusts led by the fallen angel Destroyer (˜The Apocalypse™, p. 77). See, generally, Matar,
Islam in Britain, 153“83; Stubbe, Mahometanism, ed. Shairani, pp. 210, 245“6 and 252“
3; and Porter Smith, Islam in English Literature, pp. 14, 27“8 and 150“3 (nineteenth
century); and see chapter 9 below on the survival of two speci¬c notions concerning
Said, Orientalism, p. 60, where he refers to such processes as ˜domestications of the

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

dangerous, threatening ˜Orient™ “ the ˜Other™ “ from the western writer
who describes it. Bede™s repetition of the words ˜everybody™, ˜all™ (omnes,
universus) in opposition to the Saracens makes it clear that ˜everybody™ in
this case excludes ˜the Saracens™, and that Bede belongs with ˜everybody™.
Related to this is his proprietorial attitude towards Africa, Asia and Europe.
Bede knew of two churchmen who had travelled to England from Africa
and Asia, but he himself never set foot abroad.51 Nevertheless, implicit in
his comment is the idea that the continents belong to ˜everybody™ (namely,
˜us™) who is put upon by ˜them™, the unrighteous Saracens. Despite his
distance from these events Bede felt himself to be perfectly well-quali¬ed
to comment in sweeping terms upon the Orient, the Saracens and their
activities: they are, he says, undifferentiatedly shiftless, hateful and aggres-
sive (uagos, incertisque sedibus; exosi et contrarii), to the extent that they have
irrupted from the desert where, according to scripture, they belong. His
assumptions seem to correspond with Said™s description of Orientalism as
a textual activity by which the literary West ˜possesses™ the East by virtue
of superior knowledge, the tacit assumption being that the West knows
how to portray the East better than the East itself. Finally, Bede presents
the Islamic conquests in such a way as to af¬rm that, far from being a new
phenomenon, they demonstrate what has been known all along about the
Saracens. The situation, he implies, is not so much different as even more
the case “ a ˜domestication of the exotic™ which Bede brings about simply
by qualifying a verse from the book of Genesis with the words nunc autem
in tantum (˜now, however, to such an extent™).
However, Bede™s motives for describing the Saracens in this way lack the
colonising urge and the desire for material gain which, according to Said,
characterise many modern western accounts of Islam. Nor does Bede suggest
in the passage cited above that organised Christian intervention is necessary
to correct and control Islam. He expresses resentment of Saracen dominion
in previously Christian territories but displays no overt political agenda.
Even such ˜latent™ Orientalism, according to Said, is by no means disinter-
ested; it remains intimately involved with western approaches to political
and economic power.52 The ideological role which the Saracens could ful¬l
The two churchmen were Theodore of Tarsus and his North African colleague Hadrian.
They travelled from their homelands to Rome, possibly in ¬‚ight from Islamic incursions,
and Theodore was appointed archbishop of Canterbury; they arrived in England in AD
669 and 670 respectively. See below, pp. 116“17.
See, for example, Said, Orientalism, pp. 300“1 and 308.


for medieval Christian authors is encapsulated in the premise upon which
the whole of Bede™s passage is based: the Saracens oppose Christianity and
so, to the extent that they are shown to be wrong, they demonstrate that
Christianity is right. As far as Empire is concerned, Bede™s literary represen-
tation of the Saracens constituted an aggrandisement, however small, of the
institution of the medieval church. This is not really ˜Orientalism™, though,
since ˜Occident“Orient™ does not seem to be a meaningful opposition with
reference to Christian superiority over Saracens in Bede™s presentation.53
Similar processes of opposition and criticism may be seen at work not
only in other comments by Bede but in a number of texts mentioning the
Saracens that were known in Anglo-Saxon England. All have in common
the fact that they present the Saracens in unfavourable contrast with rep-
resentatives of Christian civilisation. The Saracens oppose or provoke the
Christians to no avail. They act as a foil for the virtue and eventual suc-
cess of the Christians and, at last, con¬rm their righteousness. In Jerome™s
Vita Malchi (later translated into Old English), an account of how a band
of Saracens captured an erring monk, not only does the monk manage to
escape with his chastity intact, but the pursuing Saracens are providentially
slaughtered, enabling him to sell their camels for a good price.54 Ælfric
describes how the Christian emperor Theodosius II faced a Persian enemy
employing Saracen mercenaries, all of whom were ignominiously defeated
by the imperial army.55 Similarly, according to a few brief lines in one ver-
sion of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the German emperor Otto II gained a
hard-won victory in AD 982 against a band of Saracens who had invaded
from the sea with the intention of attacking Christians.56 Even the state-
ment in the Vita S. Hilarionis by Jerome that a band of regrettably pagan
Saracens beseeched Hilarion for a blessing suggests that they acknowledged
some spiritual superiority in the saint.57 The only ideological difference (it
might be argued) between these examples and the vastly longer and more
elaborate chansons de geste is the will expressed in the latter to argue the logical
conviction by force of arms. To select these examples is to present a picture
See below, pp. 234“7.
Jerome, Vita Malchi [CPL 619]; the Old English translation [Cameron B3.3.35c] is edited
by B. Assmann.
Ælfric, Old English Judges [Cameron B8.1.6], p. 416.
O™Brien O™Keeffe, ed., The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: MS C [Cameron B17.7], p. 85; trans.
Swanton, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, p. 124.
Jerome, Vita S. Hilarionis [CPL 618], PL 23, 41.

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

entirely in accordance with Said™s argument that all western perceptions of
the East are governed by the western desire for superiority. However, if the
examples above were redissolved into their context, in which any number
of hostile peoples are presented in opposition to an eventually triumphant
Christianity, they would probably appear to make up one small corner of a
much larger picture of ˜anti-Christianism™, not ˜Orientalism™.
It has been recognised before now that Bede in particular played a crucial
part in shaping medieval western ideas of the Muslims, and that he identi¬ed
them with the Old Testament Ismaelites. It has also been recognised that
several of his explanations are taken from the writings of Jerome, who was
widely seen as a pre-Islamic authority on the Orient.58 What is less often
noted is the scale of such borrowings and the fact that the works of Jerome
continued to be copied in their own right into the twelfth century and
It is, indeed, tempting to make a case for Jerome as the ¬rst great Ori-
entalist. A fourth-century scholar who was well educated in the classics
and identi¬ed himself with Roman culture, he moved to Syria in order to
learn Oriental languages, translate the Bible from the Hebrew and Greek
and pursue a life of ascetic study. At his home near Bethlehem he pro-
duced a large number of works, mainly aids to biblical study, which were
to dominate medieval western perceptions of the Arabs and Arabia. His
extensive commentaries on the text of the Bible can be regarded as the
¬rst writings to describe in detail, from an authoritative western Christian
perspective, the geography, ethnology and culture of the Middle East to a
European audience who would in nearly all cases never see the lands of the
Arabs for themselves. It was the works of Jerome which initially dissem-
inated the term Saracenus and its etymology to the medieval West. When
Bede and other Anglo-Saxon writers used Saraceni to signify the Muslims
of the eighth century, probably without knowing that they were referring
to people in some way different from pre-Islamic Arabs, the name gained
a new contemporary relevance but also set limitations upon what western
observers could understand about Islam.
Jerome and Bede were not, of course, Orientalists in the sense of devoting
their careers to the Orient qua Orient. They were exegetes whose primary
literary task, as they saw it, was to expound the meaning of the Bible and

See, for example, Rotter, Abendland und Sarazenen, pp. 72“3 and 247“51; Wallace-Hadrill,
˜Bede™s Europe™, pp. 77“9; and Southern, Western Views, pp. 16“19.


promote a correct understanding of Christianity. To the extent that their
exegesis consisted of learned expositions on ancient Middle Eastern his-
tory, culture and linguistics as they related to scripture, it might fairly be
termed an Orientalist pursuit but not ˜Orientalist™ in Said™s meaning of the
word.59 Still, the main thrust of Said™s argument about modern Oriental-
ism is precisely that it is not dedicated to knowledge in and for its own
sake, though its avowed end may be the furtherance of scienti¬c learning.
Rather, it constitutes a scholarly apparatus by which the threatening Orient
may be mastered through textual representations of Orientals as naturally
subordinate and inferior to European observers. The traditional statements
of this apparatus, backed up by matching contemporary accounts of the
Orient, informed ˜scienti¬c™ justi¬cations for western colonialist activities.
Arguably, this process had parallels in medieval north-western Europe. The
study of the Bible throughout the early medieval period, the avowed end of
which was the furtherance of Christian belief, also involved the transmis-
sion of a commentary on the threatening Saracens which showed them to be
˜naturally™ subordinate and inferior to Christians. Combined with increas-
ing western awareness of Islam, this earlier apparatus of beliefs informed the
context in which the Crusades were promoted and justi¬ed as an activity
sanctioned by the Christian church.60
Yet however far and in whatever direction one manages to pursue the
argument for medieval Orientalism, it does not quite ring true. Perhaps it
is because it lacks the teleological thrust of Said™s Orientalism. All western
commentary on the lands of the East tended for Said towards the last con¬-
dent act of imperial, colonial rule, the consequences of which we now face.
Individual studies of earlier periods suggest that things were often more
complicated than that. But while this may detract from the momentum of
In the discussion below, it may generally be assumed unless otherwise indicated that
where the word ˜Orientalism™ appears, whether or not enclosed in quotation marks, it
refers to Said™s use of the word in his Orientalism.
Much has been written on the origins of the Crusades. For an overview of the development
of a religious justi¬cation for crusading, see the fundamental study by Erdmann, The
Origin of the Idea of Crusade (and Gilchrist™s response, ˜The Erdmann Thesis and the Canon
Law™); Riley-Smith, The First Crusade and the Idea of Crusading; L. and J. Riley-Smith, The
Crusades: Idea and Reality; Runciman, The First Crusade; and Peters, ed., The First Crusade.
Recently, Maier has directed attention towards the role of the minor orders in promoting
the later Crusades: see his Preaching the Crusades and Crusade Propaganda and Ideology. The
latter provides an edition of a number of model sermons meant for address to contributors
to the crusading effort.

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

Said™s thesis, it does not touch the period in which he is secure, between
the eighteenth century and the present day, where, indeed, his argument
achieves most conviction by integrating the long-lived notions embodied
in the literature of the day with the political motivations and material de-
sires which also characterised this period. The Crusades, by contrast with
nineteenth-century colonial expansion, achieved comparatively little in the
way of material gain, and eventually their successes ¬zzled out while the
power of the Ottoman Empire continued to increase. The earliest theories
about Saracens do not appear to have discouraged the idea of warfaring
against Islam or ˜the East™, but nor can they be shown to be very tightly
bound up with it.61 They set a point of view, perhaps; they provided au-
thoritative prejudices and claimed to deliver the information that needed
to be known; but they cannot be argued to be a form of justi¬cation for
ongoing or planned material domination of Oriental peoples and cultures.
Said™s model of western European thought presented an abstract con-
tinuum of hostility towards the Orient, according to which authors drew
their attitudes from a similar traditionalist mindset. This model “ useful,
if not valid “ has been considerably re¬ned since the ¬rst publication of
Orientalism; but there has been little or no mention of the traditio itself in
which very speci¬c hostile concepts concerning ˜Orientals™ (descent from
Hagar, Venus-worship, etc.) derived traceably from earlier texts and in turn
directly informed a subsequent generation of writings, whether transmit-
ted verbatim, rephrased or translated. Even if the haul of such repetitions
is restricted to works known in England, and even allowing for the same
idea to have occurred to different authors at different times, their existence
demands a substantial remodelling of ˜Orientalism™ as Said presents it.
An exception to this is provided by William of Tyre (1130“86), who reported Pope Urban
to have uttered the following words: ˜Hec igitur nostre salutis incunabula, domini pa-
triam, religionis matrem populus absque deo, ancille ¬lius Egyptie possidet uiolenter . . .
Sed quid scriptum est? Eice ancillam et ¬lium eius! Sarracenorum enim gens impia et
inmundarum sectatrix traditionum loca sancta, in quibus steterunt pedes domini, iam a
multis retro temporibus uiolenta premit tyrannide . . .™ (˜A people without God, the son
of the Egyptian handmaid, has violently seized these cradles of our salvation, fatherland of
our lord, mother of religion . . . But what is written? Cast out the handmaid and her son!
For the wicked Saracen people, follower of unclean traditions, has from a long time ago
oppressed the holy places, in which the feet of the Lord rested, with violent despotism™;
William of Tyre, Chronicon, CCCM 63, 132. Cf. Gen. XXI.10, Gal. IV.28“30 and (on
Saracens as descendants of Hagar) see below, pp. 93“5.


Said himself, on another level, suggested a parallel between Orientalism
and the literary tradition to which Jerome, Bede (the only Anglo-Saxon
author he mentions) and others vigorously contributed. ˜My analyses™, he
writes, ˜try to show the ¬eld™s shape and internal organization, its pioneers,
patriarchal authorities, canonical texts, doxological ideas.™62 His phrasing
suggests that Orientalism has enjoyed the kind of cultural dominion more
usually associated with an orthodox faith administered in the form of an
organised body of texts. Speci¬cally, the vocabulary that Said deploys brings
to mind the writings of the early Christian church, which, at least in those
parts of north-western Europe that would later become the quintessentially
Orientalist powers of France and England, achieved their authority and
in¬‚uence through centuries of industrious copying and citation during the
Middle Ages.
Indeed, negative conceptions of Arabs and Muslims were ¬rst engen-
dered in England and on the Continent as an aspect of literate thought at
a time when the technology of writing was chie¬‚y employed in the ser-
vice of the church and textual authority was founded upon quotation from
previous authorities. Yet, at the same time, Said “ by rhetorically invok-
ing an assumed repertory among his readers of negative associations with
the medieval period that his critique largely ignores (suggesting that it
was repressive, rigidly hierarchical, superstitiously resistant to new truths,
unenlightened, barbaric, inferior, religiously extremist) “ has himself to
some extent ˜Orientalised™ the Middle Ages in denigrating the practice of

Said, Orientalism, p. 22. Elsewhere, Said again employs vocabulary which suggests some-
thing of a religious authority for Orientalists. Concerning the survival of the medieval
conceptual repertoire through the eighteenth century, he describes: ˜a lay order of disci-
plined methodologists, whose brotherhood would be based . . . upon a common discourse,
a praxis, a library, a set of received ideas, in short, a doxology™ (Orientalism, p. 121). Of
the language employed by Cromer to describe western in¬‚uence upon eastern colonies:
˜His metaphor for expressing this effect is almost theological™ (Orientalism, p. 213); of
a paragraph by von Grunebaum: ˜In most other contexts such writing would politely
be called polemical. For Orientalism, of course, it is relatively orthodox, and it passed
for canonical wisdom in American study of the Middle East™ (Orientalism, p. 297); the
Cambridge History of Islam ˜is a regular summa of Orientalist orthodoxy™ (Orientalism,
p. 302), and so on. Note also his comment: ˜The idea that Islam is medieval and dangerous . . .
has acquired a place both in the culture and in the polity that is very well de¬ned™ (Covering
Islam, p. 157; my emphasis).

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

Said promotes instead a mode of scholarship that he calls ˜secularism™ or
˜worldliness™, according to which the scholar is engaged with the world.
Whether or not it is deemed appropriate to ˜politicise™ medieval studies,
it can be useful on many levels to question the relationship between ideas
and action; and, given the present interest in western ideas about Islam or
Muslims in various parts of the world, it is useful to examine the history of
earlier Christian ideas about the peoples of the Near East.63
The in¬‚uence of canonical texts upon Anglo-Saxon perceptions of Islam
has until now not been analysed, and the argument below remedies this lack.
It is also an appropriate time to consider aspects of early English thought
which have as yet remained largely unexamined by Anglo-Saxonists. Most
of all, however, it is in response to Said™s and Daniel™s provocative annexation
of ˜the Middle Ages™ as a source for Orientalist or imperial attitudes that I
have tried to trace English perceptions of the Arabs, Ismaelites and Saracens
during the centuries in which England remained a small and very distant
power compared with the ¬‚ourishing empire of Islam.

Among the most recent studies, Richard Fletcher™s The Cross and the Crescent: Christianity
and Islam from Muhammad to the Reformation (London, 2003) is a useful overview which I
unfortunately did not see in time to include here. Fletcher discusses European views in
general on pp. 1“66; most relevant to the present work are his references to Isidore on
Ismael (p. 10), Bede on the Muslim conquests (p. 19), Willibald (pp. 22“3) and Arculf
(p. 53). As he notes on p. 65, ˜There were plenty of interactions but no interest in religion™.


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