. 2
( 10)


Islam during the Anglo-Saxon period

Scholarly discussions abound on the inception and expansion of Islamic re-
ligion and government, on the development of Muslim schools of thought
and relations with other religions and empires, and the ¬‚owerings and dis-
semination of Islamic architecture, astronomy, calligraphy, jurisprudence,
literature, mathematics, medicine and philosophy (for example) over the
past fourteen centuries. This chapter is based on secondary literature; it
is not intended to provide new information nor original insights for his-
torians but only a simple introduction to the religion and territories of
Islam during the period 600“1100. The emphasis is on the topics most
relevant to Anglo-Saxon perceptions of Arabs and Saracens: ¬rst, Islamic
conquest and government around the Mediterranean and in north-western
Europe and, secondly, some sample early responses by Christian observers
who came under Muslim rule. It does not include any account of Muslim
culture and government in southern Arabia or further east than present-day
Iraq, nor of arts and sciences under Islam. Many eastern Christian accounts
and all Jewish responses to the Muslim conquests have been excluded. De-
spite its limitations, it seemed important to include this partial outline
of the history of Islam AD 600“1100 so that subsequent chapters about
Anglo-Saxon contacts with Islam and literary representations of Arabs and
Muslims might appear in some kind of historical context.1
The phrase ˜the history of Islam™ suggests one authoritative account of
one monolithic institution. Said has suggested further that no western
A note on transliteration: the vowels, hamza and « ayn in Arabic names and terms, unless

they occur in terms already familiar in English, have been transliterated according to the
conventions outlined in EI2 . An exception is ˜Qur™¯ n™, more familiar as ˜Koran™. Under-
lining and underpointing of consonants is not included. Qaf is represented throughout
by ˜q™.

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

account of Islam can be separated from interests in authority and power.2
He has criticised the methodologies of several well-established historians of
Islam whose writings are commonly regarded as standard reference works
on the subject. Said™s criticism focuses on what he perceives as a tendency
amongst scholars and the media in the West to abstract an ˜essential™ (and
misleading) notion of Islam or the Orient which then serves European and
American political and economic motives. The future for Orientalism may
be happier; recent trends in historical scholarship tend towards versions
of the past which emphasise a broad variety of sources and themes within
a period rather than a scheme of uni¬ed progress. Many primary sources
on Islam from the period AD 600“1100 have been or are in the process of
being edited and translated, putting them within reach of non-experts. The
¬rst world congress for Middle Eastern studies in September 2002 at Mainz
provided an opportunity for wider networking of expertise on topics related
to Islam. ˜The history of Islam™ is becoming increasingly visible as history
told by many authors at different times and places, writing individual
versions of what they wanted to portray with more or less conscious bias.
Islam took root in the Arabian peninsula at the same time as Christianity
in England. The early seventh century saw, on the one hand, Muhammad™s
call to prophethood in Mecca (traditionally ascribed to the year 610) and,
on the other, Augustine™s mission to Kent (established in 597). During the
following decades of the seventh century, conversions and setbacks took
place in both quarters, but both Islam and Christianity gained ground and
continued to expand: the former with celebrated speed and success, the
latter more sedately.
In Anglo-Saxon England, the earliest unambiguous references to Islamic
activity which have survived were written down by Bede almost a cen-
tury after the prophet Muhammad™s death. They tell us that news of the
conquests in Spain had rapidly travelled to England by then, but Bede™s
knowledge is in general too late and too vague to be useful as a historical
source about Islamic rule and religion. More detailed information comes
from Muslim histories and traditions and from other, non-Muslim accounts
Said, Covering Islam, pp. lvii“lviii. In particular he addresses writings on Islam by Bernard
Lewis; see, for example, Orientalism, pp. 296“300 and 314“20; Culture and Imperialism,
pp. 42“3, and Covering Islam, pp. 136“40. He also criticises the works of Gibb and von
Grunebaum (Orientalism, pp. 105“7). Said™s comments have prompted further critiques of
these and other historians pejoratively termed ˜Orientalist™; see, for example, the articles
in Hussain, Olson and Qureshi, eds., Orientalism, Islam, and Islamists.

Islam during the Anglo-Saxon period

from the Continent, Constantinople and communities living in Syria at the
time of the invasions. Some of these were written almost contemporaneously
with the ¬rst conquests. However, the earliest primary sources incorporate
a number of knotty problems. The non-Muslim accounts disagree with
each other and with Muslim records and traditions concerning the ¬rst
years of Islam. The historical validity of the earliest Muslim writings is
disputed. All surviving accounts represent literate views of (at best) ques-
tionable impartiality. The dif¬culty of reconciling differing contemporary
information on the rise of Islam makes any description of its ¬rst decades
The terms Islam and Muslim derive from an Arabic verb meaning ˜surren-
der™, ˜submit™ and convey the idea of total submission (to God). A primary
tenet of Islam is the unique nature of Allah, the Supreme Being, and the
role of Muhammad as prophet of God. Islam, Christianity and Judaism
acknowledge a common prophetic tradition. In theory they share a frame
of reference consisting of coinciding material in the Torah, Old Testament
and Qur™¯ n. However, Islamic authorities maintained that the original prin-
ciples of Judaism and Christianity, revealed by the one God, had become
corrupted over time. Muslims revere Abraham, Moses and Jesus as prophets
of God but recognise Muhammad (c. 570“632) as the ˜Seal of the Prophets™,
the man to whom God entrusted the ¬nal and de¬nitive version of the
Holy Word via the angel Gabriel in a series of revelations between 610
and 632. These revelations were later recorded and collated as the book
called the Qur™¯ n. In Muslim eyes, Islam thus superseded both Judaism
and Christianity. However, the earlier religions were still respected as valid
revelations to Moses and Jesus by the same God who revealed Islam to
Perhaps the most immediate division between Muslims and Christians
lies in their beliefs concerning the natures of God and Jesus. According to
the Qur™¯ n, Jesus was a prophet of God who could perform miracles and was
transported to heaven but who was a man. Christians view Jesus as Christ,
an aspect of the Trinity and therefore as God (though Christian history is
rife with controversies concerning exactly how much and in what way). By
contrast, while Muslims revere Muhammad above all other prophets and
look to the example of his life to a greater or lesser extent for guidance, they
perceive him as human, not divine. According to Islam, God is absolutely
indivisible and many Muslims regard belief in a threefold divine nature
with some suspicion that it borders upon polytheism. Muslims approach

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

God not in Muhammad but through the prescribed actions of their faith
and the recitation of the Qur™¯ n. Medieval Christian writers commonly
misconceived Islam and Muslims to relate to Muhammad in the same way
as Christianity and Christians to Christ; this contributed to the long survival
of the term ˜Mahometan™ and its variants to refer to Muslims.

muhammad and early islam
Muhammad was born around the year AD 570 into an old and respected
family in the trading town of Mecca. His parents died when he was young,
and he was brought up by his grandfather and uncle. In his thirties he
married a widow and businesswoman called Khad¯ja and began to travel
into the surrounding countryside in order to meditate. The ¬rst revelation
of the Qur™¯ n to him is said to have taken place when he was about forty,
in 610. At the same time, Pope Gregory™s mission to the Anglo-Saxons
had been preaching in England for a little more than a decade. Muhammad
continued to experience revelations of the Holy Word and preached his
religious insights to family and friends, making several converts but pro-
voking hostility from others. In 622 he left Mecca, whose population had
ceased to tolerate his presence, and emigrated to Medina, his mother™s home.
His journey is known as the hijra (˜migration™) and marks the ¬rst year of
the Islamic calendar. Subsequently, Muhammad and new converts from
Medina brought Islam back to Mecca and thereafter disseminated it far and
wide throughout the Arabian peninsula in a series of determined and very
successful military endeavours.3
The death of Muhammad in AD 632 initiated the rule for twenty-nine
years of four of his close companions: Abu Bakr, « Umar, « Uthm¯ n and «Al¯.
¯ a ±
However, after « Uthm¯ n was assassinated, Mu« awiya (governor of Syria from
640) refused to acknowledge «Al¯ as caliph. In 661, « Al¯ himself was assassi-
± ±
nated and his son then ceded his title to Mu« awiya. This episode provoked
civil discord and various sects appeared in support of «Al¯™s descendants
as the rightful caliphs. Nevertheless, Mu« awiya became the ¬rst caliph of
the Umayyad dynasty, which was to govern from Damascus until AD 750
See Kaegi, Byzantium and the Early Islamic Conquests, pp. 67, 71“4 and 92, on the earliest
skirmishes. On the life of Muhammad, see Cook, Muhammad, and Guillaume, The Life of
Muhammad, which is a translation of the standard Islamic source on the Prophet. A recent
sympathetic biography is Barnaby Rogerson™s The Prophet Muhammed (London, 2003). A re-
cent sympathetic biography is Barnaby Rogerson™s The Prophet Muhammed (London, 2003).

Islam during the Anglo-Saxon period

and the rise of the « Abb¯ sid dynasty, who moved the Islamic capital to

t h e f i r s t c e n t u r y o f i s l a m i c e x pa n s i o n
By Muhammad™s lifetime, the Graeco-Byzantine and Persian empires had
been struggling with each other for centuries for control of the lands east of
the Mediterranean. In AD 628, Heraclius, emperor of Byzantium, succeeded
at last in defeating the S¯ s¯ nid Persian dynasty and made arrangements for
remaining Persian troops to withdraw from the eastern Byzantine provinces.
However, these districts were then lost almost immediately when Muslim
Arab forces unexpectedly invaded from the south in the 630s. Various cir-
cumstances seem to have aided Muslim military success. Following the
defeat of the Persians, Heraclius had never fully re-established his forces
in the area. After many years of hostile disputes over the nature of Christ,
Byzantine orthodox Christianity (the central, Melkite church) had lost in-
¬‚uence with the Nestorian and Jacobite churches of the East. The late
Roman system of supplying armies from local resources was undermined
by a popular unwillingness to help.4 Civilians were unarmed as part of
imperial policy, and the largest eastern garrisons were concentrated against
any new Persian menace rather than a threat from Arabia.5 Furthermore,
recurring epidemics had weakened the population.6 It was in this context
that the Arab armies began to have their ¬rst successes against Byzantine
Preliminary skirmishes between Arab and Byzantine forces culminated
in the battle of Yarmuk and the ¬nal capture of Damascus by the Arabs
in AD 636. This was quickly followed by the surrender of Baalbek, Homs
and Hama and the conquests of Jerusalem in 638 and Caesarea in 640. By
the end of 641 the towns of Harran, Edessa and Nasibin further north were
also under Muslim Arab domination.7 The Muslim occupation of southern
Palestine cut Egypt™s overland communications with Byzantium and left

Lewis, The Arabs in History, p. 49, and Lamoreaux, ˜Early Eastern Christian Responses™,
pp. 6 and 24.
Kaegi, Byzantium and the Early Islamic Conquests, pp. 33“9, 41“2, 50, 71.
As argued by Conrad, ˜Epidemic Disease in Central Syria™.
On the ¬rst conquests, see Kaegi, Byzantium and the Early Islamic Conquests, especially
pp. 66“180 (pp. 66“8 contain a detailed chronology of events), and Donner, The Early
Islamic Conquests, pp. 91“220.

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

Egypt ill-prepared to defend itself. Within a year of the initial Muslim
attempt in 641 all Egypt was taken except Alexandria, which surrendered
some years later in 646/7.8 The Muslims built a garrison, Fustat, below
the Nile Delta, which served as a new capital and also as a military base
from which to enter North Africa. Attacks on Constantinople during the
seventh and early eighth century proved unsuccessful. The city was not
to come under Muslim rule until the celebrated victory of Fatih Sultan
Mehmet in the ¬fteenth century.
The Arab governors in Egypt for the most part retained the Byzantine
administrative system which they had inherited.9 This re¬‚ected similar
practice in other newly conquered regions; Muslim Arabs generally seem
to have replaced previous rulers whilst (initially, at least) leaving extant in-
frastructures undisturbed.10 This ˜top-down™ approach doubtless minimised
disruption to civilians and made immediate government and taxation much
Meanwhile, the islands of the Mediterranean were raided from Syria and,
later, from North Africa. Unlike Crete, which was to serve as an exclusively
Muslim naval base, Cyprus seems to have acted as a neutral springboard from
which the Islamic and Byzantine empires could mount attacks against each
other. This ambiguous status is re¬‚ected in an account of Cyprus given by
the Anglo-Saxon pilgrim Willibald. In the course of a narrative describing
his pilgrimage to the Holy Land in the eighth century, he appears to have
reported that the Greeks and Saracens shared the island.11 A treaty of 688
arranged for the inhabitants of Cyprus to pay tax to both Byzantium and
Damascus, and in a subsequent transfer of the population, some went to
the Syrian and others to the Byzantine coast.12 Further west, Sicily was
attacked from Syria before 680 and later continued to be harried from the
North African coastline, but the island was not occupied by Muslim troops
until the ninth century.

The local governor and patriarch, Cyrus, is supposed to have arranged for the peaceful
handover of the city: see Kaegi, ˜Byzantine Egypt™, pp. 11“15, and Mazzaoui, ˜The
Conquest of Alexandria™, pp. 172“3.
CHI I, 175. See also Lombard, The Golden Age of Islam, pp. 18“19 and 44“5.
On the conquests of what became the central Islamic lands, see EI2 , s.v. ˜Arm¯niya™, ±
˜Filast¯n™, ˜ « Ir¯ k™, ˜Misr™ and ˜Surya™. Constantelos discusses Greek sources on the ¬rst
± a
conquests in ˜The Moslem Conquests™.
Vita Willibaldi, p. 94.
Kyrris, ˜Arab-Byzantine Relations in Cyprus™, pp. 162 and 165“6.

Islam during the Anglo-Saxon period

To begin with, the Muslim conquerors divided North Africa into two
regions: central Ifr¯qiya and, to the west, the Maghrib, between the coast
and the Sahara. Arab troops ¬rst invaded this western region at the begin-
ning of the eighth century and thus gained a route into Spain via the Straits
of Gibraltar. Native Berbers formed an important element of the Muslim
army which was to invade Spain in AD 711. However, North Africa itself
later proved dif¬cult for Islamic governors to control.13 Many Berbers re-
mained pagan or had already converted to Christianity.14 The region tended
to favour rule by the many native tribes, who emphasised democratic in-
volvement in government and egalitarianism within strongly independent
tribal societies.
Spain came under Muslim control after only two years of campaign-
ing.15 This rapid success seems to have been facilitated by the fragility of
Visigothic rule in Spain. Al-Andalus (the Arabic name given to the Islamic
area of the Iberian peninsula) was divided into districts, as Syria had been.16
Governors were delegated by the caliph in Damascus or the local governor in
Egypt. An appreciable proportion of the Andalusian population remained
Christian (the Mozarabs) and looked to the independent, Christian north for
moral and religious support. Muslim governors retained the original eccle-
siastical divisions of Visigothic Spain and the urban Mozarab communities
were organised under leaders who acted as their representatives and were
responsible to the Islamic authorities.17 After the conquest, the population
of al-Andalus thus consisted of Berbers, a growing number of neo-Muslims,
a minority of Arabs and a large proportion of unconverted Christians and
Jews. The eighth and ninth centuries were marked by uprisings and con¬‚ict
amongst the different sectors of this population.18

On Islam in North Africa, see EI2 , s.v. ˜Ifr¯qiya™ and ˜al-Maghrib™; CHI II, 211“37; and
Lombard, The Golden Age of Islam, pp. 52“6.
EI2 IV, 1188. Christianity continued to survive, especially in Carthage. On Christianity
in the Maghrib under Islam, see Talbi, ˜Le Christianisme maghr´ bin™, and Cameron, ˜The
Byzantine Reconquest of North Africa™, pp. 159“60 and 162“4.
The three volumes of L´ vi-Provencal™s Histoire de l™Espagne musulmane remain a standard
e ¸
reference on Islam in the Iberian peninsula. See also EI2 , s.v. ˜al-Andalus™; CHI I, 406“39;
and Kennedy, ˜The Muslims in Europe™, pp. 255“71.
16 17
Lewis, The Arabs in History, pp. 121“2. Lombard, The Golden Age of Islam, p. 75.
For example, a rebellion in the late seventh century involved Berbers and the governor
of Catalunya, who had allied themselves with a governor of Aquitaine. It was eventually
suppressed by Hish¯ m. See Meadows, ˜The Arabs in Occitania™, p. 26.

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

Meanwhile, Muslim troops made efforts to penetrate the lands beyond
the Pyrenees. They took Narbonne and its surrounds, and in AD 725 an
expedition reached Burgundy. Most famously, according to western histo-
ries, in 732/3 Charles Martel and an army of Franks defeated what was prob-
ably a Muslim raiding party at the battle of Tours and Poitiers. European
writers (Edward Gibbon is often cited) have emphasised the signi¬cance of
this victory, while Muslim historians seem to attach less importance to the
battle or its conclusion.19 In any case, it marked the furthest expedition
of Muslim military into north-western Europe.20 The division between al-
Andalus in the south and Christian Spain in the north settled round the
Marches, the borderland areas to the north-west of Saragossa, M´ rida and
Toledo where minor rulers could maintain some kind of independence.21
Elsewhere, Muslim armies continued to attack Constantinople and the bor-
ders of the remaining Byzantine empire, but made no further large territorial
gains during this period.22

t h e « a b b a s i d c a l i p h at e , a d 7 5 0 “ 1 1 0 0
In AD 750, the Umayyad dynasty fell from power after an extensive pro-
paganda campaign by supporters of another dynasty, the « Abb¯ sids, who
then became the new rulers of the Islamic empire. The « Abb¯ sids moved
the capital of Islam to Baghdad and adopted much Persian court cere-
mony and culture. With the transfer of the caliphate further east, control
over Egypt loosened and the region suffered frequent uprisings in protest

Meadows, ˜The Arabs in Occitania™, p. 27, and Lewis, The Muslim Discovery of Europe,
pp. 18“19.
Charles Martel failed to recapture Narbonne in 737, when it was defended by Christian
and Muslim citizens together, but it was lost to Pepin in 759. During a famine in the
second half of the eighth century, the Muslims withdrew from the area. Later Muslim
expeditions were mounted against Narbonne in AD 793, 841 and 1020, and Provence
was raided during the same period. From 891 the coastal town of Fraxinetum (Garde-
Freinet) became a Muslim base and was to remain so for nearly a century (Meadows, ˜The
Arabs in Occitania™, p. 27).
The border between al-Andalus and Christian Spain is discussed by Collins, ˜Spain: The
Northern Kingdoms of the Basques, 711“910™; Watt, The In¬‚uence of Islam on Medieval
Europe, pp. 44“6; and Moreno, ˜Christian“Muslim Frontier in Al-Andalus™. On interre-
ligious relations in the northern regions, see also Burnett, ˜Cultural Contacts Between
Christians and Muslims™.
See Kennedy, ˜Arab Settlement on the Byzantine Frontier™.

Islam during the Anglo-Saxon period

against taxes.23 During the tenth century, Egypt then became the home of
an ambitious independent dynasty, the Ism¯ « ¯lite F¯ timids, who claimed
a± a
to be the rightful caliphs and set out to topple the « Abb¯ sids. After estab-
lishing their rule in North Africa, they entered Fustat in AD 969, founded
Cairo nearby as a garrison city and took over the rule of Egypt. From here
they came to control Sicily, Palestine, Syria, the Red Sea coast of Africa, the
Yemen and parts of western Arabia including the holy cities of Mecca and
Meanwhile, northern Syria came under the rule of another dynasty called
the Hamd¯ nids during the late ninth century. Throughout the tenth cen-
tury the Hamd¯ nids struggled independently against the Byzantine armies
but eventually, at the end of the tenth century, acknowledged the F¯ timids
as suzerains. Further north still, F¯ timid power was weaker and cities fre-
quently changed hands between minor dynasties. In the early eleventh cen-
tury, the Holy Sepulchre (under F¯ timid control) was destroyed by Muslims.
Commercial relations between the F¯ timids and Byzantium broke off as a
result and did not reopen until 1032. During the same period, the « Abb¯ sid
caliphs in Baghdad became ¬gurehead rulers under the control of a pro-
tectorate dynasty, the Iranian Buwayhids. Buwayhid rule came to an end
when Islamic Turkish forces moved south-west from Central Asia, entered
Baghdad in the mid-eleventh century and themselves took control of the
caliphate. In 1071, the Turks defeated a Byzantine army at Manzikert and
went on to conquer most of Asia Minor. In the late eleventh century, they
brie¬‚y occupied Jerusalem. The F¯ timids reconquered the city in 1098 “
only to be defeated by the Crusaders the following year.

In AD 800, the caliph H¯ run ar-Rash¯d granted the rule of Ifr¯qiya to
± ±
the Aghlabid dynasty. The Aghlabids successfully suppressed outbreaks
of Berber Kh¯ rijism and, in AD 832, undertook the capture of Sicily.25
They went on to attack southern Italy, Sardinia, Corsica and the Maritime
Alps and became for a while the supreme central Mediterranean power.

See CHI I, 176“7, and Lapidus, A History of Islamic Societies, p. 181. Lapidus, p. 48, and
Lombard (The Golden Age of Islam, p. 22) describe frequent Egyptian revolts throughout
the eighth and ninth centuries.
EI2 III, 853“4.
The Kh¯ rijites were a religious faction who protested the decision to appoint arbitrators
during the ¬rst Islamic civil war between « Ali and Mu « awiya. During the eighth century,
very many of the Berbers of North Africa adopted Kh¯ rijism in rebellion against their
Arab rulers. For a summary, see Bosworth, The Islamic Dynasties, pp. 22“3.

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

Eventually they succumbed to the F¯ timids as the latter rose to power dur-
ing the late ninth century, and in 909 the last Aghlabid ruler was driven
out of Ifr¯qiya into Egypt. When the F¯ timids moved to Egypt in 972, they
± a
left North Africa to another dynasty, the Z¯rids. The Maghrib was subse-
quently disputed for some decades between a number of petty dynasties.

In the eleventh century the radical Almoravids (al-Mur¯ bitun) invaded
from the Sahara while aggressive bands of Bedouin called the Banu Hil¯ l a

entered the Maghrib from the east. The Almoravids founded Marr¯ kush in
1062, united the Maghrib within twenty years and invaded Spain. They
are remembered for their violent massacre of Christians in both regions.26
Also during the eleventh century, the Z¯rids expanded their territories
further east in Ifr¯qiya. The dynasty divided in 1041 and both branches
became naval powers. However, they failed to prevent the Norman re-
capture of Sicily, and during the twelfth century Roger II harried their
coastlines from the island, captured portions of the coast and demanded

the territory of al-andalus, ad 750“1100
In AD 756, the Umayyad « Abd ar-Rahm¯ n I escaped the aftermath of the
« Abb¯ sid revolution, came to Spain and founded his own Umayyad emi-
rate centred on Seville and Cordova.27 His dynasty was to rule until 1031.
After the eighth century, most of the Spanish Umayyad period is charac-
terised by war and revolts on the borders begun by Berbers, Arabs and
neo-Muslims. « Abd ar-Rahm¯ n II (AD 822“52) improved the Islamic po-
sition. He fought against the Franks, the Gascons and Banu Kas¯ of the ±
Ebro Valley, put down a Mozarab revolt at Cordova and repelled a Viking
landing on the coast of Seville. « Abd ar-Rahm¯ n III (912“61) elaborated
court ceremony and, in response to the caliphate claim of his enemies the
F¯ timids, also titled himself a caliph. However, early in the eleventh century
the Spanish Umayyad caliphate collapsed, and from 1010 the ¬rst petty
Andalusian kingdoms arose: Almeria, Badajoz, Denia, Granada, Huelva-
Saltes and Saragossa. The Umayyads vanished from al-Andalus in 1031 and
the age of the ˜Muluk at-Taw¯ ™if™ or ˜Reyes de Taifas™ began. This period

Ye™or, The Dhimmi, pp. 60“1; see also Perlmann, ˜Eleventh-century Andalusian Authors™.
See EI2 , s.v. ˜al-Andalus™.

Islam during the Anglo-Saxon period

of political fragmentation was also one of cultural brilliance.28 However,
towards the end of the eleventh century, local rulers appealed to the Al-
moravids for help against the military threat of the Christians who had
captured Toledo in 1085. The Almoravids agreed, defeated the Christians
in the following year, and took control of Spain for themselves.

the islands of the mediterranean, ad 750“1100
After a series of Muslim treaties with Byzantium, Sicily remained peaceful
from the mid-eighth into the ¬rst quarter of the ninth century, but the
island was not to remain in Byzantine hands. In 895“6, after many Muslim
attacks, the Byzantines signed a peace treaty effectively handing Sicily over
to Islamic rule.29 However, the island retained a certain independence from
the central caliphate and, when the F¯ timids defeated the Aghlabids and
inherited Sicily in 909, the inhabitants rejected the ¬rst two governors
they sent and elected their own. In 969, the F¯ timids moved to Cairo
and left Sicily under a minor dynasty, the Kalbids. They ruled successfully
for some time but eventually a breakdown in government led to more
Muslim negotiations with Byzantium in the 1030s and partial Byzantine
occupation of eastern Sicily for a few years.30 At around the same time a
Norman, Robert Guiscard, also established a principality on the island.31 In
On the petty kingdoms of the eleventh century, see Wasserstein, The Rise and Fall of the
Party Kings and EI2 , s.v. ˜Muluk al-Taw¯ ™if ™. The forty or so territories varied in size from
¯ a
small city-states to large tracts of land; the rulers themselves varied in origin, some being
Arab, others Berber or even, on the eastern seaboard, Slav. The number of kingdoms fell
as the more powerful, such as the expanding Seville, subsumed the lesser (EI2 VII, 552).
Breckenridge, ˜The Two Sicilies™, pp. 42“3. Between the 840s and the 870s, Muslim
garrisons and possibly arsenals were also established at Bari and Taranto on the Italian
mainland, threatening Naples (in AD 837) and even Rome (AD 846 and 849) and
northern Italy. The emperor Basil I responded with campaigns in southern Italy between
876 and 886, but paid less attention to Sicily. Between 882 and 915, the renewal of
Byzantine authority in southern Italy ended permanent Muslim occupation. However,
a Muslim military colony near Garigliano continued to raid in Campagna and southern
Latium: see Lewis, The Arabs in History, p. 117; Breckenridge, ˜The Two Sicilies™, p. 44;
Watt, The In¬‚uence of Islam, pp. 4“5; and EI2 II, 130. More information on the Muslims
in Italy may be found in EI2 , s.v. ˜Italiya™, and Daniel, The Arabs in Mediaeval Europe,
pp. 56“9.
EI2 VIII, 788, and Breckenridge, ˜The Two Sicilies™, p. 45.
Watt, The In¬‚uence of Islam, p. 5.

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

1060 his brother, Count Roger, attacked Messina. It fell the following year
and in 1072 Palermo surrendered, marking the beginning of full Norman
rule on the island.32
Raiding attacks on Crete continued sporadically until, according to
Arab historians, the island was taken over in 827“8 by a band of pass-
ing Andalusians. They conquered Crete, subdued the Christian popula-
tion and established an independent emirate that casually recognised the
« Abb¯ sids and subsisted mainly on piracy, though Crete also contributed
to Muslim trade.33 The island had its own naval base, and the inhabitants
repeatedly defeated Byzantine forces and attacked its territories, often with
Syrian aid. Muslim raids from the island continued until eventually in
960 Crete was recaptured by Byzantine forces. It was followed in 965 by
Cyprus, which had always remained divided between Byzantine and Muslim
Even a cursory sketch of Muslim polities over the Anglo-Saxon period
indicates that Islam was not at all the monolithic entity which medieval
authors suggested when they referred to its peoples generically as Saraceni.
Muslim governors and caliphs disputed a variety of territorial and religious
claims and often maintained their political positions only with dif¬culty.
The caliphate enjoyed diplomatic relations with the Byzantine empire while
the borders between their respective territories remained subject to dispute.
Substantial proportions of the original population in conquered areas re-
mained pagan, Jewish or Christian. At times they were to suffer discrimi-
nation and persecution but many non-Muslims rose to high social positions
under Muslim rule.

christians under muslim rule
According to early Islam, the world was traditionally divided into D¯ r-a
al-Isl¯ m (˜the House of Islam™) and D¯ r-al-Harb (˜the House of War™:
a a
everywhere else), and the struggle of the former against the latter was the
Abula¬a suggests that this operation may have involved Italian commercial interests. The
cities of Pisa and Genoa, whose occupants had already joined forces against the Muslims,
attacked Palermo in 1063 (˜The Role of Trade™, p. 4).
Christides attributes a Cretan dirham found in Gotland to growth in F¯ timid trade (˜Raid
and Trade™, pp. 63“4 and 79).
See EI2 II, 130; EI2 III, 1084, and Fahmy, ˜Muslim Sea-Power in the Eastern Mediter-
ranean™, pp. 72“3.

Islam during the Anglo-Saxon period

jih¯ d, or ˜striving™.35 Truces were possible with non-Muslims, but in theory
these could last for no more than ten years. However, if members of a con-
quered community agreed to a contract known as the dhimma, they might
be allowed to remain in comparative peace. According to such a contract,
Jews and Christians (and, later, Zoroastrians) were tolerated within Muslim
society so long as they obeyed certain restrictions upon their religious activ-
ities and paid extra taxes.36 The dhimm¯ (those who accepted such a treaty)
formed an important economic resource for Arab rulers.37 The exact nature
of any contract depended on the demands and nature of the local Muslim
community and its leaders. Nevertheless, in principle Islam offered general
recognition and tolerance of Jews and Christians as ˜people of the book™,
that is, people to whom a valid religion had once been revealed.38 Early
medieval Christianity offered no equivalent formal acceptance of Muslim
faith. With the correct documents, non-Muslims from other lands could
also visit the D¯ r-al-Isl¯ m for a limited time.39 Such travellers included
a a
the eighth-century English pilgrim Willibald and his companions. While
journeying in Syria the band had to obtain of¬cial papers which would
permit them to travel safely in the Holy Land and obtain food.
Christianity in Eastern Syria and Mesopotamia was dominated by the
Nestorian church, while Palestine, western Syria and Egypt were largely
Monophysite. Both the Nestorian and Monophysite churches had suf-
fered under orthodox rule.40 Within a decade of the ¬rst Arab campaigns,
EI2 , s.v. ˜D¯ r-al-Isl¯ m™ and ˜D¯ r-al-Harb™.
a a a
See Fattal, Le statut l´gal, especially pp. 71“81, on the general status of dhimm¯.
e ±
Fattal, Le statut l´gal, pp. 264“343, and Ye™or, The Dhimmi, pp. 52“4. Recommendations
of tolerant and accepting Muslim behaviour towards non-believers may be found in the
Qur™¯ n at II.256, XVI.125, XXV.63, LX.8“10, CIX, VI.107“8, etc.
The dhimm¯, as unbelievers, were not supposed to hold public of¬ce or obtain authority
over Muslims; nevertheless, many did so, and proved useful to the Muslim authorities
as representatives of minority religious communities. Equally, a phrase which may be
translated ˜no compulsion in religion™ appears in the Qur™¯ n (II.56), but forced conversions
almost certainly took place at times; see Fattal, Le statut l´gal, pp. 236“63 and 170“
2; Ye™or, The Dhimmi, pp. 55“63; Tritton, The Caliphs and Their Non-Muslim Subjects,
especially pp. 18“36 and 127“36; and Dennett, Conversion and the Poll-Tax in Early Islam.
Lombard asserts that there were no persecutions nor forced conversions during this period,
indeed that the Islamic conquest ˜allowed things to go on as they had before, in every
sphere™ (The Golden Age of Islam, pp. 4“5), which perhaps overstates the case a little for
universal Islamic tolerance.
Daniel, Islam and the West, pp. 47“8.
Lamoreaux, ˜Early Eastern Christian Responses™, pp. 4 and 6“7.

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

Christian Syria, Palestine, Egypt and Mesopotamia had changed hands to
come under Islamic rule. This cut off the orthodox church in the region
from central Byzantine authority, and reduced its in¬‚uence upon the mi-
nority churches. Muslim governors imposed new taxes uniformly upon the
whole non-Muslim population. Christian writers who found themselves un-
der Muslim rule reacted in a variety of ways. Certain minority religions in
the newly conquered areas perhaps bene¬ted from the change and in some
cases left records of the Arab conquests which are notable for their lack
of hostility.41 By contrast, orthodox writers of the 630s such as Maximus
the Confessor and Sophronius, patriarch of Jerusalem, vili¬ed the Mus-
lims. They explained their military success as the consequence of Christian
sins and appear to have ignored the fact that a religion of Islam existed.42
Jacob of Edessa, too, recounted that the sins of the Christians had de-
livered them to bondage and slavery.43 Elsewhere, in Egypt, a chronicle
from the last years of the seventh century similarly described the Muslims
as violent invaders who brought humiliation and suffering as a result of
Christian sin.44
Christian writers were to change their approach as it became clear that
Islam was a persisting religious threat which could no longer satisfactorily
be represented as a temporary chastisement. More sophisticated methods of
dealing with this threat involved the writing of polemic, new hagiographies
and, especially at the end of the seventh century, apocalypses which would
locate Islam within a long-term Christian view of history. A highly in¬‚u-
ential example of the latter genre is the Apocalypse of pseudo-Methodius, a
Syriac work from the last quarter of the seventh century. Like earlier writ-
ings, it described the rise of Islam as a punishment by God. The novelty of

Brock, ˜Syriac Views of Emergent Islam™, p. 10, and Lamoreaux, ˜Early Eastern Christian
Responses™, p. 4. Cahen envisages a medieval scenario characterised by mutual Christian
and Muslim benevolent tolerance. He adds that no Christian textual authority denounced
Islam during the early years of the conquests (˜Note sur l™accueil des chr´ tiens d™Orient
a l™Islam™, p. 57), but perhaps this view is over-rosy.
Lamoreaux, ˜Early Eastern Christian Responses™, pp. 4“7 and 11“18; Brock, ˜Syriac Views
of Emergent Islam™, p. 20; and Kaegi, ˜Initial Byzantine Reactions™, p. 148. Crone and
Cook provide references to a number of non-Muslim accounts of the rise of Islam in their
notes to Hagarism; very useful is Hoyland™s broad survey of early responses to Islam, Seeing
Islam as Others Saw It.
43 44
Jacob of Edessa, Scholia, p. 42. John of Nikiu, Chronicle, pp. 79“80.

Islam during the Anglo-Saxon period

the Apocalypse was to present the conquests as a sign of the impending Day
of Judgement, thereby promising an end to Islamic rule and the ultimate
triumph of Christianity. So widely copied was this work that by the end of
the Anglo-Saxon period at least two Latin versions had found their way as
far west as England.45
Later Christian authors such as the Nestorian patriarch Timothy I (AD
727“823) might also cite the Qur™¯ n to support a point of Christian doc-
trine. Orthodox Byzantine writers, whose culture had lost some three-
¬fths of its territories to the Muslims, remained hostile from the beginning,
and have left quantities of material denouncing Islam or outlining methods
for Christians to refute it in dispute.47 A well-known example is the chapter
devoted to Islam by John of Damascus in his De haeresibus.48 In this pas-
sage, the author describes Islam as a superstition of the Ismaelites and
maintains that they had worshipped the morning star and Aphrodite un-
til the accession of Heraclius in the early seventh century. He presents
Muhammad as a false prophet who plagiarised from the Old and New
Testaments to produce his own religion. John goes on to outline some ar-
guments, based on information about Muslim rituals of pilgrimage, which
Christians might use to justify their own religion and attack the validity of
News of the conquests reached western authors far more rapidly and
frequently than information concerning Islam as a religion. In Burgundy, a
work known as the Chronicle of Fredegar was composed during the seventh

For a fuller account of this text, see below, pp. 140“64.
Hurst, ˜The Epistle-Treatise™, pp. 378“80.
See Kaegi, ˜Initial Byzantine Reactions to the Arab Conquest™, pp. 139“48, and his Byzan-
tium and the Early Islamic Conquests, pp. 210“13; more generally, Khoury, Les th´ologiens
byzantins et l™Islam; Meyendorff, ˜Byzantine Views of Islam™; Sahas, ˜The Art and Non-
Art of Byzantine Polemics™, and his ˜The Seventh Century in Byzantine-Muslim Re-
lations™. On political relations, see Kennedy, ˜Byzantine-Arab Diplomacy™; Hamidul-
lah, ˜Nouveaux documents™; Koutrakou, ˜The Image of the Arabs in Middle Byzantine
Politics™, pp. 215“23; and, for the early tenth century, Jenkins, ˜Leo Choerosphactes™,
˜The Date of Leo V™s Expedition™, ˜The Emperor Alexander™ and ˜The Mission of St
John of Damascus, De haeresibus, pp. 60“7 and 426“38; trans. Sahas, John of Damascus
on Islam, pp. 132“41. See also Sahas, ˜John of Damascus on Islam: Revisited™; Daniel,
Islam and the West, pp. 13“14; and d™Alverny, ˜La connaissance de l™Islam en Occident™,
pp. 580“3.

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

century which described the Islamic conquests almost as they were taking
place.49 Even in Anglo-Saxon England in the early eighth century, Bede, as
noted above, knew that the Saracens had by then made extensive conquests
in Asia, Africa and Europe. These reports present Islam only as a military, not
as a religious entity. Such was also initially the case in Muslim Spain, where
Islam appears to have been seen at the outset as a political phenomenon and
as less of a religious problem to the Christian population than heresy and
Judaism.50 This was partly due to the actions of the Muslims themselves,
who at ¬rst succeeded in segregating their communities and religion from
those of the more numerous Christian and Jewish inhabitants. However, as
time went on, more and more non-Muslims seem to have become assimilated
within Islamic society, blurring the cultural divisions between Andalusian
Christians, Jews and Muslims. Some Christians eventually seem to have felt
the need to reassert a distinct identity by attacking Islam and the status it
granted Muhammad. In the mid-ninth century, these attacks culminated in
the so-called ˜Cordoban martyrs™ movement™, in which some ¬fty Christians
sought (and found) death by denouncing Islam and the Prophet in the
city.51 Other, perhaps better-assimilated Christians meanwhile denounced
the victims themselves for seeking an inappropriate martyrdom, and were in
turn criticised in the well-known anti-Islamic writings of a Christian priest,
Eulogius, and a layman, Alvarus.52 Other polemical texts by Andalusian
Christians comment upon various aspects of Muslim faith, and during the
eleventh and twelfth centuries it was through Spain that many western
European readers learnt of Islam as a religion.53
Western contact with Islam was not restricted to Christian communi-
ties under Muslim rule. Pilgrims continued to travel into northern Spain
to visit the shrine of Santiago de Compostela, and in the mid-ninth cen-
tury two monks of Saint-Germain-des-Pr´ s entered al-Andalus to collect
Wallace-Hadrill has summarised previous scholarship on this chronicle (The Fourth Book
of the Chronicle of Fredegar, pp. ix“lxvii).
Wolf, ˜Christian Views of Islam in Early Medieval Spain™, pp. 87“9.
Discussed by Daniel in the context of other Christian perceptions of Islam (The Arabs and
Mediaeval Europe, pp. 23“48).
Daniel, Islam and the West, pp. 17“19, and Southern, Western Views of Islam, pp. 21
and 24“5. The famous passage by Alvarus in his Indiculus Luminosus (PL 121, 555“6),
complaining of the Spanish Christian neglect of Latin and cultivation of Arabic, is also
quoted in translation by Grunebaum, Medieval Islam, pp. 57“8. See also Wolf, ˜Christian
Views of Islam in Early Medieval Spain™, pp. 90“3 and 96.
Daniel, Islam and the West, pp. 20“3.

Islam during the Anglo-Saxon period

relics.54 Other pilgrims included the eighth-century Anglo-Saxon mission-
ary, Willibald, who left a written account of his pilgrimage through more
distant Muslim territory in the Holy Land and Arculf, a Gaul, who also
travelled to Jerusalem and whose journey was known to Bede. It is impor-
tant to remember that western literature concerning the Muslims did not
develop in the absence of direct personal contacts with the Islamic world.
There existed opportunities, however rare, for literate western Christians
(including Anglo-Saxons) to learn about Islam ¬rst-hand. Whether such
opportunities inspired a view of the Saracens any different from Bede™s por-
trayal of aggressive, anti-Christian marauders is an interesting question.
Watt, The In¬‚uence of Islam, p. 14.

Anglo-Saxon contacts with Islam

Bede (c. 673“735) leaves no record that he knew of the Anglo-Saxon pilgrim
Willibald (c. 700“87), an engaging character who spent several years in
Muslim lands and smuggled balsam through customs in Tyre in a false-
bottomed ¬‚ask of petroleum. Although the two men were contemporaries,
Willibald did not return to England after his travels through the Holy Land
in AD 723“727, but became bishop of Eichst¨ tt in what is now southern
Germany. There, a nun of Anglo-Saxon origin called Hygeburg who had
moved to Heidenheim composed the story of his life and travels known
as the Vita Willibaldi. The uita was not written down until after Bede™s
death and seems never to have been known in England.1 This text will be
considered in more detail below.
Bede did know of a Gaul called Arculf who had made the pilgrimage
to Jerusalem during the period AD 679“682 and was shipwrecked on the
west coast of England on his return.2 After travelling overland for a time
Arculf encountered Adomn´ n, bishop of Iona, who recorded his account of
the holy places. Adomn´ n was evidently concerned to present a plausible
account; he stressed that Arculf was a reliable authority who saw the holy

The standard edition of Hygeburg™s Vita Willibaldi is that by Holder-Egger, MGH AA
15, 86“106; Willibald™s journeying in the Holy Land occupies pp. 94“101. This section
is translated into English by Talbot, The Anglo-Saxon Missionaries in Germany, pp. 153“77.
On the Vita Willibaldi in the context of western perceptions of the Arabs, see Rotter,
Abendland und Sarazenen, especially pp. 43“65 and 235“7. On its literary background and
style, see also Berschin, Biographie und Epochenstil III, 18“26.
Adomn´ n, De locis sanctis [CPL 2332], CCSL 175, 185“234; ed. and trans. Meehan,
Adamnan™s De Locis Sanctis, pp. 36“121; also trans. Wilkinson, Jerusalem Pilgrims Before the
Crusades, pp. 93“116. Rotter discusses this text in some detail (Abendland und Sarazenen,
especially pp. 31“42).

Anglo-Saxon contacts with Islam

sights with his own eyes.3 He also occasionally noted that Arculf™s account
agreed with descriptions by earlier authorities, and mentioned some who
had written on the same subjects.4 The resulting work, known as the De
locis sanctis, was presented by its author to Aldfrith, king of Northumbria
(685“704), and then made available to other readers. Probably in 702“3,
Bede read Adomn´ n™s description of the holy sites and produced his own
abbreviated version of the work, also called De locis sanctis.5 The two versions
of Arculf™s journey by Adomn´ n and Bede contain the only eye-witness
account of the Muslim territories we know to have been read in Anglo-Saxon
Adomn´ n™s references to the Saracens are brief but valuable hints about
Muslim worship in Jerusalem and Damascus and the toleration of Christian
pilgrims by the Islamic authorities at the end of the seventh century. He
mentions a Saracen house of prayer, orationis domus, a crude but large rect-
angular building constructed on some ruins.6 Later, he says of Damascus
that it possesses a great church in honour of St John the Baptist, and that
some kind of Saracen church has also been built there which he describes
as quaedam etiam Saracinorum ecclesia incredulorum. He also mentions that
the Saracens have a king called Mauias (Mu « awiyah I, caliph at the time).7
According to Adomn´ n, this king was called upon to arbitrate in a dispute
between ˜believing™ and ˜non-believing™ Jews (the latter, like the Saracens,
referred to as increduli) in a dispute over ownership of a sacred relic of
Christ. Despite having already categorised the Saracens as unbelievers, the
author writes that their king not only called upon Christ to decide the

For example: ˜Sic mihi Arculfus, qui sepe sepulchrum Domini frequentabat, indubitan-
ter emensus pronuntiauit™ (Adomn´ n, De locis sanctis, CCSL 175, 187“8); ˜sancti Arcul¬
relatione cognouimus, qui illud propriis conspexit obtutibus . . . quam totus Hierusolim-
itanus ueram esse protestatur populus™ (p. 192); ˜Hucusque de locis sanctis . . . iuxta
sancti Arcul¬ eorundem frequentatoris locorum certam narrationem suf¬ciat discripsisse™
(p. 203).
For example: ˜ut alibi scriptum repertum est™ (Adomn´ n, De locis sanctis, CCSL 175, 199);
˜Igitur nostri Arcul¬ . . . narratio cum aliorum scribtis recte concordat™ (p. 200); ˜Quam
sanctus Hieronymus alibi narrat™ (p. 211); ˜sancti Arcul¬ . . . relatio per omnia concordet
cum his quae ipsi superius de sancti Hieronimi commentariis™ (p. 221).
Bede, De locis sanctis [CPL 2333], CCSL 175, 251“80.
Adomn´ n, De locis sanctis, CCSL 175, 186. Rotter suggests that this Latin phrase re¬‚ects
the Arabic so closely that it may in fact represent a direct translation, perhaps by a Muslim
guide (Abendland und Sarazenen, pp. 39 and 42).
Adomn´ n, De locis sanctis, CCSL 175, 193.

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

issue but invoked him as the saviour of the world who suffered for the
human race. Naturally, the ˜believing™ Jews eventually inherited the relic.8
It is dif¬cult to know what to make of the distinction between ˜believers™
and ˜non-believers™ here. It might be part of an attempt by Adomn´ n or a
Arculf to Christianise a story heard in the Holy Land, or it might represent
some awareness of different sects of Judaism or Christianity encountered
by Arculf. The story seems, in any case, primarily intended to vindicate
belief in Christ or his relics through the reported miracle. The references to
Saracen worship may re¬‚ect real practice but the dismissive tone is probably
meant to cast Christianity as the one true faith.
Indeed, all three mentions of the Saracens seem calculated to vindicate
Christianity in some way: the Saracen church is crude and built on ruins;
or it is not really a church at all (quaedam . . . ecclesia incredulorum); and,
in any case, their own king pronounces Christ to be a saviour. Having
dismissed Saracen religion as of no account, Adomn´ n concentrates almost
entirely on the Christian holy places that presumably seemed of more lasting
importance. By contrast, Hygeburg™s account of Willibald™s pilgrimage is a
riot of temporal detail. She herself seems to have felt some concern that the
reader might not believe the narrative. Near the beginning, she emphasises
that she is writing at Willibald™s own dictation, so that no one may think
it a frivolous tale.9 Stylistically, Hygeburg indulged in a certain amount of
embroidery, but there is also evidence that she did in fact work from the
bishop™s own words in drawing up his life story.10 It is the only surviving
record of direct contact between Anglo-Saxons and Muslims and deserves
a closer examination.
Hygeburg recounts at length the route which the pilgrims took from
the south coast of England to reach ¬rst Rome and then Jerusalem. Indeed,
she seems to have recorded the name and situation of almost every human
habitation encountered by Willibald™s band on their way east and usually

Adomn´ n, De locis sanctis, CCSL 175, 193“4.
˜. . . non ab alio reperta nisi ab ipso audita et ex illius ore dictata perscripsimus . . . Ideo
dico hoc, ut nullus iterum dicat friuolum fuisse™; Vita Willibaldi, p. 105.
The clearest example of this is in the sentence ˜Ibi morabant unam noctem inter duabus
fontibus, et pastores dabant nobis acrum lac bibere™ (Vita Willibaldi, p. 96; my emphases).
The slip from third to ¬rst person suggests that Hygeburg was working from a ¬rst-
person account in composing her text. On this and other aspects of her written style, see
especially Berschin, Biographie und Epochenstil III, 22“4.

Anglo-Saxon contacts with Islam

also by what means they got there.11 By ship the pilgrims travel from
Southampton to Rouen, ˜a market town on the Seine™, and overland to
Rome; after a long pause, the somewhat diminished band go on by land
and sea to Asia. Following further journeying and visits to various holy
sites, they cross the sea again to traverse Mt Chelidonium on foot and
sail from there to Cyprus. They continue by ship to Antaradus, ˜near the
sea, in Saracen territory™, and walk nine or twelve miles to Arca followed by
another twelve to Emesa, today in Syria.12 The sea-voyages were presumably
undertaken on merchant vessels willing to take on passengers. The ¬rst,
from Southampton to the market town of Rouen, was probably on a Frisian
ship (likewise Arculf™s return journey during which he was shipwrecked on
the west coast of England).13 The journey from Naples involved a ship that
plied between Muslim and Christian territories: ˜navem illi de Aegypto
inuenerunt, et illic intro ascendentes, nauigauerunt in terram Galabriae™.14
By this time, Egypt had been under Muslim rule for some eighty years and,
clearly, contacts continued with the Christian world. The ship which the
pilgrims boarded from Mt Chelidonium took them to Cyprus, quod est inter
Grecos et Sarracinos, and to Antaradus in regionem Sarracinorum.15 Willibald™s
band seems to have experienced no dif¬culty in reaching Saracen lands from
Christian ports.
When they arrive in Emesa, however, the pilgrims abruptly run foul of
the Muslim authorities:
Confestimque illi pagani Sarracini repperientes, quod adueni et ignoti homines illic
uenti fuerunt, tulerunt eos et captivos habebant; qui nesciebant, de quali fuerant
gente, sed speculatores esse illos estimabant, et captiuos eos ducebant ad quendam
senem diuitem, ut uideret et agnosceret, unde essent. Ast ille senex interrogauit
illos, unde essent aut quale fungerentur legatione. Tunc illi respondentes, ab exordio
totam intimauerunt ei itineris sui causam. Et ille senex respondens ait: ˜Frequenter

From Rouen, the pilgrims travelled to a town called Gorthonicum, which Wilkinson
takes to refer to Tortona, near Pavia in Italy (Jerusalem Pilgrims, p. 125, n. 6, where he
also discusses some alternatives). Another possibility, producing a more direct route, is
Vita Willibaldi, pp. 91“4. Wilkinson provides maps showing various sections of
Willibald™s route during the pilgrimage; see Jerusalem Pilgrims, pp. 124, 127 and 130;
but see the note above on Gorthonicum.
13 14
Lebecq, Marchands et navigateurs I, 90“1. Vita Willibaldi, p. 93.
Vita Willibaldi, p. 94.

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

hic uenientes uidi homines de illis terre partibus istorum contribulos; non querunt
mala, sed legem eorum adimplere cupiunt™.16
The statement by the wealthy old man that he had frequently seen people
from Willibald™s part of the world who desired nothing more than to ˜ful¬l
their law™ suggests that pilgrims from foreign lands were reasonably familiar.
It is unfortunate that we have no more detailed description of the old man
and the means by which he communicated with the westerners; whether
they had a language in common, or an interpreter was involved, Hygeburg
makes no mention of it.17 Since the Muslims who seized the pilgrims took
them to the rich old man in the ¬rst instance, the latter seems unlikely.
Presumably they went to him because they knew that he would be able
to communicate with the strangers. It is interesting too that the word lex
is used with reference to their journey. Pilgrimage was a meritorious act
for Christians and an obligation (if it could possibly be achieved) for all
Muslims past the age of puberty.18 If lex or a close equivalent was the word
used by the old man, then he may have been characterising Willibald™s

˜Almost at once they were arrested by the pagan Saracens, and because they were strangers
and came without credentials they were taken prisoner and held as captives. They knew
not to which nation they belonged, and, thinking they were spies, they took them
bound to a certain rich old man to ¬nd out where they came from. The old man put
questions to them asking where they were from and on what errand they were employed.
Then they told him everything from the beginning and acquainted him with the reason
for their journey. And the old man said: “I have often seen men coming from those
parts of the world, fellow-countrymen of theirs; they cause no mischief and are merely
anxious to ful¬l their law”™ (Vita Willibaldi, p. 94; trans. Talbot, Anglo-Saxon Missionaries,
p. 162).
Willibald seems to have noted nothing else concerning the religion of the Saracens,
and it is doubtful whether the word paganus in this context signi¬es anything more
precise than ˜non-Christian™ (Rotter, Abendland und Sarazenen, pp. 49“50). Anglo-Saxon
authors occasionally described the Saracens in Old English as h¦°enra with similarly
vague meaning.
Hunt characterises the motives of early Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land as ˜a combi-
nation of biblical tourism and Christian devotion™ (Holy Land Pilgrimage, p. 4), and there
seems no reason to suspect that later Christians felt any differently. Christian tradition
neither presents pilgrimage as an action speci¬cally enjoined by God, nor preserves a
formal distinction between a ˜small™ and a ˜great™ pilgrimage, as does Islam. The ˜great™
pilgrimage to Mecca is one of the ¬ve obligatory actions of Islam which are known as its
Pillars, along with prayer, fasting, almsgiving and the witnessing of one God. It seems to
have been instituted since the earliest days of Islam. See EI2 III, 33. The Qur™¯ n, at II.158,
II.196, III.97 and XXII.26“31, enjoins Muslims to make the pilgrimage if possible.

Anglo-Saxon contacts with Islam

journey as a religious requirement in a way that would be appreciated by
the Muslim captors.
No doubt somewhat worried by their brush with the authorities,
Willibald and his companions then go to the palace to ask for passage
to Jerusalem. The governor promptly incarcerates them as spies until such
time as he should learn from the king what to do with them. In prison,
however, the pilgrims encounter a sympathetic benefactor:
Cumque illi fuerant in carcere, confestim miro omnipotentis Dei dispensa-
tione . . . unus homo fuit ibi negotiator, qui sibi in elemosinam et animae suae
redemptionem uolebat illos redemere et de carcere eripere, ut liberi essent pergere
in suam uoluntatem, et non poterat. Sed econtra cottidie misit illis prandium et
cenam, et in quarta feria et in sabbato misit ¬lium suum in carcerem, et eduxit
eos ad balneum et iterum introduxit; et dominica die ducebat eos ad aecclesiam
per mercimonium, ut de rebus uenalibus uiderent, quid eorum mente delectaret,
et ille tunc suo pretio illis opteneret, quidquid illorum mente aptum foret. Illi
ciues urbium curiosi iugiter illic uenire consueuerant illos speculare, qui iuuenes
et decori et uestium ornatu induti erant bene.19

Could this record a characteristically Muslim attitude in the desire of the
merchant to free the prisoners in elemosinam et animae suae redemptionem?
Again, the similarities between Muslim and Christian ideal principles “
and, possibly, Arab hospitality in either case “ make it dif¬cult to tell.
According to Islam, redeeming captives and feeding orphans and the poor
are signs of virtue; the Qur™¯ n refers to almsgiving as a righteous activity, to
the wayfarer as a worthy recipient of alms and to the ransoming of captives
as a meritorious act.20 In this context, the subsequent generosity of the

˜Whilst they were in prison they had an unexpected experience of the wonderful dispen-
sation of Almighty God . . . A man was there, a merchant, who wished to redeem them
and release them from captivity, so that they should be free to continue their journey as
they wished. He did this by way of alms and for the salvation of his own soul. But he
was unable to release them. Every day, therefore, he sent them dinner and supper, and on
Wednesday and Saturday he sent his son to the prison and took them out for a bath and
then took them back again. Every Sunday he took them to church through the market
place, so that if they saw anything on sale for which they had a mind he could buy it for
them and so give them pleasure. The citizens of the town, who are inquisitive people, used
to come regularly to look at them, because they were young and handsome and clothed
in beautiful garments.™ (Vita Willibaldi, p. 94; trans. Talbot, Anglo-Saxon Missionaries,
p. 162).
Stewart, Unfolding Islam, pp. 48“9 and 101.

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

merchant thwarted in his original intentions might make sense as a Muslim
act of charity towards imprisoned travellers (assuming that difference of
religion was not an issue in this case). Of course, a Muslim might only
wish to bene¬t other Muslims, and charity might equally bene¬t the soul
of a Jew or a Christian. It seems unlikely, too, that a Muslim would take
the prisoners to church. Finally, it should be borne in mind that it was in
Hygeburg™s interests as a hagiographer to emphasise the divine providence
enjoyed by the Christians in all their encounters and to make it clear that
God cared for their every need.
However, there is no reason to doubt Hygeburg™s statement that a church
stood in the town of the governor™s palace. The existence of non-Muslim
communities in the Holy Land is con¬rmed later on in the Vita Willibaldi,
where we learn that the Christians in Nazareth have to make payments
in order to preserve their church from the Saracens, again described as
pagani, who wish to destroy it. The church is still standing when Willibald
visits and a further comment shows that synagogues too were permitted to
exist under Islamic rule.21 This account agrees with information from other
contemporary sources, including the De locis sanctis, concerning medieval
Muslim toleration of Christians and Jews if they paid extra taxes. The general
picture of the town in which the pilgrims were imprisoned is agreeable.
Aside from places of worship and the governor™s residence, it evidently
also had its own prison, public baths and market. According to Hygeburg,
the townsfolk noticed the pilgrims because they looked attractive, but
perhaps they also appeared exotic and novel. Otherwise the only clue that
the appearance of Willibald™s group may have differed from that of the local
population is one mention of an Ethiops, perhaps a man with particularly
dark skin, who acted as their guide for a while.22
The pilgrims, still prisoners (albeit fed, washed and well-dressed), enjoy
further good luck when a Spaniard comes to talk to them. As it turns out,
his brother works in the palace as chamberlain to the ˜king of the Saracens™
and is to prove a useful contact. The Spaniard, along with the ship™s captain
˜Illam aecclesiam christiani homines sepe conparabant ad paganis Sarracenis, qui illi
uolebant eam destruere . . . Et inde pergentes, uenerunt ad montem Thabor, ubi Dominus
trans¬guratus est . . . Ibi sunt multe aecclesie et sinagoga Iudeorum . . . Et inde pergabant
ad Bethsaidam . . . Ibi est nunc aecclesia . . . Et inde pergentes, uenerunt ad Cesaream,
ubi fuit aecclesia et multitudo christianorum™ (Vita Willibaldi, pp. 95“6).
Vita Willibaldi, p. 100. On western medieval perceptions of dark skin colour and the
Saracens, see, generally, Kelly, ˜“Blue” Indians, Ethiopians, and Saracens™.

Anglo-Saxon contacts with Islam

who brought the pilgrims from Cyprus, accompanies the governor when
he takes their case before the ˜king™: ˜coram rege Sarracinorum cui nomen
Myrmumni™. Myrmumni is a corruption of the Arabic title am¯r al-mu™min¯n,
± ±
meaning ˜commander of the faithful™. After a certain amount of diplomatic
activity behind the scenes, the authority judges sympathetically:
Et cum locutio euenerat de illorum causa, ille Ispanius homo omnia que illi dixerunt
ei in carcere suo intimauit fratre et illum rogauit, ut regi indicasset et in subsidia illis
foret. Post haec itaque cumque omnes isti tres simul coram rege ueniebant et omnia
iuxta ordinem intimando illo indicabant de eorum causa, ille rex interrogauit, unde
essent; et illi dixerunt: ˜De occidentale plaga, ubi sol occasum habet, isti homines
ueniebant, et nos nescimus ruram citra illis et nihil nisi aquam™. Et ille rex respondit
eis dicens: ˜Quare nos debemus eos punire? Non habent peccatum contra nos. Da
eis uiam et sine illos abire!™ Alii homines, qui in carcere habebantur, debebant
censum reddere unum tremesem, illis fuit concessum.24

Here it appears that a characteristic of Muslim culture if not religion has
been recorded in the lack of knowledge about western Europe; very few
Arabs travelled into Christian lands. The string-pulling by the Spaniard
seems to have had the desired effect, and Hygeburg is almost smug in her
satisfaction that divine favour spares the pilgrims the usual ¬ne. Later, they
also succeed in obtaining written permits to help them to ¬nd food and
continue their tour of biblical sites.25
In their accounts of the Holy Land, both Adomn´ n and Hygeburg nat-
urally focus on the Christian holy places which the pilgrims saw and the
good fortune they enjoyed. Even the stories which tell us most about early

Rotter notes that Willibald may not have meant that Myrmumni was the personal name
of the caliph, but rather that it was a formal title (Abendland und Sarazenen, pp. 51“2).
˜And when the conversation turned on their case, the Spaniard told his brother all that
he had learned about them whilst speaking to them in the prison, and he asked his
brother to pass this information on to the king and to help them. So when, afterwards,
all these three came to the king and mentioned their case, telling him all the details from
¬rst to last, the king asked whence they came; and they answered: “These men come
from the West where the sun sets; we know nothing of their country except that beyond
it lies nothing but water.” Then the king asked them, saying: “Why should we punish
them? They have done us no harm. Allow them to depart and go on their way.” The other
prisoners who were in captivity had to pay a ¬ne of three measures of corn, but they were
let off scot-free.™ (Vita Willibaldi, p. 95; trans. Talbot, Anglo-Saxon Missionaries, p. 163).
Vita Willibaldi, p. 100. On permits, see Rotter, Abendland und Sarazenen, pp. 53, 58, 63
and 237.

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

Muslim society “ Willibald™s sojourn in prison, Mu « awiya™s arbitration be-
tween Christians and Jews in their dispute over a sacred relic “ seem to
have been presented as demonstrations of divine favour. The Christians are
treated with exceptional bene¬cence by the Saracens and are awarded the
relic over their Jewish rivals. This portrayal of the Christian experience as
an unmitigated success was characteristic of medieval uitae, whose purpose
appears to have been to present Christianity as the way forward.26 Never-
theless, a certain amount of extraneous detail is included in both accounts.
Hygeburg tells us that the group was given acrum lac (˜sour milk™; yoghurt?)
to drink by local shepherds and that they saw the peculiar, mud-wallowing
cattle of the region (water buffalo?). Adomn´ n™s De locis sanctis educates its
audience concerning the locusts and honey which John the Baptist ate in
the desert, Dead Sea salt, houses on stilts and crocodiles.27 Even the wildlife
may be edifying. We learn from Hygeburg of an encounter with a wild lion,
which, on the advice of their ˜Ethiopian™ guide, Willibald and his compan-
ions ignore. By the grace of God, she records, the lion did not devour them
and they passed by safely.28 The anecdote provides a moment of dramatic
colour but is also another example of the divine providence that protects
the pilgrims under all circumstances.
Despite such chatty detail and the emphasis which Adomn´ n and Hyge-
burg place on the reliability of the pilgrim™s observation and the faithfulness
of his recorder, there is a sense in which the pilgrimages were literature be-
fore they even started. They were inspired by the Bible, informed by western
Christian literary traditions both of Holy Land itineraries and the Saracens,
and eventually converted into texts part of the purpose of which was to
help uphold the Christian status quo. The personae of Willibald and Arculf,
as constructed by Hygeburg and Adomn´ n, are lenses through which the
audience views Christian cultural space. To some extent their presentation
re¬‚ected material reality, since surviving Christian enclaves in Jerusalem
and other centres no doubt supported western visitors.29 However, the real-
ities not in accord with the literary tradition and Christian ideal “ namely
the religious practices and dominion of the Muslims “ were dismissed as
Fletcher, The Conversion of Europe, pp. 59 and 245“51, and (for examples in translation
from Latin to Old English) Whatley, ˜Lost in Translation™, pp. 191, 196“7 and 207“8.
Adomn´ n, De locis sanctis, CCSL 175, 214 (salt), 217 (locusts) and 225 (stilt-houses and
Vita Willibaldi, pp. 96 and 100“1.
McCormick, ˜Byzantium and the West™, p. 376.

Anglo-Saxon contacts with Islam

imitative or inferior or transformed into a validation of Christian supe-
riority. This is nowhere more evident than in Adomn´ n™s account of the
dispute over the sacred cloth in which the Saracen king arbitrates. Praising
Christ, he casts the cloth onto a ¬re so that it ¬‚utters up unharmed and
the Christians receive it. The cloth might represent the holy territory for
which Jews and Christians compete. The Saracens have seized it and seem
to endanger it but nevertheless, Adomn´ n implies, all that is Christian will
yet be returned unharmed to the Christians by God™s intervention.30
Although the journeys made by Arculf and Willibald between England
and the Holy Land are the only pilgrimages to have been recorded in such
detail, they were not unique. The so-called C-text of the Anglo-Saxon Chron-
icle records that in AD 884 two pilgrims left England for Rome and Iudea.
Since they intended to visit the lands to which SS Thomas and Bartholomew
travelled, the latter is probably a misspelling of ˜Indea™.31 At any rate, it
was clearly their purpose to travel further east than Constantinople. A later
entry in the same version of the chronicle states that in the year 1052,
Swein, son of Godwin, having moved from England to Bruges following
the dispute of Godwin and Harold with King Edward, travelled onwards
to Jerusalem and in the course of his return journey died at Constantino-
ple.32 Presumably, the news was carried to England either by one who had
accompanied him or by a messenger from Constantinople. The Worcester
manuscript or D-text of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle relates that shortly af-
terwards, in AD 1058, Archbishop Ealdred of York travelled to Jerusalem,
commended himself to God and donated a golden chalice worth ¬ve marks
before returning to England.33
Here and in other cases described above, it is tempting to assume that
when pilgrims returned, they carried goods or ideas from Islamic territories
Said describes the ˜vacillation™ of the Orient in the eyes of western observers: it appears
new and shocking on the one hand, known and owned on the other (Orientalism, pp. 58“
9). The pilgrimage accounts present the new, Islamicised Holy Land as a yet known and
owned Christian space.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: MS C, ed. O™Brien O™Keeffe, p. 63.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: MS C, ed. O™Brien O™Keeffe, p. 114. See also The Abingdon
Chronicle, ed. Conner, p. 27.
˜On þam ilcan gere Ealdred biscop . . . swa ferde to Hierusalem™ (The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle:
Manuscript D, ed. Cubbin, p. 76). Note, too, the statement by Æthelweard in his Chronicon
(p. 47) that three Irish pilgrims, who are also mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle,
visited Alfred in the late ninth century with the intention of afterwards going on to
Jerusalem (Keynes and Lapidge, Alfred the Great, pp. 113“14 and 282“3).

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

back with them.34 This would provide support for some arguments that
Islam exerted a direct in¬‚uence upon Anglo-Saxon culture during the early
medieval period. Such arguments include suggestions that Old English bor-
rowed a word meaning ˜horse™ from Andalusian Arabic and that the story
of the revelation of the Qur™¯ n to Muhammad in¬‚uenced Bede™s account of
how C¦dmon became a poet. It has also been suggested that the designs of
certain coins of Offa were in¬‚uenced by pieces struck in Aksum, in Ethiopia,
which might have travelled after the Muslim conquests.35 Unfortunately,
the chronicle entries are too brief to be of use in evaluating these inter-
esting theories, which are supported by somewhat scanty evidence. Yet
Islam did exert some cultural in¬‚uence upon Anglo-Saxon England, wit-
ness Offa™s imitation dinar. How did the model for this imitation come to
western Europe? Did English merchants deal directly with Syrian traders
even as Bede wrote anti-Saracen polemic? Could Islamic coins in west-
ern Europe, like Willibald™s balsam, be exotic purloins? Or merely left-over
travel money? Despite the probable hospitality or charity of locals, it is hard
to imagine that Willibald and Arculf required no funds at all for lodgings,
guides and sea-voyages during the years they spent abroad.36 Conceivably,
pilgrims changed money on the way, at Rome or Cyprus, and brought a
few Islamic pieces back with them.

kufic coins in anglo-saxon england
However, travellers™ loose change could hardly account for the number
and variety of Ku¬c coins from AD 600“1100 which have been found in
England. ˜Ku¬c™ is a convenient term to describe coins from various prove-
nances which bear early Arabic script. Such coins appear to have arrived in
Hunt describes the urge experienced by early travellers to acquire relics such as small
¬‚asks of holy oil and articles specially manufactured for sale to pilgrims (Holy Land
Pilgrimage, pp. 128“37). Such ¬‚asks and their contents are described in detail in Shalem,
Islam Christianized, pp. 17“29. Some later English ˜pilgrims™ were actually disguised
merchants who took advantage of the frequent journeys made by pilgrims to avoid tolls,
a problem mentioned by Charlemagne in a letter to Offa, king of Mercia (Alcuin, Epistolae,
MGH Ep.Car.aeu. II, 145).
Breeze, ˜Old English ealfara™, pp. 15“17; von See, ˜C¦dmon and Muhammed™, pp. 231“3;
and Juel-Jensen and Munro-Hay, ˜Further Examples of Coins of Offa™.
Hygeburg records a transaction when the pilgrims make their ¬rst voyage from Southamp-
ton to Rouen (Vita Willibaldi, p. 91). Boniface also paid to board a ship on his travels to
the Continent; Lebecq, Marchands et navigateurs II, 82.

Anglo-Saxon contacts with Islam

England along two routes. The ¬rst route, via the Continent, is characterised
by ¬nds of gold. Ku¬c gold seems to have circulated in western Europe
during two periods: the eighth century, and between the late eleventh and
mid-thirteenth centuries.37 The ¬rst period in England is represented by
two dinars from AD 724“43 which were found on the beach at Eastbourne
in Sussex and by the hypothetical prototype of Offa™s dinar towards the end
of the century.38 An early example from the second period is a gold quarter
dinar or tari found at St Leonards-on-Sea, Sussex, which originated from
Sicily c. 1050“70. From the same period come three Ku¬c gold dinars struck
in Spain, two from 1131 which were found in London and one from 1106
in Oxford. These coins may have arrived in the south of England as a result
of Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman trade with the Mediterranean.39 Even

Duplessy, ˜La circulation des monnaies arabes™, pp. 101“2.
See ˜Miscellanea™, NC 9 (1846“7), 85; Blunt, ˜A Gold Penny of Edward the Elder™,
p. 280, and Blackburn and Bonser, ˜Single Finds “ 3™, p. 93. Another gold coin is said to
have been found in the marshes below Arundel Castle in Sussex, but the date of its mint is
unknown (Vaux, ˜On the Discovery of Cu¬c Coins in Sweden™, p. 14, and Carlyon-Britton,
˜The Gold Mancus of Offa™, p. 61).
Blackburn and Bonser, ˜Single Finds “ 3™, pp. 92“4, and Nightingale, ˜The London Pep-
perers™ Guild™, especially pp. 123 and 128“9; for the period before 900, see also Lopez,
˜The Trade of Medieval Europe™. Anglo-Saxon contacts with Aquitaine are thought to
have existed from the tenth century, and may have provided another route for informa-
tion and artefacts to arrive from Islamic territories; see Beech, ˜England and Aquitaine™,
especially pp. 100“1. Earlier Anglo-Saxon coins and imitations have been found in Italy
and Sicily, and may re¬‚ect pilgrimage contacts; Willibald, for example, travelled to Sicily
to see Etna (Hygeburg, Vita Willibaldi, pp. 101“2). See Blunt, ˜Four Italian Coins™;
his ˜Anglo-Saxon Coins Found in Italy™; Blunt and Dolley, ˜The Anglo-Saxon Coins in
the Vatican™; Kent, ˜A South Italian Imitation™; and Dolley, ˜A Hoard of Anglo-Saxon


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