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Pennies™. England may also have had contacts with Muslim Spain. An early nineteenth-
century drawing shows a Spanish Umayyad dirham found in Dorset. The coin itself is
no longer known, but can be identi¬ed as a dirham of Hisham II, probably from AD
999/1000. This constitutes interesting evidence for contact between Muslim Spain and
England in the later Anglo-Saxon period, though it is also possible that the coin travelled
via Scandinavia (Dolley, ˜A Spanish Dirham Found in England™, pp. 242“3). The former
possibility is supported by a ¬nd of Anglo-Saxon coins from earlier in the tenth cen-
tury in Roncesvalles, Spain (Mateu Y Llopis and Dolley, ˜A Small Find of Anglo-Saxon
Pennies from Roncesvalles™, pp. 89“91). On other possible contacts between Anglo-
Saxon England and Spain, see Chejne, ˜The Role of al-Andalus™, pp. 113“16 and 119;
Lapidge, ˜An Isidorian Epitome™, p. 184, n. 3; Breeze, ˜The Transmission of Aldhelm™s
Writings™, pp. 5“8; Winterbottom, ˜Aldhelm™s Prose Style™; and Hillgarth, ˜Ireland and
Spain™.

55
Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

these few examples of Islamic gold coins which were lost in Anglo-Saxon
times suggest that greater numbers were present above ground during the
same period. Since gold was many times more valuable than silver, it would
have been looked after with greater care.
The second route into England witnessed the arrival of silver coinage from
Muslim lands via Scandinavia. Ku¬c coins, mostly dirhams, were hoarded
in large quantities in Scandinavia, especially Denmark, during the ninth
and tenth centuries. The coins were probably acquired as a result of tribute
and raiding.40 The largest of these collections contain thousands of Islamic
coins.41 They are dominated by silver from the eastern Islamic empire, and
contain very little in the way of Andalusian specimens or gold. Scandinavian
raiders and settlers carried lesser numbers of these coins to England and
Ireland during the late ninth and ¬rst half of the tenth centuries. There they
have been found both singly and in hoards (albeit considerably smaller than
those of northern Europe), usually mixed with other coins and silver.42 The
same voyagers seem also to have been responsible for transporting Anglo-
Saxon coins eastwards as far as Russia and Poland, and, especially after the
last quarter of the tenth century, back to Scandinavia.43
Not surprisingly, Ku¬c silver in England usually lies within the Danelaw
and dates to the close of the ninth century or beginning of the tenth. A not-
able exception is a hoard found in Croydon, which was dated to c. 875 and
contained three Ku¬c coins along with hacksilver and ingots characteristic
of Scandinavian hoards. The Croydon hoard is thought to be the earliest
Danish silver known to have been concealed in England. The three Ku¬c
coins are all «Abb¯ sid dirhams: two of H¯ run ar-Rash¯d (AD 786“809) and

a ±
one of al-W¯ thik (AD 842“7). As a rule, ninth-century Ku¬c silver coins
a
were brought into Scandinavia in large quantities only at the close of the
ninth century or during the ¬rst half of the tenth. However, the relatively
¬rm dating of the Croydon hoard shows that some Ku¬c silver had reached

40
Sawyer, ˜Anglo-Scandinavian Trade™, p. 195.
41
Hov´ n describes Scandinavian and especially Danish hoards in his ˜On Oriental Coins in
e
Scandinavia™, pp. 119“28.
42
For general accounts of Ku¬c coins found in early medieval western Europe, see Duplessy,
˜La circulation des monnaies arabes™, and Allan, ˜Offa™s Imitation of an Arab Dinar™.
Ku¬c coins also reached Ireland; see Kenny, ˜An Early Tenth Century Samanid Half
Dirham™.
43
Metcalf, ˜The Monetary History of England™, p. 135.



56
Anglo-Saxon contacts with Islam

north-western Europe considerably earlier.44 A more typical hoard was dis-
covered at Cuerdale, near Preston in Lancashire, the burial of which has
been dated to c. AD 903.45 Other ¬nds have been recorded in Yorkshire and
Cumberland, again in Viking hoards from the ninth and tenth centuries.46
Ku¬c silver coins also occur singly. Like the hoards, single ¬nds character-
istically date from the late ninth or early tenth century and occur within
the Danelaw.47 As with the hoards, however, there is an exception. This is
a fragment of an «Abb¯ sid dirham, perhaps from the ¬rst half of the ninth
a
century and of uncertain mint, which was found near Bridgnorth, Shrop-
shire.48 There also exist a few forgeries of Ku¬c silver which date from the
period between the end of the ninth and the beginning of the tenth century.
They consequently belong to the same period in which genuine Ku¬c silver
was arriving in England, and so would seem to have been forgeries of coins
which were of current value.49

44
Brooks and Graham-Campbell, ˜Re¬‚ections on the Viking-Age Silver Hoard™, pp. 97
and 99.
45
Lowick, ˜The Ku¬c Coins from Cuerdale™, p. 21. The hoard was originally described as
containing three or possibly four « Abb¯ sid silver dirhams dating from between AH 156
a
and AH 282 (AD 772/3“895/6). The presence in the original collection of another Ku¬c
coin which is no longer to be found is indicated by a letter of 1842 concerning the hoard.
In it, the author describes ˜a small piece of Khosroes 2nd™ which is now thought to have
been part of an Arab-Sasanian dirham from Tabaristan (Dolley and Shiel, ˜A Hitherto
Unsuspected Oriental Element™).
46
See Dolley, ˜A Neglected but Vital Yorkshire Hoard™; Vaux, ˜An Account of a Find of
Coins in the Parish of Goldborough™; and Strudwick, ˜Saxon and Arabic Coins found at
Dean, Cumberland™, especially p. 179.
A silver dirham minted at Bardha « ah (between the Black Sea and the Caspian) and dated
47

AH 277“9 (AD 890“92) was found near Wymesmold (Blackburn and Bonser, ˜Single
Finds of Anglo-Saxon and Norman Coins “ 3™, p. 96). A S¯ m¯ nid dirham of Ahmad II
aa
Isma « il (AH 295“301; AD 907“14), which was probably minted in al-Shash (Tashkent),
was found in Postwick, Norfolk (˜Coin Register, 1994™, p. 148).
48
In the same year another S¯ m¯ nid dirham was found in Bylaugh, Norfolk, probably
aa
minted in al-Shash, and dated to the reign of al-Mu « tadid (AH 279“89; AD 892“
902); see ˜Coin Register, 1995™, p. 240. Linder Welin (˜Some Rare S¯ m¯ nid Dirhams™)
aa
suggests that the term ˜mancusus™ became current in the West because of the circula-
tion of such dirhams. On this point, see also Lowick, ˜A New Type of Solidus Mancus™,
pp. 179“80.
One of these is an imitation of a S¯ m¯ nid dirham of Isma « il b. Ahmad (AD 892“907)
49
aa
found among other coins at Middle Harling, Norfolk. The coin bears the names of two



57
Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

A small number of gold coins imitating Ku¬c originals have also been
found in western and northern Europe. The existence of such forgeries
might be taken to mean that Islamic gold, like silver, circulated in the
West as currency and was therefore worth imitating. This theory, however,
is only one of several put forward to explain the best-known western copy
of a Ku¬c coin, the imitation dinar struck between 757 and 796 by Offa,
king of Mercia.50 In the late eighth century, as mentioned above, the king
caused a gold piece bearing his name to be created in imitation of an « Abb¯ sid
a
¯
dinar of al-Mansur from AH 157 (AD 774). Offa™s dinar was procured in the
nineteenth century in Rome, where it was very probably originally found.51
It appears to be unique.52 The reason for the production of this coin has
been much debated. Gold coins from the early period are unusual in any
case. Offa™s dinar should be viewed in the context both of the gold currency
of the time and other imitations of Islamic coins from western Europe.
Other imitations are thought to have originated in Carolingian Europe or
Anglo-Saxon England around the same time as Offa™s dinar, during the
last decades of the eighth or the ¬rst half of the ninth century.53 For a
number of reasons, it seems likely that Offa™s unusual coin was minted as
part of a payment to the see of Rome.54 Alternative suggestions are that
it was produced for trade abroad, as an indication of Offa™s status or as an
alms-offering.55 The prototype of Offa™s dinar is also the subject of some
speculation. It could have been brought to England from the Continent
rulers, which is characteristic of some copies. The probable date of the forgery is thought
to be some time between c. AD 893 and 902, that is, very nearly contemporaneous with
the reign of the Islamic ruler (Archibald, ˜The Coinage of Beonna™, p. 17).
50
For an overview of the reign of Offa, see Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England, pp. 206“24, and,
on his coins, see especially Blunt, ˜The Coinage of Offa™.
51
Blunt, ˜The Coinage of Offa™, p. 50.
52
It was suggested that others formed part of a private collection (Metcalf, review of Grierson
and Blackburn, Medieval European Coinage), but Professor Metcalf has informed me that
subsequently this proved (regrettably) not to be the case.
53
See the discussions by Lowick, ˜A New Type of Solidus Mancus™; Linder Welin, ˜Elias Bren-
ners Arabiska GuldPenning™; Allen, ˜Edward the Confessor™s Gold Penny™; and Grierson
and Blackburn, Medieval European Coinage, pp. 326“31.
54
Based largely on a letter by Pope Leo III recording that Offa sent a payment to Rome of
365 mancuses towards the end of the eighth century (Blunt, ˜The Coinage of Offa™, pp.
45“6, and Grierson and Blackburn, Medieval European Coinage, p. 330). For the original
comment by Leo, see Alcuin, Epistolae, MGH Ep.Car.aeu. II, 188“9.
55
Several theories concerning the use for which Offa™s dinar was intended have been put
forward: see, for example, Carlyon-Britton, ˜The Gold Mancus of Offa™; Allan, ˜Offa™s

58
Anglo-Saxon contacts with Islam

by a traveller “ perhaps by George and Theophylact, the papal legates to
the English synods of AD 786. In any case, assuming that Offa™s dinar was
struck in England, the prototype or a near copy must also have been present.
Unless it was itself an imitation, it can be classed as another example of
Ku¬c gold known to have reached Anglo-Saxon England during the early
period.
All these examples show that there was certainly contact, whether direct
or mediated, between England and Muslim territories during the period AD
600“1100. However, to make sense of the kind and scope of the contact, the
examples should be viewed within a larger European economic perspective.
Even a limited history of medieval economics is outside the bounds of the
present discussion, but it is possible to give some idea of the scholarly ¬eld.
The past few decades have seen many re¬nements or supplements to the
famous thesis proposed by Henri Pirenne earlier this century. To simplify,
Pirenne argued that the Muslim conquests in the Mediterranean during
the seventh century effectively ended East“West trade. In the absence of
Mediterranean commerce, political power shifted north-west into Carolin-
gian Europe.56 However, others have interpreted the arrival of Islamic gold
in western Europe between the seventh and eleventh century as evidence for
the continuation or even increase of commercial relations between Christian
and Muslim lands.57 In his valuable article of 1956, J. Duplessy outlined


Imitation of an Arab Dinar™; Allen, ˜Edward the Confessor™s Gold Penny™, pp. 266“9; and
Blunt, ˜A Gold Penny of Edward the Elder™, pp. 280“1. Blunt (˜The Coinage of Offa™,
p. 51) suggests that the coin was struck for overseas trade and summarises the above and
other discussions concerning the dinar.
56
Pirenne, Mahomet et Charlemagne. See Ashtor, ˜Quelques observations d™un Orientaliste™,
in which he cites Arabic and other sources to argue that Muslim trade interests moved
from the Mediterranean to Russia and the Baltic region during the eighth and ninth
centuries.
57
Particularly in¬‚uential have been Lombard, ˜L™or musulman™, in which he argued that
Muslim gold injected new life into an exhausted western economy; Bolin, ˜Mohammed,
Charlemagne and Ruric™, which made a case for substantial East“West trade contacts
based on parallels between exchange values and Grierson, ˜Commerce in the Dark
Ages™, with a similar thesis that the Muslim and Christian economies were closely in-
terrelated. Lieber provides a useful discussion of scholarship to 1981 and argues for a
higher level of commercial activity than had previously been supposed (˜International
Trade and Coinage in the Northern Lands™). See also Cahen, ˜Quelques probl` mes™; e
his ˜Commercial Relations™, pp. 1“3 and 9“15; and Metcalf, ˜The Monetary History of
England™.

59
Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

scholarly trends to date, argued that a series of complementary studies
would be necessary to do justice to the problem and published a catalogue
of documentary evidence for the circulation of gold currency in Europe.58
Recent studies suggest that although medieval Mediterranean trade was
disrupted by the rise of Islam, it neither abruptly ceased nor burgeoned,
and that trade contacts between Muslim and Christian territories were of-
ten initiated and maintained by western merchants.59 Scholars often now
supplement numismatic and archaeological evidence with literature con-
cerning the movement of exotic goods from or through Islamic lands to
western Europe.60 In the mid-tenth century, for example, a Spanish trav-
eller noted that the market at Mainz displayed a variety of imports from
Islamic lands, including pepper, ginger, cloves, spikenard and dirhams from
Samarkand.61 As we shall see, various archaeological and written remains
show that luxury goods from the East, including spices, also made their way
to Anglo-Saxon England. It would be interesting to learn to what extent
early English authors associated such goods with the Muslims who made
them available.


imported islamic goods in anglo-saxon england
On his deathbed in AD 735, Bede is reported to have made the following
request:
58
Duplessy, ˜La circulation des monnaies arabes™, pp. 101“4 and 118“20. He provides a
catalogue of western documents on Islamic coins on pp. 135“52 (examples from before
1100 occupy pp. 135“8).
59
See, for example, Cahen, ˜Commercial Relations™, pp. 21“2; Abula¬a, ˜Asia, Africa and the
Trade of Medieval Europe™, pp. 415“19; and, emphasising the importance of Byzantium
as a trading centre with contacts East and West during this period, Patlagean, ˜Byzance
et les march´ s du grand commerce™.
e
60
Of considerable interest is the article by Sabbe, ˜L™importation des tissus orientaux™,
in which are mentioned such exotica as an expensively spiced rat which Charlemagne
ordered to be presented to a collector of orientalia (p. 815, n. 5). More recently, Abula¬a
too has pressed for the ¬nds of archaeologists and art historians to be taken into account
in discussions of medieval economics (˜The Impact of the Orient™, p. 2).
These items were noticed by Ibr¯ h¯m b. Ya « qub, a Jew from Muslim Spain (Spufford,
61
¯

Money and its Use in Medieval Europe, pp. 67“8). For the original account, see
Miquel, ˜L™Europe occidentale dans la relation arabe d™Ibr¯ h¯m b. Ya « qub (Xe s.)™,
¯

pp. 1059“60.



60
Anglo-Saxon contacts with Islam

Quaedam preciosa in mea capsella habeo, id est pipera, oraria et incensa. Sed curre
uelociter, et adduc presbiteros nostri monasterii ad me, ut ego munuscula, qualia
mihi Deus donauit, illis distribuam.62
Pepper and incense, originating from India and the Middle East respectively,
must have passed through Muslim hands on their way to Bede™s valuables-
box in the north of England. He does not mention how he acquired them.
Small quantities of herbs or spices might be bought at a continental fair and
sent to England as enclosures in letters or brought back as gifts by travellers.
Perhaps Bede, who never journeyed abroad, acquired his peppercorns in this
way.63
Anglo-Saxon contact with the Middle East had been established well
before Augustine came to England or Muhammad preached in Mecca. Dur-
ing the pre-Islamic period of the ¬fth, sixth and early seventh centuries, a
number of Anglo-Saxons were buried with various ˜status-goods™ of value
and talismanic signi¬cance such as amethyst beads and cowries from the
eastern Mediterranean or beyond. Such objects seem to have arrived mainly
in Kent.64 Items found at the seventh-century burial-site at Sutton Hoo
indicate various links between eastern Anglo-Saxon England and the east-
ern Mediterranean, including as they do a Coptic bronze bowl, possibly
a yellow cloak from Syria and a great quantity of Byzantine silver.65 In
62
˜I have a few treasures in my box, some pepper, and napkins, and some incense. Run
quickly and fetch the priests of our monastery, and I will share among them such little
presents as God has given me.™ (˜Epistola de obitu Bedae™, ed. and trans. Colgrave and
Mynors, pp. 584“5).
63
Cf. the balsam brought back from the Holy Land by Willibald. Alcuin mentions a gift
of medicinal herbs which he received c. 782“96 (Alcuin, Epistolae, MGH Ep.Car.aeu. II,
100). Lull sent incense, pepper and cinnamon as gifts in the mid-eighth century (Boniface,
Epistolae, MGH ES 1, 80).
64
See Hugget, ˜Imported Grave Goods™, especially pp. 63 and 66“8 (amethyst and elephant
ivory), p. 72 (cowrie shells) and pp. 92“4 (suggestions as to the nature of the movement
of the goods and their place in the Anglo-Saxon economy). Reese describes examples of
cowrie shells from Anglo-Saxon grave-burials in greater detail (˜The Trade of Indo-Paci¬c
Shells™ pp. 180“20). Reese notes that cowries may have been imported because the ventral
side of the shell was perceived to resemble female genitalia and so to represent a symbol
of fertility; it also resembles a half-open eye, and may have constituted a good-luck charm
(p. 189).
65
See Bruce-Mitford, The Sutton Hoo Ship Burial III, II, 740“3 (Coptic bowls), and also
Mango, Mango and Care Evans, ˜A Sixth-Century Mediterranean Bucket™, pp. 306“8.
On the yellow cloak, see Carver, ˜Pre-Viking Traf¬c™, p. 117.



61
Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

many cases it is possible that such items were not merchandise, but arrived
as booty, tribute or diplomatic gifts. By whatever means they came to be
traded or given into England, these goods show that indirect links with
the pre-Islamic eastern Mediterranean were established via the Continent
and eastern English ports from the very beginning of the Anglo-Saxon
period.66
Quite probably the Muslim conquests interrupted this network of con-
tacts for some time, but trading links seem to have been renewed. One of
the ¬rst Muslim in¬‚uences on English science seems to have been a material
impact upon medicinal ingredients. The names of several eastern ingredi-
ents appear in the Old English list of medical recipes known as the Lacnunga
(from the tenth century), and Bald™s Leechbook (apparently compiled from a
variety of sources at Winchester in the late ninth century).67 Some of the
ingredients for these recipes, were they used, could only have arrived from
territories under Islamic control. It would appear too that Anglo-Saxons
managed to import not only drugs but many medical writings from the
Continent into England, to the extent that the quality of Anglo-Saxon
medicine before the eleventh century may have approached that known on
the Continent.68 Certainly, evidence survives that medical writings were
in demand in England from an early date. Soon after AD 754, Cyneheard,
bishop of Winchester, wrote to Lull, bishop of Mainz, requesting him to
look out for medical texts:

66
Bruce-Mitford, The Sutton Hoo Ship Burial III, I, 164“5. See also Richards, ˜Byzantine
Bronze Vessels in England and Europe™, especially pp. 210“26. On early sea-trade in
north-western Europe, see Lebecq, ˜On the Use of the Word “Frisian”™, and his Marchands
et navigateurs I, 23“34, 119“38 and 269“78; Ellmers, ˜The Frisian Monopoly™, p. 91; and
Carver, ˜Pre-Viking Traf¬c in the North Sea™, p. 117. Islamic artefacts continued to enter
north-western Europe throughout the medieval period and in many cases found new uses
in a Christian setting. For a general discussion and catalogue of the arrival of such imports
into north-western continental Europe, see Shalem, Islam Christianized.
67
Cameron, ˜The Sources of Medical Knowledge™, p. 147. On Anglo-Saxon medicine, see
also his ˜Bald™s Leechbook and Cultural Interactions™; ˜Bald™s “Leechbook”: Its Sources and
Their Use™; and, more generally, Anglo-Saxon Medicine. Still useful are Talbot, Medicine
in Medieval England, and Riddle, ˜The Introduction and Use of Eastern Drugs™. Riddle
in particular argues that a wide variety of eastern medicinal ingredients was known in
western Europe (and England) during the early medieval period.
68
Cited by Cameron, ˜The Sources of Medical Knowledge™, p. 137, who also lists the medical
texts which could have been known in England by the eighth century (pp. 136“45). See
also Adams and Deegan, ˜Bald™s Leechbook and the Physica Plinii™.

62
Anglo-Saxon contacts with Islam

Nec non et, si quos saecularis scientiae libros nobis ignotos adepturi sitis, ut sunt de
medicinalibus, quorum copia est aliqua apud nos, sed tamen sigmenta ultramarina,
quae in eis scripta conperimus, ignota nobis est.69
Philipp Jaff´ , an earlier editor of the letter, suggested the reading pigmenta
e
rather than sigmenta, thus inviting the faint possibility that pigmenta might
also be interpreted ˜paint™ or ˜dye™; could pigmenta ultramarina elsewhere
refer to the rare and costly foreign blue made from lapis lazuli?70 During
the early Middle Ages, eastern artists had realised that this mineral, found
in Iran, Afghanistan and China, could be ground and combined with a
binding medium to produce an intense blue pigment. Because the blue
lapis lazuli occurs mixed with grey stone, rich pure blues for illumination
could be obtained only with dif¬culty even when lapis lazuli was available.
Such blues were not common in European illumination until after the late
tenth century.71 Nevertheless, centuries before this time, a range of blues of
a rather greyer quality was used to decorate manuscripts including the Book
of Kells and Durham Gospels. Analyses of the paints indicate that some
blue colours in these and other early illuminated manuscripts were created
by combining a fairly low grade of powdered lapis lazuli with varying
proportions of chalk and indigo.72 The date and provenance of the Book of
Kells and the Durham Gospels remain contentious, but if lapis lazuli was
employed in their production, it certainly arrived in the British Isles well
before the end of the Anglo-Saxon period.73
However, Cyneheard is more likely to have been thinking of a foreign
medicinal substance than lapis lazuli. By the mid-eighth century, a number
69
˜Likewise [please send], if you are going to obtain any books of secular knowledge unknown
to us, such as deal with medicinals “ of which we have a fair number, but the overseas
ingredients which we discover written in them are unknown to us™ (Boniface, Epistolae,
MGH ES 1, 247).
70
Cameron, ˜The Sources of Medical Knowledge™, p. 137. Tangl refers to the edition by
P. Jaff´ (Boniface, Epistolae, MGH ES 1, xxxii and 247).
e
71
See Mayer, The Artist™s Handbook, pp. 48“9, and Fuchs and Oltrogge, ˜Colour Material
and Painting Technique™, p. 148.
72
The crystalline mineral content of the paint does not seem to be azurite (copper carbonate),
which was more widely available and was also used during the medieval period to give
a rich blue. However, until a more stringent analysis of the pigment can be made, it
remains very probable rather than absolutely certain that the mineral involved is lapis
lazuli; see Fuchs and Oltrogge, ˜Colour Material and Painting Technique™, pp. 134, 139
and n. 34.
73
Fuchs and Oltrogge, ˜Colour Material and Painting Technique™, pp. 147“8.

63
Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

of overseas ingredients must have become reasonably familiar. Substances
such as pepper and silk are known to have reached England by the ¬rst
decades of the eighth century. The example of pepper alone suggests that
trade with Islamic lands must have been sustained throughout the Anglo-
Saxon period. Despite its Indian origins, pepper is mentioned more fre-
quently in Bald™s Leechbook and Lacnunga than many native ingredients. The
Old English compounds piporcwyrna and piporhorn suggest that it was com-
monly used.74 The Anglo-Latin poet Aldhelm (c. 640“709) composed a
riddle whose answer was ˜peppercorn™, which again suggests that the spice
would be familiar, at least to a learned audience.75 Bede™s possession of
peppercorns has already been mentioned. The seventh- or eighth-century
catalogue of eastern monsters known as the Liber monstrorum and also the
Wonders of the East (composed in Latin and subsequently translated into Old
English) both mention peppercorns, with an imaginative explanation of
how they were gathered and why they are black. The explanation is based
on a passage in Isidore™s Etymologiae: the pepper is naturally white, and is
guarded by snakes; men set light to the land and the snakes ¬‚ee under-
ground; the men can then collect the pepper, which has become blackened
by the ¬‚ames.76 In the light of this various evidence it seems safe to conclude
that pepper was well known and enjoyed from an early time in England,
not only as a medicine but as a condiment.
Other exotic spices and medicinals apparently imported into Anglo-
Saxon England included aloes, balsam, incense, myrtle and wild olive (from
Africa, Arabia and the Near East); cassia, cinnamon, galbanum and ginger


74
Cited by Banham, ˜The Knowledge and Uses of Food Plants™, pp. 243“5, along with a
hand-signal signifying ˜pepper™ to be used by diners enjoined to silence.
75
Aldhelm, Enigmata XL, MGH AA 15, 114“15; trans. Lapidge and Rosier, Aldhelm: The
Poetic Works, p. 78: ˜I am black on the outside, covered with a wrinkled bark, but yet
inside I have a shining pith. I season dainties, feasts of kings and extravagant dishes, also
sauces and kitchen stews. But you will ¬nd me of no value unless my inwards are crushed
for their shining pith.™
76
Liber monstrorum, ed. Orchard, III.6 (pp. 308“9) and the Old English Wonders of the East
[Cameron B22.2], ed. and trans. Orchard, §6 (pp. 188“9). The same information appears
in the Latin source, also ed. Orchard, p. 176. The Wonders of the East survives in two
manuscripts: London, BL Cotton Tiberius A.xv [Gneuss 399], dated s. x/xi, and London,
BL Cotton Tiberius B.v [Gneuss 373], dated s. xi. It also mentions cinnamon in the nest
of the phoenix; see Wonders of the East, ed. and trans. Orchard, §35 (pp. 181 and 202“3).



64
Anglo-Saxon contacts with Islam

(from the Far East); and mercury (from Spain).77 These were prescribed
in recipes for a variety of ailments. Often, alternative recipes were given;
this allowed the medieval physician to select the remedy best suited to
what ingredients he had to hand. It might be argued that Anglo-Saxon
recipes including eastern ingredients were ignored or not followed exactly,
since the physician could always resort to a treatment containing more
easily available substances. However, there is evidence against this idea.78
It seems that the copying of recipes into Bald™s Leechbook, far from being
unthinking or indiscriminate, exhibits logical selectivity. Whole recipes
containing rarely used exotic ingredients were frequently omitted, as were
certain exotic ingredients from within a recipe, especially perishable mate-
rials. The remaining exotic ingredients which were copied into the Leechbook
were probably available at least occasionally in Anglo-Saxon England. The
real use of eastern spices in Anglo-Saxon England is also indicated by two
recipes in the Old English Lacnunga which prescribe foreign ingredients
(aloes, pepper, ginger, cinnamon, pyrethrum, zedoary and galingale) com-
pounded with native ingredients according to typical English methods.79
Interestingly, zedoary and galingale, which come from the Far East, appear
in no Greek or Roman recipes and only became known in medieval Europe
as a result of Arab trade. While it might with dif¬culty be argued that
the eastern ingredients in Bald™s Leechbook were copied from earlier clas-
sical exemplars without thought as to their usefulness to an Anglo-Saxon
physician, the references in Lacnunga to zedoary (Old English sidewar) and
galingale (Old English gallenger) suggest on the contrary that these and
other eastern ingredients were known, available and used in England before
the tenth century.80 They probably also represent the earliest borrowings
into English (via Latin) of vocabulary used by Arabs (and borrowed from
Persian).
Having established that a number of expensive medicinal spices reached
Anglo-Saxon shores, we can even gain an idea of what kind of container they
might have arrived in. During archaeological excavations at Flaxengate in
77
Cameron, Anglo-Saxon Medicine, p. 104, where he also notes that these ingredients are
mentioned in the least derivative part of Bald™s Leechbook.
78
Cameron, Anglo-Saxon Medicine, pp. 101“2, and Riddle, ˜The Introduction and Use of
Eastern Drugs™, pp. 189“92.
79
Lacnunga [Cameron B21.3], ed. Cockayne, pp. 13 and 17.
80
Cameron, Anglo-Saxon Medicine, pp. 105“6.



65
Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

Lincoln, six sherds of an early Islamic pottery jar were found in parts of
the site which corresponded to a period of Danish occupation during the
¬rst half of the tenth century. The sherds appear to have belonged to a
utilitarian, turquoise-glazed vessel of a type produced in Syria during the
ninth and tenth centuries. Since the quality of the ware is not very high
compared with other pieces which were also produced in Syria at the time,
it seems likely that the vessel was not itself the object of trade or plunder,
but had been specially manufactured to transport (perhaps costly) contents.
Lincoln ¬ts the pattern of other Viking-age trading settlements and there
is an area on the Flaxengate site which seems to have been a craftsmen™s
quarter. Consequently it has been suggested that this ¬nd may constitute
evidence for an early trading centre in Lincoln.81 The Syrian jar might have
been brought to Lincoln by a Dane, or a trader in exotic goods such as the
merchant who appears in the Colloquy written by Ælfric, abbot of Eynsham
(c. 955“1010). This merchant dealt in (among other items) purples and
silks, spices, gems and ivory.82 The spices are plausible enough in the light
of the evidence discussed above for their import.
The merchant™s silks and purples, too, are known to have arrived in
Anglo-Saxon England. On a small scale, silk was imported as another med-
ical ingredient, prescribed twice in the Leechbook for suturing. A jaundiced
patient is described in the Leechbook as being as yellow as good silk, perhaps
meaning Chinese silk, which was a yellow colour.83 Silks were also known
on a grander scale. In a letter of 796, Charlemagne explained to Offa that he
was sending him two silken garments among other gifts.84 Five years later,
Alcuin informed the archbishop of Canterbury that if he meant to appear
before Charlemagne he must make certain his associates dressed modestly
and not wear gold and silks.85 In an archaeological context, few ¬nds of
silk in Anglo-Saxon grave-burials are known.86 The most impressive ex-
amples of imported silk have been found among the relics of St Cuthbert in

81
Adams, ˜Early Islamic Pottery™, pp. 218“19.
82
Ælfric, Colloquy [Cameron C3], p. 33; the relevant passage is reproduced in Latin and
Old English with a translation in Lebecq, Marchands et navigateurs I, 41“3.
83
Bald, Leechbook [Cameron B21.2.1], pp. 56 and 358 (sutures), and 106 (diagnosis).
84
Alcuin, Epistolae, MGH Ep.Car.aeu.2, 146.
85
For other such references, along with examples of silk found in archaeological contexts
in north-western Europe, see, generally, Sabbe, ˜L™importation des tissus orientaux™, and
Michel, Recherches sur le commerce, la fabrication et l™usage des etoffes de soie.
´
86
Bruce-Mitford, The Sutton Hoo Ship-Burial III, I, 412, n. 1.

66
Anglo-Saxon contacts with Islam

Durham. The saint was originally enshrined in 698 and was translated in
1104; the silks seem to have been added at various stages in between.87 The
Durham silks have been discussed in detail elsewhere as gifts that constitute
evidence for diplomatic contacts between Anglo-Saxon kingdoms and the
Byzantine empire.88 Although certain of the silks were manufactured in
Constantinople, others had previously been imported from Islamic territo-
ries before being sent on, probably as royal gifts.89 The value, compactness
and exoticism of goods like silks and spices certainly rendered them ap-
propriate gifts for monarchs. In the late tenth century, Elias, patriarch of
Jerusalem under Abb¯ sid rule (c. 879“907), is reported to have sent letters
a
and gifts of medicinal spices to King Alfred.90 The statement is supported
by a partial set of recipes in Bald™s Leechbook which contain eastern ingre-
dients such as balsam and zedoary and are accompanied by the explanation
that Elias, patriarch of Jerusalem, recommended them to Alfred.91
Thus, a continuing network of trade and diplomatic links, however infre-
quent or casually organised, seems to have connected the western Christian,
Byzantine and Islamic economies throughout most of the Anglo-Saxon pe-
riod. Merchant ships carried people to the Continent and allowed a variety
of goods, including spices and silk, to travel from or through the lands of
Islam to England. The Islamic connection, however, remained unrecorded
by the Anglo-Saxons. No association seems ever to have been made in
England between textiles or medicinals and the Saracens. The Liber mon-
strorum records that pepper is found near Arabia but most Anglo-Saxon
sources remain silent as to the origins of traded goods from so far east.92

87
On the date of manufacture of the Nature Goddess silk and its inclusion in Cuthbert™s
tomb, see Higgins, ˜Some New Thoughts on the Nature Goddess Silk™, pp. 333“7, and
Granger-Taylor, ˜The Inscription on the Nature Goddess Silk™, p. 341.
88
Muthesius concludes that the Durham silks span six centuries and arrived from Byzantium
and Islamic territories (˜Silks and Saints™, pp. 365“6). On the silk braids in the tomb,
see Granger-Taylor, ˜The Weft-Patterned Silks™, especially pp. 311“21. Cf. the various
articles on the Durham silks in Battiscombe, The Relics of St Cuthbert, pp. 378“524.
89
On Byzantine domestic silk production and imports from the Islamic East, see Muthe-
sius, ˜The Byzantine Silk Industry™, especially pp. 3, 11“13, 40 and 66; and her ˜Silken
Diplomacy™ in general.
90
˜Nam etiam de Hierosolyma ab El[ias] patriarcha epistolas et dona illi directas uidimus
et legimus™ (Asser™s Life of King Alfred, ed. Stevenson, p. 77).
91 ’
˜Dis eal het þus secgean ¦lfrede cyninge domne helias patriarcha on gerusalem™ (Bald,
Leechbook, pp. 289“91).
92
Liber monstrorum, ed. Orchard, III.6 (p. 308); Etym. XVII.viii.8.

67
Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

At the same time, western Christian writers, presented with eye-witness
accounts of contemporary Islam in the Holy Land, continued to portray the
area as a Christian territory in which the governing Muslims were no more
than pagani or increduli whose literary role it was to further the cause of the
Christian pilgrim. The tone of these pilgrimage accounts is very different
from that of Bede or the Byzantine polemicists deploring the conquests, but
the conclusion is the same: the Saracens remained peripheral in a Christian
space which still morally and spiritually belonged to the Christian commu-
nity.93 The question suggests itself: where did the literary Anglo-Saxons
think the Saracens belonged? Where had they come from? When Arculf
visited the river Jordan, he noted with interest a spot marked by a wooden
cross where, he was told, Jesus had been baptised by John: ˜a quo usque in
alteram ripam in parte Arabiae homo fortis iactare lapidem potest funda
inpellente™.94 The religious geography is striking. The other bank is so near,
yet so far from Christian territory; only a stone™s throw away, yet the wrong
side of the baptismal waters. It is a different country: perhaps, even, it is the
Orient. Surely it was from Arabia that the Saracens emerged to dominate
the Holy Land.

93
Bede, in his version of the De locis sanctis, adds the phrase qui nostra aetate fuit to the name
Mauias. This is perhaps intended to suggest to the reader that the Saracen governor is to
be understood only as the worldly governor of Damascus and not its true spiritual ruler.
94
˜. . . whence a strong man with a sling can hurl a stone into Arabia on the other side™
(Adomn´ n, De locis sanctis, CCSL 175, 213).
a




68
4
Arabs and Arabia in Latin




Adomn´ n™s De locis sanctis implies but does not state that the Saracens might
a
have come from Arabia. As mentioned earlier, readers of Latin in the early
medieval period understood the word ˜Saracen™ as a contemporary term for
the Old Testament peoples of the Ismaelites or Hagarenes.1 These tribes
were described in the Bible and biblical commentaries as inhabitants of the
areas south and east of the Holy Land. An Anglo-Saxon reader well versed
in biblical commentary would have seen in the Ismaelites a connection
between the contemporary Saracens and the region of Arabia beyond the
Jordan, both mentioned in Adomn´ n™s De locis sanctis.
a
It should be emphasised that such a connection could only have been
made by an educated Christian. Clear links between Arabia, Ismaelites and
Saracens survive only in Latin exegetical texts. But even Latin exegetes did
not, as a rule, describe the Saracens as an Arab people. Direct links between
the Saracens and Arabia are rare compared with links between Saracens and
Ismaelites, on the one hand, and between Ismaelites and Arabia, on the
other.2 The Arabs and Saracens seem to have been thought of in separate
contexts. Arabs were mentioned not only in the Bible but also in classical
writings, whereas the Ismaelites were only known from the Old Testament
and Christian writings, and the Saracens only from works written after the
second century AD. The Anglo-Saxons, however, ¬rst encountered all three
peoples in the same Latin Christian context.
1
See above, pp. 18“19.
2
Rotter discusses Arabia and the Arabs as represented in writings of the early medieval
period, along with the relationship between Arabs and Saracens (Abendland und Sarazenen,
pp. 77“130). I draw on Rotter™s analysis in this chapter, but would emphasise the contin-
uing relevance of writings by patristic authors such as Jerome, Cassiodorus and Augustine
in the curriculum of the Anglo-Saxons.

69
Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

Conversion to Christianity necessarily introduced a culture of the book,
since new adherents had to deal with a faith that was preserved and explained
in writing and, moreover, in a foreign language. This is not to say that all
converts learned to read and write in Latin, but that all depended upon
written originals, even those who transferred whole texts to memory, or
only heard the psalms or gospels read aloud.3 Christian education in its turn
introduced not only the names of peoples such as the Arabs or Ismaelites
but also new ideas of space and time, particularly for those who studied
the written corpus in detail. The books of the Old Testament contained
ancient Jewish history and verse which had been appropriated as Christian
scripture.4 The gospels presented the teachings of Jesus in the context
of Jewish history but also as a reaction against it, and Paul allegorised
an Old Testament passage on Abraham™s family to show that Christianity
superseded Judaism and de¬ned itself at least partly by contrast with it.5
Christian scholarship drew upon the ancient written tradition in order to
transcend it.
The onus thus fell upon subsequent generations of scholars to reconcile
the Old and New Testaments in such a way as to demonstrate the validity of
the latter. The books of the Old Testament were analysed, sometimes verse
by verse, by immensely learned ecclesiastics such as Jerome in order to clar-
ify their place within the Christian heritage. At the same time, Christian
scholarship had inherited a number of writings from classical authors whose
descriptions of the world complemented those found in the Bible. Access to
various of these texts allowed Anglo-Saxon readers to locate themselves in
relation to the crucial events and places of Christianity while setting these
events and places within a larger framework of Roman and Jewish culture.
Ideas about Arabia and Arabs, Ismaelites, and Saracens were introduced
as part of this larger picture and played their own role in the formation
of a shared history and identity for the literate Christian community. It
is almost certain that even before they left for the Holy Land, Arculf and
Willibald were guided by established Christian scholarly tradition in think-
ing of the Muslims as Saraceni. Their biographers Adomn´ n and Hygeburg
a
3
See above, pp. 14“15; Lapidge, ˜Anglo-Latin Literature™, p. 1, and Brown, ˜The Dynamics
of Literacy™, pp. 111“18.
4
Green, Medieval Listening and Reading, pp. 28“9.
5
Matth. XXIII, for example; Mark I.21“8; Luke IV.14“28; John V.39“47; for Paul™s alle-
gory, see Galat. IV.21“31.



70
Arabs and Arabia in Latin

presented the personal and Christian experiences of pilgrimage as the expe-
riences related to established writings. Although they describe real travel
as far as Islamic Arabia, the De locis sanctis and Vita Willibaldi are literary
pieces, too, composed after the event. They display neither fear nor hatred
of the Muslims but neither do they acknowledge any reason to be interested
in their homeland or religion. They ignore the Saracens or present them
as irrelevant except when their actions impinge upon Christians. ˜Arabia™
is mentioned only by Adomn´ n in relation to the baptismal river of the
a
Jordan.

the bible and jerome
Unsurprisingly, books of the Bible itself were among the ¬rst texts known
in Anglo-Saxon England.6 At least the gospels and a psalter would have
been necessary to the mission led by Augustine at the end of the sixth cen-
tury, and probably some portion of the Old Testament arrived at the same
time.7 Many manuscripts have survived which bear witness to the availabil-
ity of biblical materials in England during the early Anglo-Saxon period.
These include, for example, the famous book of gospels from Lindisfarne
and the Codex Amiatinus, both of which were copied and decorated to
the highest standards around the turn of the seventh century. The Codex
Amiatinus was produced along with two other pandects at the important
scriptorium of Wearmouth-Jarrow, but production of high-quality bib-
lical manuscripts was not restricted to the north. The Vespasian Psalter
contains an early example of the Roman version of the psalms and was
produced in the early eighth century at St Augustine™s, Canterbury. Two
gospelbooks from the end of the eighth century may have been copied
in the same scriptorium.8 The earliest surviving manuscript evidence for
books of the Old Testament in the south of England dates from somewhat

6
On biblical books in Anglo-Saxon England, see especially Marsden, The Text of the Old
Testament, pp. 8“11, 39“54, 73“4, 219“22 and 445“9. See also Metzger, The Early Versions
of the New Testament, pp. 443“55, and Hunter Blair, The World of Bede, pp. 211“20. British
Christianity in England seems to have had little widespread literary in¬‚uence (Mayr-
Harting, The Coming of Christianity, pp. 30“9).
7
Marsden, The Text of the Old Testament, p. 61.
8
Marsden, The Text of the Old Testament, pp. 76“7; on these three pandects, see also
pp. 85“106.



71
Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

later, perhaps the late eighth or early ninth century. However, parts of
the Old Testament were known in the south of England from at least as
early as the latter part of the seventh century. This is indicated by a set
of biblical commentaries which were produced in the Canterbury school
of Theodore and Hadrian.9 The Canterbury commentaries addressed the
Latin translation of the Old Testament which Jerome had produced in the
late fourth and early ¬fth century. This translation is usually referred to as
the Vulgate. Since the Vulgate as known today contains some books which
were not translated by Jerome, the books of the Latin Bible which are at-
tributable to him are often also known more precisely as the Hieronymian
text.
Jerome, the great churchman, scholar and patron saint of translators,
composed many works besides his translation which were to have a profound
effect upon western perceptions of the Arab world.10 He was born around
AD 347 and spent his youth in Rome, where an early training in the classics
gave him an admirable Latin style and ready ability to cite a number of
pre-Christian authors. Despite his experience of a traumatic vision of being
punished by God for his love of the classics, Jerome seems to have continued
to identify himself throughout his life with classical tradition and Roman
culture.11 He lived in the Arab world for a considerable part of his life and
included numerous references to the fourth-century Arabs in his works.
Jerome ¬rst moved to the Syrian desert around AD 375 and remained there
as an ascetic for two or three years. During this time he began to study
Hebrew, a language which he continued to cultivate throughout his life.12
In 382, he returned to Rome, where Pope Damasus commissioned from
him a revision of the Latin Bible. The papal request was prompted by a
desire to see one reliable and standard version of the Latin Bible replace the

9
Marsden, The Text of the Old Testament, pp. 61“2. See also below, p. 117.
10
On Jerome™s life, travels and writings generally, see Kelly, Jerome, pp. 46“90, and Quasten,
Patrology, pp. 212“46.
11
According to Ru¬nus, Jerome referred to ˜our Cicero™, ˜our Horace™ and ˜our Virgil™ with
no sense of incongruity (Sparks, ˜Jerome as Biblical Scholar™, p. 512,). In a letter to
Damasus, Jerome described himself using the phrase homine Romano (Epistulae [CPL 620]
15, CSEL 54, 64). The excellence of Jerome™s Latin prose is well known; for the new
version of the Bible, however, he abandoned polished Latin and resorted to a plainer and
more immediate style (Kelly, Jerome, p. 163).
12
See Sparks, ˜Jerome as Biblical Scholar™, p. 512, and Kelly, Jerome, pp. 50 and 134.



72
Arabs and Arabia in Latin

great number of inferior translations which were by then in circulation.13
Jerome returned to Syria the same year and stayed in or near Bethlehem
while he corrected and retranslated the Latin Bible, a task which was to
occupy him for over twenty years.
After completing the retranslation of the gospels in 383, Jerome con-
tinued with the remainder of the New Testament and then moved on to a
revision of the Old Testament. Initially, he undertook this part of the project
with reference to the Greek Septuagint, which he consulted in a copy of the
Hexapla from the library at Caesarea.The Hexapla was a prodigious volume
compiled by Origen in the ¬rst half of the third century. In six parallel
columns it displayed the unvocalised Hebrew text, a Greek transliteration,
the Septuagint and three translations into Greek by Theodotion, Aquila
and Symmachus. After some time Jerome decided that the Greek versions
were an unsatisfactory source, and he turned to the original Hebrew to re-
translate from the beginning. He seems to have regarded the Hebrew text
as a faultless source, identical with the version from which the Septuagint
was translated and therefore a faithful transmission of the original scripture
as recorded by its ¬rst authors.14
The vocalised version of the books of the Hebrew Old Testament, known
as the Masoretic text, was only produced between the sixth and the ninth
or tenth centuries. Jerome, with the help of the different Greek versions
mentioned above, worked on his translation into Latin from an unvocalised
version of the Hebrew. In this version, as he pointed out himself more than
once in his commentaries, the bare consonants of the Hebrew root may be
interpreted in several ways depending upon which vowels are inserted by the
reader. A good example of this problem concerns the group of consonants
which signi¬es ˜Arab™, ˜Arabs™ and ˜Arabia™. The same three consonants
may also represent words meaning ˜mixture™, ˜raven™, ˜evening™, ˜desert,
plain, steppe™ and ˜poplar, willow™. Jerome was concerned to point out such
alternative meanings and to explain their signi¬cance. At the same time
that he was working on the new version of the Bible, he began to write

13
On Old Latin books of the Bible, see Gribomont, ˜Les plus anciennes traductions™,
pp. 51“8; Bogaert, ˜La Bible latine™, pp. 277“84 and 293“5; and Metzger, The Early
Versions of the New Testament, pp. 285“330. On p. 290 Metzger cites Augustine™s famous
complaint that translators of the Bible into Latin were ˜out of all number™.
14
Sparks, ˜Jerome as Biblical Scholar™, p. 532.



73
Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

commentaries on its text to interpret and explain the Christian signi¬cance
of the Old Testament, clarify dif¬cult passages and supply Latin meanings
for Hebrew terminology. Jerome™s revised version of the scriptures should
therefore be read in conjunction with his voluminous commentaries on
the text.15 The commentaries regularly cite the authorities of the Hexapla
alongside classical authors and Jerome™s own interpretations of Hebrew
vocabulary and different levels of scriptural meaning.16 Thus they provide
not only a detailed exegesis of the Bible but also an account of Jerome™s own
choices and methods during translation.
Jerome spent more time on some books of the Bible than on others.
He was not always consistent in his translation method and worked on
the project over many years. Consequently, his revisions present some dif-
¬culties as a ˜standard text™.17 Nevertheless, they ultimately achieved the
purpose of replacing the many unsatisfactory Old Latin versions which
had proliferated during Jerome™s lifetime. This did not happen immedi-
ately. Old Latin books of the Bible continued to circulate throughout the
West for centuries, sometimes singly, sometimes bound together in pan-
dects, often together with the Hieronymian versions of other books. By the
end of the sixth century, books of the Hieronymian Bible were in com-
mon use and were also known in Anglo-Saxon England, but their validity
was still subject to dispute and their copying could be far from perfect.18
However, the importance of the Hieronymian version should not be under-
estimated. As far as Anglo-Saxon awareness of the Arabs and Saracens was
concerned, the differences between the Hieronymian books of the Bible
and the Old Latin versions did not signi¬cantly affect the information
transmitted by one or the other to readers. Because of the wide and even-
tually dominant in¬‚uence of the Hieronymian translations and the fact
that the Arabs appear very similarly in the Old Latin versions, all biblical
citations below are taken from the text of the Vulgate, unless otherwise
stated.19


15
For a listing of Jerome™s commentaries, see Sparks, ˜Jerome as Biblical Scholar™, pp.
515“16.
16
Kelly, Jerome, pp. 86“8, 135, 158“63.
17
See Sparks, ˜Jerome as Biblical Scholar™, pp. 519 and 522, and Kelly, Jerome, pp. 72 and
162.
18
Marsden, The Text of the Old Testament, p. 445.
19
Biblia Sacra iuxta vulgatam versionem, ed. Weber et al.

74
Arabs and Arabia in Latin

t h e a r a b s a n d a r a b i a i n t h e v u l g at e
Much Old Testament history is set in areas which were historically inhab-
ited by Arab peoples.20 Tribes described in the Old Testament as inhab-
itants of the Arabian peninsula include Ismaelites, Hagarenes, Moabites,
Ammonites, Edomites, Midianites, Dedanites, Amalekites and Sabaeans.
These names belong to peoples usually associated with an ancestor, after
whom they are named, and a speci¬c territory. By contrast, especially in the
older books of the Old Testament, the word Arabia itself seems to convey
little speci¬c geographical or ethnic meaning. It is used as a collective or
generic term for northern Arabian tribes or their territories which were more
commonly referred to using speci¬c ancestral names such as Ismaelites, Mid-
ianites and so forth. There is no genealogical list which mentions Arabs as
an individual tribal group. Arabs, rather, is likely to have indicated a nomad
or semi-nomad from the Syro-Arabian desert or the plains in the north-west
of the Arabian peninsula, or one who had settled more permanently in the
oases of these regions or southern Palestine.21
What could a western reader have learned about the Arabs from their
various appearances in the Bible? In the earlier books of the Old Testament
they appear as a group of nomadic desert peoples who perhaps subsisted as
traders and had access to Arabian gold.22 Later books of the Old Testament
mention Arabs and Arabia more often than the earlier books and present
them as a better-de¬ned ethnic group of nomadic peoples who probably

20
For example, biblical place-names such as Duma and Tema have been identi¬ed as sites in
north-western Arabia; Duma is mentioned at Josh. XV.52 and Isai. XXI.11 and is now
Jawf; Tema at Gen. XXV.15, Job VI.19, Isai. XXI.14 and Jer. XXV.23 and is modern
Tayma (The Oxford Companion to the Bible, s.v. ˜Arabia™).
21
See The Oxford Companion to the Bible, s.v. ˜Arabia™; The New Westminster Dictionary of the
Bible, s.v. ˜Arabia™; and Neues Bibel-Lexikon, s.v. ˜Araber™.
22
See Isai. XIII.20 (an Arabian tent-dweller); Ezek. XXVII.21 (Arabians bring ¬‚ocks to
sell in Tyre); III Kings X.15 and II Par. IX.14 (Solomon™s payments of gold from reges
arabiae, perhaps better translated as ˜chiefs of Arabian nomads™ than as ˜monarchs ruling
over Arabia™). Jer. XXV.24 lists the Arabian kings with the tribes of Dedan, Tema and
Buz and ˜all the kings of the west that dwell in the desert™. (The tribes are accompanied
by uniuersis, qui attonsi sunt in comam. Other references to the cutting of hair by Arabian
peoples are found at Jer. IX.26 and XLIX.32. The practice is prohibited to the Jews at Lev.
XIX.27. Herodotus reported it as a religious practice among the Arabs (Montgomery,
Arabia and the Bible, p. 30). However, see also below on Pliny™s account of the Arab habit
of shaving the beard and leaving the hair uncut.)

75
Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

lived as mercenaries and herders south of Palestine and were not disposed
especially favourably towards the Israelites.23 In the New Testament, Arabs
and Arabia seem to be associated with a region bordering the Holy Land
(as in Adomn´ n™s description).24 In his letter to the Galatians, Paul alle-
a
gorises the meaning of Arabia in an early piece of exegesis which also clari¬es
its geographical location. He writes that Hagar (Abraham™s concubine and
the mother of Ismael) is to be understood as Mt Sinai in Arabia and that
she and her children are in bondage to Jerusalem. Hagar and Sinai signify
the old law and covenant of Moses, whereas Sarah (Abraham™s wife) and
Jerusalem signify the new law of Christ. Paul presents Arabia, the region in
which Sinai is located, in opposition to Jerusalem, the New Testament and
Christianity.25 This is a fair summary of their role as usually interpreted
from the Old Testament. The overall picture of the Arabs as presented in the
Bible is of a nomadic or barely settled people inimical towards the Israelites
and subsisting as herders, mercenaries and possibly traders. Arabia seems
generally to have designated the living-space of the Arabs, or perhaps, more
speci¬cally, the region immediately east and south of the Holy Land. If there
is any change in the meaning of the word Arabs in the course of the Bible™s
history, it may well be that it narrows from a generic term for the nomads
of the Arabian peninsula to one indicating a people with a more precisely
northern Arabian ethnic identity.
Readers who wished to study and understand the Old Testament in
depth turned to written commentary on the Bible. Here the works of
Jerome exerted a great in¬‚uence. Widely read and copied in their own
right, they were also extensively cited by other authors and informed the

23
See II Par. XVII.11, XXI.16, XXII.1 (which mentions latrones arabum); XXVI.7, II Esdra
IV.7 (Arabs, Ammonites and Azotians oppose the rebuilding of Jerusalem™s walls); II.19,
VI.1, VI.6 (the Arab Gosem attempts to subvert the project); VI.1 (Gosen grouped with
enemies of the Jews); I Macc. V.39 (Arab mercenaries); XII.31 (Arab enemies of Israel);
II Macc. XII.10“12 (Arab mercenaries who own ¬‚ocks and tents; in the Septuagint these
Arabs are referred to speci¬cally as nom†dev; see The Interpreter™s Dictionary of the Bible, s.v.
˜Arabia™). I Macc. XI.17 and 39 refer to individual Arabs: one is Zabdiel, who beheads
Alexander, and another is Emalchuel, who brings up Alexander™s son.
24
Acts II.11 lists the Arabs after Cretans among the nationalities present at the descent of the
Holy Ghost in tongues of ¬re; in Galat. I.17 St Paul mentions having travelled into Arabia
from the Holy Land; Galat. IV.25 locates Mount Sinai in Arabia. Geographically, Paul
seems to be referring to a similar area to that suggested in the books of the Maccabees and
Esdra, that is, the northern regions of the Arabian peninsula just outside the Holy Land.
25
Galat. IV.22“31.

76
Arabs and Arabia in Latin

understanding of many subsequent generations of scholars. Explanations
and information concerning the lifestyle, homeland and exegetical signif-
icance of the Arabs are found in several of Jerome™s commentaries on the
prophets and the New Testament. Manuscripts of works by Jerome have sur-
vived from the eighth, ninth and especially the eleventh century in Anglo-
Saxon England.26 From one very early manuscript of his commentary on
Ecclesiastes and citations from his writings by Bede, we know that Jerome™s
exegetical works were also read in England during the seventh century.27
The information which Jerome conveyed was derived from earlier Christian
authors, his own understanding of the scriptures, some personal experience
while living in the Holy Land and, on occasion, reference to classical or
Jewish literature. He borrowed freely, for example, from Josephus,28 and
twice cited Vergil concerning Arabian incense.29 Most of all, he emphasised
the importance of the Hebrew original of the Bible.30 Jerome was concerned
to clarify both the literal signi¬cance of individual words and the spiritual
signi¬cance of the Old Testament text. Frequently, therefore, his method
was to comment both on his process of translation in the Vulgate with
reference to the Septuagint and the Hebrew and also to bring forward the
allegorical Christian meaning of the Jewish history. He sometimes also out-
lined readings which he learned from previous commentators or alternative
26
Some ¬fty manuscripts containing works by Jerome are listed by Gneuss as having been
known in Anglo-Saxon England: see, for example, Cambridge, Pembroke College 17 and
91 (both from the ninth century) [Gneuss 128 and 136]; Shropshire Record Of¬ce s.n.
(viii2 ) [Gneuss 755]; Gerleve, Westphalia Abtenbibliothek, s.n. (viii2 ) [Gneuss 829.5]
and St Petersburg, Russian National Library, F.v.I.3 (viii2 ) [Gneuss 840.6]. Jerome™s works
continued to be read until the end of the Anglo-Saxon period; see Lapidge, ˜Surviving
Booklists™, pp. 149“54.
27
¨
Wurzburg Universit¨ tsbibliothek M.p.th.q.2, dating from the ¬fth century [Gneuss
a
944].
28
Kelly, Jerome, p. 156. See also Luebeck, Hieronymus quos nouerit scriptores, s.v. ˜Flauius
Josephus™.
29
Of Arabia, Jerome writes: ˜unde et thus uenire perhibetur, dicente Vergilio: “centumque
Sabaeo/thure calent arae”™; Jerome, In prophetas minores [CPL 589], CCSL 76, 202; he cites
the same lines in LQHGen., CCSL 72, 12, where he comments further: ˜Saba a quo Sabaei,
de quibus Virgilius: “Solis est thurea uirga Sabaeis”™. Some of Jerome™s classical sources
are noted in Duckworth, ˜Classical Echoes in St. Jerome™s Life of Malchus™, and Luebeck,
Hieronymus quos nouerit scriptores.
30
This distinguished Jerome™s exegetical style from that of other important commenta-
tors such as Eusebius of Emesa or Theodore of Mopsuestia; see Kamesar, Jerome, Greek
Scholarship, and the Hebrew Bible, pp. 175 and 194.

77
Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

interpretations of a passage, especially if the Hebrew root was ambiguous,
so that to some extent at least readers might evaluate the meaning of the
biblical text for themselves.31

j e r o m e a n d o t h e r c o m m e n tat o r s o n
arabia and the arabs
As mentioned above, the Hebrew consonants for ˜Arab™ are a good example
of a root which offers a variety of exegetical interpretations, potentially also
signifying ˜raven™, ˜plain™, ˜evening™, ˜mixture™ or ˜willows™ as well as ˜Arab™
or ˜Arabia™. Jerome took pains to make this fact clear to his readers. In his
commentary on Isaiah he pauses at the word ˜salicibus™ in order to explain
the problem:
Pro salicibus in Hebraeo legimus arabim, quod potest et Arabes intellegi . . . quod
nomen propter ambiguitatem transfertur et in coruos, atque occidentem locaque
campestria . . . Torrentem salicum, Babyloniae accipe ¬‚umina, de quibus Dauid,
˜In salicibus in medio eius suspendimus organa nostra™: siue uallem Arabiae, per
quam pergitur ad Assyrios.32
A little later in the same commentary, he digresses again to explain the same
problem but this time interprets the Hebrew to mean ˜Arabia™: ˜Verbum
“Arab”, ut saepe iam diximus, et “uesper”, et “Arabia”, et “coruus”, et
“planities”, et “Occidens” appellatur™.33 In a further two examples, Jerome
encounters a disagreement between his authorities on what Arabia is to sig-
nify, and, characteristically, presents all the possibilities.34 However, even
Jerome may sometimes have interpreted mistakenly: at I Kings XVII.4“6,
for example, the ravens which feed Elias in the eastern wilderness might

31
Kelly, Jerome, pp. 156, 163“7, 212“13 and 291“4.
32
˜For “willows” in Hebrew we read “arabim”, which can also mean “Arabs” . . . which
name, on account of ambiguity, also translates as “crow”, and “west” and also “low
place” . . . Understand “the ¬‚ood of willows” as the river of Babylon, of which David said
“We hung our harps in the middle of it, in the willows”: or the valley of Arabia, along
which it continues to the Assyrians™ (In Isaiam [CPL 584], CCSL 73, 178).
33
In Isaiam, CCSL 73, 209.
34
˜Pro Arabia quoque Symmachus, “inhabitabilem”; Aquila, “humilia” uel “plana”;
Theodotio, “Araba” transtulerunt™ (In Ezech. [CPL 587], CCSL 75, 713); ˜Pro “torrente
Occidentis”, Symmachus interpretatus est, “uallem campestrem”: Theodotio, “torrentem
Arabiae”: Aquila, “torrentem qui est in planitie”™ (Jerome, In prophetas minores [CPL 589],
CCSL 76, 312).

78
Arabs and Arabia in Latin

better be thought of as nomads.35 Although Jerome often explains the
element arab as meaning loca campestria, planities,36 the most common in-
terpretation he gives is that of ˜evening™ or ˜west™; he brie¬‚y glosses Arabia
as such in the commentaries on several Old Testament books. After out-
lining the whole range of interpretations available in the passage from his
commentary on Isaiah cited above, Jerome suggests that though the root
may be variously interpreted, he considers ˜evening™ or ˜west™ to be the chief
biblical signi¬cance of the word.37
Jerome associated Arabia with the evening even when to do so was to
depart from his own translation of the Bible. In a letter describing attacks
from the north on Roman provinces he coined the epithet septentrionis lupi to
describe the attackers. His ˜wolves of the North™ were based on a reference
to lupi Arabiae, a phrase taken from the Septuagint version of Hab. I.8.38
Jerome™s commentary on this verse juxtaposes his new version of the text
with that of the earlier Septuagint. The Greek, rendered into Latin, has:
˜Et exilient super pardos equi eius, et uelociores erunt lupis Arabiae™, while
Jerome™s translation from the Hebrew reads: ˜Leuiores pardis equi eius, et


35
The Interpreter™s Dictionary of the Bible, s.v. ˜Arabia™. Jerome™s ravens were to prove an
enduring topos in Christian literature; see Fletcher, The Conversion of Europe, pp. 11“
12.
36
Arab and related or similar words appear as follows in LHNom. [CPL 581]: Araboth
humilem, planam, atque campestrem, CCSL 72, 78“9; Araba occidens, siue uespera, CCSL 72,
86; Araboth humilia, plana, atque campestria, CCSL 72, 88; Arab insidiae, CCSL 72, 89;
Araba multa; CCSL 72, 89; Betharaba, domus humilis, uel uesperae; CCSL 72, 802; Arabes,
humiles, siue campestres, CCSL 72, 91; Arabiam, humilem, siue occidentalem, CCSL 72, 155.
The most frequent interpretations given in this gloss are those of ˜low place™, ˜plain™ “
which translates the ˜-arab-™ element in araboth and betharaba as well “ followed by ˜west™,
˜evening™. In the commentaries, on the other hand, by far the most common rendering of
the word is as ˜west™, ˜evening™. Two other interpretations, insidia and multa, only appear
once each here.
37
˜Ceterum nomen Arabiae, id est, uesperae et occidentalis, in aliis scripturarum locis
diuersas intelligentias recipit™ (In Isaiam, CCSL 73, 296). For other examples of ˜Arab™
translated as ˜west™, ˜evening™, ˜sunset™, see also In Ezech., CCSL 25, 375; In prophetas
minores, CCSL 76A, 588 and 696; and In epistulas Paulinas [CPL 591], PL 26, 390“1
(where Jerome de¬nes it as occasus).
38
Jerome writes: ˜Viginti et eo amplius anni sunt, quod inter Constantinopolim, et alpes
Iulias, quotidie Romanus sanguis effunditur . . . Ecce tibi anno praeterito ex ultimis
Caucasi rupibus immissi in nos, non iam Arabiae, sed Septentrionis lupi, tantas breui
prouincias percurrerunt™ (Epistulae, CSEL 54, 570“1).

79
Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

uelociores lupis uespertinis™.39 Jerome™s translation does not mention Arabs
at all but in his commentary on the passage he retains the phraseology of
the Septuagint for comparison. In his letter, he reverts to it for rhetorical ef-
fect. Apart from emphasising that the wording of the Septuagint remained
familiar to Jerome and (presumably) to the recipient of his letter, the com-
parison of the northern marauders with lupi Arabiae suggests that Jerome
perceived the Arabian tribes to be dangerous and uncivilised marauders
themselves.
One uncivilised Arab trait as far as the Christian writer was concerned
was their nomadic lifestyle. Jerome™s commentary on Isaiah contains two
images of the Arabs as desert nomads and dwellers in tents, an image also
conveyed to the Christian world in Isaiah™s own prophesy that Babylon
would suffer such devastation that the Arab would not pitch his tent there.
In one commentary on this passage, Jerome accompanies the Arab with
a Saracen, presumably because he conceived of the Saracens too as tent-
dwellers: ˜Non enim tendet ibi Arabs Saracenusque tentoria™.40 In a later
commentary on the same verses, after mentioning that Arab signi¬es ˜west™
and ˜evening™, Jerome instructs the reader nevertheless to understand Arab
literally, and without pejorative meaning, as the desert nomad. An Arab
would, he writes, move there when he saw that it was deserted, for he al-
ways pushes into boundaries and, having forgotten things gone by, shifts
himself on.41 Here, Jerome uniquely instructs the reader to accept an in-
terpretation of Arab not negatively but in bonam partem. Still, this repre-
sentation of the desert-dweller who moves on beyond boundaries accords
well with another description of Arabs in the commentary on Jeremiah.
The prophet described Jerusalem lurking in the wilderness (Jer. III.2). In
his commentary, Jerome linked the people of the Arabs with the word
latro:

39
Jerome, In prophetas minores, CCSL 76A, 584. The same distinction between ˜evening™ and
˜Arabia™ in Jerome™s and the Septuagint™s translations of the identical phrase occurs later
at Zeph. III.1, which is cited by Jerome as iudices eius sicut lupi Arabiae in the Septuagint.
Jerome™s Vulgate reads iudices eius lupi uesperae (In prophetas minores, CCSL 76A, 694).
40
In Isaiam, CCSL 73, 165.
41
˜Non enim ponet ibi, postquam in pristina gloria esse desierit, Arabs tentoria sua, qui
interpretatur “occidentalis” et “uespertinus”; ut in ea cupiat habitare, quam uiderit esse
desertam. Arabs autem in praesenti loco in bonam partem accipitur: quod semper tendat
ad ¬nem, et oblitus praeteritorum, extendat se in priora™; In Isaiam, CCSL 73, 234.



80
Arabs and Arabia in Latin

Pro latrone, siue cornice, in Hebraeo scriptum est Arab, quod potest et Arabas
signi¬care, quae gens latrociniis dedita, usque hodie incursat terminos Palaestinae,
et descendentibus de Jerusalem in Jericho obsidet uias: cuius rei et Dominus in
Evangelio recordatur.42

Jerome purports to base his description on material in the Gospels. The
passage he refers to is the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke X.30“7).
His treatment of the Arabs is interesting. He de¬nes the entire people as
gens latrociniis dedita, a people given to robbery, and describes one of their
activities as besieging roads in Palestine somewhere between Jerusalem
and Jericho, presumably in order to waylay travellers. This clari¬es that
Jerome is not referring to settled Arabs but to bandits of some kind. The
phrase incursat terminos Palaestinae shows that at least as far as Jerome is
concerned these Arabs have no right to be within Palestine but belong
outside its boundaries. He writes that the Arab practice of waylaying trav-
ellers is current in his own time (usque hodie). He then identi¬es the robbers
who attacked the New Testament traveller a few hundred years before as
the originals of the fourth-century Arabs. By synthesising biblical infor-
mation with local knowledge, Jerome conveys the idea that the Arabs are
and always have been highway robbers. Furthermore, although the obser-
vation is Jerome™s own, he presents it in such a way that it appears to
be endorsed by scripture. The validity of the endorsement is doubtful.
Jerome appeals for authority both to the Old Testament Hebrew, whose
word for latro or cornix he says may also be interpreted ˜Arab™, and to the
New Testament account of the thieves between Jerusalem and Jericho,
whom he maintains to be Arabs. However, the Septuagint does not con-
tain the word Arab here in its version of Jeremiah, and nowhere else does
Jerome mention that latro is a possible interpretation of the Hebrew root
for ˜Arab™, though cornix corresponds with the coruus he more usually men-
tions. Similarly, the New Testament parable does not mention Arabs at
all in connection with the thieves, though two later travellers along the
road are speci¬ed as a Levite and a Samaritan. It may be that Jerome™s own

42
˜For “robber”, or “crow”, “Arabe” is written in the Hebrew, which may also mean “Arabs” “
which people, given to robbery, to this day invade the borders of Palestine, and besiege
the roads for travellers coming down from Jerusalem to Jericho “ a thing also noted by
the Lord in the Gospels™ (Jerome, In Hier. [CPL 586], CCSL 74, 31). The New Testament
reference is to Luke X.30“7.



81
Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

perceptions of the Arabs are informing his interpretation of the Bible, or
perhaps he was in¬‚uenced by the biblical linking of Arabs with latro at II
Par. XXII.1 (omnes maiores natu . . . interfecerant latrones arabum), or by some
other reference such as Pliny™s description of the Attali latrones as an Arabian
people.43
Since Jerome lived for many years on the outskirts of the Syrian desert in
the north of the Arabian peninsula, it is not surprising that he should have
mentioned the nomadic tribes who inhabited the same region. The fact
that he saw the landscape and peoples of the Bible re¬‚ected in his fourth-
century environment underlines the contemporary relevance of scripture in
the mind of the great exegete. Jerome refers again in various works to the
northern Arabian nomads. However, in these other writings he does not call
them Arabes, but Saraceni. In the works of early Christian commentators
whose writings were known in Anglo-Saxon England, the most common
designation for the nomads of their own day was Saraceni. In the same
Christian Latin literature, the name Arabs was largely restricted to classical
and biblical references. When Bible met contemporary environment, as
sometimes happened in the commentaries of Jerome, Arabs and Saracens
might also meet, albeit rarely.
Christian writers frequently discussed Arabs and Arabia separately from
each other. A good example occurs in the writings of Ambrose (339“97),
the great sermoniser and proli¬c exegete. Works by Ambrose were known
in England from at least as early as the eighth century.44 In the Hexaemeron,
one of his best-known commentaries, he described the desert of Arabia as a
region between Egypt and Palestine and mentioned that the phoenix made


43
(Pliny, Historia naturalis, VI.xxvi.125). Elsewhere in his commentary on Isaiah, Jerome
again linked fourth-century Arabs with the biblical world. In an explanation of the Greek
word theristrum, an item of clothing worn by Rebecca, Jerome wrote that it was a kind
of robe worn even in his own day by the women of Mesopotamia and Arabia to protect
their bodies from the heat: ˜Habent et theristra, quae nos pallia possumus appellare: quo
obuoluta est et Rebecca. Et hodie quoque Arabiae et Mesopotamiae operiuntur feminae:
quae Hebraice dicuntur “ardidim”, Graece q”ristra: ab eo quod in q”rei, hoc est, in
aestate et caumate corpora protegant feminarum™; In Isaiam, CCSL 73, 57. The same
word is de¬ned elsewhere by Jerome as a robe, a kind of Arabic garment worn by the
women of certain provinces: LQHGen., CCSL 72, 30.
44
Manuscripts containing his work which survive from the eighth century include: London,
Lambeth Palace 414, ff. 1“80 [Gneuss 516]; Boulogne, Biblioth` que Municipale, 32
e
o
[Gneuss 799]; and Kassel, Gesamthochschulbibliothek, 2 Ms.theol.21 [Gneuss 832].

82
Arabs and Arabia in Latin

itself a nest there of incense, myrrh and other aromatics in which to die.45
Of the Arabs, he wrote elsewhere that they were a people who practised
circumcision along with the Egyptians and Phoenicians.46
A similar dissociation between Arabia as a region rich in spices and the
Arabs as an alien people occurs in the works of his near contemporary,
Augustine (354“430), who is sometimes said to have converted to Chris-
tianity in his thirties as a result of hearing a sermon by Ambrose. One
of the founding fathers of the western church, Augustine wrote numerous
letters, biblical commentaries and works on the Christian faith which were
widely known through the medieval West.47 Much manuscript material
containing his works survives from Anglo-Saxon England. Most dates from
the eleventh century, but excerpts from his commentary on the psalms, in
which he wrote about Arabian incense, survive from considerably earlier.48
Augustine interpreted the people of the Arabs as in¬deli and gentes, in con-
trast with the Israelites.49 He also described a heresy peculiar to Arabia
according to which the soul dies and disappears along with the body to
arise again at the end of time. Since no author of the heresy was named,
Augustine explained that its adherents could be called Arabici.50 Later, in
the seventh century, the same information was retransmitted by Isidore in
the ¬fth chapter of his Etymologiae. Of Arabia itself, however, Augustine
commented that it was known for its aromatic products, which he called
bonas res Arabicas. He also indicated that incense was typically found there.51
Others regarded the luxury of these Arabian spices with suspicion. They
could be interpreted to signify the gentes themselves, or at least those who
did not behave like members of the true faith. Cassiodorus (AD c. 485“580)
was the author of at least three works to have been studied in Anglo-Saxon
England: the Expositio psalmorum, Institutiones and De anima. The Expositio
45
Ambrose, Hexaemeron [CPL 123], CSEL 32.1, 70 and 197.
46
Ambrose, Epistolae [CPL 160], CSEL 82.2, 180.
47
See Quasten, Patrology, pp. 345“50 (Augustine™s life) and 403“62 (doctrine); see also
Altaner, Patrology, pp. 487“94 (Augustine™s life) and 496“516 (works).
48
Berlin, Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Grimm 132, 2 [Gneuss 792] and
¨
Wurzburg, Universit¨ tsbibliothek M.p.th.f.43 [Gneuss 944.5], both dated to around the
a
mid-eighth century. Another early example of Ambrose is Edinburgh, National Library
of Scotland, Advocates 18.7.8, s. viii [Gneuss 255].
49
Augustine, Enarrationes in Psalmos [CPL 283], CCSL 39, 981 and 983.
50
Augustine, De haeresibus [CPL 314], CCSL 46, 337.
51
Augustine, Contra academicos [CPL 253], CCSL 29, 20 and Enarrationes in Psalmos, CCSL
38, 591.

83
Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

psalmorum, a verse-by-verse commentary on the psalms, survives in several
manuscripts, and was known in England from the early eighth century at
the latest.52 In this work, Cassiodorus took up the theme of Arabia as a land
of spices in order to introduce negative connotations of luxury and physical
pleasure. He explained in his commentary on Ps. LXXI that just as Arabia
allures the sense of smell with various perfumes, so pleasure-seekers are
tempted towards worldly enjoyments.53
Arabia as a land of spices or perfumes was a concept which went back
to classical literature and was well developed in the Historia naturalis by
Pliny. According to Pliny, Arabia was a rich land full of aromatics, called
Beatae and Eudaemon and known principally for incense and myrrh, which
he associated with the Sabeans. He described this Arabia as lying near
Palestine or Judea and Egypt.54 Pliny seems also to have associated the
Arabia inhabited by Nomades or Scenitae (˜tent-dwellers™) with the nearby
desert region of Syria.55 The idea that the Arabs were one among several
(or many) Arabian peoples had been current in the West for some time.
Pliny described a group called Arabes along with many other tribes as
inhabitants of Arabia in the sixth book of his Historia naturalis. They are
listed along with the Nomades, who live on milk and raw meat, and the
Sabaei, who gain their wealth from fertile woods bearing aromatics and
gold among other products. A manuscript containing books two to six of
Pliny™s Historia naturalis survives from the ¬rst half of the eighth century,
and excerpts are found in later manuscripts.56 Pliny described the Arabs as
follows:

52
Lapidge, ˜An Isidorian Epitome™, p. 194 and n. 40; also Durham, Cathedral Library
B.II.30 [Gneuss 237]; Cambridge, St John™s College Aa.5.1, f. 67 [Gneuss 154]; and
¨
Dusseldorf, Universit¨ tsbibliothek Fragm.K19:Z8/8 [Gneuss 822]. The latter two are
a
fragmentary; all date from the ¬rst half of the eighth century.
53
˜Arabia ponitur pro hominibus suaui et terrena se delectatione tractantibus. Nam sicut
illa patria diuersis aromatibus sensum narium mulcet, ita isti ad delectationes mollissimas
illecebris saecularibus inuitantur™ (Cassiodorus, Expositio psalmorum [CPL 900], CCSL 98,
653).
54

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