Post-classical history

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Document 3 AL-MAS‘UDI ON THE FRANKS

‘Ali ibn al-Husayn al-Mas‘udi (d. 956) was a Muslim traveller and geographer. He has left us two rather different depictions of the Franks in two different geographical works.

(i) From Muruj al-Dhahab wa-Ma‘adin al-Jawhar (Meadows of Gold and Mines of Gemstone)

The Franks are the strongest of [the] races, the most fearsome and the most numerous. They have the most widespread power and the most numerous cities. They are the best-organised, the most obedient to their kings and the most compliant, except that the Galicians [who are a type of Frank] are stronger and more harmful than the [other] Franks. One Galician is a match for several Franks.

All of Ifranja [the land of the Franks] is unified in one kingdom. There is no competition between them about that, nor is there any factionalism. The name of the capital of their kingdom at this time is Paris. It is a great city.

Al-Mas‘udi then draws the reader’s attention to a book that he came upon in Fustat (now part of greater Cairo), which was originally presented to the Muslim ruler of Spain by the Bishop of Gerona. The book included this partial list of the Frankish kings:

The first of the kings of Ifranja was Clovis [r. 481–511]. He was a Zoroastrian, but his wife converted him to Christianity. Her name was Clotild. Then his son Theuderic [r. 511–24] ruled after him. Then Theuderic’s son Dagobert ruled after him. Then Dagobert’s son Theuderic ruled after him, then after him ruled his brother Carloman. Then his son Charles [probably Charles Martel, major domo of the Merovingian kings 714–41] ruled after him. Then his son Pippin [III, major domo 741–51, King of the Franks 751–68] ruled after him. Then after him ruled his son Charles [Charlemagne, r. 768–814], who ruled for 26 years, and he was in the days of al-Hakam, the ruler of al-Andalus [r. 796–822]. After him his children fought each other and fell into disputes until Ifranja was ruined because of them. Then Louis, the son of Charles [Louis the Pious, r. 814–40] became the ruler of their kingdom, and he ruled for 28 years and six months, and he was the one who advanced on Tortosa and besieged it.

Al-Andalus: The Arabic term used to refer to the Iberian Peninsula and the Muslim states therein. The odern Spanish word ‘Andalucia’ derives from this.

Al-Mas‘udi goes on to comment on the reigns of subsequent Carolingian kings up to the time that he read the book, the Muslim year 336 (CE 947–8).

Source: ‘Ali ibn al-Husayn al-Mas‘udi. (1965–79) Muruj al-Dhahab wa-Ma‘adin al-Jawhar. Ed. Charles Pellat. Beirut: Manshurat al-Jami‘a al-Lubnaniyya, Vol. 2, pp. 145–8.

(ii) From Kitab al-Tanbih wa-l-Ishraf (The Book of Instruction and Supervision)

As for the peoples of the northern region […] like the Slavs, the Franks and those nations next to them, the sun shines weakly upon them because of their distance from it, cold and damp have overcome their region, and snow and ice come upon them in uninterrupted succession. They have little warm temperament in them; their bodies have become enormous, their humour dry, their morals crude, their intellect stupid and their tongues sluggish. Their colour has become excessively white, to the point of becoming blue, their skins thin, their flesh coarse, their eyes blue in accordance with their colouring, and their hair lank and reddish-brown because of the excess of steam and damp. Their beliefs have no solidity, and this is because of the nature of the cold and the lack of warmth. The ones who are from further north have become overcome with ignorance, dryness of humour and brutishness. This increases in them the further north that they go.

Source: ‘Ali ibn al-Husayn al-Mas‘udi. (1894) Kitâb at-Tanbîh wa’l-Ischrâf. Ed. M.J. de Goeje. Bibliotheca Geographorum Arabicorum, Vol. 8. Leiden, Netherlands: E.J. Brill, pp. 23–4.

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