Cultural Hybridities:

Christians, Muslims & Jews in the Medieval Mediterranean

NEH Summer Institute for College and University Professors

July 4ÐJuly 31, 2010 ¥ Barcelona (Spain)




Overview Program Facilities Faculty & Staff Group Page Projects


Abigail Balbale
Pete Burkholder
Louisa Burnham
Robert Clark
Andrew Devereux
John Drendel
Edward English
Allen Fromherz
Barbara Fuchs
Adam Gaiser
Camilo Gomez-Rivas
Jocelyn Hendrickson
Yuen-Gen Liang
Karen Mathews
Adam Miyashiro
Kiril Petkov
Valerie Ramseyer
Jarbel Rodriguez
Michael Ryan
Paul Sidelko
Joseph Stanley
Richard Taylor
Lara Tohme
David Wrisley


Abigail Krasner Balbale


PhD Candidate in History
Harvard University

Project: Rex Lupus and Other Saracens: Shifting alliances among the kings of 12th century Iberia

I.          The context: The “Reconquista ” and the rise of the Almohads
II.         Three documents in the Archives of the Crown of Aragon
             a.         November 1168: Alliance between Rex Lupus and Alfonso II of Aragon
             b.         December 1168: Alliance between Alfonso II of Aragon and Sancho VI Garcés of Navarre against Rex Lupus
             c.          June 1170: Agreement between Alfonso VIII of Castile and Alfonso II of Aragon that the latter would stop attacking Rex Lupus
III.       Analysis: The complexities of allegiance among Christian and Muslim kings in 12th century Iberia

I. The Context

In the first half of the twelfth century, a new power arose in North Africa and began to win territory on both sides of the Strait of Gibraltar. The Almohads espoused a radically monotheistic philosophy and began to fight against Christians and Muslims who did not share their outlook. The Christian kings of Iberia fought to win territory from Muslim hands in the process known today as the “Reconquista.” Yet, this conventional narrative of battles between coalitions of Christian kings and the vast armies of the Berber Muslims belies a deeper, more complex, and far more interesting interaction. Christian and Muslim rulers alike held overlapping allegiances. This project examines three treaties preserved in the Archives of the Crown of Aragon that deal with Mu?ammad ibn Sa’d Ibn Mardaniøsh, the most powerful independent Muslim ruler of al-Andalus during the Almohad period.1 These treaties show that religion was not the only – nor indeed the primary – fault line along which conflict occurred. In fact, when faced with co-religionist rivals who challenged both their religious and territorial claims, many Mediterranean rulers allied with those whose authority was rooted in a different faith tradition. Ibn Mardaniøsh’s alliances and enmities with the other kings of Iberia elucidate the complexities of the politics of allegiance.

Mu?ammad ibn Sa’d was known as Ibn Mardaniøsh in the Arabic sources of the day and as Rex Lupus in the Latin sources (Rey Lobo in the Castilian). He ruled South Eastern Iberia from Valencia to Granada from 1146-1172 CE/540-567 AH, fighting the Almohads and constructing elaborate trade and military alliances with his neighbors. Ibn Mardaniøsh’s alliances provided him with the economic and military power to maintain power. This meant that Ibn Mardaniøsh was able to create what María Jesús Viguera Molíns called a third option in the ambit of Andalusi religious relations, maintaining an ideological distinction from the Christians while paying them tribute. As she pointed out, it was this model that would remain the most powerful in Iberia after the reconquest, when the Nasrids would continue tribute to Castile while elaborating their own ruling ideology.2

Ibn Mardaniøsh built alliances with Christian rulers in Iberia as well as the broader Mediterranean context, which were often accompanied by tribute. Ibn Mardaniøsh gave the fortress of Uclés to the Castilians in exchange for protection, sent tribute to Barcelona in exchange for military equipment and soldiers, and signed treaties with Genoa and Pisa granting them factories in the ports of Valencia and Denia.3 His alliances with Emperor Alfonso VII and Alfonso VIII of Castile and with Ramon Berenguer IV of Barcelona were particularly long lasting and important to his military success. His relationship with Castile is particularly well represented in the archives and chronicles, and in some records Ibn Mardaniøsh is referred to as a vassal of Castile4. Many Christian chronicles record tribute and close connections between Ibn Mardaniøsh and the rulers of Barcelona and Castile.5

Ibn Mardaniøsh’s alliances were vital in supporting his continued power. Al­
Maqqariø reports that Ibn Mardaniøsh asked the Count of Barcelona for help fighting the Almohads in 546/1151, and that the Count obliged by sending ten thousand soldiers to assist him. This scared the Almohads so much that they retreated without engaging.6 His trade alliances with Italian city-states seem to have also been established in order to protect his territory. Ibn Mardaniøsh’s ten-year peace treaties with Genoa and with Pisa (signed in 1149) stipulate that he pay a yearly tribute and establish houses of commerce for them in the ports of Valencia and Denia, and give their merchants a free weekly bath, in exchange for their protection of his subjects in Tortosa and Almeria.7

II. Three Documents from the Archives of the Crown of Aragon

The first treaty with Iberian kings preserved in the Archives of the Crown of Aragon records an alliance between King Alfonso II of Aragon (also Alfons I of Barcelona and Provence) and Rex Lupus, in November 1168.8 The text reestablishes peace between Alfonso II of Aragon and Ibn Mardaniøsh (represented by Giraldo de Jorba) for two years starting May 1, 1169, in exchange for an annual tribute of 25,000 Morabetinos, to be paid before Christmas of that year. This may have been inspired by the new ten-year peace treaty between Navarre and Castile (1167), which meant that Sancho VI of Navarre would have been able to help Ibn Mardaniøsh, already ally of the Castilians, attack the Aragonese.

But the next month (and only two documents later in the Chancery register), Alfonso II of Aragon and Sancho VI Garcés of Navarre signed a treaty against Ibn Mardaniøsh (19 December 1168, in Sangüesa).9 This treaty calls for both of the rulers to work to acquire the territories of Rex Lupus and all other Saracen land and to divide it and subject its population.10

Only Castile remained faithful to Ibn Mardaniøsh and Murcia. The third document
is a treaty signed on June 4, 1170, between Alfonso VIII of Castile and Alfonso II of Aragon in Sahagún,11 which determined that the Aragonese would cease attacking Ibn Mardaniøsh’s territory the following year in exchange for an annual tribute of 40,000 Morabetinos12 of gold. 13

The treaty calls upon Alfonso II as a relative of Alfonso VIII’s, and talks extensively about the love between the two kingdoms.14 Ibn Mardaniøsh’s territory is protected by virtue of his close relationship of vassalage with the Castilians.

III. Analysis

Ibn Mardaniøsh is portrayed differently according to the political context. In the first, he is a king with sovereign claims to his land, while in the second he becomes simply one more Saracen to be expelled, along with the Almohads. In the third, he is a special figure protected by the Castilian crown. The ongoing territorial conflict among Navarre, Aragon and Castile led to shifting alliances among the kingdoms, and dynastic conflicts within individual kingdoms further complicated their diplomatic practices. Sharq al-Andalus was a crucial buffer state between Christian states and Almohads, and this, along with the region’s substantial tribute to Christian kingdoms, made it an important ally for each of the kingdoms at various points. Rulers turned toward Ibn Mardaniøsh when feeling threatened by their rivals or by the Almohads, since his army could help protect against either. They turned against him when he allied with their rivals or when their desire for his territory outweighed the advantages of his military assistance. When this happened, the Christian kings frequently couched their opposition to him in religious terms.

The long twelfth century was the height of Christian expansion into Islamic territories (from Toledo in 1085 to Seville in 1248). Ibn Mardaniøsh’s rule began just as Pope Eugenius III declared fighting the Muslims of Iberia to be a crusade (1147), and the kings Ibn Mardaniøsh counted as allies—in Castile, Genoa, Pisa and Aragon—formed alliances pledging to divide his territories amongst themselves. His success despite these challenges reflects the flexibility of religious and political ideologies throughout the period. The same documents that refer to Ibn Mardaniøsh as “Rex Lupus,” a name that suggests the danger and irrationality of a fierce animal, also vow to protect him. Sometimes, he is seen as a valued Iberian ally against North African enemies, while other times he is grouped with them in an undifferentiated mass of Saracens. For the Christians of Iberia, Ibn Mardaniøsh was not quite the enemy, but dangerous in his ambiguity nonetheless. Ibn Mardaniøsh, occupying the physical landscape between the Almohads and the kings of Castile, Leon and Aragon, also served as a theoretical intermediary between Iberian alliance and holy war, alternately rejected and embraced by those on each side.


Pete Burkholder


Assistant Professor of History
Fairleigh Dickinson University

Project: Teaching the Medieval Mediterranean: A Sea of Problems & Possibilities

My participation in this NEH seminar was motivated by problems encountered when teaching a Mediterranean history course. A few years ago, my department implemented an ocean basins history sequence required of our history majors, and I’ve had charge of teaching the Mediterranean (the other water bodies covered are the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans). Though trained as a medievalist, I don’t specialize in Mediterranean history, per se. But I’ve taught almost 20 different history courses at FDU, with 12 of these being new offerings, so I initially didn’t anticipate any issues with developing a Mediterranean history class – especially since I had complete freedom to choose the content parameters and approaches.


I soon discovered, however, that this course presented special problems. Foremost among them was the general dearth of texts (especially secondary ones) targeted at an undergraduate audience. This is quite unlike the other water bodies mentioned above, especially Atlantic history, to which an entire textbook sub-industry seems to be devoted. Thinking I must be overlooking something, I scoured publishers’ websites, queried textbook representatives at book fairs, and even attended a world history conference in London in 2008, the theme of which was “The Sea: Highway of Change.” But the results were not promising.


Thus, my first iteration of the course in fall 2008 felt short, in my view. Some of the texts (e.g., Henri Pirenne’s famous Mohammed & Charlemagne, 1951) were too difficult for most of the students, though in the case of Pirenne I was able to supplement it with a number of useful primary sources. Other texts, such as Katherine Reyerson’s Jacques Coeur (2005), were suitable for the audience, but seemed a bit isolated from the rest of the course. Moreover, the class admittedly didn’t have any strong, discernable theme or central learning question. At the NEH institute, I thus aimed to discuss both text issues and teachable themes for a course focusing on the medieval Mediterranean.


Findings & Guiding Principles


My “research” at the institute mostly consisted of conversations with presenters and other attendees about possible approaches to a medieval Mediterranean course. Moreover, my residence in Barcelona gave me ample time to rethink what I wanted my students to take away from such a class, and to embed graduated learning goals into it. (In addition to my faculty position at FDU, I also run its faculty development program, so these are the same types of problems I often encounter in that latter capacity.) The very theme of the institute – Muslims, Christians & Jews – seemed like a worthwhile approach, and I received expert guidance from others on how I might build a course around such a theme.


Effective course design is something that I’ve studied, implemented, and even presented on at conferences – but I’d mostly failed at it my first time around with the Mediterranean course. So, it was back to the drawing board. I’m a big fan of the “backward design” of courses, as described by such teaching specialists as Dee Fink (Creating Significant Learning Experiences, 2003), and Grant Wiggins & Jay McTigue (Understanding by Design, 2001). The approach argues that instructors should start with the most general learning goals first, and then work backward from there to actually constructing the course. Yet, too often, instructors do precisely the opposite: they count the number of course meetings, subtract out days for miscellanea, and then slot in content that conforms to the schedule. Though this is technically “design,” it’s design that fails to place student learning at the forefront. In addition, I also think highly of Ken Bain’s recent work, What the Best College Teachers Do (2004), wherein he draws attention to such things as an “authentic learning environment” and “expectation failure” as necessary components to effective teaching. Finally, I’m motivated by the generally accepted notion that, for deep learning to occur, students must construct their knowledge, not simply receive it.


Thus, my most general learning goals and methods of assessment – and these apply, to varying degrees, to my other courses as well – are as follows:



The reader might intuit that this course is largely discussion-based, run almost like a seminar (made possible by a manageable size of about 20 students), and it is further informed by Sam Wineburg’s much lauded Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts (2001).


Description of the New Course


The course has been entirely rebuilt, and now consists of five units. In the first, I seek to ascertain what “baggage” students bring to the course; to establish the physical parameters of the medieval Mediterranean, especially as contemporaries saw them; and to build a familiar framework into which students can place new knowledge. This was accomplished by:



The second unit of the course (in process, as of this writing) consists of a study of relationships between Christians, Muslims and Jews on the Iberian peninsula, using the Song of the Cid (2009 translation) as our principal text for examination. I’ve used this text in other courses for other purposes, but typically with great success. It’s a fun and engaging story, but it also exhibits evidence of the complex relationships between three religious groups. Our key unit question is how Christians, Muslims and Jews interacted with one another, and whether these interactions establish a model of mutual tolerance, hostility, or something else entirely.


The third unit very consciously continues the aforementioned learning question, though this time the principle texts represent Muslim and Jewish perspectives. Under examination are Usama ibn Munqidh’s The Book of Contemplation (2008 translation), and Benjamin Tudela’s Itinerary (1907 translation) to see if the proposed models from the second unit hold true, or whether they require modification.


A fourth, brief unit features two guest lectures on medieval Famagusta by Prof. Michael Walsh of Eastern Mediterranean University in Cyprus. Although the exact content of these meetings is still in flux as of right now, Prof. Walsh’s willingness to travel to the U.S. specifically to teach a section of this course was something I couldn’t pass up. (Many thanks to my school’s Office of Global Learning for helping offset Prof. Walsh’s travel expenses.)


The last unit carries on the questions of units two and three, though this time, the class examines how Mediterranean people of different faiths viewed a common, non-human element: Black Death. After an introduction to the background of the disease, students will analyze more than a dozen contemporary accounts of Black Death from Christian and Muslim perspectives, with particular attention paid to Jews’ treatment in the context of this crisis. Once again, the issue of whether people of different faiths viewed Black Death in similar fashion or not will shed light on the complex nature of Mediterranean relations, and will call on students to support or modify their conclusions reached in previous units.


A final exercise is one of metacognition, where students assemble a portfolio of all their work, and submit it along with an essay that asks them to reflect back on their preconceptions assignment from the beginning of the semester.


Concluding Thoughts


I anticipate that this iteration of the course will have its flaws, but I’m also confident that it’s a much more coherent, authentic, and learner-centered introduction to Mediterranean history than was my previous version of the class. I can’t overstate how valuable it was for me to have access to so many experts in the field during my month in Barcelona, and to get exposure to so many new readings on and approaches to the medieval Mediterranean.


Louisa Burnham


Associate Professor of History
Middlebury College



Robert Clark


Associate Professor of French
Kansas State University

Project: Representations of Host Desecration in Medieval Aragon

The accusation of host desecration by Jews in the Middle Ages was a pan-European phenomenon driven by Christian ideology in tandem with more local political and social concerns. The host was perhaps the most heavily invested and, as a result, the most volatile Christian symbol, representing at once the body of Christ and the body of Christian believers. At different times and different places, accusations of host desecration were used to define boundaries and communities, others and enemies. The NEH Institute on the Medieval Mediterranean allowed me to lay the groundwork for a study of several such accusations that occurred in the Kingdom of Aragon during the second half of the fourteenth century as well as of artistic representations of host desecration from the same area and period. During the month-long institute I focused primarily on one artistic representation and one documented case of host desecration: the altarpiece from the monastery of Santa María de Vallbona de les Monges, now in the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya; and the case of host ‘desecration’ that occurred in Barcelona in 1367.


The Corpus Christi altarpiece was painted, perhaps by Guillem Seguer, around 1335-1345 for the Corpus Christi chapel in the monastery of Santa María de Vallbona de les Monges, located in the county of Urgell. The retaule and its accompanying frontal are organized, literally and figuratively, around the Eucharistic wafer that one sees in the representation of the Trinity and in an array of scenes drawn from wide variety of source types. The unity of the piece derives to great extent from the skillful deployment of the host in combination with the fires that await those who reject or attack its virtues. Closer scrutiny reveals that the unity of this iconographic program is a factitious one, given the wide range of sources or analogues for the individual scenes. Among these scenes – indeed, the first scene of the retaule (reading from left to right and top to bottom) – is a very early representation of the Corpus Christi procession, the feast established by Pope John XXII in 1317 and first celebrated in the Iberian Peninsula in Barcelona in 1320 by confraternity of the Santísimo Sacramento. Both the Dominican and Franciscan orders helped propagate the cult, but the altarpiece gives pride of place to the Dominicans with its numerous scenes that represent monks from that order, for example, in the Miracle of the Mule, where a pious mule lies in veneration of the host held by a Dominican friar and refuses to get up despite the lashing of his apparently Jewish master. There are also more familiar scenes, such as the Last Supper in the retaule and the Epiphany and the Annunciation in the frontal. These scenes are not part of any narrative sequence – indeed, they are out of their normal order – but they do participate in the iconographic logic at work. Thus the Last Supper is represented, not as a key moment in the events leading up to the Passion of Christ but as the establishment of the Eucharistic celebration, as the large host in Christ’s hand makes clear. On the other hand, the scenes depicting host desecration do form a kind of narrative sequence, albeit a disjointed one in that the first two scenes appear on the retaule and the following scenes on the frontal. The scenes showing a Jew first stabbing a consecrated wafer, then hoisting it aloft on a lance and, finally, throwing it into a cauldron make it clear that the legend depicted here is the Miracle des Billettes, named for the church in Paris erected on the site of the purported host desecration in that city in 1290. The narrative sequence here shown is also incomplete. One key element that is missing is how the Jew obtained the host, an aspect that is included in most narrative accounts and visual analogues. It is not clear why this part of the story should not be depicted. Perhaps those who commissioned the altarpiece did not want to remind its intended audience that it was a Christian woman who obtained the host at Easter Mass. Indeed, the purpose for which the Vallbona Corpus Christi retaule was made is not known to us but, given that it is a visual collection of exempla and legends, perhaps it was used for preaching. As for its anti-Jewish elements, these may be a reflection of local concerns. The monastery of Vallbona had a close association with Anglesola family, from which came two of its abbesses in the second half of the fourteenth century. This family also had prerogatives with regard to the Jewish community of Lérida. Perhaps the altarpiece executed for the Corpus Christi chapel served to remind the Christian members of the community that the most effective protection – not to say weapon – that could be used against the Jewish others in their midst was, precisely, the consecrated wafer.


There are actually no known instances of actual host desecration in the Iberian Peninsula, only accusations thereof. The Barcelona incident of 1367 is known to us primarily through a letter, conserved in the Archives of the Crown of Aragon, written to King Peter the Ceremonious by John, his son and lieutenant in Barcelona. John’s letter details how a Christian thief had stolen a pyx from the church of Saint María in the town of Muntblanch, located to the east of Barcelona. Unbeknownst to him, this vessel contained seven consecrated hosts. Brought before John’s council, the thief, Per Fuster claimed that he and his accomplice had eaten two of the hosts and sold the other five to a Jew of Barcelona. John then determined to prosecute the case to the fullest in order to find the Jewish accomplices and recover the purloined hosts. The ensuing spiral of accusation, arrests, and torture implicated several members of the Jewish community, including its secretary, Salamo Sescaleta, who denied any knowledge of the case and died as a result of his harsh interrogation. Ultimately, John’s prosecution of the case proved to be a failure: none of the stolen hosts was recovered, and the king was obliged to intervene to put a halt to John’s actions. Peter had the entire Jewish community held until he determined that none of the Jews were guilty of involvement in the case, after which finding he ordered John to cease and desist from any further judicial action against them. It is not entirely clear why John should have seized on the trumped up claims of a Christian criminal to persecute the Jewish community, but Peter’s reaction shows that he did not agree with son’s actions. His swift intervention allowed the Jews of Barcelona to return to their affairs and to their uneasy coexistence with their Christian neighbors.


This preliminary research undertaken in the context in the Institute on the Medieval Mediterranean suggests that host desecration was a tool deployed in response to specific, local concerns. In the case of the altarpiece of Santa María de Vallbona, the Parisian legend was incorporated into an elaborate work of art that served to promote Eucharistic piety and Dominican prestige, perhaps along with a local family’s prerogatives with regard to a nearby Jewish community. In the Barcelona incident of 1367, the host became the missing piece in a complicated political game involving the Jews of Barcelona, the local justicer, and his royal father. Further research into iconographic representations and into subsequent false accusations of desecration that occurred in Huesca in 1377 and Lérida in 1383 should allow a fuller understanding of this disturbing aspect of Jewish-Christian relations in medieval Aragon.



Andrew Devereux


PhD Candidate in History
Johns Hopkins University

Project: Slavery and Servitude? Catholic Views of Orthodox Life Under Ottoman Rule

My experience at the NEH Summer Institute 2010 in Barcelona was fruitful both broadly, in my conceptualization of Mediterranean history, and specifically, in the work that I was able to conduct on my project.


The project that I developed for the NEH Institute grew out of a larger set of questions on Christian universalism and political thought that I am exploring in my doctoral dissertation. This summer I examined Latin views of Orthodox Christians living under Islamic rule in the Ottoman Empire in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. My point of departure for this study was an unpublished memorial composed by Count Pedro Navarro in 1506 and addressed to King Ferdinand of Aragon. The text presents a crusading plan for a Spanish-led conquest of Greece and Turkey and subjugation of the ascendant Ottoman Empire. In this projected endeavor, Navarro suggests that the Greek Orthodox inhabitants of Ottoman-ruled lands will act as willing allies of an invading Latin force. Moreover, Navarro links this agenda to an aspiration to end the Great Schism and to “restore” the Orthodox Church to obedience to the Roman pontiff.


Navarro’s memorial demonstrates a seeming lack of awareness of Orthodox resistance to Latin rule engendered by the thirteenth-century Latin occupation of Constantinople and more recent episodes of Latin rule over Orthodox populations in the eastern Mediterranean. In this respect, Navarro’s thinking is in fact representative of many Latin Christians’ perceptions of Orthodox Christians during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Underlying Navarro’s and other Catholic Europeans’ misperceptions of Greek Orthodox religious and cultural loyalties is the belief that any Christian, even a schismatic, will be naturally inclined to resist Islamic rule. While Navarro’s memorial fails to fully grasp the complexities of Greek Orthodox life under Ottoman rule, the text is illustrative of broad trends in late medieval Latin Christian thought as well as evolving Iberian Christian views of religious minorities within the Peninsula. In short, Navarro attempts to understand religious pluralism in the eastern Mediterranean according to a model of binary opposition that did not actually fit the particularities of the Ottoman Empire. The lectures, readings, and seminars at the Institute were particularly helpful to me in thinking about how to approach these fifteenth- and sixteenth-century perceptions of religious difference and individuals’ attempts to “fix” religious identity into rigid categories. Navarro’s memorial hints at a significantly more complex series of religious and cultural fissures in the Mediterranean world than that suggested by a binary model of Christendom and Islam as fundamentally opposed to one another.


Since the Summer Institute in Barcelona I have expanded my study to situate Navarro’s memorial in the broader context of later medieval religious and political thought. Navarro’s memorial grew out of a confluence of forces that included the fifteenth-century Conciliar Movement that aimed to end the Great Schism between the Roman and Greek churches as well as Latin responses (intellectual and other) to the rapid rise of the Ottoman Empire and its conquest of Constantinople.


Moreover, while I argue that Navarro’s text bears the imprint of certain particularly Iberian views on the religious pluralism of the Mediterranean basin, it is simultaneously representative of more broadly European fears of further Ottoman advances. Plans similar to Navarro’s circulated widely in Mediterranean Europe, likewise predicated on the Orthodox population of the Ottoman Empire serving as a “fifth column” during a Latin crusade. Seven years after Navarro presented his memorial to King Ferdinand of Aragon, two Italian monks submitted a similar proposal to Pope Leo X. Both texts reflect Latin attitudes toward Orthodox Christians at a critical juncture in Mediterranean history.


In order to demonstrate the fact that these Latin attempts to fix and stabilize categories of religious identity in the multi-confessional Ottoman Empire did not reflect the realities of Orthodox life in Ottoman-ruled lands, I have devoted extensive portions of my expanded project to comparing the status of Orthodox Christians under Latin rule (including sixteenth-century Venetian Crete) to that under Ottoman rule.


While in Barcelona I conducted research at the Arxiu de la Corona d’Aragó and uncovered a great deal of important unpublished documentation among the Registros generated by the royal Chancery during the years 1504-1516. It will take some time to fully incorporate these findings into this and other projecats, and I will likely need to conduct another research trip to Barcelona at some point in the future. Even in the absence of a future trip, the research I was able to conduct during the summer of 2010 will be valuable in the completion of several pieces of work that I am currently completing.


The project that I embarked on during the Summer Institute 2010 in Barcelona has expanded into a broader study, not only of Latin views of the Orthodox Christian inhabitants of the Ottoman Empire, but of religious difference and constructions of religious identity in the late fifteenth- and early sixteenth-century Mediterranean. Ultimately, I intend to submit this as an article for publication. My experience at the NEH Summer Institute on Mediterranean history in Barcelona has had a profound impact on the ways in which I am thinking about these themes. The lectures, readings, and seminars, not to mention the informal discussions with fellow participants, have been extraordinarily stimulating as I have developed and revised this project in the months since the Institute.



John Drendel


Professor, Département d’Histoire
Université du Québec à Montréal

Project: Village Politics in Provence in the Early Fourteenth Century

In June of 1320, in a local court of the count of Provence, a judge was hearing for the third time a case brought against Burgondian, scion of an ancient lineage of viscounts of Marseilles and lord in part of the community of Trets, a village of 300 families near Marseilles.  As the judge was about to decide the case for the community on grounds of non-appearance, Burgondian rushed into the court and entered adramatic last-minute plea. The court had no jurisdiction over his lordship, he claimed, and not without some reason, for his ancestors had held jurisiction over the villages in this viscounty since 952 by direct grant from the king of Burgundy.  The peasants argued otherwise. At issue was a comital tax, the cavalcada. The peasants contested not the right of the count to levy the tax but the amount and its perception by their lord. The judge, found for the community, and in an second sentance he ordered Burgondian’s co-seigneur, Sibilia of Trets, to allow the villagers to assemble and deliberate as a body. At some point in damaged record of this court, it emerges that the villagers had already appointed three persons to organise the «means of distributing the taille among the inhabitants.

This lawsuit records a moment in the creation of autonomous village governments which was repeated in one manner or another throughout Provence in the late - thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. Comital  recognition and support of the right of local communities to organize for themselves the collection of  taxes for the counts -- including taxes which local lords had heretofore collected  -- opened up a public sphere  in the villages of Provence,  a political space with power over a critical factor in the economic survival of individual families, their share of the public tax burden. These local governments, generally called «councils» in Provence, also acquired, to varying degrees, jurisdiction over disputes concerning land boundaries, animal trespass, irrigation, and other aspects of rural police of vital economic interest to an agrarian community.  How political power was acquired and exercized in these local governments was the subject of my research project for the Mediterranean Seminar of 2010.

The principal source for this project is a series of notarial registers from the Upper Arc Valley, a region to the north of Marseille and the East of Aix-en-Provence, with both  geographical  unity  -- it is wide valley with narrow openings  at both ends about 50 km long, about the size of the valley of Andorra, and a symbolically important political coherence, as it corresponds quite closely to the Val de Trets given to the viscounts of Marseille in 952. This is the only region in Provence outside of major towns with continous notarial records prior to the Black Death; the series begins in 1298. Additional sources include records of village governments, to which can be added local records of the administration of the Counts of Provence., principally accounts of revenues of the count from local communities.

Throughout the Mediterranean world, the countryside was an important  locus for the creation of wealth.   Population  is the most important indice of rural wealth; even in the most urbanized parts of the medieval Mediterreanean, Egypt, islamic Spain, Southern France and northern Italy, most demographers do not believe that urban populations exceeded 20% of their regions. Cities, of course, concentrated wealth, and that wealth is easier to measure than the wealth of the countryside. Still, some indications of the importance of rural wealth in Provence in the Fourteenth century can be measured by the efforts  of  the Angevin counts of Provence to tax peasants. In the 13’th century the counts of Provence preferred to tax towns, because towns, like banks, concentrate wealth in the hands of a relatively small number of easily identifiable places.  Peasants were  taxed indirectly, through levies for military service on their lords who in turn would get the money from their peasants. Charles 1 d’Anjou (1246-1285) systematized  local administration and made the comital levies nearly universal, partly to  increase revenues, but above all to articulate, through an immediate relationship with each subject, a Roman law ideal of political sovereignty. During a period of about thiry years in the early fourteenth century, the count’s local officials maintained  nominative lists of village taxpayers that were regularly audited by rationarii in the capital of Aix, an astonishing administrative achievement which allowed Edouard Baratier to compile the most accurate demographic profile of any medieval society prior to the fifteenth century. However,  after the loss of Sicily in 1284, sovereignty became secondary to revenues; the count multiplied  extraodinary feudal levies, such as for  purchasing land,  crusading, and endowing his  daughter, because he could fix the amount freely. they were levied nearly every year in the first half of the fourteenth century, and the amounts of each tax more than doubled in this period. Extending direct taxation to the rural population was the primary fiscal initiative of the Angevin counts in the fourteenth century.  Moreover,  they actively promoted, as we have seen,  decentralization of the collecting of the tax, in order to save money. The counts officials no longer made lists of taxpayers, they simply told local communities how much the count wanted, and collected the sum.

Politics in an egalitarian society are not the same as politics in a society with a narrow elite. Dowry records from the upper Arc Valley and the count’s tax on oxen in upper provence,  confirm that provençal villages had a lot of wealth in the early fourteenth century -- nearly a third of peasant familes in my sampling of villages owned at least on oxen, which was a substantial moveable both in absolute terms and as a symbolic measure of status. Dowries in Trets show that only about 10 percent of peasants wealthy enough to marry a daughter could not provide a cash dowry, and 20% provided a dowry of over 50 lb tournois.   From the perspective of moveable wealth, a peasant elite existed and it was not narrow, in the context of preindustrial societies, comprising about a third of village population. Below it a more financially homogenous population of middle peasants probably comprised half the population of most villages before the 1330’s.  Village communities in early fourteenth-century Provence were prosperous, wealthy, and comprised a substantial élite by wealth. They were also segmented, with notaries, jews, merchants, and in particular artisans engaged in a multitude of industrial activities (textiles, leather, glass, tile, cement, plaster, wood, charcoal, mining and metallurgy). It could not have been a simple matter for village governments to make critical decisions. How did individuals rise to power in village councils and what determined their decisions?

From 1325 onwards, Trets had a village council with 16 concilors, each councilor served a term of 1 year. I have lists of concilors for 18 years. 94 individual terms of office were filled by 54 individuals. Not suprisingly, an elite of wealthy families of notarial and merchant origind dominated community government Four families, the Guis, the Henrici, the Michaelis, and the Penchenati, held over one-quarter of all the terms, and 28 people from 17 families held more than two-thirds.  This concentration of political power may have been relatively recent. When in 1238 eleven syndics received the confirmation of the privileges of Trets from Burgondion de Trets only two syndics in that act shared their surnames, “Pascalis” and “Castellani”, with members of the fourteenth century councils. Yet this elite -- 54 families, of which four held a quarter of the council mandates in the first half of the fourteenth century, was not narrow ; remember that the bourg of Trets had a population of 330 families in 1332. 26 of these families served more than one term. Moreover, dowry documents show that these 54 families were divided into three constellations or clans linked by ties of marriage, each of which was headed by one of the wealthiest men in Trets. The elite was not endogamous. And finally, each of these clans had links of marriage, debt and representation which created ties of clientele extending well into the ranks of the middle peasants. So this elite was not closed off to members from below; rather it depended upon them for support in the competition among factions for influence and power. Villages like Trets were organized through a political process that is the heart of this research.


Edward English


Executive Director, Medieval Studies,
Adjunct Associate Professor,
University of California, Santa Barbara




Allen Fromherz


Assistant Professor, History
Georgia State University

My experience at the Medieval Mediterranean Institute in Barcelona 2010 lead to the drafting of a book proposal entitled “North Africa and the Medieval Mediterranean.” The proposal has been accepted for publication by Edinburgh University Press. Several of the sources used and the discussions shared at the institute were also used in the construction of the proposal and will be the basis for the book.

A summary of the proposed chapters is provided below.

Introduction (12,000 words) – An accessible narrative on the sources, methods and historiography of the Western Mediterranean.

Chapter 1: The Islamic Conquests and the Western Mediterranean – A Reassessment (8,000 words)

The first chapter will focus on the recent reevaluation of the first Muslim conquests. Many Arab chroniclers came to rewrite and claim the history of Berber conquests. It will discuss the earliest encounters between North Africans and Europeans not only in Al-Andalus but in other parts of Europe.

Chapter 2: The Middle Period (8,000 words)

The second chapter examines the almost immediate political disintegration of unified Muslim rule over the Western Mediterranean into the realms of the Idrissids, Rustamids, Aghlabids, Fatimids and Umayyads. Using chronicles in Arabic and new sources from recent research done by North African colleagues this section will examine the intricate and complex relationship between these highly diverse early Medieval Muslim polities through trade, war and rivalry. Next the chapter will discuss the apogee of Western Mediterranean political unity under the Almoravids the Almohads.

Chapter 3: The Persistence of the Western Mediterranean (8,000 words)

Assumptions about the “inevitable” rise of Christian power and the predominant advantages of Christian powers after battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212 will be challenged and reassessed in this chapter. The chapter will explain how newly confident European powers jockeyed for influence in the courts of the major North African dynasties that succeeded the Almohads.


Thematic Chapters

Chapter 4: European Christian Encounters in North Africa (Lope d’Ayn: Bishop of Marrakech) 9,000 words

Although most studies of “convivencia and conflict” between Jews, Muslims and Christians have focused on Al-Andalus and places such as Cordoba, Seville and Valencia, there was a very similar and very vibrant system of “convivencia” in places of contact and conflict that have typically been left out of the field of convivencia and Mediterranean studies, places such as Marrakech, Tunis, Fes and Bijaya.

Chapter 5: North African Encounters in Europe (Tariq bin Zayd – Conqueror of Al-Andalus) 9,000 words

Opening with an account of Tariq bin Zayd, the Berber credited with the conquest of Al-Andalus, this chapter discusses the important role of Berber influences in Al-Andalus. In addition to travel narratives by Muslim writers, there will also be an account of Muslims in France, unaffiliated with any Amir, who captured the Abbot of Cluny and held out on the southern shores of France until the tenth century.

Chapter 6: Traders and Merchants – 9,000 words

As J. Abu Lughod argued for medieval Mamluk Egypt, the imbalance of trade that eventually favored European nations was by no means inevitable as late as the fourteenth century. Similarly, North African commercial relations with Christian Europe were not tied to any ‘inevitability’ of the rise of the West. North Africa’s commercial relations with the Christians were stronger than they had been both before and after the moment when the “rise of the west” was supposed to have occurred – the twelfth-century renaissance.

Chapter 7: Mercenaries and Slaves (A Christian Almoravid Mercenary) 9,000 words

One of the most fascinating and under-studied subjects in Medieval North African history is the influence and impact of Christian mercenaries in North African courts and armies and how these mercenaries were a direct link between North Africa and their homeland in Europe – a link much stronger than that allowed the “permanent” Mamluk mercenaries of Egypt. The Arabic sources and chronologies of the period are unusually rich in their description of Christian mercenaries as well as European and Christian born slaves.

Chapter 8: Conversion (Constantinus Africanus, Anselmo of Turmeda, Bodo-Eleazar) 9,000 words

While mercenary activity lead to cultural interactions between North Africa and Europe, outright conversion of mercenaries was rare. However, conversion was certainly not unknown. The three biographies compared and studied here, Constantinus Africanus, Anselmo of Turmeda, Bodo-Eleazar represent the three major religious traditions of the Western Mediterranean. There will be a discussion of so-called “phantom converts.” The chapter will also demonstrate how scholars moved freely, if haltingly across and between Christian-Muslim realms.


An Epilogue (12,000 words) will discuss how Muslim and Jewish exiles to North Africa interacted with an already vibrant indigenous cultural and intellectual tradition that had been bridging the Western Mediterranean Sea. The inter-religious culture of the Medieval Western Mediterranean did not disappear with the inquisition and the 1608 expulsion from Al-Andalus. Rather, artifacts of the medieval western Mediterranean world was preserved in the streets of the madinas of Fes, Tunis, Marrakech, in the libraries of Berber chiefs and Arab sharifs in places as far away as the Saharan desert-port of Tamegroute and as remote as the Gadmiwa region of the Atlas.



Barbara Fuchs


Professor, Spanish & Portuguese/English,

Project: The Domestic and the Exotic in Flor y Blancaflor

As my project for the Barcelona seminar, I set out to explore the connections between 16th-century maurophilia and the earlier circulation of “Moorish” themes in French and Iberian texts. I was particularly intrigued by the translation of exogamous romance plots such as Floire et Blancheflor into Iberia, as complex instances of cultural hybridity. Like the original, the translations represent unions between Christians and Muslims, but they also allow us to glimpse how Mediterranean cultures triangulate difference across confessional lines with national or regional differences. I wanted to explore how the dynamics of alterity worked in translation, to see what kind of place Iberia represented in the texts, when translated into a Spanish context. I anticipated that my focus would be on the elements of aristocratic culture shared by Moors and Christians, such as the luxurious brocade with which the prince Flores, the protagonist,  is welcomed by his uncle, or the juegos de cañas (Andalusi-derived chivalric games) that celebrate his arrival, or the game of chess through which Flores befriends a harem guard in Cairo when he sets out to rescue his beloved Blancaflor from slavery.

Instead, the Insitute opened up for me a whole new realm of approaches. First, it alerted me to the possibility that I may be oversimplifying the notion of a French original and an Iberian translation, and, in the process, exoticizing Iberia myself.  In the wake of our discussions with Cynthia Robinson, I now have more of a context for thinking about an argument that Marla Segol has recently made about Floire et Blancheflor. Segol analyzes the communal and local identities created by material culture in the text and proposes to read the romance as a Provençal and Mediterranean alternative to “the encroaching powers of Church and monarchy.” After carefully tracing how receptive the original text seems to Muslim cultural forms and how knowledgeable it is about then,  Segol argues that Flor’s conversion at the end of the story—which “solves” the difference between the lovers—makes him the scourge of all enemies of Christianity, evoking in the narrative a violent Christian past. This past, Segol suggests,  is uncannily like the “violence perpetrated against southern French Albigensians” at the time of the story’s redaction.

I now suspect that the national or even geographical categories that I am importing post-facto (French original/Iberian translations) may be an oversimplification of the medieval Mediterranean, in which the real dichotomy may have been between a more porous cultural and religious situation in Occitan and parts of Iberia, and a Northern,  more repressive religious apparatus. I want to delve further into the problem of the (Northern) French construction of a deviant Iberia, and the gradual Iberian reaction to that construction.

I also realize, after our readings on relations among Christian, Jewish, and Muslim women that I need to look far more closely at the relationship between the two mothers in the story. Briefly, in the text a Muslim king of Iberia leads a raid on a party of Christian pilgrims traveling to Santiago de Compostela. A noble lady is enslaved and presented as a slave to his queen (who will be Flor’s mother). The two share a remarkable intimacy, crowned by the birth of their children on the same day, the Pascua Florida, for which they are named Flor and Blancaflor.  I am intrigued by the representation of this intimacy, for how it complicates the notion that what crosses confessional lines is most often eros. The intimacy of the mothers is domestic in every sense, and poses no problem for the narrative. As such, I would aver, it complicates the titillation of the exogamous romance, which eventually needs to be “solved” in the story through the conversion of Flor to Christianity.

I am also rethinking the idea that translation is necessarily the most significant vector along which to consider different versions of the story. I was absolutely fascinated by Judith Cohen’s rendition of “La reina Xerifa mora,” one of the ballads (romances)  that picks up the story of “Flor y Blancaflor,” and which Patricia Grieve also reproduces in her Floire and Blancheflor and the European Romance. The popular genre of the ballad  seems to “normalize” the earlier moment of affinity in the romance by making the mothers of the two lovers Christian sisters, one of whom had been married to the Muslim king, and one of whom became his slave. There are multiple variations on the ballad, recorded by ethnomusicologists working in Spain, North Africa, and beyond. The variants are fascinating, in that many make the story more “exotic,” setting it in Turkey, so that Iberia is no longer a Moorish space, and the (second) captured sister, when she refuses to marry a Muslim, is sent home to Spain.

The ideological freight of the ballads remains elusive: is it a conservative move to say that these women love each other because they are “the same,” and that their children, the central characters in the original narrative, love each other because they are “the same,” or is it a radical reminder that behind the veil of otherness lies similarity, in that everything is always already mixed? Second, I am struck by the fact that this popular romance turn, while heavily dependent on coincidence, does not challenge verisimilitude: that is, it is quite likely that a Muslim ruler would have married a Christian first, and perhaps enslaved her sister as well.

It behooves us, I think, to investigate in the ballad, and others like it, a different kind of exogamous desire: what does it mean to say that la reina “dize que tiene desseo de una quistiana cativa”? Is it merely loneliness, a desire for one like her, which will then be explained by the end of the ballad: “Y de allí se conocieron las dos hermanas queridas,” or is there a  more complicated cultural operation going on, where the documented desire for things Islamic among Christians is reversed in the wishful thinking of the Christian ballad?

Finally, what is the significance of this text as a “Judeo-Spanish” ballad? Grieve mentions a Moroccan version in which the line “que no es mora ni judía,” to describe the newly captured slave-woman, becomes “que ni es mora ni cristiana.” The change leads Grieve to speculate that the identification of the women as Jewish sisters then renders the whole story one of “yearning for the homeland,” but only a few versions of the ballads move from the reunion of the sisters to the rejection of Muslim spouses and their return to their community. This is why it is both so interesting and so frustrating to work with ballads: one wants to attribute ideological significance to a corpus that also depends on the chance workings of collection and dissemination. As I continue working on this project, I hope to make an argument based on a ballad that sees this topos of nostalgia through, but it is not clear that I will be able to find all the significant variations in the same text. Perhaps then the challenge is to think in terms of the entire ballad corpus, acknowledging all the while that it will be full of internal contradictions.

Marla Segol, “Medieval Cosmopolitanism and Saracen-Christian Ethos,” CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture 6.2 (2004):  , citation on p.11.


Adam Gaiser


Assistant Professor of Religion
Florida State University

Project: Ibadi (and secondarily the so-called “Sufri”) connections to the early Umayyad Amirs of Spain have not been well understood.  This paper re-examines Ibadi, Sufri and Spanish-Umayyad relations in order to prove that strong economic interests underlay the political ties that developed between these groups. 

The Ibadiyya are an Islamic sectarian group – related to the Kharijites – who controlled the Rustumid Empire, centered at Tahert (in present day Algeria), in the 2-3rd/8-9th centuries.  The Sufriyya were likewise Kharijites who controlled a smaller Empire – the Midrarids – located in Sijilmassa (in present day Morocco).  The research begins with the fairly well documented evidence for the political ties between Ibadis and Spanish Umayyads.  This material remains interesting in and of itself for the simple fact that the Ibadiyya formed from the quietist Kharijites of Basra (around 720-740CE) and remained hostile to the Umayyad regime: when they had the capacity they frequently revolted against the Umayyads.  In fact, the Akhbar Majmua describes the North African uprisings of the 740s CE as “Ibadi” or “Sufri” in inspiration; and these uprising spread to Spain. 

For this reason it is a bit surprising to find that only a few decades later – during the reign of the Umayyad Amir al-Hakam b. Hisham (al-Hakam I), a Rustumid named Muhammad b. Sa?id b. Muhammad b. ‘Abd al-Rahman b. Rustum - that is, the great-grandson of the founder of the Rustumids - became a confidant of ‘Abd al-Rahman II when he was prince in Medina-Sidonia (Shadhuna).  Muhammad lived near Algeciras to be close to ‘Abd al-Rahman II, and when ‘Abd al-Rahman became the Amir, he brought Muhammad to Cordoba and employed him in the hijaba and the Wazirate.  This same Ibadi governed (tawalla) Toledo in 214AH/829CE, by the commission of the Amir ‘Abd al-Rahman II, due to the troubles in the city with rebellions.  He also played a significant role in the repulsion of the Normans from Spain in 230AH/845CE.  He was married to one of the daughters of Ziryab, and was as adept at chess and poetry.  His son (or his brother, it’s not clear who exactly) briefly served as Hajib under ‘Abd al-Rahman II.

Before this, in 207/822, the last year of al-Hakam I’s reign, we learn of the visit of the three sons of the 2nd Rustumid Imam ‘Abd al-Wahhab b. Rustum to Cordoba where al-Hakam personally welcomed them with a well attended and grandiose ceremony.  It is said that he gave them one million (alf alf) dinars and expensive gifts before sending them on their way.  The reason for their journey is not given.

Returning to the reign of ‘Abd al-Rahman II for a moment, we witness that after the Rustumid Imam Aflah sacked and burned the Aghlabid city of ‘Abbasiyya in 227AH/842CE, he sent word to the Umayyad Caliph (‘Abd al-Rahman II), who sent ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Awsat to bless him, and to carry a gift of 100,000 dirhams.

And finally, on the death of ‘Abd al-Rahman II, we learn that his son, the Umayyad Amir Muhammad I, continued to maintain good relations with the Rustumids.  He dispatched to the court of the Rustumids an ambassador to carry to Imam Aflah the renewal of the Caliphs honor and appreciation for the Imam, as well as his hope in the continuation of good relations between the two states.  He also sent expensive presents.

From these and other pieces of evidence, it is clear that relations between Ibadis and Umayyads had warmed quite a bit since the revolts of the 740s.  The only two (Algerian) scholars to have written on this subject argue for political relationships of convenience based on common enemies – namely the Idrisids, Aghlabids and eventually the Fatimids.  Of course, there is something to this view. However, I think there are underappreciated economic pieces to this puzzle.

The first piece to be considered is the slave trade: Baghdad and other cities in the Islamic East demanded massive numbers of slaves.  Between 760-790CE, Ibadis and Sufris from Sijilmassa opened and consolidated their control over the now highly lucrative slave routes to West Africa.  There were two routes through the Sahara, one from Sijilmassa (Maghrib) and the other through Zawila (in the Fezzan).  Ibadis and Sufris held a virtual monopoly on the slave trade from West Africa to East.

Spain, however, was also known for its slaves: al-Istakhri (d. after 340AH/951CE), for example, mentions that black slaves (khaddam) came from the Sudan (i.e. West Africa) while white slaves came from al-Andalus, especially the highly popular white slave singing girls (who might have fetched as much as 1000 dinars).  Ibn Hawqal echoes this sentiment and adds that  Saqaliba were brought from al-Andalus.

When considering how Spanish Umayyads might have transported their slaves East, some interesting facts present themselves.  For example, the Rustumids had a port called Furuøkh al-Jazaø`iriø  in the Oran district.  Also telling, in its own way, is the detail provided by al-Bakri, who informs us that Tahert had a gate called the Gate of al-Andalus (baøb al-andalus).  The Andalusians also established colonies and fortified cities (thughuør) along the central North African coastline “in the shade of the Rustumids”, often reaching agreements with the local Berbers (who were Ibadi).  In particular, the city of Tenes was founded in 262AH/876CE and became an important commercial center.  These ports and cities, and the relations they imply, speak to the kinds of economic cooperation going on between Spanish Muslims and North African Rustumids.  Slaves either came south and joined with Rustumid slave caravans or travelled by Spanish boats that stopped at Rustumid or Rustumid protected harbors.

The second, and related piece of this puzzle is the gold and silver “trade.”  Savage and Gordus have shown that from 151AH/768CE to 177AH/793CE – peaking in 160-165AH/776-781CE– the mints of North Africa produce a tremendous amount of silver coinage (possibly even out-producing the central mints in Baghdad).  Analysis of the silver content of the coins shows that they come from silver mines south of Sijilmassa (Tughda).  Important for our purposes is that Andalusian mints were also using North African Silver.  Savage and Gordus conclude that this level of production was the result of mutually beneficial economic relations between the Aghlabids, Rustumids and Midrarids, eased by Ibadi ties to the Aghlabid governor Yazid b. Hatim, and especially the Ibadi consolidation of the slave trade.

Savage and Gordus are not necessarily interested in Spain – but their inclusion of Spanish Umayyad dirhams in their analysis allows us to connect Umayyad Spain into the web of economic exchange that connected the Iberian Peninsula with North and even West Africa, with slaves and other commodities likely being exchanged for gold and silver.  And it is this economic relationship – part of the general economic boom in late 2nd/8th century North Africa – that undergirds the strong political ties between Rustumids and Spanish Umayyads that begin – not coincidentally – at just about this same time.

While research continues on this project (I have not yet delved into the issue of gold) it has shown some of the economic connections that tied early medieval Ibadis, Sufris and Spanish Umayyad together in a web of commerce, which lead, I believe, to the kinds of strong political relations found in our sources.


Camilo Gomez-Rivas


Assistant Professor of Middle Eastern History
Department of Arab and Islamic Civilizations
The American University in Cairo

Project: Refugees of the Medieval Mediterranean: The Reception of Displaced Muslims, Jews, and Christians in the Maghrib (toward a book proposal)

The aim of this project is to write the, as of yet unwritten, history of the reception of the populations forcibly displaced across the Christian-Muslim frontier in Iberia and North Africa, between the twelfth and seventeenth centuries. Instead of proceeding through a blow-by-blow account, a potentially endless task, I propose telling this history through the analysis and description of representative instances that illustrate how the reception of these displaced populations changed throughout these eventful centuries of reconquista, persecutions, rebellions, and expulsions. Two clusters of events bracket the rather long period I have chosen for consideration. Opening the period we have the initial southward expansion of the Christian kingdoms of northern Iberia (Castile-Leon and Aragon) in the last quarter of the eleventh century. The fall of Toledo to Alfonso VI in 1085 provides a convenient date for the beginning of a period I like to think of as the long twelfth century of the territorial retrogression of al-Andalus (1085-1248), a period during which most of the major urban Islamic centers of the peninsula passed into Christian hands.

The beginning of this long century was characterized by the intensification of the flow of people, ideas, and goods between al-Andalus and the Maghrib, where, and as a result of which, Andalusis increasingly began to leave their mark. This was visible in the make-up of Maghribi cities, in the administration of Maghribi empires, and in the character of the textual and artistic traditions of the Maghrib as a whole. Closing the five-and-a-half-century period of the proposed study is the (1609-1614) expulsion of the Moriscos, a largely hispanized but politically unintegrated rural population of Muslims converted to Christianity. This was a population of Iberians expelled to countries whose languages they did not speak and whose religious practices were likely alien, even when grounds for expulsion were construed as based on ethno-religious identity.

The evolution of this reception is the object of this study. “Reception” is conceived of here, at least at this stage, as a combination of image, self-presentation, and legal status. The bulk of the information for this will be gleaned from Maghribi Arabic sources (legal texts, biographical dictionaries, geographical works, historical chronicles). The story I hope to tell will describe how these populations settled in their new lands, how they contributed to these places (the Andalusi quarters of Fes and Tetouan come to mind), what challenges they faced, and how they argued for the legitimacy of their presence, whether culturally or religiously. At this stage I understand this to have been a process that was profoundly influenced by the advance and militarization of the Christian-Muslim frontier in the western Mediterranean as well as, later in the period, by the formation of Mediterranean empires who claimed guardianship of individuals and communities based on their religious identity, even when located outside of the empire’s territorial borders.

This history of the reception of displaced populations in North Africa is one that, to my knowledge, has not been written and, in my opinion, is begging to be. The project is easily justifiable on this level, and my experience at the institute helped me a great deal to see how I can complement the Arabic sources with Iberian (Catalan, Latin, and Castilian) ones, such as those found and produced by studies of materials from the Archive of the Crown of Aragon. A cursory search of the archive’s digitized material, the ongoing exhibition of Arabic diplomatic texts "The Perfume of Friendship", and discussion with institute participants has pointed to a variety of textual sources and studies of those sources directly involving displaced religious communities and the involvement of royal and amiral authorities.

The most intellectually enriching dimension of participating in the Cultural Hybridities Insitute, for my project, was being given the freedom to think of the project in the broadest possible conceptual framework and having conversations about that framework with supporting readings and lectures of an equally broad scope.

At the moment I am thinking of structuring the project as a series of chapters on the history described above couched within a strong comparative conceptual framework, with an introduction that lays out this framework and at least one chapter that develops this comparative angle, touching on population displacements in other parts of the medieval and early modern Mediterranean.

I do not claim to have this conceptual framework figured out, even remotely, but I am beginning to have a sense of the elements that I want it to account for. These include the following:

1.) The framework has to bring together what I believe are the interrelated concepts of captivity, jihaød, and crusade, and an understanding of how the militarization of the frontier affected all sides of the conflict, in profoundly similar ways. That is, that while a crystallization of “ecumenian” identities (to use Brian Catlos's term) accompanied the waging of jihaød or crusade, (with attendant militarization, advancement or regression of the frontier, and the displacement of populations), the ideologies (increasingly forcefully articulated) reflected each other in ways more than those of stridency and dogmatism and extended to social practices and organization.

Certain individuals of the competing communities of the western Mediterranean shared, I believe, a set of expectations regarding the obligations of their families and rulers in case of their being captured. This accounts for the description of the society of the Crown of Aragon as one organized for ransom, one in which a military leader could, for example, capture much of the population of an Island (such as Minorca in 1287) and expect to make a considerable profit. Alternately, it was one in which an individual could settle on the frontier and expect to be ransomed in case of capture (as Jarbel Rodriguez pointed out to me in a conversation). 

Maliki law (as Josie Hendrickson can tell you in detail) – and which I like to think of as a complex ethical legal system that touched on religious identity, political legitimacy, and the relationship of individuals to power – stipulates broad individual obligations to live under Muslim rule and to defend the community of Muslims. The flip side of these obligations, it would seem implicit, is the Muslim ruler’s obligation to receive and provide refuge to displaced Muslims.

2.) Within this set of expectations between "corporate" parties (to use Brian Catlos’s term again) invoking "ecumenian" identities, there also arose a sustained competition between imperial powers in the early modern period, to assert their prerogative of being guardians of the rights and interests of extraterritorial religious communities. This will become a long-term “Mediterranean” trend as Christian empires, such as France, successfully asserted their claims within the Ottoman empire. This competition for rights of guardianship to correligionists (and non-correligionist) was a complex facet of the interaction between Habsburgs and Ottomans, French and Sa’adians.

3.) A dimension I consider key, one which is also significant in the long term, and perhaps incorporates the individual experience, is the strategies employed by the refugees themselves in arguing for their value to their host societies. I believe several of these strategies were formative in the long-run in Maghribi society, examples of the effects of which include the canonization of Andalusi culture (music, poetry, cuisine) as the high or classical culture of the Maghrib and the military ethos of Andalusi refugee cities such as Tetouan.

4.) And lastly, the conceptual framework of this study should deconstruct or break apart our modern understanding of the fraught term “refugee” and place it in relation to the medieval and early modern Mediterranean experience of population displacement and the invocation of the obligations to Mediterranean powers to provide refuge. It should find the continuities out of which the modern concept arose.


Jocelyn Hendrickson


Assistant Professor of Near Eastern Religions
Whitman College

Project: My primary project while at the NEH Summer Institute was to design the syllabus for a new upper-level Religion department seminar exploring inter-religious relations in Medieval Spain.  The course, From Muslim to Christian Spain (Rel 368), will be offered for the first time in Spring 2011.  Although I fell short of my initial, overly-ambitious goal of not only completing the full syllabus but also preparing all of the reading questions and written assignments for the term, I was able to lay the preliminary groundwork for the course in Barcelona.  I reviewed several potential core textbooks and chose Richard Fletcher’s Moorish Spain and Maria Rosa Menocal’s The Ornament of the World.  I will also require Olivia Remie Constable’s Medieval Iberia as the students’ main source for primary documents.  Additional chapters and articles will be pulled from a variety of sources, including the readings for our institute; I am considering in particular using one of Judith Cohen’s articles on Sephardic music, the Barcelona disputations, and selections from the Arts of Intimacy.  Our lectures, readings, and seminar discussions, as well as conversations with colleagues outside of our formal activities, were all extremely helpful to me in thinking through course topics and readings.  I also benefited a great deal from the reading suggestions and feedback colleagues offered following my final presentation.

The course description I wrote in Barcelona is as follows:

Christians, Muslims, and Jews coexisted in medieval Iberia for roughly 750 years, from the arrival of a Muslim army from North Africa in 711 until the completion of the Christian ‘Reconquest’ and the expulsion of the Jews in 1492.  In recent years, this period has often been hailed as a model of enlightened pluralism, especially by those hoping to challenge notions of inherent Christian-Muslim incompatibility and Muslim fundamentalism.

To what extent was medieval Iberia characterized by a unique culture of religious tolerance?  How should we account for the complex nature of conflict, cooperation, and exchange between members of these three religious communities?  What were the intellectual and artistic achievements of this period, and why are they important? 

This course will examine inter-religious relations in the Iberian peninsula under both Muslim and Christian rule from the Visigothic kingdom to the expulsion of the Moriscos (Muslims forcibly converted to Christianity) in 1609-1614.  In addition to secondary sources and films, we will rely heavily on Jewish, Christian, and Muslim primary texts in translation.  Major themes will include conversion, acculturation, the establishment of religious authority, the legal status of religious minorities, persecution, polemics, the transmission of knowledge from the Arab-Islamic world to the Latin West, and concepts of tolerance, violence, and hybridity.”

I also produced a rough sketch of topics and readings by day (class meets twice a week for one semester; topics only are reproduced here):

Introductions and Beginnings, From Visigothic Spain to the Muslim Conquest, Conversion to Islam, The Martyrs of Cordoba, From Emirate to Caliphate, The Ta’ifa Period, Jews under Islam, The Hebrew Golden Age, Ibn Hazm, El Cid, Almoravids and Almohads, Christian Expansion and Integration, Christian Pilgrimage, Muslim Science and Philosophy, Ibn Rushd, The Translation Movement, Polemics and Disputations, Jews and Muslims under Christian Rule, Mudejars, Religious Violence, Art and Architecture, The Nasrid Kingdom of Granada, The End of the Reconquest, The Expulsion of the Jews, and the Beginning of the Morisco Period, The Moriscos and their Expulsion, and Historiographical Questions.

The draft syllabus I left Barcelona with remains a work in progress; I have since explored some of the readings suggested by my institute colleagues, and will be revising the course over winter break prior to teaching it this spring (2011).

Aside from providing an optimal environment for working on this syllabus, the NEH Summer Institute proved invaluable for forging scholarly connections with old and new colleagues.  I very much look forward to collaborating with fellow institute participants on panel presentations and publications in the future.


Yuen-Gen Liang


Assistant Professor of History
Department of History
Wheaton College

Project: Narrating the Parallel Histories of Western Europe and the Middle East, 400-1000

At the 2010 NEH Summer Institute in Barcelona, I launched the research project that I had proposed in the application essay.  This project, envisioned as a monograph, will tell the parallel origins and developments of the West and Islam from 400 to 1000.  Taking advantage of bibliographic resources available at Barcelona institutions including the Universitat Pompeu Fabra, the Universitat de Barcelona, and the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas Institut Milà i Fontanels, I read intensively on the historiography of the Germanic invasion and settlement in the Western Roman Empire.  One particular topic that caught my eye was the question of Germanic ethnogenesis.  I studied the debate internal to the field between Herwig Wolfram, Walter Pohl, and Walter Goffart on Germanic identity and migration.  This dispute centers on the question of whether a distinct and coherent Germanic identity existed, if cohesive tribes migrated from place to place in search of a homeland, and whether the extant sources would really be able to shed light on these issues.  I explored the works of Patrick Geary, Julia Smith, Bryan Ward-Perkins, and Chris Wickham for the latest take on these issues.  Though I found limited resources on Middle Eastern history in the Barcelona libraries, I was able to use my findings from research on the West and apply them to my thinking on the origins of the Arab peoples and the Arab conquests in interesting ways.

In addition to historiographic research, lectures, seminars, and informal conversations with visiting faculty as well as Institute participants also helped advance my project.  Peregrine Horden’s lecture and seminar invigorated me to think of a human-experiential equivalent to the macro-geographic/ecological conceptualization and study of the Mediterranean basin.  Engagement with the questions he asked about the Mediterranean as a cohesive geographic field helped me realize that my project, conceived originally and specifically as a juxtaposition of Western and Islamic history, could contribute to the reformation of Mediterranean history on the macro-level, rather than focusing on local places interconnected through travel and transmission.  Readings assigned by Steven Epstein on the conception of race in the western Mediterranean forced my mind to focus and ask questions of the idea of ethnogenesis.  Judith Cohen, Dan Selden, and Cynthia Tucker’s lectures and seminars both made clear to me that music, literature, art, and architecture were media and the means to define, preserve, and reproduce cultural forms, memories, values, and norms.  As such, I need to explore how Germanic peoples and Arabs engaged with Roman cultural production and the role that such forms played in helping establish and perpetuate some of the ideological notions of new societies.

Perhaps the most unexpected, invigorating, and rewarding aspect of my work at the Institute was the interactions I had with other participants.  I shared ideas with experts in the field and took advantage of their knowledge of the Middle Ages.  Likewise, I tested out a preliminary, but global, vision of my project with a broad, expert, and supportive audience of Europeanists and Middle Easternists.  As an early modernist who is moving back in time to late antiquity and the early Middle Ages, the Institute represented the an opportunity to form a new community.  In particular, I met a group of scholars interested in thinking about the interconnections between Iberia and North Africa in the Middle Ages and early modern period.  An unexpected but exciting outcome of the Institute was the formation of a new scholarly organization called the Spain-North Africa Project (SNAP), founded by eleven members.


Karen Mathews


Lecturer in Art History
University of Miami

Project: My research addressed the cultural, commercial, and political relationships manifested in the use of objects from al-Andalus as decoration on Pisan churches. I wanted to determine the nature of the relationship between Pisa and al-Andalus in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, and then assess the meaning of Muslim objects in a Pisan context.  I argue here that the understanding of Islamic objects differed depending upon their means of acquisition, quality, location of display, and audience.  I conclude that the Islamic artworks imported into Pisa were important because they came from the Islamic world, and formed part of what we might call a particular “merchant aesthetic” where Islamic objects were an index of the commercial success and cultural sophistication of this influential social group.  Finally, I wished to address the theme of the Summer Institute, that is, whether we can classify Muslim spolia in Christian contexts as a manifestation of cultural hybridity.

The art historical evidence falls into two categories, the first of which is the numerous ceramics (known as bacini) that are used as decoration on Pisan churches from the tenth to the fifteenth century. The bacini used in Pisa in the eleventh and twelfth centuries originated exclusively from the Islamic world.  The early eleventh-century church of San Piero a Grado outside the city of Pisa best exemplifies the aesthetic appeal of bacini decoration and the eclectic variety of ceramics used to ornament the structure. San Piero originally had 222 bacini on its exterior walls, sixty-three of which still survive today.  It features bacini from at least five distinct Islamic contexts, and ten percent of the San Piero bacini come from three different cities in al-Andalus: Maiorca, Murcia, and Malaga.

The other category of object consists of luxury artworks from al-Andalus.  The Duomo of Pisa possesses two pieces of sculpture from Muslim Spain. The first work, the Pisa Griffin, is a three-foot-tall, metalwork object that was displayed on the exterior eastern apse of the structure.  The second work, a capital signed by the artist Fath, is identical to the numerous capitals that adorned structures in Cordoba and Madinat al-Zahra. The capital was displayed on the exterior north transept of the Duomo as a pendant to the Griffin.  In their secondary setting, the griffin and capital function as trophies or museum objects, divorced from their original secular function and used as ornaments for a Christian religious structure.  The third object is one that I was able to include into this presentation thanks to the help of participants in the Institute. With their assistance I was able to determine that a tombstone displayed in the church of San Sisto was produced in Sharq al-Andalus.  It marked the grave of the Amir al-Murtada, governor of the Balearic Islands for the Taifa ruler of Denia beginning in 1076 and then ultimately the independent ruler of the islands until his death in 1094.

The time period that saw these Muslim objects imported into Pisa was also the time in which the Pisans were at the forefront of Christian offensives against Muslim territories.  Early in the eleventh century, the Pisans conducted raids and assaults on various Muslim cities, most notably expelling the ruler of Denia, Mujahid, from Sardinia in 1015. Pisan military offensives culminated in the capture of the Balearic Islands in 1115, which, along with their presence on the islands of Corsica and Sardinia, ensured a clear path through the western Mediterranean to trade centers in North Africa, al-Andalus, and Sicily. 

So, in this climate where war, crusade, commercial and cultural exchange were occurring simultaneously, how are we to understand the use of Andalusi objects (the Griffin, capital, tombstone and bacini) as decoration on Pisan churches?  First, the reuse of these objects was certainly facilitated by the fact that they were all secular works, with no overt Muslim religious iconography and therefore less intensive meaning.  Second, the specific context of the objects helped define their meaning for a particular patron or audience. The pieces associated with the Duomo, the Griffin and the Fath capital, were placed on the most important religious structure in the city, connected to archbishops like Daimberto who supplied not only religious justification but also military forces for the First Crusade and became the first Latin patriarch of Jerusalem. To understand the griffin and capital as spoils of war against Muslims, displayed as they were like trophies on the exterior of the Cathedral and surrounded by triumphal inscriptions, would seem reasonable in the religiously-charged context of the Pisan Duomo.  One could also surmise that they would have been readily recognized as products of al-Andalus, as their arrival in Pisa likely coincided with the occupation of the Balearics in 1115.

However, the hundreds of Muslim bacini used on Pisan churches would likely have had a different set of cultural associations based on their specific contexts.  Neither San Piero nor San Sisto was associated directly with the ecclesiastical hierarchy of Pisa; San Sisto in particular was founded as a civic church by the citizens of Pisa and had a strong connection to the communal government of the city. Unlike the griffin, capital, or tombstone, bacini were not likely objects of plunder; they were already arriving in Pisa well before the eleventh and twelfth-century military campaigns, came from many disparate production centers, were too numerous and just not valuable enough to be plunder. 

So, what meaning could be ascribed to bacini?  I would argue that they corresponded to a “merchant aesthetic” that manifested a completely different horizon of expectations from that of the ecclesiastical hierarchy. Pisan merchants would have looked at Islamic objects in a specific and culturally determined way, emphasizing their role as commodities, their net worth, and their association with locations to which they themselves had traveled on commercial ventures.  A merchant perspective would not see these objects as the spoils of war but as the fruits of trade.  Like the ecclesiastical patrons of the Cathedral, they could admire the beauty of these exotic and luxurious objects, but would connect them to the lucrative trade relationships with Muslim territories that fueled Pisa’s prosperity.  Thus they could manifest a sense of civic pride in the city’s economic and political accomplishments while differentiating Pisa from its Italian rivals, none of whom used Muslim objects as decoration to the degree that Pisa did in the early Middle Ages.

So, in addressing the topic of this Summer Institute, is bacini decoration a manifestation of cultural hybridity?  If the definition of hybridity is the combination of two disparate entities that blend imperceptibly into a completely new whole, then no, these churches and their decoration are not hybrids.  They reference two different cultural traditions, but the two traditions remain distinct.  Spolia, by definition, can never be hybrids, as their meaning centers on the striking disjunction between the original and secondary context. Pisa and al-Andalus in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, then, existed along borderlines in the Mediterranean, interacting frequently in political, social, commercial, and cultural spheres, but never succeeding or even really attempting to eradicate difference.


Adam Miyashiro


Assistant Professor of Medieval Literature
The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey

Project: Reading Race in Medieval Europe

I attended the NEH Summer Institute for College and University Teachers, “Cultural Hybridities: Christians, Muslims, and Jews and the Medieval Mediterranean,” which was held in Barcelona, Spain from 4 July to 31 July 2010.  During my time there, I was working on my current research project, a book partially based on my dissertation, tentatively entitled “Reading Race in Medieval Europe.”  The NEH Institute helped me to broaden my research to the literary and cultural contact zones of medieval Iberia and the general Mediterranean.  Specifically, I was gaining a cultural context for the Arabic translation of Orosius’ Histories against the Pagans, and its use by the fourteenth-century North African historian Ibn Khaldun in his Muqaddimah (The Introduction to History).  Through this Institute, I gained a deeper knowledge of the intersections in Spain of Latin antiquity and Arabic historical texts.  The comparative framework of medieval Iberia has brought me added insight into early theories of globalization and hemispherical contact.  The various linguistic communities residing in its borders and across the Mediterranean Sea influenced translation sites such as Toledo, Córdoba, Barcelona, and Valencia, all of which were situated between a number of different sectarian and ethnic groups. This NEH Institute has challenged and expanded my book project, which currently excavates the prehistory of the modes of representing ethnic and racial difference in literary and historical writing in medieval Europe.  I found both the readings and the seminar discussions immensely useful, and the side conversations among my Institute group proved equally stimulating.

My research in medieval studies is comparative in its approach, having focused on English, French (including Anglo-Norman), and Latin literatures.  My doctoral dissertation examined the ways in which the encyclopedic representations of “monstrous races” shaped a literary discourse of ambivalence towards race, especially in medieval texts that were used for transmitting geographic, social, and historical knowledge.  I demonstrated that typologies of monstrosity became a foundational convention of imagining cultural identity in medieval Europe, as concepts of “race” (or “ethnicity”) and “nation” emerged as distinct, albeit fluid and contestable categories in vernacular literatures.  My current book project is partly based on my dissertation, and intervenes in the post-colonial medieval studies by questioning how the monstrous body’s racialization in the European imagination is founded upon a dual body dynamic intimately entangled with sovereign violence.  I examine a broad array of literary and historical works to show how these identities are then defined around theories of diasporic and “native” identities in England’s foundational historical texts.  My project asks how medieval Europe has been positioned as a site for the construction of early theories of “race” by suggesting that the category of monstrosity transformed and conflated both cultural and moral characteristics of their own foundational mythologies.

Among the many ways that this Institute has shifted my research methodologies and trajectories has been in the study of Catalan chronicles of the fourteenth century.  As my previous research has indicated, I have a primary specialization in English, French, and Latin chronicle writing in Britain and France from the twelfth through the fourteenth centuries.  However, having used the various libraries available in Barcelona, I have begun to research two Catalan chronicles, detailing the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries: King James I of Aragon’s Llibre dels fets, considered the first royal autobiography, and Ramon Muntaner’s Chrònica, which narrates the history of Catalonia from a unique historical perspective.  I hope to produce from this an article about comparative English and Spanish histories of the fourteenth centuries, as chronicles that describe the events surrounding the Wars of the Two Peters and its proxy function in the Hundred Years’ War between England and France.  This will add to the growing body of literary scholarship about medieval chronicles in general, and contribute to early discussions of Anglo-Iberian relations before the early modern era.

At Stockton College, our goal of promoting global education would entail that courses on premodern Europe also cover wider Mediterranean cultural and economic interactions.  From this NEH Institute, I have developed a new course for our Literature program, “Literatures of the Medieval Mediterranean,” which focuses on literary transmissions in the medieval Mediterranean, connecting African, European, and Asian cultural influences, reading texts such as The Arabian Nights, Boccaccio’s Decameron, the Spanish epic, Cantar de mio Cid, and Andalusian and troubadour poetry.  This course will run in Spring 2011 as a Senior Seminar in our Literature Program at Stockton College.  I eventually hope to make it a regular offering as an upper-division course for Literature majors.

I would like to conclude that not only were my research and teaching goals accomplished in this NEH Institute, but my colleagues and I agree generally that this Institute will lead to future collaborative projects, as all our research stood to gain from the conversations we had in Barcelona.  I would like to personally commend Professors Catlos and Kinoshita for convening this Institute for the second time, for their selection of participants and faculty, and for their gracious time in organizing what is perhaps the most intellectually gratifying experience in my short academic career.


Kiril Petkov


Associate Professor, History
University of Wisconsin-River Falls



Valerie Ramseyer


Associate Professor of History
Wellesley College

Project: I attended the NEH Institute in Barcelona to further work on my book project, entitled Lombards and Greeks, Arabs and Normans: Southern Italy in the Early Middle Ages.  The book is a general history of Sicily and southern Italy in the early Middle Ages (c. 600-1100) based on a variety of sources, including archival documents, secondary literature, archaeological reports, monuments and other material remains.  One of the major themes of the book is religious life and the relationship between the various religious traditions found in the region, and while in Barcelona, I furthered my research on this topic in a number of different ways.  First, I read additional secondary sources for southern Italy and Sicily, particularly as related to Muslim communities.  In addition, I gained familiarity with the historiography of Muslim Spain, which has a more highly developed historiography with regard to interconfessional interactions and relationships.    Finally, I found some additional primary sources related to the intermingling of religious traditions in the region.  The research I carried out while in Barcelona has led to me to rethink some fundamental questions about the relationship between Christian, Muslim, and Jewish communities, as well as the relationship between orthodox and heterodox versions of the three religions.  Below I summarize some of the important conclusions that resulted from the research, as well as some questions for further research.

Scholars often use terms such as hybridity and heterodoxy when discussing religious life in medieval Sicily and southern Italy, and at first glance written documentation would seem to support this view.  Sources speak of intermarriage between Christians, Muslims, and Jews as widespread, and note a mixing of religious observances and laws.  For example, some Christians celebrated Jewish holidays and took the Sabbath on Saturday rather than Sunday.  Christians, Muslims, and Jews were found worshipping the same saints and frequenting the same shrines.  Sources also mention Christians following Islamic laws and Jews submitting to the authority of Muslim courts.  An Arab source for Sicily speaks of the unorthodox nature of Muslims on the island, who prayed and purified themselves in a non-canonical manner, neglected to pay alms or go on the hajj, observed the fast of Ramadan incorrectly, and married Christian women without requiring the conversion of them or their female offspring.  Yet all of these sources were written by members of the elite, who were often times outsiders.  Many came from areas where religious leaders were trying to establish orthodox beliefs and behaviors and they do not necessarily reflect the attitudes found among the population of Sicily and southern Italy.  In order to understand better religious life and organization in the region, issues of religious identity and the formation of orthodoxy need to be rethought from the perspective of the practitioners, who occupied a religious space that contained much more diversity and much more permeable boundaries than found in the writings of religious scholars. 

First religious identity in early medieval southern Italy and Sicily went beyond a simple tripartite division between Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. The early Middle Ages was a time of formation and/or reformation for all three monotheistic religious traditions, and within the three broader categories were found many diverse religious expressions and religious communities.  For Christianity, for example, communities of Greek-speaking and Latin-speaking communities existed from the earliest days of Christianity, so from the very beginning we see diverse liturgical languages in the region.  Arianism was also an established form of Christianity in the region up through the 7th century, practiced both by Lombards and indigenous Romans.  At the end of the 9th century a new influx of Greek-speaking Christians arrived due to the Byzantine reconquest of territory in southern Italy, bringing once again new Christian practices to the region.  Moreover, charter evidence found in various parts of southern Italy demonstrate a marked tolerance for variant local traditions, stating that priests and religious communities could conduct religious services and administer religious houses “according to the custom of the place.” 

Islam also arrived in the region in various forms.  The Muslim armies that conquered Sicily and parts of southern Italy over the course of the 9th and 10th centuries were composed of a diverse group of soldiers, including Arabs from the Near East, Berbers from North Africa, Persians, Andalusians, and sub-Saharan Africans.  At least some of the Berber soldiers adhered to the Ibadi sect of Islam, and it appears that these Ibadi may have established their own semi-autonomous community in some portions of the island.  In addition, the Fatimid conquest of Sicily in the 10th century brought Isma’ili Islam to the region, although it appears that only the island’s elite adopted this form of Islam, with the rest of the population continuing to practice their own version of Islam. Judaism also exhibited both diversity and regionalism.  In the Roman era, Jews in southern Italy followed the Palestinian form of Judaism; however, beginning in the 9th century Jewish immigrants from the Near East brought the Babylonian form to the region.  Evidence also suggests a mixing of the two traditions, as well as the development of unique local practices.  Thus a simplistic tripartite division between Christianity, Islam, and Judaism masks the religious diversity characteristic of Sicily and southern Italy in the early Middle Ages.  In the future, I hope to gain a better understanding of how these smaller religious communities understood themselves as well as their relationship both to the larger religious categories and members of other religious groups in the region. 

In addition to the diversity of religious communities, members of all three religions developed local practices and traditions that often contradicted rules and doctrines being set down in centers of orthodoxy. However, using the word heterodox is problematic because the orthodox versions of all three religions were very much in flux at the time.  In addition, it is unclear what connection existed between religious communities in the region and the centers where orthodoxy was being developed and established.  Did the population of Sicily and southern Italy participate directly in the formation of orthodoxy in these centers?  Did the population know what was going on in these centers? If local practices and beliefs diverged from the new orthodoxies, was this due to ignorance, disagreement, or disobedience?  Evidence I have seen so far would suggest a lack of knowledge more than an act of defiance.

Finally, we need to rethink the idea of center and periphery, and ask ourselves if so-called “frontier” regions such as southern Italy and Sicily were really that unusual or unique.  Many aspects of religious life characteristic of the region, including religious diversity and the intermingling of religious traditions, can be found in many parts of the medieval Mediterranean before 1000, and religious practitioners in most regions did not adhere to the orthodoxy espoused in places such as Rome or Baghdad.  Thus the use of the terms hybridity and heterodoxy becomes problematic because they imply that there were fixed religious orthodoxies in the early Middle Ages that applied to large populations.  My research, however, has shown that if we distance ourselves from the views of the religious elite, we find not only a lack of agreement on many questions of correct practice and belief, but also a greater tolerance for diverse religious practices and for the intermingling of religious traditions and communities.


Jarbel Rodriguez


Jarbel Rodriguez
Associate Professor of Medieval History
San Francisco State University

Project: Religious Hybrids: Converts and Renegades in Medieval Iberia

My project for the NEH Summer Institute on Cultural Hybridities began as an effort to study Christian converts to Islam in Late Medieval Iberia.  After the month in Barcelona, the numerous readings, the excellent talks, and the many discussions with the other participants, my ideas changed.  Religious conversion is a conscious decision for change.  But change from what to what?  On a superficial level it would be easy to argue that these individuals were converting from Christianity to Islam.  However, one must ask what did these terms mean in Medieval Iberia and what cultic practices, beliefs, and behaviors went with each.  In short, in order to truly understand religious conversion in Medieval Iberia, we must first understand the religiosity of Medieval Iberia.  My current research, in progress and nurtured by the Summer Institute, aims at a book-length project on this question of Iberian religiosity.

My goal, as the Summer Institute began was to write a brief article on the Christian rhetoric on religious conversion, notably the harsh polemics directed at Christians who converted or considered converting to Islam.  As the Institute progressed however, I began to think in bigger terms and to start developing some of the questions and ideas that could drive and sustain a book-length project.  In studying Christian converts to Islam, the reasons proposed by Alfonso of Valladolid, a Jewish philosopher and convert to Christianity, as to why a person was not likely to convert to another faith is an instructive starting point.  Alfonso provides his readers with 11 reasons why Jews opted to stay Jews instead of choosing the path of Christianity.  The list matches up well with the obstacles that religious sociologists have detailed in modern conversion experiences and includes among the impediments an unwillingness to leave behind one’s life; the shame and scorn faced by converts; and the loss of status and property.  The final reason given by Alfonso was the lack of trained teachers who could instruct the potential convert in the ways of the new faith.  In his understanding of conversion, Alfonso may have been relying too much on his own personal experience and desires of what conversion should entail, notably the necessity of an intellectual grounding in the new faith.  We know that for the majority of religious converts this was not the case and that in most circumstances a passing knowledge of the religion they were converting to seems to have been enough.  The argument that I am developing is that acculturation, religious interpenetration, cultural hybridity,  convivencia (if we still choose to use that word) or however we describe the situation in Christian Spain made conversion that much more accessible to those who were contemplating it.  Jonathan Ray, in an article published in 1996 and speaking of Jewish anxieties about conversion, has argued as much noting, “acculturation might lead to assimilation and the abandonment of the Jewish community.”   I am particularly drawn to the idea of religion in the Iberian Peninsula as functioning in a Third Space of hybridity, drawing from the work of Fredric Jameson and Hommi Bhabha. 

Several of the readings that we did for the institute helped to refine my ideas.  The readings on the Mediterranean that accompanied Peregrine Horden’s talk got me to thinking about the question of conversion in terms of corruption or perhaps more accurately what David Abulafia has described as “enrichment”.  As a starting point we need to ask, how did the Iberian religions “corrupt” each other?  How did they enrich each other, but also alter their basic theological tenets, ritual practices, and devotional space?  For the two minority religions of the Peninsula, Islam and Judaism, the changes are sometimes too obvious as Christian lordship severely influenced and constricted many of their cultic practices.  The question becomes harder to answer for Christianity as the dominant religion and one not so easily affected by social, political, economic, or military pressures.  In its dominant state, was Christianity also “corrupted” and if so, how?

Cynthia Robinson, among others, has already been looking at this issue.  In fact, Robinson’s article on “Trees of Love, Trees of Knowledge,” argues that “in Iberia from the late thirteenth through the fifteenth centuries, a ‘medieval commonplace,’… is grafted onto a growing preoccupation with the conversion of Jews and Muslims to Christianity.”   This notion coincides neatly with the speculative musing put forth in the recent The Arts of Intimacy.  “But what if,” the authors ask, “in the Iberian peninsula, religion, politics, language, and art never quite align? What if, like electrons, they revolve in different constellations, forming and reforming new bodies, each with different properties, evanescent attractions and repulsions? And as with electrons, one can never quite measure the location and movement of these parts of history at the same time.”   What if, I would add, the lines of religious difference which we imagine to be so rigid and definitive are in fact much more fluid and porous?  What if religion, instead of being an entity apart, is understood in the same way as other cultural elements?  Instead of defined by strictly enforced and guarded boundaries, perhaps we should think of religious in belief in Iberia as more permeable and susceptible to foreign, corrupting influences.  This fluidity was, in fact, what some Christian missionaries were counting on when they tried to convert Muslims to Christianity.  The late 13th century Dominican William of Tripoli argued that the key to converting Muslims was to use the many connections between the two faiths as the basis for conversion.  The ease with which these boundaries could be transgressed and the congruence between the two faiths, however, could flow both ways.  And this brings me back to my original question: how was religiosity constructed in Iberia?   How much of a “medieval commonplace” or a “third space” was there when it came to religiosity?  Answering this question will go a long way towards helping us understand the conversion of Christians to Islam and how Christians understood conversion.  Was conversion the intellectual transformation described by Alfonso de Valladolid or was it a simple shift within the boundaries of the medieval commonplace, which required a slight nudge into already familiar spirituality and cultic practices?  At this very early stage, I am proposing that indeed the shared religiosity of medieval Iberia helped to facilitate the spiritual aspects of conversion, and if I am right then answering the social, economic, political, and personal reasons why individuals converted should come a little easier. 

Finally, I would like to touch lightly on the question of how I would like to go about uncovering this shared religiosity?   I think that some of the work done in the sources mentioned earlier is a great start, but there are other approaches that might also prove profitable.  Sermons aimed at Christians and in particular the boundaries that these try to enforce can tell us where religious authorities saw cracks in the Christian armor and sought to reinforce it.  Legal treatises and law codes can also identify areas of concern and anxiety as kings, bishops and inquisitors tried to squeeze the “third space” out of existence.  In the coming months, I would like to identify other sources that can at least obliquely help me to fashion a better understanding of the religious hybridity that I think existed in the Peninsula. 

Jonathan Ray, “Beyond Tolerance and Persecution: Reassessing Our Approach to Medieval ‘Convivencia,’” Jewish Social Studies 11:2 (2005) 6.

Cynthia Robinson, “Tress of Love, Trees of Knowledge: Toward the Definition of a Cross-Confessional Current in Late Medieval Iberia Spirituality,” Medieval Encounters 12 (2006) 394.

Jerrilynn Dodds, María Rosa Menacal and Abigail Krasner Balbale, The Arts of Intimacy: Christians, Jews, and Muslims in the Making of Castilian Culture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009) 6.




Michael Ryan


Assistant Professor of History
Purdue University

Project: The Horn and the Relic: Mapping the Contours of Orthodoxy and Authority

Over the course of July 2010 I had a wonderful opportunity to spend a month in Barcelona conducting research and interacting with scholars as a participant in the NEH Summer Institute on “Cultural Hybridities: Christians, Muslims, and  Jews in the Medieval Mediterranean.”   My month overseas was invaluable on both a professional and personal level, as it permitted me to finish up research on a new article-length project, “The Horn and the Relic: Mapping the Contours of Orthodoxy and Authority.” 

In my study, which is currently a work-in-progress with an expected completion date of November 15, 2010, I investigate the techniques used by two particular Catalan count-kings whom I have studied in the past, Joan el Caçador and Martí l’Humà.  In my investigation, I discuss the dichotomous natures and personalities of Joan and Martí and how they constructed their claims to both religious orthodoxy and secular authority during their respective reigns.  I argue that these two count-kings of the late medieval Crown of Aragon used the acquisition and transfer of tangible objects, respectively pieces of unicorn horn and Christian relics, to help construct their authority. 

Over the course of the month, discussions with participants, visiting scholars, and the directors of the Institute, especially Yuen-Gen Liang, Stephen Epstein, and Brian Catlos, helped me frame the parameters of the article itself.  Most of the month, however, saw me in the venerable institution of the Archive of the Crown of Aragon.  I was able to use the library in this institution to acquire copies of secondary studies that are not readily available in my home institution in the States.  More significantly, I was able to analyze closely the primary sources that largely pertained to Martí’s interest in, appropriation of, and transferring of various relics.  The best known aspect of Martí’s interest in acquiring the remnants of the Christian holy dead appears in the 1403 translation of the relics of the bishop of Barcelona, Sant Sever.  Within the hierarchy of Christian relics, for a local saint, he was of particular importance as one of the earliest and most important bishops of Barcelona.  Martí’s unflagging support of Sant Sever was due to the saint’s intercession in a crisis surrounding a potentially fatal leg injury, as Martí risked both the loss of his leg and his life.  Sever purportedly visited the ailing king while sleeping and cured him; the king ascribed his survival and complete recovery to the miraculous intercession of the bishop and thus successfully petitioned Pope Benedict XIII in 1404 to move the relics from the monastery of Sant Cugat des Valles to the cathedral in Barcelona.  But these were not the only relics which Martí sought and acquired.  Others included the heads of Saint Barbara and Sant Jordi, pieces of the True Cross, and the Holy Grail, which is supposed to be housed in Valencia. 

In addition to studying the documents, discussions with other scholars, especially Núria Silleras-Fernandez, provided me the opportunity to take an interdisciplinary approach to my study, as she directed me to the Museu Diocesà de Barcelona, to behold and investigate personally the sixteenth-century painting of Martí’s injury, miraculous intercession of Sant Sever, and translation of the saint’s relics.


Paul Sidelko


Assistant Professor of History
Metropolitan State College of Denver

Project: I worked on two projects at the Institute. The first was related to revising an article for publication entitled, "Christian-Muslim relations in Crusader Syria and Palestine." The Institute's focus on hybridities and intercultural relations stimulated my research and analysis for this article. The readings and seminars produced lively debate and alternative perspectives on the medieval Mediterranean. Although I did not make extensive use of the Crown of Aragon's rich archive, I appreciated the opportunity for reading, research and writing in the university library. I expect to submit the article by the end of the semester.

The second project began as a pedagogical exercise. Like many of the participants at the Institute, I regularly teach classes that center in and around the Mediterranean. I participated in many formal and informal conversations exploring different models and approaches to these classes. A common desideratum that emerged is a brief, but comprehensive text for a class on the Medieval Mediterranean. My project then evolved to explore the possibility of writing and publishing that textbook.

I am now thinking about the structure and content of such a text and have made exploratory contacts with a potential publisher. The Institute allowed me to complete the first project and provided the inspiration for the second.


Joseph Stanley


PhD Candidate in History
SUNY - Binghamton

Project: Pratiche della Mercatura, Cross-Cultural Exchange, and Trans-Mediterranean Trade in the Late Middle Ages, c. 1275-1450

Scholarship has long recognized Italian preponderance in Mediterranean commerce during the late Middle Ages. In recent years, studies have greatly enriched our understanding of how cross-cultural communication helped foster Italian mercantile relations in foreign, non-European markets. Yet surprisingly, a corpus of material that constitutes a valuable documentary record of the Italian merchant’s education and understanding of Islamic or Saracen culture remains untouched: pratiche della mercatura, or manuals of commercial practice. These handbooks, widely circulated throughout central and northern Italy, contained vital information pertaining to the merchant’s understanding and awareness of Islamic cultures and customs outside the realm of commercial affairs. Taking these manuals as its documentary focus, this project’s chief aim was to explore Italian mercantile conceptions of the non-western Mediterranean world. However, my project began to evolve after many fruitful exchanges with the Mediterranean Institute’s interdisciplinary community, and, in particular, with my literary colleagues. As a result, my research also sought to broaden the ways in which we classify the pratica genre.

The “traditional” pratica della mercatura, composed by merchants for merchants, included material that a merchant deemed most important in his commercial affairs. Francesco Pagnini first classified the genre of “pratiche” based on their data germane to wares and tares, a classification adopted by subsequent scholarship, most prominently Robert Lopez. For the most part, this scholarship has remained interested in extracting financial information from these manuals in order to better understand the complexities of the Mediterranean economy or the acumen of the Italian tradesman. Yet, within these layers of economic data there still remains a body of overlooked material that reveals the Italian merchant’s education and understanding of Saracen culture. The Mediterranean Institute provided me with the time to systematically examine all traditional manuals (eight in total) and catalogue the appropriate cross-cultural material.

The most well-known, and best preserved, “traditional” manual is Francesco Balducci Pegolotti’s The Book of Descriptions of Countries (c. 1310-40). Fortunately, the secondary literature I consulted at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra Library in Barcelona enabled me to appreciate the scope of Pegolotti’s merchant audience: The Book of Descriptions was widely circulated throughout central and northern Italy for several centuries after its composition. Pegolotti’s text is full of financial commentary that prepared the aspiring merchant for the commercial markets of the Mediterranean basin. Yet, interspersed in these chapters, the reader is furnished with cultural guides to these markets as well. For example, the Italian merchant was provided with extensive philological guides in foreign languages including Persian, Armenian, Arabic, Mongolian, and Cumanic. Obviously, these guides translate a whole host of commercial terms – from banker to market to woolen cloth – but also translate basic, conversational phrases. Curiously, in the foreign land of Cathay, or China, Pegolotti advises the reader to grow a beard when conducting trade in woolen products so as not to appear too foreign to Tartar sellers. Thereafter, Pegolotti encourages the merchant to hire multiple dragomen who are knowledgeable in both Cumanic culture and language, and are preferably native. This counsel certainly chimes emphatically with the work of the Institute’s invited lecturer, Dr. Roser Sally-Kru, who has convincingly shown that diplomatic and mercantile guides were resourceful intermediaries of acculturation in the medieval Mediterranean. Pegolotti further advises the merchant on foreign culture in his brief commentary on eastern politics. Here, we read that there are frequent transfers of lordly power between Azov and China which typically signal bouts of disorder and the “Frank,” or European, should be cautious when conducting trade with Tartars. Thus, through a reexamination of the “traditional” manual, I discovered fascinating information on foreign markets far beyond their financial data.

One of the many advantages of the Barcelona Institute was that its participants represented a broad spectrum of academic disciplines. As a trained historian who deals primarily with merchants texts, I found conversations with the seminar’s literary specialists most beneficial: especially with the Institute’s co-director, Dr. Sharon Kinoshita; as well as our guest lecturer, Dr. Daniel Selden. Through fruitful exchanges with my colleagues I became very interested, and wary, in how the aforesaid historiography had traditionally defined the manual genre. These suspicions were further kindled upon consulting the works of Dr. Vittore Branca, a literary scholar who, one generation ago, proposed that we loosen our rigid classification of pratiche and celebrate its potential diversity. Equipped with this new insight, and, in conjunction with a recently transcribed fifteenth-century Florentine manuscript, I endeavored to follow Dr. Branca’s call.

Prior to my arrival in Barcelona, I had transcribed a compendium of manuscripts found in the Florentine archival library, the Biblioteca Riccardiana, entitled MS 818. This codex features many components that were crucial to an aspiring merchant’s education in the late medieval period. Included in this compendium are copies of two texts of particular interest: Leonardo Frescobaldi’s Visit to Egypt and the Holy Land (c. 1384-85) and Goro Dati’s pedagogical poem, The Sphere (c. 1435). Although neither text provides financial commentaries that are found in the traditional merchant manual, they nevertheless were composed by merchants (Frescobaldi was a banker; Dati, a silk merchant), discuss foreign commercial cultures, and were available to a wide merchant audience. Indeed, Dati’s Sphere was one of the most copied texts of fifteenth-century Florence. Thus, my ongoing research, crucially conceived in Barcelona, asserts that we broaden the manual genre and define it based on author, audience, and commercial content.

The cross-cultural information found in these two texts is truly remarkable. The first text, Visit to the Holy Places, includes a vast amount of detailed information concerning Levantine geography and history, Christian theology, commercial counsel, as well as a palpable interest in things Islamic. Frescobaldi composed chapters entitled “Customs of the Saracens,” “A Moslem Wedding,” and “A Moslem Feast:” all of which indicate a genuine interest in the way Muslims functioned. His commercial counsel seems to reflect this interest. Upon describing the commercial goods of Cairo, “sugar, spices, and every victual,” he records that, “And know you that the Saracens pay reverence to the Virgin Mary and to St John the Baptist…and they hold Christ to be, after Mohammed, the greatest prophet, and that he was not born of the corruption of the flesh, but that the breath of God the Father by the mouth of the Angel gave flesh to the Divine Word; and in many things they draw near to our faith.” Likewise, in The Sphere’s fourth book, Dati provides a “hybrid portolan” for the reader where he focuses exclusively on the African and Asian continents. In this section Dati gives ample attention to the Saracens in these regions. Indeed, he dedicates an entire stanza to the city of Mecca and the importance it holds for the Muslim faith.         

In conclusion, I must emphasize that this project is a work in progress and is still in need of further research (to be conducted concurrent with, and subsequent to, my doctoral dissertation). Nevertheless, the evidence strongly suggests that a rereading of the traditional merchant manual, in conjunction with a broadening of the genre based on audience, author, and content can illuminate a multiplicity of things related to the medieval Italian merchant’s understanding of foreign cultures in the Mediterranean and how acculturation may have been instrumental in negotiating trade around the Mediterranean basin in the late medieval period.


Richard Taylor


Professor of Philosophy
Marquette University


1. Original Project

In the original application for the NEH Seminar I proposed to broaden and deepen my understanding of ‘Cultural Hybridities’ in their development in Medieval Spain and their inßuence in Medieval Europe. By enhancing my understanding of Medieval Spain and itscultural and historical context at the time of the development of philosophy up to and including the time of Ibn Rushd / Averroes I expected that chapter 6 “Religion, Ethics and Politics” of my developing book on Averroes would be substantially imbued with greater subtlety and a much more nuanced interpretation as a result of work in the Barcelona seminar. I also expected that work in the seminar would contribute valuably to chapter 7 “The Inßuence of Averroes” and so too to my work in the “Aquinas and the Arabs Project.” I also indicated that garnering an enhanced understanding of Medieval Spain in its complexity of ‘Cultural Hybridities’ would surely have a profoundly positive inßuence in how I am able to present religious and philosophical thought in the Middle Ages to my students in courses on philosophy, Christian theology, and Islam at the undergraduate and graduate level.

2. Project Advances While in Barcelona

What in fact came to pass in my studies and discussions with colleagues in the NEH seminar and with scholars from Barcelona, Madrid and elsewhere was in accord with the original project proposal but much more valuable to my work than anticipated. Instead of restricting my studies to Medieval Spain, I found my research moving back to the religious and political foundations of Islam in Spain and North Africa for the sake of understanding the sources of the philosophical and theological thought of Averroes as well as for understanding in a deeper way the sort of inßuence that his understanding of Islamic theological teachings may have had on the thought of Thomas Aquinas and other theologians and philosophers of the 13th century.

I took advantage of the opportunity to study two recently published books by Allen Fromherz, an NEH seminar participant, on the theologian Ibn Tumart (d. ca. 1130) and on the social historian Ibn Khaldun (d. 1406).  The account of Ibn Khaldun was extremely valuable for seeing how later thinkers looked back on and understood the period of the Almohad dynasty in North Africa and Spain. But the book on Ibn Tumart and the development of the Almohad movement was more helpful for contextualizing Averroes in that framework. Fromherz does not have any substantial discussion of the details of the theological reasoning of Ibn Tumart nor of the theological and philosophical reasoning of al-Ghazali (d.1111) from whose writings and followers Ibn Tumart developed his unique conception of Islam. He also does not have any substantial discussion of Averroes. But his work helped me see the intellectual development of Averroes against the background of the common religious and cultural teachings alive in the years just prior to his entre onto the religious and political scene in Spain and North Africa.

In connection with this I was pleased to meet Maribel Fierro of CSIC in Madrid who has written on Ibn Tumart, the Almohad movement, and Averroes from theological, political and historical viewpoints. Our brief meeting at the World Congress of Middle East Studies taking place in Barcelona was followed by an exchange of articles and some discussion of our mutual interests. Fierro’s work, which I took the opportunity to study more carefully and broadly while in Barcelona, is very much in line with my own independently developing understanding of Averroes not only as philosopher but also as a leading theological expert in the Almohad movement ca. 1178-1184. I may be visiting CSIC in Madrid in Spring 2011 to share some of my work with scholars there.

My work then took two directions at once. (i) I pursued primary and secondary sources on the theological teachings of Ibn Tumart and the religious and political thought of his political successors, Abd al-Mu’min (1130-1163), Abu Ya`qub Yusuf (1163-1184) and Abu Yusuf Ya’qub al-Mansur (1184-1199). With this I also reconceptualized my understanding of Averroes as philosopher into a more complex view of him as philosopher, theologian, physician, and intellectual scholar subtly inßuential in political matters through his philosophical methodology in religion. (ii) The other direction concerned the inßuence of Averroes on Latin Europe and its theologians and philosophers.  In light of work in (i) I came to see how the rationalist philosophy of Averroes set forth in his Aristotelian philosophical works was also at work in his theological writings in very subtle ways. Averroes, it seems to me, perhaps merely found the Almohad movement to be in accord with his philosophical thinking. For Averroes the primary way to truth is to be found in the methodology of philosophy using the tool of Aristotelian scientiÞc demonstration. The religious writings of Averroes are dialectical in character. That is, they assume to be true certain unproven or unscientiÞc theses, namely, fundamental religious teachings of Islam and other teachings developed by Ibn Tumart, and proceed to reason on the basis of those. For Averroes, however, these religious teachings are the guidelines for those moved by rhetoric or dialectic toward what is right. In contrast, though, philosophers using demonstrative methodology attain to truth in its fullness. And, given that truth cannot contradict truth, a saying from Aristotle’s Prior Analytics that Averroes quotes three times, the consequence is that the truth of philosophy and science is the Þnal arbiter of correct interpretation of religious texts.  Now, in this fashion Averroes was in accord with the rationalist approach of Ibn Tumart in many ways, though not completely so. Be that as it may, this methodological approach was subtly conveyed in philosophical writings translated into Latin.  And what we Þnd among key Þgures in Christian theology of the 13th century such as Albert the Great and in particular Thomas Aquinas is a reßection of this same methodology albeit adapted to Þt with key theological teachings fundamental to Christianity.  M. Fletcher has explored the question of whether theological teachings of Ibn Tumart interpreted by Averroes may in fact be indirectly working in the methodology of Thomas Aquinas who was the Þrst in Latin Europe to propose that theology must be considered a science along the lines of the methodology of Aristotle displayed and furthered by Averroes in his translated works.  This issue needs much more exploration and discussion than it has been given up to the present. But I see in this a line of thinking much in accord with my work on Aquinas and the Arabs, something I will be pursuing in detail in the coming year.

3. Conclusion

The NEH seminar in Barcelona has had a very signiÞcant inßuence on my thinking about Averroes and about his inßuence in Latin Europe. That inßuence will be made known in several conference presentations I have scheduled for 2010-11, in my work on the book on Averroes, and in my work in the Aquinas and the Arabs. I can add that I had the opportunity to spell out some of this at a conference on Aquinas and the Arabs in Houston, September 18-19, and found what I shared was both surprising to the audience and also very well received.



Lara Tohme


Assistant Professor and Co-Director of Architecture
Wellesley College

Project: The NEH Summer Institute allowed me to work on and rethink two projects: a syllabus for a lecture class, ARTH 267 Cross-cultural Encounters in the Medieval Mediterranean, and my book, Appropriation and Cultural Conversion: the Creation of a Mediterranean Architecture in Norman Sicily. Both projects explore the ways in which art and architectural motifs are borrowed, transmitted, and adapted by the various cultures around the medieval Mediterranean.

Part I/ Syllabus for ARTH 267 Cross-Cultural Encounters in Medieval Mediterranean

During the NEH Institute, I reorganized and expanded the syllabus of a course that I will be teaching in Spring 2010. The new syllabus includes a broad range of materials and areas that were not included in the previous incarnation of the course. This course explores specific sites and objects that demonstrate the historical, geographical, and intercultural connections between various medieval Mediterranean societies. While this is primarily a lecture course, it will include regular student presentations and discussion. I have appended below the lecture topics that I will cover in the course.

Course Topics

1.  What is the Mediterranean?

2. The Clash of the Gods: Polytheism, Mithraism and Christianity

3. The Conversion of Rome

4. Art, Architecture, and Civic Ritual in Constantinople

5. Ostrogothic and Byzantine Ravenna

6. Illustrating the Bible: Jewish and Christian Traditions

7. Pilgrimage and the Creation of a New Holy Land: Churches, Monasteries and Hospices

8. Byzantine North Africa

9. The Development of Islamic Architecture: The Dome of the Rock and the Mosque of Damascus

10. The Transmission of Knowledge: Manuscript Illumination in the Abbasid Court

11. Charlemagne and the Carolingian Renaissance

12. Caliphal Iberia: Cordoba

13. Mozarabic Art and Architecture in Spain

14. Heaven and Hell in the Romanesque Paintings of Catalonia

15. The Portable Arts and Cultural Interchange

16. Between Byzantium and Islam: Norman Sicily

17. Society, culture and architecture in Crusader Palestine

18. Crusader Art and Multiculturalism

19. The Architecture of Lusignan Cyprus

20. The Art and Architecture of the Crown of Aragon

21. Love, Pleasure and Leisure in Late Medieval Art

22. Complexes of the Mamluk Sultans in Cairo

23. The Seljuks and the Transformation of Medieval Anatolia

24. Picturing Alexander the Great around the Mediterranean and Beyond

Part II/ Book Project titled:  Appropriation and Cultural Conversion: the Creation of a Mediterranean Architecture in Norman Sicily

My participation in the Institute allowed me to rethink and better focus my book-project.  The Institute readings and lectures, as well as the formal and informal discussions with fellow Institute participants and lecturers gave me the opportunity to widen my understanding of the medieval Mediterranean and how Norman architecture in Sicily was shaped by this context. Norman Sicily (ca 1060-1194) is often noted for its “tri-lingual” character: a fusion of Greek Byzantine, Arab Muslim, and western European cultures. This mixed population left in its religious and secular structures a material record of a multi-ethnic society. My book project focuses on the ways in which the Normans formulated a new architectural language that promoted the supremacy of the Normans in the medieval Mediterranean world. By focusing on the monasteries built during this period in Palermo, I argue that Norman architecture cannot be explained by the traditional canons of medieval architecture (i.e. "Western" vs. "Byzantine" vs. “Islamic”). I propose rather, that the Sicilian Norman style transcends such style labels and while it should be understood as a unique, new style, it is closely related to a larger trend in medieval Mediterranean architectural production.



David Wrisley


Associate Professor,
American University of Beirut









Organized by: Funded by: Sponsored & Supported by:      
The Mediterranean Seminar National Endowment  for the Humanities Ministerio de Cultura (Espa–a) University of California Santa Cruz Universitat Pompeu Fabra Real Academia de Bones Lletres