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Trusting the text as far as we can throw the scribe: further notes on reading a bilingual jaridat al-hudud from the royal diwan of Norman Sicily

Trusting the text as far as we can throw the scribe: further notes on reading a bilingual jaridat al-hudud from the royal diwan of Norman Sicily

By Alex Metcalfe

From Al-Andalus to Khurasan: Documents from the Medieval Muslim World, edited by Sijpesteijn, P. M. and Sundelin, L. and Torallas Tovar, S. and Zomeno, A. (Brill, 2007)

Introduction: The piecemeal Muslim conquest of Byzantine Sicily from the year 827 and the Norman conquest of a politically-fragmented Islamic Sicily from 1061 and their subsequent rule until 1194 pose a number of knotty problems over the issue of change and disjuncture to the administrative structures on the island as authority came to be implemented and articulated by successive ruling groups. In recent years academic attention has come to focus on the administration and languages of Latin Christian or ‘Norman’ Sicily, in particular the role of Muslims and the use of Arabic in the chancery or dīwān. Shortly after his accession to the throne, Roger II (r.1130–54) introduced Arabic as a royal language together with Latin and Greek after a 20-year period of absence as a language of his comital diplomata. Thus, at the height of Norman rule in the mid-twelfth century, Arabic enjoyed a prestigious status and was as fundamentally important to the royal fiscal administration as were its Muslim or ex-Muslim officers. Although the last Arabic document in Sicily was issued under Frederick II as late as 1242, this was somewhat exceptional as it had been the only dīwānī output in Arabic of any kind since 1183. Indeed, by the mid-1180s, the Muslim officers associated with the fiscal administration had lost much of the influence they had previously exerted. In addition, important areas of north-eastern Sicily had become quite devoid of both Muslims and Arabic-speakers. In contrast, many of the crown estates in western Sicily continued to be populated predominantly by Arabic-speaking Muslims. In the late 1170s and 1180s, rights over these lands and men, as well as the responsibility for their administration, were transferred to the church of Santa Maria Nuova at Monreale as part of an exceptionally generous concession made by Roger II’s grandson, King William II.

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