An Arabic inscription that bears the name of the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II, and the date “1229 of the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus the Messiah”, was recently deciphered by Professor Moshe Sharon and Ami Shrager of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. During the deciphering it became evident that this is a rare archaeological find – the only one of its kind.
The 800-years-old inscription was fixed years ago in the wall of a building in Tel Aviv. The original location of the gray marble slab, on which the inscription is engraved, was probably in Jaffa’s city wall.
As Professor Sharon relates, “Frederick II led the Sixth Crusade of 1228-1229 and succeeded, without resorting to arms, in achieving major territorial gains for the Crusader Kingdom. His most important feat was the handing over of Jerusalem to the Crusaders by the Egyptian sultan al-Malik al-Kamil as a result of an armistice agreement the two rulers signed in 1229. Prior to achieving this agreement, the emperor fortified the castle of Jaffa and left in its walls, as it now appears, two inscriptions, one in Latin and the other in Arabic. The Arabic inscription was drafted by Frederick’s officials, or possibly even the emperor himself, and it is the one which has been now deciphered”.
Although just a small part of the Latin inscription was preserved, it was enough to ascribe it, already at the end of the 19th century, to Frederick II. Today, with the aid of the Arabic inscription, it is possible to virtually complete the text of that fragment.
In an interview with Livescience, Professor Sharon ads, “It’s not so easy to read Arabic inscriptions, and particularly this one, which was written in an unusual script, and it is on stone and it is 800 years old … it was written by an artist and this artist decided to create a special script for this royal inscription and it took us a very long time until we were able to find out that, in fact, we were reading a Christian inscription.”
The unique Arabic inscription is almost completely intact. It lists all of the titles of Frederick II, and as already stated, has no counterpart elsewhere. In Sicily, where Frederick’s main royal palace was located, no Arabic inscription of his has been found to date. Furthermore, “this is the only Crusader inscription in the Arabic language ever found in the Middle East,” according to the researchers.
Frederick II, despite having been excommunicated by Pope Gregory IX, crowned himself king of Jerusalem in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and mentioned his being the ‘King of Jerusalem’ in this inscription. He knew Arabic and maintained a close relationship with the Egyptian royal family.
Sharon added in another interview, “This was a great find because we don’t have such a ruler who knew Arabic and he was very much interested in Islam and his court was full of Muslim scientists and ambassadors, so he is a very special character.”
A scientific publication of the inscription is currently being prepared by Professor Sharon and Ami Shrager for the journal Crusades.