The Romans as Viewed by Arabic Authors in the 9th and 10th Centuries A.D.
By Elias Giannakis
Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences (Special Issue) Vol. 3, No. 10 (2012)
Abstract: The question whether Muslims of non-Arab origin were culturally superior to the Arab Muslims was hotly debated within the society of the Baghdad Caliphate from the middle of the eighth century A.D. onwards. Various groups that aimed at remoulding the political and social institutions and the direction of the Islamic culture brought in the subject of the characteristics of the pre-Islamic and the contemporary civilized nations, their virtues and vices as well as their cultural history. It is in this context that Arabic authors present their views about the Romans, their origin, their characteristics, their political and cultural history and their connection with other neighbouring nations. Such views are reflected in the works of three distinguished Muslims authors who lived and wrote in Arabic during the period of the 9th and early 10th century A.D. This study aims at presenting the views of the chosen three Arabic authors and the arguments they advanced as regards the history and culture of Romans.
Introduction: Of the peoples that the Arabic authors of the 9th and 10th century showed special interest were the Romans (rūm). The Arabic word rūm which occurs in various texts of the Arabic literature appears to refer not only to the ancient Romans (Latins) but also to the Byzantines as well as to the Christians, especially the Melkites, both inside and outside the lands of the caliphate. In the Arabic writings of the early Islamic period, the word rūm most often refers to the contemporary Greek speaking Byzantines who were Christians. This meaning of the word rūm is justifiable, because the overwhelming majority of the inhabitants, and generally all those in power in the Eastern Roman Empire contemporary with the Muslim Caliphate, were Greek speaking Christians who called themselves Romans (rūm). However, today we use the term “Byzantine” in order to distinguish the late Eastern Roman Empire from the ancient Western Roman Empire, especially after the transfer of the capital from Rome to Constantinople in A.D. 330. In this paper I shall look into Arabic accounts on the ancient Latin speaking Romans.