Falcons and Falconry in Al-Andalus

Falcons and Falconry in Al-Andalus

By Virgilio Martínez Enamorado

Studia Orientalia No.111 (2011)

Introduction: There is no doubt that the falcon has come to possess an intense emotive force in the poetic and literary imagery of al-Andalus. Represented for its own sake, without any associated object, it conveys extraordinary symbolism far and beyond its actual presence in the social and economic life of al-Andalus. In this respect, there is no difference between this region and the rest of the Arab world, medieval or not, where the falcon stands out as an icon. Though apparently timeless, we need to discover when this bird of prey came to have such strong meaning and the degree to which pre-Islam was responsible. We need to ascertain when and how this transfer took place, since there are still questions about its possible Germanic origin or Persian influence – the latter being more likely. In the specific case of al-Andalus, the abundance of Farsi loanwords led Pérès to suspect that the tradition was established in the Andalusi area by Persian Sassanid ancestors, and that it must have spread to the rest of the medieval Arab world. As we shall see, if there are Andalusi terminological particularities in the naming of falcons, they refer to a wide range of derived terms, such as bayyāz, bayyāzī, biyāz, bāziyy and bayzāra, that relate to the concept of “falconer”. Significantly, F.J. Simonet does not include any “Romancism” in this semantic field (the forms derived from falco-nis are absent), a clear indication that this lexicon formed ex novo, without too many local interferences (although it has also been said that Romance was the “langue de la volerie par excellence”).

Falconry was valued as a major element of the cultural transfer between the medieval elite of western Christianity and Islam, connecting the pre-Islamic world of the Near East with the Umayyad and Abbasid courts on one hand and Christian Europe on the other. In this respect, the role of al-Andalus was surely crucial, since part of this transfer sifted through to the Iberian Peninsula where there existed a high level of knowledge about the handling of these raptors and of how to use them in an almost ritual manner.

Click here to read this article from the Spanish National Research Council

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