Fraxinetum: An Islamic Frontier State in Tenth Century Provence

Paul Signac: Port St. Tropez, 1899Fraxinetum: An Islamic Frontier State in Tenth Century Provence

By Mohamad Ballan

Comitatus: A Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Vol.41 (2010)

Abstract: The primary focus of this article is a reconsideration of Fraxinetum as an Islamic frontier state in tenth-century Provence. Traditional scholarship about Fraxinetum has interpreted the Muslim presence in Provence within the context of piracy. The interpretation of Fraxinetum as a pirate base centers largely on the interpretation of primary documents and the replication of the arguments of the Latin chroniclers within modern scholarship. Seeking to challenge the view that the Muslims in Francia were merely bandits, through a reassessment of primary sources and an analysis of some non-textual evidence, this article demonstrates that Fraxinetum was the political, military, and economic center of an Islamic frontier state in Provence that was populated largely by ghäzis or mujähidin (Islamic frontier warriors) from al-Andalus. Reconceptualizing Fraxinetum as an Islamic frontier state should not be understood to mean that Muslim activity in Provence was centrally administered, but intends to convey that Jihad, as well as certain economic motivations, played a crucial role in this frontier military settlement and, as such, needs to be adequately understood. This will allow scholars to comprehend more fully the nature of Fraxinetum, providing additional insight into the Muslim presence in Provence, and contributing to the understanding of the phenomenon of Islamic frontier states more broadly during the tenth century.

Introduction: Remarkably little scholarship has been devoted to the history of Islam in Francia during the early Middle Ages. Many scholars of medieval Europe and the Islamic world consider the decisive defeat of an Ummayyad force led by Abdurrahman al-Ghâfiqî by a Frankish army commanded by Charles Martel at the Battle of Tours-Poitiers in 732 — and the subsequent conquest of Narbonne from the Arabs in 759 — to mark the culmination of Muslim involvement in Francia. In fact, contrary to this perspective, the tenth century witnessed a re-establishment of Muslim authority in southeastern Francia, albeit of a different nature than the occupation two centuries prior, underscoring the dynamic inter-connectivity between events in Iberia, the Mediterranean, and Christian Europe during this period. This article will outline how an Islamic frontier-state, centered around Fraxinetum in Provence, emerged in the late ninth century and allowed the Andalusïs to play a more significant role in southern Francia throughout the tenth century than has traditionally been understood. A reassessment of primary documents and recent archaeological evidence will also reveal that the Muslim military, cultural, and religious presence in Gaul did not truly end until the last decades of the tenth century, nearly 250 years after Charles Martel’s victory at Tours.


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