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Baldwin, M. W. (ed.) / Volume I: The first hundred years

II: Conflict in the Mediterranean before the First Crusade,   pp. [30]-[79] PDF (10.8 MB)

Page 58

warriors for the faith those fierce ghazis (Arabic singular, ghazi) who caused
al-Maqdisi, the great Palestinian geographer, to extol "Sicily, the fertile
island whose people never tire of fighting the holy war."5 Farther south
the inland town of Agrigento was a capital of peasants and the moral center
of the Berbers, who often rose against the more refined and cosmopolitan
but more relaxed Arab aristocracy of the north. Not far from it Enna, in
a dominant position on a mountain top, was now the residence of Ibn-alUauwas,
the strongest of the petty emirs who had gained control of the country after
the collapse of the Kalbid monarchy. His brother-in-law and rival, Ibn-at-Tumnah,
from Catania endeavored to extend his rule all along the eastern coast. Here
Syracuse, the former Byzantine capital, and Messina were slowly recovering
after their last-ditch fight against the invaders; the Christian population
had lost its autonomy, but it shared with the Moslem minority the benefits
of a fairly enlightened and progressive economic and administrative regime.
There were many other thriving towns. 
 Yet this proud, brilliant civilization bore the germs of a disease which
delivered it into the hands of an adventurer of genius. If we are to believe
the poisoned pen of Ibn-~auqal, in the late tenth century, already the ghazis
of Sicily were nothing but "evildoers, rebels, rabble of many nations, panderers,
contemptible men;" the teachers in Palermo were incompetent hypocrites who
had embraced their profession to dodge military service; as for the other
classes, here is how he summed up the state of Islam in the Mediterranean:
"The Romans are attacking the Moslems, who find nobody to help them . . ..
Our proud, greedy princes cowardly bow before the enemy; men of learning
forget God and future life to do their pleasure...; the wicked merchants
neglect no opportunity of illicit profit...; the bigots sail with every wind
that blows."6 This indictment is of course exaggerated. It was not the lukewarmness
of Islam but the recovery of Christian peoples that gradually turned the
tide in the Mediterranean. The bands of holy warriors, like those of the
crusaders, included many desperadoes, 
 ~ Amari, Bibliot. arabo-sicula, app., p. 86. The population figures suggested
for Palermo by Amari (300—350,000) and Pardi (z~o,ooo at most) are
too high, and nearly all figures of contemporary Arab writers are unreliable.
More significant is the comparative statement of al-Maqdisi (Bibliot. arabo-sicula,
II, 670), who makes Palermo larger than Old Cairo; even if he was too optimistic
in regard to Palermo, the town must have had well over ioo,ooo inhabitants.
 6 Bibliot. arabo-sicula, I, 18—19, 24, 27. In regard to the ghazis
in other Moslem frontier regions, see G. Salinger," Was the futuwa an Oriental
form of Chivalry ?" Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, XCIV
(1950), 481—493, with bibliography. 

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