Muslim men in the imagination of the Medieval West, c. 1000 – c. 1250
Sandell, Malin Johanna
This thesis focuses on how Muslims, specifically men, were represented in terms of gender, ethnicity, and religion in the central Middle Ages. While the scope of the issue is wide, the focus is on the twelfth century, when the early crusading ideals were developing, laying the foundation for long-lasting concepts. But the Crusades was not the only arena of interaction between Christianity and Islam. The sources used here are chronicles, primarily from three areas with close direct contact with the Islamic world: the Kingdom of Jerusalem, Norman Sicily and the Iberian Peninsula. French and German crusading chronicles will be used to both support and contrast with these primary regions. Examples of these are Chronica Adefonsi Imperatoris, Liber de Regno Sicilie, and Historia Rerum in Partibus Transmarinis Gestarum. By comparing and contrasting sources from these regions a nuanced picture of the representations of Muslim men can be drawn. The introductory chapter outlines the historiography of studying relations between Islam and the Christian world in the Middle Ages. While views of Islam have been widely covered, representations of Muslims have been more limited to romance literature and religious polemic, rather than historical sources, although this is currently changing. Methodology is also outlined in this chapter. Since the questions are about gender, ethnicity, and religion what will be examined how Muslim men were portrayed, and also what roles they held in the texts and how they acted. Chapter one focuses on identification of Muslims, since terminology reveals both factual knowledge and ideas of their surrounding world held by the authors. Here, the development of using the term ‘Sarraceni’ as an umbrella term for all Muslims can be found, but not always the case. They were also identified as individual ethnic groups, often linked to biblical tribes. Other terms used are clearly linked to tropes, such as the use of the term ‘pagani’, and the use of these did not only depend on where the chronicle was produced, but also within what genre. Chapter two looks at Muslims as valiant enemies of the Christians, positive portrayals of enemies. This is a topic that has been popular in the study of medieval romances, but is an important aspect in these chronicles. Muslim men were used as a legitimate and honourable target for the outlet of Christian military masculinity, while themselves often acting with similar ideas of honour and courage. There are even examples of Saracen rulers used as role models, such as the Almohad ruler ‘Abd al-Mu’min. Chapter three takes the opposite approach and examines negative portrayals of Muslims, as monstrous enemies committing, or being the victims of, acts of violence. The breaking of the male body comes into focus with decapitations, of which Muslim men were more likely to be the victims of, as well as cannibalism. Prevalence of sexual violence against women on all sides is shown to be high, although not always explicit. The conclusions drawn are that although Muslim men were more open to social transgression, actual examples of monstrous Muslims are rare. When they do appear, they are more often from those of low social standing, which reveals a greater issue of class. Frequently, those Muslims portrayed as committing the most horrific acts were of the lower classes, and this was also the case for Christians, who similarly came to be blamed for cannibalism in the First Crusade. Chapter four turns to Muslims as friends and allies, showing that although they were a reality, most of these sources appear to struggle with them, since their most common role was as enemies. In the Kingdom of Jerusalem and Norman Sicily those allied with the Christians frequently had their behaviour questioned. They were more often shown as failing in their duties, revealing cowardice or treachery. The exception to this appears to be Iberia, were friends and allies were more often portrayed as fully manly. Also connected to this is the idea of conversion, which there appears to have been little interest in. While there has been some suggestion that conversion might have been a masculinising process, at least for Jews, there is no indication of that in these sources. The final chapter looks at Muslims as servants, especially the Sicilian eunuchs, most often converts from Islam to Christianity. They are clearly depicted as holding a liminal social role, because of their lacking masculinity, the fact that they were high status people with a background as slaves, and because they were converts. The larger fear of crypto-Saracens, those who had falsely converted to Christianity, is on full display in these accounts. What is clear is that there was not one way in which Muslim men were portrayed, but a great variety. There are geographic differences, especially between the Iberian Peninsula and elsewhere, but within the regions, and even individual sources there is variety and complexity. A general team, however, is that while Muslim men were often portrayed as fulfilling their masculinity, they were more open to change with would make them transgressive, because of their religious and ethnic status.