Peter Wilkinson (pwilkinson) wrote,
Peter Wilkinson

Moors, television programmes and 10th-century German diplomacy

Yesterday evening, I decided to watch a programme called "When the Moors Ruled in Europe". My impressions? Decidedly mixed. A lot of the pictures were beautiful and, provided you let the commentary wash over you without taking in the precise details, it gave a reasonably good impression of Andalusi history and culture. But the details? Aaaargh...

A few were just wrong (for instance, Abd al-Rahman III didn't neglect military affairs - but, probably for reasons to do with civil disorder in the decades preceding his accession, he does seem to have relied heavily on north African and Christian mercenaries rather than his own subjects) but quite a few facts that were individually right got put in quite the wrong order.

For instance, the following sequence of event was given in the programme:
1) Cordoba is sacked in a Muslim civil war
2) About 100 years later, Pope Urban proclaims the Crusade
3) The Christians of northern Spain start the Reconquista, pillaging Muslim Spain
4) The Andalusis call in the Almoravids
5) The Christians do deals with local Muslim rulers for protection money
6) El Cid becomes king of (still Muslim) Valencia for a few years

But the "later" events in this list all took place during the century between the sack of Cordoba and the First Crusade. The actual order is more like:
1) -> 3) -> 5) -> 4) -> 6) -> 2)

However, while I knew most of what they had to say (or knew it was wrong), I did get a couple of interesting, if not entirely surprising, new facts (subject to confirmation). One I've already mentioned in a comment in brisingamen's LJ - Muslim girl singers at court of the Duke of Aquitaine exactly contemporary with the first troubadours.

The other was some descriptions of the Caliph's court in Cordoba by a tenth-century monk, John of Gorze, who went there on a diplomatic mission from Otto I of Germany (later Holy Roman Emperor).

I found this interesting because I've been chasing snippets about John of Gorze's mission for several months now - and still have to find an accessible connected account. The mission took several years before John could get an audience with the Caliph, while the combined efforts of several of the Caliph's courtiers smoothed over some potentially serious problems.

But one account simply gives a rough chronology and a brief description of the problems; another just comments on the differences between John and a Christian courtier (one of the ones helping out) on their attitudes to Islam; another, just on help by a Jewish courtier; another on the fact that both the Christian and Jewish courtiers were noted intellectuals who wrote works that survive today, that John (by 10th-century German standards) was also an intellectual and speculates about the mission being one of the routes by which Arab learning was first introduced into Christian Europe; and now the television programme giving some of John's reactions to Cordoba and the Caliph's court itself.

Nothing, however, that ties these together into one narrative, despite many of the details apparently coming from the same source (a biography of John written some years later). Frustrating.

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