“How could I allow my soldiers to sail on this disloyal and cruel sea?” These words, attributed to the most powerful caliph of medieval Islam, Umar Ibn al-Khattab (634–644), have led to a misunderstanding in the West about the importance of the Mediterranean to early Islam. This body of water, known in Late Antiquity as the Sea of the Romans, was critical to establishing the kingdom of the caliphs and for introducing the new religion to Europe and Africa. Over time, it also became a pathway to commercial and political dominion, indispensable to the prosperity and influence of the Islamic world. Sea of the Caliphs returns Muslim sailors to their place of prominence in the history of the Islamic caliphate.
As early as the seventh century, Muslim sailors competed with Greek and Latin seamen for control of this far-flung route of passage. Christophe Picard recreates these adventures as they were communicated to admiring Muslims by their rulers. After the Arab conquest of southern Europe and North Africa, Muslims began to speak of the Mediterranean in their strategic visions, business practices, and notions of nature and the state. Jurists and ideologues conceived of the sea as a conduit for jihad, even as Muslims’ maritime trade with Latin, Byzantine, and Berber societies increased.
In the thirteenth century, Christian powers took over Mediterranean trade routes, but by that time a Muslim identity that operated both within and in opposition to Europe had been shaped by encounters across the sea of the caliphs.
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About the Author
Christophe Picard is Professor of History at the University of Paris 1, Panthéon-Sorbonne.
Table of Contents
Introduction: The End of the Moorish and Saracen Pirate? 1
I The Arab Mediterranean between Representation and Appropriation
1 The Arab Discovery of the Mediterranean 17
2 Arab Writing on the Conquest of the Mediterranean 37
3 The Silences of the Sea: The Abbasid Jihad 65
4 The Geographers' Mediterranean 85
5 Muslim Centers of the Western Mediterranean: Islam without the Abbasids 98
6 The Mediterranean of the Western Caliphs 112
7 The Western Mediterranean: Last Bastion of Islam's Maritime Ambitions 152
II Mediterranean Strategies of the Caliphs
8 The Mediterranean of the Two Empires 185
9 Controlling the Mediterranean: The Abbasid Model 204
10 The Maritime Awakening of the Muslim West 237
11 The Maritime Imperialism of the Caliphs in the Tenth Century: The End of Jihad? 256
12 Islam's Maritime Sovereignty in the Face of Latin Expansion 274
Conclusion: The Medieval Mediterranean and Islamic Memory 287
Selected Bibliography 325