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date: 26 June 2022

The Maghrib and the Medieval Mediterraneanlocked

The Maghrib and the Medieval Mediterraneanlocked

  • Allen FromherzAllen FromherzDepartment of History, Georgia State University

Summary

According to traditional medieval histories—those that focus on the European West as a distinct civilization from North Africa and the Middle East—the advent of Islam in the 7th century was the final blow to the hope of a restored Rome, one that split the Mediterranean in two. In this version of the past, the Muslim conquests of the 7th century permanently divided Islamic North Africa and the Maghrib from the culture, society, and thinking of Christian Western Europe. In fact, the Maghrib was a major port of the culture, architecture, society, religious development, commerce, and politics of a common, medieval western Mediterranean zone. It is true that Christian and Muslim dynasties and states on both sides of the Mediterranean regularly saw themselves as enemies and rivals. The dogmatic and violent use of religion to justify enslavement, forced conversion, and conquest was common practice throughout this period. It is also true, however, that infidel Christian kings and unholy Muslim warriors formed alliances with one another, both across the sea and across faiths.1 The existence of a “convenient enemy” was often used as a means of gaining political or military advantage within Muslim or Christian lands. Popes and kings signed agreements with Muslim caliphs and Muslim sultans sought protection of Christian kings. In addition to high-level political alliances, ties between the Maghrib and Western Europe ran deep through the medieval economy. Commerce and business partnerships prospered and the 12th-century Commercial Renaissance lifted all boats. Christian, Muslim, and Jewish merchants took advantage of flows of trade and gold from Africa to the Mediterranean and into Europe. Dreams of conversion fostered unintended cultural interactions and exchanges, as was the case with the Franciscans and Christian mercenaries who journeyed deep into the Maghrib during this period. More than religion or politics, common artistic and architectural styles make perhaps the most compelling argument for a common, trans-Mediterranean culture.

Subjects

  • North Africa and the Gulf

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