Jews in Islamic Countries in the Middle Ages

By Moshe Gil; David Strassler | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE
MUSLIM RULE IN SICILY

(307) As we know, the Geniza documents date starting from the late tenth century AD. Understandably, then, the information supplied by them is limited to the latter period of Muslim rule over the island. Admittedly, the relatively plentiful information on Sicily’s economy also applies to earlier generations. Yet, concerning the political and military events of earlier periods, the Geniza letters do not supply the direct, authentic information, which is otherwise typical of them. Most of these letters belong to the last generation of Muslim rule, from the year 1050 and thereafter. Letters written by merchants in the first half of the eleventh century reāect but little of the situation in Sicily. The Ibn ʿAwkal family and their relatives and acquaintances, who are the principal suppliers of letters and information contained in the Geniza documents from the beginning of that century, did not—as we know—conduct much trade with Sicily, by contrast with Nehorai b. Nis s i m and the other merchants of the second half of the century.

Unfortunately, even the other sources—both Muslim and Christian— contain only scanty and discontinuous information on the events in Sicily. The most important trove of information is provided by Ibn al-Athīr, who apparently took it from an earlier source. The same source apparently also inspired Abū’1-Fidā’, al-Nuwayrī, and Ibn Khaldūn, as, although their writings furnish a few small additional details, most of the information contained therein is entirely similar to that which may be found in Ibn al-Athīr.

Following the Muslim takeover of North Africa, and especially of the area of Tunis, known as Ifrīqiya, it became obvious that, sooner or later, the Muslims would also launch raids against the island and attempt to conquer it, as the distance between Sicily and the northern extreme of Africa is quite small. The first important information at our disposal in this connection relates to the year 212 (which began on 2 April 827; the naval campaign discussed below took place in the summer of that year). At that time, Ziyādat Allah, ruler of Ifrīqiya (of the Aghlabids), organized a naval campaign against the island, commanded by Asad b. al-Furāt, the qāḍī of Qayrawān. Ibn al-Athīr describes this as having been done at the request of the Byzantine naval commander, Fīmī; the latter’s name, properly written, appears to have been Euthymius (the ‘th’ having been pronounced as ‘f’ in late Greek), and not ‘Euphemius’ as is commonly supposed. The governor of the island on behalf of Emperor Michael (the Stammerer: 820–829) was a Byzantine noble (biṭrīq) called Constantine (and referred to by al-Nuwayrī as Sūda), who had been appointed a year before, in 826. It was Constantine who appointed the abovementioned Euthymius as commander of the navy; the latter conducted raids on Ifrīqiya, against the policy of the Emperor, which called for peace with the Muslims. The Emperor was about

-535-

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