Over the last year Medieval Worlds has been exceptionally busy, and I am very happy to be able to introduce in this blog entry not only our two regular volumes of 2022 but a third one as well.
This additional volume opened our publication year in early summer and went online as the very first special issue of Medieval Worlds entitled Medieval Biographical Collections: Perspectives from Buddhist, Christian and Islamic Worlds.
We have introduced the “special issue” format to provide a platform for publishing the proceedings of conferences and specially edited collections of studies which not only form a thematic unit but also engage in comparative or interdisciplinary discourse with each other and contribute to transdisciplinary perspectives. Special issues will be published in addition to the regular volumes, besides our usual publication dates of 1 July and 1 December.
The challenge of comparative history is to find methods and innovative concepts that avoid preconceived models and at the same time allow for the variety in disciplinary research traditions. Over the past years much has been done in this field, to which, I am happy to say our Medieval Worlds volumes, amongst many other publications, attest.
The contributors of our special issue employ a format for comparative scholarship that is well suited for gaining meaningful inter- and transdisciplinary insights, both from theoretical and pragmatic angles: The core of the volume comprises seven case studies on biographical collections such as hagiographies, genealogical works and catalogues of religious or political authorities from different religious backgrounds – Buddhist, Islamic and Christian. From South Arabia, Daniel Mahoney presents Al-ʿUqūd al-lu ̉ lu ̉ iyya fī ta ̉ rīkh al-dawla al-Rasūliyya, a chronicle describing the events surrounding the lives of seven Rasūlid sultans written by al-Khazraj (9th century AH/ 15th century CE), and Johann Heiss introduces two biographical collections, al-Sulūk fī ṭabaqāt al-ʿulamā ̉ wa-l-mulūk, written by al-Janadī (first part of the 8th/14th century) and Tabaqāt al-khawāṣṣ ahl al-ṣidq wa-l-ikhlāṣ by al-Sharjī (9th/15th century); both authors examine their texts with regard to their modes of presentation, their contents and intentions. The Singular Volume of the Rlangs forms the basis of Reinier Langelaar’s study and gives insight into how biography was employed in the political context of 14th-century Tibet. From Western Europe Graeme Ward’s and Veronika Wieser’s investigations into a 5th-century catalogue by Gennadius of Marseille and a 9th-century history by Frechulf of Lisieux and Rutger Kramer’s analysis of an account of the deeds of the Saints of Redon Gesta sanctorum Rotonensium, showcase the political and religious transformations that took place in the area of today’s France and how they are reflected in these specific texts. From around 1000, the Libellus de Situ Civitatis Mediolani, a text produced at Milan Cathedral, Italy and from the late 12th century, the De episcopis Salisburgensibus, a collection of texts concerning the bishops and history of Salzburg, Austria, were similarly chosen by Giorgia Vocino und Diarmuid O’Riain respectively, to illustrate the ways in which biographical texts were repurposed to fulfil different functions and goals.
Building on this core, three comparative chapters were developed by the authors of the case studies, drawing from their conclusions and expanding their scope by discussing salient intercultural aspects: compilation strategies, writing strategies as well as the audience and reception of such texts. Guest editors Daniel Mahoney, Diarmuid O’Riain and Giorgia Vocino use the introduction and conclusion of the special issue as a whole to present additional observations on medieval biographical collections from a transcultural comparative perspective.
Methodological discussions are an important feature in our volumes, so we were happy to open the floor for a discussion of creolization in the individual article section of our summer volume. Bernard Gowers argues for creolization as a useful concept for studying the Latin Middle Ages and global comparison in pre-modern times and offers a theoretical framework and two short exemplary applications from the High Middle Ages.
The cover of volume 16 takes its cue from the first thematic section Africa 500-1000 and reproduces al-Idrisi’s world map of 1154 CE, which delightfully faces south. New Perspectives for Historical and Archaeological Research reads the subtitle of our thematic section and its contributions take a longue durée perspective to investigate the political, cultural and societal transformations seen in Northern Africa in the time between c. 500 and 1000 AD, using both, textual and material evidence. Bonnie Effros opens the topic with a careful analysis of early Christian archaeology in French North Africa, which lay the foundation for a later colonialist narrative of the rebirth of Christianity in that area. In particular, she focuses on the careers and activities of Antoine-Louis-Adolphe Dupuch (1800-1856), the first bishop of colonial Algiers, and François Bourgade (1806-1866), who served as a priest in both Algiers and Tunis. Andy Merrills then takes the reader to the 6th century CE, engaging in a close reading of Corippus’ Iohannis, to skilfully tease out a probable attitude of contemporary Africans for the early time of Byzantine occupation (c. 533-551). For the following centuries under investigation, an important topic is the process of Islamisation – the “gradual implementation of certain institutions, societal patterns and commercial connections that were shared with other countries governed by Muslim rulers” as Isabel Toral defines it in her article The Umayyad Dynasty and the Western Maghreb. A Transregional Perspective. In it, the Arabist summarizes the history of the Central and Far Maghreb (modern Algeria and Morocco) between c. 700 and 1000 CE and outlines the region’s development of commercial, political and intellectual connections that reach as far as Persia and India. Elizabeth Fentress focuses on this topic from an archaeological point of view: she examines material sources to draw conclusions about the Islamisation of the Berber’s way of life in the Western Maghreb in the 9th and 10th centuries and detects a gradual shift in settlement types, diet, pottery and the use of coinage.
Another useful source for observing historical processes are legal texts. For early medieval Africa Antonia Bosanquet identifies mainly fatāwā or nawāzil, juristic responses to specific questions, which were collected in compendia and employs these to describe practices of maritime trade in 9th-century Ifrīqiya. Guest editors Roland Steinacher, Paolo Tedesco and Philipp Margreiter provide map, introduction and conclusion, which contextualize the case studies in the current research landscape and offer valuable methodological criticism.
A further excellent source for historical investigations are inscriptions, in which textual aspects of written sources and the materiality of archaeological evidence are joined, as their texts are invariably connected with the objects on which they were inscribed. The second thematic section of our summer volume attests to this when it continues our enquiries into Global Epigraphy,1 this time exploring the Perception and Representation of the Foreign under guest editor Andreas Rhoby, who provides in his introduction a helpful summary and contextualisation.
The archaeologist Oliver Hülden analyses shapes of sarcophagi in combination with inscriptions to draw conclusions about the role that foreign elements played in the self-representation of Lycian identity. It is not the shape of the materials but the Latin words “barbarus” and “barbaricus” on different materials which form the starting points for Peter Kruschwitz’ case study. He examines their use in verse inscriptions, which are found on commemorating monuments, funerary inscription, murals, mosaics but also graffiti throughout the Roman Empire and thus give access to voices beyond the aristocratic elite most commonly heard when modern scholars investigate Roman literary productions. In his own case study, Andreas Rhoby focuses on the Greek term for “foreign”, xenos, and presents its use in epigraphic material from antiquity onwards, concentrating in particular on Byzantine verse inscriptions.
Eva Caramello and Romedio Schmitz-Esser contribute a brilliant fine-grained analysis of two Christian funerary inscriptions of the 14th century found in the central Chinese trade centre of Yangzhou. In it they not only provide the first detailed epigraphic analysis of these inscriptions tracing signs of acculturation in the funerary formulae but also draw conclusions about funerary practices in Latin Europe. A study of late medieval inscriptions from Austria and Bavaria and their use of otherness, by Andreas Zajic, yields fascinating insights into the self-representation of late medieval society in that area.
In our winter volume, Johannes Preiser-Kapeller and Ewald Kislinger immerse the reader in a wealth of sources on the events around the 8th- and 9th-century Byzantine and Frankish courts and the major celestial and natural phenomena which most probably occurred at that time, spectacularly combining scientific data from methods such as tree-ring and ice core analysis or the charting of historical solar eclipses with a close reading of historiographical records and numismatic material.2
Our thematic section focuses this time on the Middle East during the reign of the Abbasid caliphate from 7th to the 13th century CE, addressing collaboration and knowledge exchange between individuals of different religious backgrounds and tracing interpersonal connections where possible. Guest editor Nathan P. Gibson provides in his introduction a methodological framework and identifies research desiderata in connection to the manifold sources used by the contributors.
Ignacio Sánchez presents a quixotical autobiographical treatise from 13th century Cairo, in which a practicing physician warns his readers against taking up his profession. The numerous anecdotes bolstering his exhortations offer rare insights into the daily life and struggles of medieval street physicians and Sánchez expertly draws out aspects pertaining to interpersonal exchange and religious concepts of that time.
In a review of pertinent Arabic sources, Kayla Dang traces an Islamic conception and the possible roles of Zoroastrian priests during the Abbasid caliphate, which seems to yield a more positive image than the contemporary Zoroastrian self-representation in Zoroastrian Middle Persian books would suggest.
Two letters of the East Syriac patriarch Timothy I (d. 823) form the basis of Joachim Jakob’s analysis of the incorporated Muslim theological and intellectual concepts, through which he is also able to identify a contemporary Muslim theologian closely associated with these teachings. With this analysis Jakob not only demonstrates Timothy’s familiarity with Muslim teachings but also discerns an active exchange of theological ideas between Muslim and Christians at this time.
A palimpsest fragment of the Mukhtaṣar fī l-ṭibb (Compendium of medicine) from the end of the 9th and the beginning of the 10th century is edited and translated in Matteo Pimpinelli’s article for the first time. Moreover, the author offers a textual analysis of the excerpt and a palaeographical and codicological examination of the Arabic script.
The final research article in this collection is based on an encyclopaedia by the Baghdad bookseller Ibn al-Nadīm, completed in 987 CE, which is composed of all books written in or translated into Arabic, including biographical details of the authors. This so-called Fihrist (Catalogue) is a major primary source for Abbasid intellectual history and Rémy Gareil employs its entries on scientific publications (section no. 7) to trace Ibn al-Nadīm’s position with regard to both religious affiliation and interreligious collaborations.
Two project reports round off this thematic section and highlight the efforts undertaken to make the interpersonal ties and dependencies of this era visible: The first report (which intriguingly starts off with a murder mystery) shares preliminary results of the Historical Index of the Medieval Middle East (HIMME), which aims to give scholars access to resources of unfamiliar linguistic traditions. Accordingly, the plan is to include texts authored in or about the Middle East, North Africa, and al-Andalus between 600 and 1500 CE in all medieval Middle Eastern languages available in primary sources. The second report presents insights from the Embedding Conquest project, which investigates the process through which new Muslim institutions were integrated into the existing social fabric of the conquered societies during early Islamic rule.