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ELPENOR - Home of the Greek Word

Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Nadia Maria El-Cheikh


From : “Byzantium through the Islamic Prism from the Twelfth to the Thirteenth Century”, included in The Crusades from the Perspective of Byzantium and the Muslim World, ed. Angeliki E. Laiou and Roy Parviz Mottahedeh, Dumbarton Oaks © 2001 - Here published with title and subtitles by Elpenor.

Historiography ||| The twelfth and thirteenth centuries ||| al-Rum ||| Byzantine skills ||| General character ||| Constantinople ||| Constantinople and Jerusalem ||| 1204 ||| Symbols of Constantinople ||| Islamic monuments of Constantinople 


Page 3


The Byzantines are still referred to in our texts as al-Rum. Sometimes, especially during the early period of the Crusades, the term al-Rum was also used to refer to the Franks. Upon the arrival of the Crusaders, the Arabs tended to confuse them with the Byzantines. Mostly, however, and especially with time, the new term al-Ifranj was coined for the Franks, reflecting an emerging distinction between Byzantines and Crusaders. It did not take long for a new image of the Ifranj, dissociated from that of the Byzantines, to emerge. However, both the terms Ifranj and Rum were at times used to mean Christian, in general.

Banu al-Asfar is another name that continues to be used by Arab authors in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries to refer to the Byzantines. Arab Muslim authors continue to trace the origins of the Rum back to Abraham and attempt to explain the reference Banu al-Asfar. Ibn Manzur (d. 711/1311), in his famous dictionary Lisan al-‘arab, defines the Rum as a known people who are traced back to Esau, son of Isaac.

Yaqut (d. 626/1229) repeats information found in earlier sources which trace the Rum mainly through Esau, son of Isaac, son of Abraham. This same Esau, in one story, married Basma, daughter of Ishmael, and since Esau was blond, his wife brought into the world al-Rum. Hence the Rum were called Banu al-Asfar because they were blond. Similarly, the twelfth-century geographer Muhammad al-Zuhri traces the origin of the Rum back to Abraham and his son Isaac, making a clear distinction between the Rum and the Yunaniyyun (ancient Greeks).

Another continuity with the earlier image of the Byzantines is connected with their physical beauty. The cosmographer al-Qazwini (d. 682/1285) states that the Byzantines are mostly white, with blond hair and sturdy bodies. Similarly, the geographer Ibn Sa‘id (d. 678 or 685/1274 or 1286) stresses the whiteness and blondness of the Byzantines, stating that the inhabitants of the sixth climate are characterized by extreme whiteness, blue eyes, and blond hair and they often have freckles on their faces. These physical attributes were highly valued, as can be deduced from various adab works and special manuals, which delineate the prevalent Arab typology of beauty.


Cf.  Christianity and Islam - Two related, yet different religions * Koran – the invention of an artificial religion * Turkey * The Orthodox Church * Byzantine history * On the Byzantine Military Strategy * Greek Language

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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

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