Hello. In April of 1285, five Muslim riders crossed the border of the Kingdom of Aragon from the Moslem Kingdom of Granada. But they were not a raiding party. Instead of swords they flourished letters of safe conduct; instead of horses, they were mounted upon mules. When they reached the court of the Aragonese King, Peter II, he gave them lavish gifts, and they agreed to enter into his service.
This anecdote begins my guest Hussein Fancy’s fascinating new book The Mercenary Mediterranean. For these five Moslem warriors were far from unique. They were part of a unique class of warriors fighting for the Christian Kings of Aragon, whom the Kings regarded as a class of military slaves, but who regarded themselves as worshippers of Allah engaged in warfare against Christians—albeit in the service of a Christian. These self-conceptions, Fancy argues, help us understand much about the medieval Mediterranean that has often been obscured by our own modern misconceptions. In the end, Fancy’s book teases apart a complex knot of medieval historical problems, while at the same time erasing a series of modern “engravings” which prevent us from appreciating the past and understanding our own present.
We hope you enjoy the podcast!
For Further Investigation
The Song of the Cid, trans. by Burton Raffel
Richard Fletcher, The Quest for El Cid
David Nirenberg, Communities of Violence
Brian Catlos, Infidel Kings and Unholy Warriors
Allen J. Fromherz, The Almohads: The Rise of an Islamic Empire