You are on page 1of 17

The Past and Present Society

Barbarians in Arab Eyes Author(s): Aziz Al-Azmeh Source: Past & Present, No. 134 (Feb., 1992), pp. 3-18 Published by: Oxford University Press on behalf of The Past and Present Society Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/650797 . Accessed: 15/07/2011 04:53
Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at . http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp. JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use. Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at . http://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=oup. . Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed page of such transmission. JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

Oxford University Press and The Past and Present Society are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Past & Present.

http://www.jstor.org

BARBARIANSIN ARAB EYES*


Historical masses thrive on the cultivation of contraries.States, civilizationsand culturesexpend much energy, not commensurate with size, in fixing moral boundaries,consolidatingtheir difference from outsiders, and otherwise encircling themselves with frontiersimpermeableto the exotic; and this energy intensifiesin circumstancesof commotion, instability and conflict, turning to a frenzy of positive hostility most dramaticallyrepresented by theoreticaland practicalracism. It is unclearwhy the internalcohesion of historicalmasses and their constructionof identitiesappearto be sustainedby exclusivity as if by a force of nature, but it is demonstrablethat a sense of normality, continuity and affinity is invariably sustained by conjuringcontrariesand indices of difference. For it is the case that these historicalmassesdo not theorizeethnologicaldifference, but rest upon inverting the normal self and construingtbP nther as pathological. Classificationin terms of polarity is or- of the most elementary forms of collective representation, and one almost universally encountered in cross-culturaldiscourse. The result is a numberof tokens of differenceand of inversionshared by oral and written culture, which constitute elements in the discourse concerningothers generatedby declamationson deviation and inversion. I have argued elsewhere that a discourse of inversion and deviation, of normality and pathology, governs the principal strands of philological scholarshipas well as less-learned utterances on Islam and the Arabs in the nineteenth and much of the twentieth centuries.1The purpose of the following pages is to explore the manner in which Arabic culture in the Middle Ages conceived of others, and in particularthe manner in which it construed that consummateemblem of otherness and exoticism which is the barbarian.By Arabic culture in the Middle Ages I intend the vigorous and triumphant world culture of Arabic
* This article is based on the author's book on medieval Arabic ethnology and ethnography: A. Al-Azmeh, Al-'Arab wa-l Barabira (London, 1991). 1A. Al-Azmeh, Islamic Studies and the EuropeanImagination- InauguralLecture (Exeter, 1986), pp. 6 ff.

PAST AND PRESENT

NUMBER 134

expression and Arab-Islamic model which was embraced by peoples of differentnative languagesand varying religious traditions acrossa vast areaunifiedby tradingand currencynetworks, a uniformpoliticalculture, and by a vigorous class of tradersand scholars. Religion played little or no role in this construalof the other, except in so far as the inversion of normalityimplies an absence of religion properlyspeaking,or barbarous forms of idolatryand animism,as will be seen later. The topoi and cognaterepresentations of others described in the pages which follow were shared by Muslim and non-Muslim authors alike. Difference based on religion had no ethnologicalimplication,despite its legal pertinence. There was no blanket division between a restrictivenotion of normalitybased on religious criteriaand otherness tout court, as for instance in the Brahmanical notion of Varvaraor Barbara all those outside the ambit of the caste system (which designates or even all those who do not speak Sanskrit2),or in the Jewish notion of the goyim,or the barbaroi the Greeks. of The ultimateorigins of the Arab constructionof barbarism are difficult to trace in terms of filiation, although it is possible to document some parallels with well-known texts of Pliny and Strabo which contain materialof Indian and other provenance, and with lesser-knownwriters such as the MesopotamianSyriac All ecclesiasticalauthor Bardaisan.3 in all, it appearsthat Arabic authorsimbibednotionsthat had been widely disseminated,orally and in writing, around the Mediterranean basin and in the syncretisticseatsof Hellenistic,Iranian Semitictradeand culture, and with which were juxtaposednotions derived from the interpretation of observationin the light of folklore and of stereotypes, as well as from representations direct Chineseand Indianprovenof ance. The avenuesand textual incidenceof this dissemination are very obscure and likely to remain so. There does not appear to be any north European input. Indeed influences seem to have gone in the other direction, and non-MediterraneanEuropean ethnographiclegends seem to post-date their Arabic expression and at least in part to build on their foundation,as can be seen,
2 R. I. Meserve, "The Inhospitable Land of the Barbarians",Jl. Asian Hist., xvi (1982), p. 55. 3 The Book of the Laws of Countries:Dialogue on Fate of Bardaisan of Edessa, ed. and trans. H. J. W. Drijvers and G. E. van Baaren-Pape (Semitic Texts with Translations, iii, Assen, 1965).

BARBARIANS IN ARAB EYES

for instance, in the legend of St. Brendan.4 This matter is little studied, but Jacques Le Goff has surmised that there was little

by way of exotic mirabilia(accounts of the fantastic) in Europe


prior to the twelfth or thirteenth century, and one would hazard to extend this to the conjecture that exoticism was rare before the diffusion of such knowledge as was contained in Idrisi's great geographical compendium, the Nuzhat al-mushtaqfi ikhtirdq aldfdq [The Seeker's Promenade in the Penetration of Horizons] known as kitdb Rujdr, the Book of Roger, written in 1154 for Roger, the "baptized Sultan" of Sicily (and quoted below), or material such as that found in anthologies of Arabic literature like Petrus Alfonsi's Disciplina clericalis (c. 1100).5 Be that as it may, ethnological discourse and ethnographic

writing in Arabic in general6represent the literary canonization


of ethnological conventions and ethnographic accounts, and their casting as topoi in all Arabic discourses of exoticism. Originating in travel literature and sailors' tales, primarily of the ninth and tenth centuries, these accounts quickly settled into timeless types and constituted a repertoire of stock images transmitted in geographical, historical and other types of literature, including slavetraders' manuals, and came to form part of works devoted to mirabilia, all of which were circulated among the literati, and indeed formed part of the popular ethnology that we find in the Arabian Nights. It is also well known that the commercial scriptoria of medieval Baghdad and of other cities spun many an ethnographic yarn in catering for an eager public. An example of this literary canonization is that concerning one index of European
4 M. J. de Goeje, "La legende de St Brandan", offprint from Actes du VIIIe Congres international orientalistes sectionsemitique,1889, pt. 2 (Leiden, 1893), pp. 41-76. des Almost identical stories are told by Ibn al-Marzuban (d. 921) and by a thirteenthcentury Welsh tradition attributed to Prince Llewellyn: Ibn al-Marzuban, The Book of the Superiority of Dogs over Many of Those Who Wear Clothes, ed. and trans. G. R. Smith and M. A. S. Abdel-Haleem (Warminster, 1978), p. 34 (I am grateful to Mrs. N. Hamoudi for drawing this material to my attention). On some medieval European notions concerning certain matters discussed in this article, see J. Le Goff, "L'Occident medieval et l'ocean Indien: un horizon onirique", in Atti del VI. Colloquio internazionale di storia maritima, Venice, 1962 (Florence, 1970), pp. 243-63. 5J. Le Goff, "Le merveilleux dans l'Occident medieval", in M. Arkoun et al., L'etrangeet le merveilleuxdans l'Islam medieval(Paris, 1978), pp. 64-5. In general, see the inspired work of M. R. Menocal, The Arabic Role in Medieval Literary History (Philadelphia, 1987), esp. ch. 2. 6 On this material, see the rich work of A. Miquel, La geographiehumainedu monde musulman,4 vols. (Paris and The Hague, 1967-88).

PAST AND PRESENT

NUMBER 134

barbarousness,namely squalor. In an account from c. 965, a Cordobantravellerdescribedthe Galiciansas people "who wash only once or twice a year, and even then only in cold water. They never wash their clothes, but wear these continuouslyuntil they fall into tatters".7We find the same statement, ipsissimaverba, over three centuries later in the geographicaldictionaryof the MoroccanAl-Himyari, where it was meant to describe contemporary conditions.8In the cosmographyof the IranianQazwimn (d. 1283), the same statementwas made with a generalizedintention, for here it purportedto describethe conditionof the Franks,9 which then designatedall west and north-west Europeans.
* * *

Arabic ethnology, including the ethnographyof barbarism,was governed by a natural-scientific ecologicaldeterminismmediated the notionsof humoralmedicine.Brieflystated, medieval through Arabic culture followed the Greek conception of the inhabited world as consisting of seven latitudinalzones that began slightly northof the equatorand ended in the realmsof perpetualdarkness in the north. Beyond the zones (aqalzm, from the Greek klimata) human habitationwas not possible, and within their boundaries the natureof the changingenvironmentprescribeddifferenttemperamentsto the inhabitants.The four primaryqualitiesof dryness, humidity, heat and cold, that attachedto the four elements, entered into four combinations that yielded the basic somatic humours of blood (hot and humid), phlegm (cold and humid), bile (hot and dry) and atrabile or black bile (cold and dry). Embryonicgrowth was the result of the "cooking" together of these four humours.10In temperate climes the combinationof and these was harmonious balanced,due to cookingunderoptimal heat conditions;this was the situationin the centralzones, especially the third and fourth, which comprised the central Arab
7 Relatio Ibrahim Ibn Jakub de itinere Slavico qual traditur apud al-Bekrz, ed. T. Kowalski (Cracow, 1946), p. 3. 8 Al-Himyari, Al-Rawd al-mi'far Jf khabaral-aqafr [The Fragrant Garden of Narratives about Countries], ed. I. Abbas (Beirut, 1975), p. 169. 9 Al-Qazwini, Athar al-bilad wa akhbaral-'ibad[Landmarksof Countries and Stories of Peoples], ed. F. Wiistenfeld (Beirut, n.d.), p. 498. 10Ibn Sina, Al-Qanun [The Canon of Medicine], 3 vols. (Bfilq, A.H. 1294 [1877]), i, pp. 91-3.

BARBARIANS IN ARAB EYES

lands, including North Africa, Iranianlands, parts of China and coast. To the north and south, condithe northernMediterranean tions of excessive heat in the south and cold in the north led to the generation of bodies in distemper, and the degree of such distemper was proportional to the distance from the central climes. So while the Frankish, Slavic (among whom the Germanic peopleswere counted)and Turkic (which were thoughtto include the Russiansand the VolgaBulgars)peoples and other inhabitants of the sixth zone were generally melancholicand splenetic folk, given to savageryand the cultivationof the arts of war and the chase to the exclusion of properly civilized pursuits,11 they were merely barbarous,and not consummatelybarbarian.They lived in a condition of distemper which did not prevent them from acquiringa number of features associatedwith civilized society, especiallylarge-scaleterritorialstatesand organizedreligion,preferably monotheistic- accordingto medieval Arabic social and political thought, it was the state which imposed culture upon the naturalconditionof men. Thus social and politicalconsiderations mitigatedecologicaldeterminismin the case of some northern peoples, while physicalfactorsmitigatedit in other cases. Yet of amongthese peoples there were decidedmanifestations barbaras measuredthrough three indices. The first was filth, ousness, the inverse of refinement and urbanity, perhaps most vividly described in Ibn Fadlan's account of his visit to the Russ in c. 921.12Equallyindexical were profligatesexuality and the lack of jealousy ascribed to all Europeans. Finally, a particularlyspectacularmanifestationof barbarousness concernedfuneraryrites, replete with fire, violence and dark eroticism, most lavishly describedby Ibn Fadlan.13 The Chinesewere regardedas perhapsthe most consummately civilized of all peoples, while the Indians were highly respected
l Al-Dimashqi, Nukhbat al-Dahr fi aja'ib al-barr wa'l bahr [Choice of the Time of Wonders of Land and Sea], ed. J. Mehren (Leipzig, 1923), p. 275. 12 Ibn Fadlan, Risala [Discourse], ed. S. Dahhan (Damascus, 1959), p. 178, passim. For an English translation of Ibn Fadlan's account of his visit to the Oghuz Turks, Khazars, Volga Bulgars and Russ, see The Risala of Ibn Fadlan, trans. J. E. McKeithen (Univ. Microfilms Internat., 1979). 13 Ibn Fadlan, Risala, pp. 181-7. See T. Lewicki, "Les rites funeraires paiens des slaves occidentaux et des anciens russes d'apres les relations des ecrivains arabes", Folia orientalia, v (1963), pp. 1-74; J. Marquart, Osteuropdische und ostasiatische und historisch-topographische Studie zur Geschichtedes 9. und Streifziige: Ethnologisch 10. Jahrhunderts(ca. 840-940) (Leipzig, 1903).

PAST AND PRESENT

NUMBER 134

and classifiedas possessing a decidedly high level of civilization despitethe bizarrenatureof theirreligionand their obtuse notions of purity and pollution. As for the Arabians,they did, after all, give the world the last and most definitiveof all prophets. Under the terms of climatic determinism, this should not have been possible, becausemuch of Chinaand India, and all of Arabia,fell within the first and second zones. Yet Arabia and India were peninsulas, and China was represented as an extended littoral. The humidity of the sea was said to mitigate the heat of the sun and result in a temperatenessin no way inferior to that enjoyed by the inhabitantsof the central zones.14 Needless to say Arabic authors knew that China was much more than a littoral, and had some idea of the vast dimensionsof the Indiansubcontinent.Yet no one sought to deploy these arguments for mitigation with respect to the Horn of Africa or to islands in the Indian Ocean and western Melanesia where they could have been made perhapseven more plausibly.It was social judgement which ultimately determined the degree to which credence would be given to geographicaldeterminism,and this determinismwas applied mercilesslyonly in the constructionof sheer barbarism,which was not merely a distemperwith varying degrees of severity, but fully a disnature. The first zone was consideredhardlyhabitableat all, although the extreme heat that prevailedin it made it particularlypropitious for wealth in mineral resources.15In the northernmost reaches of this zone human habitationwas only barely possible, although such habitationwas distantlyremoved from the norms of humanity. The first token of such removal, indeed the very icon of such disnature, was the blackness of colour caused by excessive exposure to the sun. In an excess of logical zeal, one celebrated tenth-century Arabic grammarianwent so far as to extend this action of the sun to thinking the flora and fauna of the first zone to be black- as anotherauthorasserteda tendency towardsalbinismamong northerners.16 The environmentwas the
14 ed. Al-Idrisi, Opusgeographicum, A. Bombaci et al. (Rome and Naples, 1970-8), d'Ebn Khaledoun, ed. E. Quatremere, 3 vols. p. 98; Ibn Khaldun, Les prolegomenes (Paris, 1858), i, p. 151. 15 Dimashqi, Nukhbat al-Dahr, p. 29. 16 Abu Sa'id al-Sirafi, text in M. Reinaud, Relation de voyagesfaits par les Arabes et les Persansdans l'Inde et c la Chinedans le IXe siecle de l'ere chretienne (Paris, 1845), p. 131; Ibn Sa'id, Kita-bal-Jughrdfiya [Book of Geography], ed. I. al-'Arabi (Beirut, 1970), pp. 166, 177.

BARBARIANS IN ARAB EYES

determinantfactor, for the inhabitantsof the first zone emerged from their mothers' wombs "either like uncooked pastry or like things so thoroughly cooked as to be burnt"; at birth they emerged black, pinguescent, malodorous, kinky of hair, inadequate of mind.17 The immoderate colour of the negroes was accompaniedby anothericon of disnature,namely ugliness:snub noses, wide nostrils, drooping lips of unnaturalsize more congruent with the lips of beasts of burden, eyes in exophthalmic 18 protrusion. Obviously, an environment subjected to much dryness, comof bined with a predominance blood in negro tempers,19 produces effects that reachfar beyond physicalappearance. Negroes' brains retaining little humidity, their minds were therefore lethargic, their concentrationspan was short, and their dispositionsmerely natural, "like the bravery of lions and the slyness of foxes".20 Negroes therefore tended to be given to erratic behaviour, to levity, to prodigioussexuality, and to be much disposed to dance and rhythm, all becauseof the afore-mentionedeffects of the sun, an explanation accepted by most commentators including the celebrated Ibn Khaldun (d. 1406),21although others, including the great tenth-century humanist polymath Mas'udi (d. 956 +), subscribedto the Galenic thesis concerning the congenital defiThe congenital-deficiency thesis ciency of the minds of negroes.22 did have some incidence irrespective of whether or not it was supported by medical evidence; some authors regardedthe negroes as virtually unteachable.23 The temperatenessof the median zones was absent not only in the south, but also in the north. Indeed the sense of the balance and mediannatureof that which is consummately naturalrequired
17 Ibn al-Faqih, text in L. E. Kubbel and V. V. Matveev (eds.), Drevniei srednevekovye istochnikipo etnografii i istorii naradov afriki yuzhne sakhary: arabskie istochniki [Ancient and Medieval Sources on the Ethnography and History of African Peoples South of the Sahara: Arabic Sources], 2 vols. (Moscow and Leningrad, 1960-5), i, p. 66. 18 Sharaf al-Zamdn TdhirMarvazi on China, the Turks,and India, ed. V. Minorsky (London, 1940), xiii. 1. 19Al-Jahiz, Al-.Hayawan [Book of Animals], ed. A. Harun, 8 vols. (Cairo, 1965-8), vi, p. 401. 20 Dimashqi, Nukhbat al-Dahr, p. 273. 21 Ibn Khaldun, Prolegomenes, p. 157. i, 22 Al-Mas'udi, Les prairies d'or, ed. Barbier de Meynard and Pavet de Courteille, 9 vols. (Paris, 1861-77), i, pp. 163-5. 23 Nasir al-Din Tusi, quoted in A. J. Arberry, ClassicalPersian Literature(London, 1958), p. 255.

10

PASTAND PRESENT

NUMBER134

this. Herodotus, for one, balanced the Greeks between the extremities of Egypt to the south and Scythia to the north.24 Peoples at the northernmost extremity of human habitation, such as some Slavic and Turkic peoples, were described as the negroes of the north who, like their opposite numbers in the south, were akin to dumb animalswho wanderacrossmountains and desolate lands.25 Just as the physical appearanceof negroes was a distortion of human standards, so, with the action of opposites, was that of the northerners. The predominanceof cold in the seventh and sixth zones led to physical compression, so that northernerscould be said to be short of stature, with small eyes and narrow nostrils26- this description of course was based on the perceived Turkic type and on the inversion of negro physiognomy, and the same argument of natural determination was not deployed with reference to their western counterparts, such as various Slavic, Frankish and Germanic peoples, who were manifestlyout of keeping with these requirements of nature. Be that as it may, in contrastto the southerners,peoples of the north were distempered with the predominance of cold and humidity, and therefore had fatty bodies and meagre fertility coupledwith weak libidos, in additionto a ruddinessof complexion caused by the action of excessive cold on originally white skin.27As one physician put it, the Slavs "possess wide chests;
they are brave and of savage dispositions . . . given to longevity

becausetheir digestionproceedsproperly",while the southerners lived in conditions "contrary to the lands of the north, their colours are black, their waters salty and murky, their digestion Inevitablyother deterministicglosses poor ... their lives short".28 of could be made which would accountfor the actualappearance the Franksand the Slavs:their bodies were large due to the weak influenceof the sun, which also caused slow and indolent minds and irascibletempers.29
24 essai sur la representation l'autre (Paris, 1980), de F. Hartog, Le miroird'Herodote: pp. 35-6, 237-44. 25 Dimashqi, Nukhbat al-Dahr, pp. 18, 275. 26 Marvazi on China, ed. Minorsky, xiii.2. 27 Mas'udi, Prairies d'or, iv, pp. 32-3. 28 Ibn Butlan, "Risala jami'a li-funun nafia fi shira' al-raqiq" [A Comprehensive Discourse on Knowledge Useful for the Purchase of Slaves], in Nawadir al-makhtufat [Rare Manuscripts], ed. A. Harun, iv (Cairo, 1951), p. 372. 29 Al-Mas'udI, Kitdb al-tanbihwa'l Ishrdf [Book of Advertence], ed. M. J. de Goeje (Leiden, 1894), pp. 23-4.

BARBARIANS IN ARAB EYES

11

The meridionaland septentrionalzones were thereforeequivalent in polarity,and most visibly opposed by the polaritiesof heat and cold, blacknessand whiteness,and light and darkness:excessive exposure to the sun in the south, and the near-constantlife in darknessendured by Volga Bulgars, Oghuz Turks and Khazars.30 The social life and temperamentsof northernersand southerners shared some characteristicswhich resulted from shared deviance. Negroes in their disnatureclosely resembled animals. They lived in caves and forests, at best in dwellingsmade of mud and of leaves. They went about naked, wearing, at best, leaves or animalskins. They ate uncooked food, and were often said to be cannibals.They had no industries,learningor gold currency, nor did they have any prophets or any laws in the proper sense, except those among them that had embracedmonotheistic religions or had come into contact with superior cultures, such as the ChristianEthiopians, the Slavs, Muslim West Africans and
Turks.31

This fashioning of ethnological stereotypes through naturalscientific determinismcoexisted, without any apparentsense of unease,with detailedethnographic descriptionsof variousAfrican and northern societies, not only in the same cultural ambience, but also within one and the same text, where ethnologicaltypification and ethnographicdescriptionserved different purposes. This was particularlythe case with peoples having territorial states, which caused the Ethiopians to be regardedas the most exalted of negroes - so exalted, indeed, that it was from them that kings chose their eunuchs,32 thus underliningpower relationships which underpinned ethnological types locally in Muslim domains and at large in a world organized by and for these domains.The Ethiopianswere followed by other Africanpeoples, such as some among the Bantu, or some IslamizedWest Africans and peoples influencedby them, who wore woven, sewn clothes, or at the very least covered their genitalia with bones.33Arabic
30 Al-Hamadani, $ifat jazzrat al-Arab [Description of the Arabian Peninsula], ed. Miiller (Leiden, 1884), p. 9; Ibn Khaldun, Muqaddimatal-'Allama Ibn Khaldun [The Prolegomenon of Ibn Khaldun] (Beirut, 1900), pp. 83-4. 31 Ibn Khaldun, Prolegomenes, pp. 95, 149-51; i, Maqdisi, Kitab al-Bad' walt-Tadrkh [Book of the Beginning and of History], ed. C. Huart and attributed to Balkhi, 6 vols. (Paris, 1899-1916), iv, p. 54; Nuwairi, Nihayat al-Arab fi funun al-adab [The Choicest Arts of Cultivation], 18 vols. (Cairo, 1923), i, p. 210. 32 Ibn Sa id, Jughrdfiyd,p. 97. 33 Ibid., p. 91; Dimashqi, Nukhbat al-Dahr, p. 268.

12

PAST AND PRESENT

NUMBER 134

sourcesaboundedwith concreteethnographic accountsof various Africanpeoples which demonstrated knowledgeof the complexity of these societies, their political systems, their religious beliefs and their ethnological differentiation.34 The Spanish historian $a'id indeed asserted that, with very few exceptions, all peoples conformedto the human propensityfor subjectingthemselves to states and laws.35 This is why, apart from ethnologicaltypifications,the representationof what was takenfor the concretedisnatureof barbarism was confinedto the citationof indices of barbarityamong various peoples, sometimes alongside quite plausible descriptions, or where it could readily be relegated to the literatureon mirabilia construed as opposition to normalityunadulteratedby concrete knowledge of humanity. Of northern peoples, mention can be made of the Khotan Turks, for instance, who were said to have been cannibalsdespite their organizationunder the auspices of The Kirghiz Turks, for their part, copulatedpublicly royalty.36 on all fours like animals, and were so savage that they had no funerary rites.37 Of one people classified as Slavic (and with probable reference to inhabitantsof Moldavia), it was said that they inhabitedthe wild, without housing themselves, and ate all of As strangersthat came their way.38 for the inhabitants Norway, are a savage people who inhabit the wild; their heads are "they directly attached to their bodies, as they have no necks. They seek refuge in trees, inside which they make dwellings for themselves. They live on acorns".39The sauna of the Finns and the Russ was itself regardedas a makeshiftdwelling to which these peoples would repairduring their long winter hibernation.40 The approach of darkness in the north with arctic winters reinforcedthe sense of barbaritythat inevitably attachedto this obliterationof the temperate course of nature. Indeed of some Finnish peoples it was said that they were so wild that they shied
34For instance, Mas'uidi, Muruj al-Dhahab [Meadows of Gold], rev. C. Pellat (Beirut, 1965), paras. 714, 848, 867, 872-7; Al-Qazwini, Athar al-bildd, p. 23; Al[Discourses], ed. A. Harun, 2 vols. (Cairo, 1964), i, p. 211. Jahiz, Rasa&il 35 Text in Kubbel and Matveev (eds.), Arabskieistochniki,ii, pp. 193-4. 36 Hudud al-'alam [Boundaries of the World], ed. V. Minorsky (London, 1970), paras. 9, 18. 37Maqdisi, Bad', iv, p. 96. 38Dimashqi, Nukhbat al-Dahr, pp. 261-2. 39Al-Idrisi, text in O. J. Tallgren-Tuulio and A. M. Tallgren, La Finlande et les autrespays Baltiquesorientaux(Helsingfors, 1930), p. 114. 40 Relatio IbrahimIbn Jdkub, ed. Kowalski, p. 8.

BARBARIANS IN ARAB EYES

13

away from the ordinaryintercoursebetween humans that came about in trade. When exchangingslaves and furs for swords with Bulgarand other Finnish traders,these shadowypeoples resorted to leaving their wares at a particularspot and then retreating, returninglater to see if what was left by their barteringpartners was acceptable,in which case they would collect their new wares and retreat again, or else retreatingwithout collecting what was offeredthem in exchangeto signal that this had been insufficient, returninglater to collect their goods.4' In contrast,in the south it was the scorchingsun which generated a barbarism similarlymanifestedin shunninghumancontact and sociability. Such was the lot of various peoples inhabiting islandsin the Indian Ocean, the Indonesianarchipelagoand possibly western Melanesia- the last were regardedas Africans,for like Arabiccartography, Ptolemaiccartography, regardedthe east African coast as running from west to east, so that the Indian Ocean was shaped like a long isthmus starting at these islands. The islanders, providers of cloves, amber, camphor and much else, were sometimesdescribedas tradinglike theirmirror-images in the north, and one account tells of a curious merchant who broke the convention of anonymous exchange and ventured to look at them, whereupon they withdrew and for many years refrainedfrom tradingcloves.42 Barbarismon these islands was unmitigatedand relentless. It was not confinedto nakedness,wide nostrilsand kinky hair, but was consolidatedby constant reference to cannibalism.There is a great incidenceof the mention of cannibalismwith referenceto negroes, both in generalstatementsand in concrete descriptions, and cannibalismwas indeed a primarytoken of barbarism,fancifully associated with the practice imputed to more than one African people of sharpeningtheir teeth. One such people was indicatedin the vicinity of Zanzibar.Another, to the west of Lake Chad,was given to passingon dead membersof the family to the neighbourswho consumed their flesh43 and, indeed, modern anthropologistshave observed the sharpeningof teeth among a people in centralWest Africa,but no associationwith cannibalism
41 El Abu Hamid al-Gharnati, text in C. E. Dubler, Abu .Hamid Granadinoy su relacion de viaje por terras euroasiaticas(Madrid, 1953), paras. 4, 15, 17; Biruni's Picture of the World,ed. Z.V. Togan (Archaeol. Survey of India, liii, 1937), p. 61. 42 Qazwmi, Athar, pp. 81-2; Marvazi on China, ed. Minorsky, v.16. 43 Dimashqi, Nukhbat al-Dahr, p. 269; Ibn Said, Jughrdfiya,p. 94.

14

PAST AND PRESENT

NUMBER 134

is indicatedhere. In anothernegationof human intercourse,one Africanpeople were said to use humanpudendaas bride money.44 But few tokens of barbarismexceeded the refinements of the islandersalreadyreferredto. Among them not the least significant were the use of human flesh as amusebouche,the hoarding of enemies' skulls, and the use of skulls as a form of currency.45 From the transgressionof cultural norms only a short leap is requiredto reach the transgressionof naturalnorms, and therefore the vast world of the mirabilia,46 from barbarism a lack of as as humanityto barbarism a counter-nature.In between there lies the realm of nature made perverse by hybridizationand miscegenation.We are told of cannibalswho have tails, of a smallnaked people north-west of Sumatrawho dwell in trees and have the agilityof monkeys, of islanderswho marryfemalefish, and generally of creaturesgenerated with the replacementof elements of the human form by animalfeaturesand parts.47 Many of these creaturesborn of substitution and perversion were familiarin ancientIndia, and reportsof them by Ksitiasand Megastheneslater found their way into Pliny and Strabo.Among the most striking of the mirabilia,particularlyfor the inversion of order and temperance,is the body of narrativeson "Amazonian" islands. These were sometimes located in the China Sea. At other times they were said to be located in the Baltic;this was confirmedby no less an authoritythan the Hohenstaufenemperor Otto I to the Andalusianenvoy Ibrahim Ibn Ya'qubin c. 965. of Irrespectiveof location,the inhabitants these exclusivelyfeminine societies inverted the correct order of gender relations with manifestations of social as well as sexual independence and, indeed, occasionally of manifest feminist primacy. They were variously fecundated: by eating a particular fruit; by slaves abductedespeciallyfor the purpose who, in some accounts,were eaten once they had fulfilledtheir purpose;or by annualencounters with men at a particularlocation. Male offspringwere killed
44Ibn Said, Jughrdfiyd,p. 98. Chine et de l'Inde, ed. and trans. C. Sauvaget (Paris, 1948), para. 6; The Book of the Wonders India, trans. G. S. Freeman-Grenville (The Hague, 1981), of paras. 63, 78-80. 46See, in general, Arkoun et al., Etrange et le merveilleux. 47Book of the Wonders of India, trans. Freeman-Grenville, paras. 15, 20, 77; Dimashqi, Nukhbat al-Dahr, pp. 265-6; Qazwini, Athdr, p. 31; Idrisi, Opus geographicum, pp. 217-19; Ibn Khurdadhbih, Al-Masalik wa'l-mamalik [Routes and Kingdoms], ed. M. J. de Goeje (Leiden, 1889), p. 65.
45 Relation de la

BARBARIANS IN ARAB EYES

15

or abandoned, and these women had decidedly martial qualities.48 All told the Amazons disturbed order at a most strategic point, and thus constituted not only deviance, but a total contestation and an antithesis of society in their move from perversion to subversion. With the Amazons we depart from the margins and peripheries of humanity to its antitheses. Yet while the Amazonian islands constituted a purely ethnographic and localized antithesis, there was also a total historical antithesis, to which we now turn.

In the light of the above, it is not surprisingthat the Indian Ocean should contain in its eastern part an island on which the Antichrist (al-dajjal) was awaiting the appointed time for his
emergence.49 He was destined to play an important role in consummating the transition from the exoticism of mirabilia to the proximate antithesis of human nature, and the people of Gog and Magog were the marginal form of humanity with which this transition was accomplished. Gog and Magog were regarded as an antithesis of order in ancient times as well as in medieval Europe, and were, according to circumstances of the time and place, variously identified with the Magyars, the Scythians, the Alans, the Goths, the Khazars, the Mongols, the Turks and the Arabs.50 Whereas Europeans found it possible to regard inhabitants of the Eurasian steppes with eschatological eyes, inhabitants of Muslim domains did not, for these steppes had been domesticated by them, and eastern conquerors, with notable short-term exceptions, flowed into the structures of Arab-Islamic civilization and indeed steeled its military mettle. So instead of identifying the Gog and Magog with a nameable people, Arab-Islamic culture kept them in reserve in the imagination as the antithesis of culture, and proceeded to tabulate specific knowledge about them. This was derived from eschatological pronouncements attributed to the prophet of Islam no less than from ethnological materials. It is unsurprising therefore that the most concrete specification should start with determination of territory, and their domains in the fifth, sixth and seventh zones were given the most specific limits of longitude and latitude by the most scrupulous of geo48Qazwini, Athdr, pp. 33, 607; Book of the Wondersof India, trans. FreemanGrenville, para. 14; Relatio IbrdhimIbn Jakuib, ed. Kowalski, p. 5. 49 See, among others, Ibn Khurdadhbih, Masalik, p. 68; Dimashqi, Nukhbat alDahr, p. 159. 50 Meserve, "Inhospitable Land", pp. 79-81; A. R. Anderson, Alexander's Gate, Gog and Magog, and the EnclosedNations (Cambridge, Mass., 1932), pp. 9-14.

16

PAST AND PRESENT

NUMBER 134

Arabic authors were also in agreement about their graphers.51 of ultimateorigins(they were descendants Japheth),but disagreed on whether they were a Turkic people or a cross between Turks and Chinese.But in any case, there was agreementthat they were short of stature, with broad noses.52Other topoi of barbarism, particularly those derived from mirabilia, were deployed in describing their appearance,and these descriptions were buttressed by narrativesascribedto the prophet Muhammadabout the central role they would play in the cataclysmsof the apocalypse: signallingthe breakdownof order, they would be let loose onto the world when the great wall holding them at bay broke. They would drink dry all rivers and lakes, they would eat every animal and insect, they would copulate publicly as animals do, they would use their huge ears as alternatelya mattress and a pillow, and they would pillagethe world and lay it to waste under the auspices of the Antichrist.53 Their potential to subvert norms of the agricultural economy, of sexuality, of the political order, and even the order of the naturalappearanceof men, was further reinforcedand lent credence by tangible observation. We can refer here to the report made by one Sallamthe Interpreter,the envoy of the CaliphalWathiq(r. 833-42) to the wall of the Gog and Magog,and dictated to the geographerIbn Khurdadhbih(d. c. 912), then reproduced by other works, in at least one instanceaccompaniedby expressions of incredulity.54 Sallamdid not actually see individualsof the Gog and Magog, but visited the gate leadingto their enclosed domains, made precise measurementsof it, and spoke to the guards manning it. Among other things, these guards were charged with knocking on it at particulartimes of the day to
remind those enclosed by the wall Alexander's wall that

order still reigned outside. It is not clear whether the wall in question was the great wall of China, or the one built on the Dariel pass by the Sassanian king Anushirvanto keep the Khazars and Alans at bay55 or indeed how much of Sallam'sreport is authentic. What is known, however, is that Sallam'sonly direct
Idrisi, Opusgeographicum, 846-7; Ibn Sa id, Jughrdfiya, pp. 171, 191, 198. pp. Maqdisi, Bad', iv, p. 64; Dimashqi, Nukhbat al-Dahr, p. 146; Ibn Hawqal, $urat al-Ard [Description of the Earth], ed. J. H. Kramers (Leiden, 1938), p. 24. 53 See, for example, Qazwini, Athdr, pp. 618-19. 54Ibn Khurdadhbih, Masalik, pp. 162-70; Ibn Rustah, Al-A'laq al-nafisa [The Precious Pendants], vii, ed. M. J. de Goeje (Leiden, 1892), p. 149. 55 Anderson, Alexander'sGate, p. 93, ch. 2, passim;Mas'udi, Prairiesd'or, ii, pp. 2-3.
52

51

BARBARIANS IN ARAB EYES

17

evidence of the Gog and Magog was the sound they made and which abated every time order announced itself: it was not an animal grunt, but something lowlier, being akin to the drone of and diswasps, indicatingwith its indistinctnessthe irrationality order that were a corollaryof a total absenceof intelligibilityand the absolute othernessof disnature. EschatologyassignedGog and Magog a particularrole of absolute destructivenesswhich was fully consonant with the nature of their disnature.Once their wall was breached,unlimited devastation would be visited upon the world; they representednot and a marginalform of humanonly an exotic form of barbarism which would invert all ity, but absoluteand proximatebarbarism order. Unrestrained aggressiveness,pure destruction,the perversion of naturaland social order:the Gog and Magog fully constituted a counter-humanity,a fully alternativehistoricaldirection contraveningall history by destroying it. With them, we pass from negative barbarity to barbarismas a positive and active force; from an exotic barbarismmarginal to humanity, to one that will overrun humanity and order, which will find succour only in miracle, with the advent of al-Mahdi, the Messiah.
* * *

It is clear from the above that the images outlined constitute a repertoireof types as well as of instances, formed by variantsof inversion and distortion. They were the elements of an aesthetic of culture, in which the normative self was set against its antitheses. Yet the normativeself also contemplated other excellences, such as China, a quintessence of high civilization, described in Arabic writings in terms similar to those used in late medieval Europe to describe Shangri-Laor the land of Cockaigne. The excellence of India was also widely described, its distance and exoticism underlinedby the bizarrenotions of purity and pollution, as of asceticism, held by Indians. In all cases the aesthetic of culture, negative or positive, betokened privileged access to curiosity, to a recherche knowledge, even cultivation, of the exotic, of which the bizarreand the grotesque formed part. Such knowledge of the exotic indicated a perfectly cultivated urbanity, which conveyed associationwith courtly high culture. And althoughthe mirabilia have religioususes for the theolodid

18

PAST AND PRESENT

NUMBER 134

gians, indicatingthe omnipotenceof God and the miraculousness of all creation, knowledge of it inserted its holder in the profane order of the world at a vantage-pointfrom which it was possible to behold the world from its very geographical,culturaland social centre. That the world could be regardedas a theatre for entertainment, and a source for edifying material, was only made possible by a cultural and political centrality and associated empowermentwhich were very real. Moreoverethnologicalclassification did not only help to make available a protocol for internal and external relations of primacy between peoples, expressedin war, slaveryand much else. The repertoirecomprehended by this classification provided elements which, in time of harden into the elements of mass hysteria and of crisis, could chiliastic frenzy; the Gog and Magog were perfectly suited for this. The sociology of culture in the medieval Arabophonecivilization is a subject which is still at a very rudimentarystate of research.What is clearis that ethnographicdiscourseformedpart of adab, urbane secular writing which included history, geography, Fiirstenspiegeland belles-lettres in general. Adab was the

means by which scribalcourtly culture was copied in less august social strataand less centrallocations,and constitutedthe vehicle for generalizedBildung.It was adabwhich fostered the sense of culturalunity based on the cultivationof a common repertoireof sentiments,values and refinements.It was this that, for instance, caused the Hebrew poetry of Spain in the eleventh and twelfth centuries to form part of a milieu much wider than that of medieval SpanishJews,56and made it possible for Ibrahim Ibn Ya'qub, the Jew whose encounter with Otto I was mentioned courtand to contribute above, to act as the envoy of the Cordoban rich materialsto Arabicethnographic knowledgeof Europe. Adab was the means of cultivatinga common culturalidentity, and the mirror-imageof this identity and its shades,which was barbarism in its many gradations,was a mode in which exclusion buttressed and sharpenedthe social boundariesof a reflexive culture.
University of Exeter Aziz Al-Azmeh

56 and See R. P. Scheindlin, Wine, Women, Death (Philadelphia, 1986), introduction; in general, B. Lewis, The Jews of Islam (Princeton, 1984), pp. 67-106.