The period of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries was a crucial epoch for the Muslim world, which was in a state of political fragmentation. Syria was divided among rival Turkish amirs who were squandering their resources in internal wars, while Fatimid Egypt was trying to maintain its hold on Palestine. This political disintegration prevented any viable resistance to the Crusades, especially given the ideological division that split loyalties between the Abbasid Caliphate and the Fatimid Imamate. The Arab authors were there to witness the conquest of Jerusalem by the Crusaders and the establishment of various Frankish principalities. However, many authors were also there to watch the Zankid reconquest, the triumph of the armies of Saladin, and the consolidation of the Sunni restoration.
The twelfth and thirteenth centuries were also the period during which the Byzantine Empire was politically and militarily weak. Following a brilliant period in the late tenth and the early eleventh century, disintegration set in. Although Alexios I Komnenos (1081–1118) strengthened the empire, his achievements and those of his successors were not enduring and were followed by a collapse of the Byzantine state.
What distinguishes this period from earlier ones, therefore, is that the twelfth and thirteenth centuries witnessed the gradual decline of the Byzantine state contrasted with the establishment of the Crusaders in the East. During this period, the Byzantines alongside the Muslims became the target of the Crusaders’ offensive.
The appearance of these Christians with an agenda and a mission so completely different from the traditional Byzantine policies and outlook was bound to affect the Islamic image of Byzantium. This study aims at delineating this multifaceted image by tracing both the recurrent traditional themes as well as new representations that arose in the course of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The main aspects relate to the Muslim appreciation of Byzantine origins, beauty, artistic skills, knowledge, character and morals, as well as the Muslim authors’ observations concerning the Byzantine territory, particularly
Constantinople. * Read more