Fraxinetum: An Islamic Frontier State in Tenth Century Provence

The following is an updated and revised summary of my journal article on Fraxinetum which appeared in the UCLA Journal Comitatus in 2010 (the full article and the footnotes can be accessed here: http://www.academia.edu/3537846/Fraxinetum_An_Islamic_Frontier_State_in_Tenth_Century_Provence)

Political History

According to Liutprand (d. 972), the bishop of Cremona, the history of Muslim Fraxinetum began around 887, when a small vessel carrying about twenty Andalusi sailors landed on the Provençal coast near the modern town of St. Tropez.[1] The Andalusis forcibly seized the neighboring settlement of Freinet, and on the mountain above the town proceeded to occupy the fort, which had been called Fraxinetum since Roman times.[2] The subsequent fortress-city which they established was highly defensible and practically impenetrable, protected on one side by the sea from where the Andalusis drew their reinforcements, and on the other by large forests of thorny trees.[3] Consequently, the fort could only be accessed through a single, narrow path leading up the mountain.[4] Contemporary Latin authors, namely Liutprand of Cremona and the anonymous author of the Life of Beuve of Noyers, emphasize the Iberian origin of the raiders, but differ in naming them; Liutprand calls them “saraceni,” whereas the author of the Life of Beuve refers to them as “hispanicolae.”[5] Tenth-century Arab geographers, especially Muhammad Ibn Ḥawqal in his Surat al-Arḍ (977) and al-Istakhri in his Kitab al-Masalik wa al-Mamalik (951), refer to the fortified port of Fraxinetum as Jabal al-Qilal (“Mount of Lumber/Timber”) and describe it as a vast mountainous region blessed with rivers/streams and fertile soil that takes two days to cross.[6] Ibn Ḥawqal, like Liutprand, emphasizes the virtual impenetrability of the fortress and specifies that it was only accessible through one route on the side of the mountain. He also adds that it was dependent on the Umayyads of Cordova, as implied by his cartographic representation of Fraxinetum as an island at the mouth of the Rhone River and located close to the Iberian Peninsula, similar to the Balearic Islands.[7]  Continue reading