Saracens: from the crusades to the present

The Saracens Were a pre-Islamic nomadic people of the Syrian and Arab deserts. The term was coined by the peoples of ancient Greece and the Romans of the first epoch, to refer to the people of the peoples of the Middle East.

It was also called with this term the Muslims during the Crusades [1] . Over time, the word evolved and today, the term Saracen is associated with the bloody invasions that Europe perpetrated in the Middle East, between 1095 and 1291 AD, called The Crusades:


"In medieval times The Crusades or Holy Wars were authorized by the Pope and faced against groups considered enemies of Christianity. In the beginning, only those expeditions to the Holy Land, Jerusalem and associated territories, were considered Crusades. More recently, historians have included within the Crusades the campaigns against heretics, pagans and Muslims that the European knights found on their way, even in Europe." [2]

The word Saracen was introduced into the English language from the Sarrazin (Old French), which is derived from Latin Saracenus And the Greek Sarakenos . As the origins of the Greek term are unclear, linguists theorize that it may come from Arabic Sharq what does it mean East or dawn [3] .

Greek writers like Ptolemy refer to some of the peoples of Syria and Iraq as Sarakenoi . Later, the Romans, although respected by the military abilities that they unfolded in combat, considered them barbarian towns.

Although it is not clear what exactly these peoples were, the Greeks and the Romans differentiated them from the Arabs. In some texts, such as the Hippolytus , The term seems to refer to the heavy cavalry soldiers of the troops of ancient Phenicia, now Lebanon and Syria.

Massacre of the Saracens, ordered by King Richard

The term buckwheat in antiquity

At your work Geography (2nd century), Ptolemy describes the Sarakēnē (Ancient Greek: Σαρακηνή) as a region on the northern peninsula of Sinai [5] . Eusebius, in his ecclesiastical history, tells a story in which Pope Dionysius of Alexandria mentions the Saracens in a letter, while describing the persecution of Christians by the Roman emperor Decius: Many were, on the Arab mountain, enslaved by the barbarian 'sarkenoi' [6] .

The History of August also refers to an attack of Saraceni To the army of Pescennius Niger in Egypt, in 193, but provides little information as to be able to identify them [7] .

Both Hippolytus of Rome and Uranium mention three different peoples in Arabia during the first half of the third century: Saraceni , Taeni Y Arabs . The Taenio , Later identified with the Arab-speaking village called Tayy , Were located around Khaybar (An oasis north of Medina) and also in an area that extended to the Euphrates. To the Saraceni They were located to the north [8] . These Saracens from the north of Hejaz were described as persons with capabilities for war.

The Saracens are, according to Hippolytus, like the Équites (Heavy cavalry) of Phenicia and Thamud [9] . Also in the document that counts the defeat of the enemies of Diocletian in the campaign through the Syrian desert are denominated Saracens.

Other military reports of the fourth century do not mention the word Arabs, but refer to groups Saracens Which had spread to eastern Mesopotamia, engaging in different battles (both on the side of Sasan and Rome). The Saracens were also mentioned in the Roman document Notitia Dignitatum (Dating from the time of Theodosius I in the fourth century) as forming distinctive units in the Roman army, different from the Arabs [10] .

Saracens: from the crusades to the present Sarracenos besieging the Crusaders in a tower, detail of a miniature in Chroniques de France. Reproduced with permission of the British Library 11

The term Saracen in the Middle Ages

Saracen was a term widely used by Christian writers in Europe during the Middle Ages. In the early centuries AD, in the Greek and Latin writings this term is used to refer to people living in desert areas near the Roman province of Arabia [12] .

These peoples had their own characteristics that differentiated them from the Arab peoples. At the beginning of the fifth century, Christian writers began to equate the Saracens with the Arabs. The Saracens were associated with the Ishmaelites (descendants of the elder son of Abraham, Ishmael) in some branches of Jewish, Christian and Islamic genealogical thought.

The writings of Jerome (d. 420) say that the Ishmaelites had chosen to be called Saracens In order to identify with the free wife of Abraham, Sarah, instead Hagarenes , Who associated them with his slave wife, Hagar [13] . It is worth clarifying that this claim, although popular during the Middle Ages, derives more from Paul's allegory in the New Testament letter to the Galatians than historical data.

The name Saracen did not originate from the populations thus described, but had been applied by Greco-Roman historians based on Greek place names [14] .

In medieval literature of the twelfth century, Saracen was synonymous with Muslim. For Western languages ​​before the sixteenth century, the term was used to refer to Muslim Arabs (there were no words Muslim or Islam at the time). This expansion in the sense of the term began centuries before among the Byzantine Romans, according to documents in century VIII [fifteen] .

As the Middle Ages advances, the use of the term in the Latin West, although evolving, its connotation remains pejorative, associated with the opponents of Christianity. In a controversial work of the eighth century, John of Damascus criticized the Saracens as followers of a false prophet and"forerunner of the Antichrist" [16] .

In the twelfth century, medieval Europeans had more specific conceptions of Islam, and used the term Saracen as an ethnic and religious marker [17] . In some medieval literature, the Saracens (Muslims) were described as black-skinned, compared to the lighter-skinned European Christians (eg medieval romance, King of Tars) [18] . The Song of Roland , An ancient French heroic poem of the eleventh century, refers to the black skin of the Saracens as their only exotic feature.

In their Chronicles of Ash-Sham , The writer Bin Kannan (Damascus) uses the term Sarkan to describe A crossing in military mission, This would be from the Near East to southern European places, at that time under Ottoman Empire, especially Cyprus and Rhodes [19] .

Christianity and Muhammad, the Prophet of the Saracens?

During the High Middle Ages, the Christian world viewed Islam as heresy and to Mohammed as a false prophet, inspired by the devil. With the Crusades in the Early Middle Ages and the wars against the Ottoman Empire during the late Middle Ages, Christian perception of Muhammad became more controversial: Muhammad was portrayed as a servant of Satan or as the Antichrist [twenty] . In modern times, and after the Islamic empires ceased to be a military threat to Europe, the European gaze was more tolerant.

Mohammed's knowledge of Christians comes from Byzantine sources, written shortly after Muhammad's death in 632. In the Doctrine Jacobi nuper baptizati [twenty-one] [22] ; Jacobo-the conversa- talks with a group of Jews and informs them that"a deceitful prophet has appeared among the Saracens"(...)"... he is deceiving because the prophets come with sword and chariot [2. 3] "?

Other contemporary sources, such as the writings of the patriarch Sophronius, suggest that there was no knowledge that the Saracens had their own prophet or religion, and would only point out that Saracen attacks"must be a punishment for Christian sins" [24] .

On the other hand, in medieval romances such as the French Arturian cycle, the records of the ancient Bretons or the inhabitants of Sarras (before the conversion of King Evelake) [25] , Who presumably lived long before Muhammad's birth, are described as worshiping the same set of gods and as identical with Muslims.

In the same sense, the definition of Saracen in the Summa de Poenitentia From Raymond de Peñafort [26] Begins by describing the Muslims, but ends up including any person who is neither Christian nor Jewish. Another influential source was the Epistolae Saraceni waves Letters of a Saracen , Written by an Eastern Christian and translated from Arabic into Latin [27] .

The legacy of the crusades resonates to this day

During the last decades of the last century, The Crusades have become a dynamic area of ​​historical research. The objective is to interpret in light of current events the importance and influence of his legacy in the Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities. It is a question of unraveling the effect on societies and institutions.

The academic debate advanced in the 1980s before the new recognition that the Crusades covered much more than the original expeditions of the XI century to the Holy Land. This also in terms of chronology since they extended until the sixteenth century. Crosses were also invoked against the Muslims of the Iberian peninsula, the pagan peoples of the Baltic region, the Mongols, political opponents of the papacy and heretics (Cathars and Hussites) [28] .

[1] Definition. Retrieved on 01/21/2017 at

[2] Crusades Basic. Retrieved on 01/21/2017 at

[3] Szczepanski, K. Who are the Saracens? Retrieved on 01/21/2017 at

[4] Image taken at public domain.

[5] Retsö, Jan. 2003. The Arabs in Antiquity: Their History from the Assyrians to the Umayyads . Routledge Pp. 505-506. Retrieved at #cite_note-retso1-2 on 01/21/2017.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid, p. 457.

[8] Ibid. 505-506

[9] Ibid, pp.464-466

[10] Ibid, pp. 464-466

[eleven] Saracen people . The editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved at on 21/1/2017.

[12] Daniel, N. 1979. The Arabs and Mediaeval Europe . Longman Group Limited. ISBN 0-582-78088-8 . Retrieved at #cite_note-daniel1-1 on 01/21/2107.

[13] Rubenstein, Jay. 2011. Armies of Heaven: The First Crusade and the Quest for Apocalypse. Basic Books ISBN 0-465-01929-3 . Retrieved at #cite_note-10 on 01/21/2017.

[14] Retsö, Jan. 2003. The Arabs in Antiquity: Their History from the Assyrians to the Umayyads . Routledge . ISBN 978-0-7007-1679-1 Retrieved at #cite_note-11 on 01/21/2017.

[fifteen] CAF, Moja (1999). Western Representations of the Muslim Women: From Termagant to Odalisque . University of Texas Press . ISBN 978-0-292-74337-3 . Retrieved at #cite_note-4 on 01/21/2017.

[16] The Fount of Knowledge . "Gotosa Ärkestiftet av de Sanna ortodoxt kristna."Retrieved at #cite_note-13 on 01/21/2017.

[17] Heng, Geraldine. 2004. Empire of Magic: Medieval Romance and the Politics of Cultural Fantasy . Columbia University Press ISBN 978-0-231-12527-7 . Retrieved at #cite_note-14 on 01/21/2017.

[18] Heng, Geraldine. 2004. Empire of Magic: Medieval Romance and the Politics of Cultural Fantasy Pp. 231, 422. "The King of Tars" , The Crusades Project at the University of Rochester. Retrieved at #cite_note-15_16 on 01/21/2017.

[19] The Chronicles of Ash-Sham . (The Daily Events As of 1111 Hijri / 1699 CE) and abridged in Yawmiat Shamiyya (Chronicles of Ash-Sham). Retrieved at #cite_note-18 on 01/21/2017.

[twenty] Medieval Christian views on Muhammad. Retrieved at on 21/1/2017.

[twenty-one] Jacob's indoctrination [διδασκαλία] (Jewish converted to Christianity), a treaty dated 634 (Bonwetsch, infra, p. Xvi) or 640. The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium. Ed. Alexander P. Kazhdan. Retrieved at el 21/1/2017.

[22] Doctrine Jacobi nuper Baptizati , In G. Dagron and V. Déroche,"Juifs et chrétiens dans l'Orient du VIIe siècle", Travaux et Mémoires 11 (1991) 17-248. - Edition of the Greek text with French translation. Retrieved at on 21/1/2017.

[2. 3] Teachings of Jacob . Retrieved at on 21/1/2017.

[24] Kaegi, W. Initial Byzantine Reactions to the Arab Conquest. Church History , Vol. 38, No. 2 (June, 1969), pp. 139-149, 139-141. Retrieved at on 21/1/2017.

[25] King of Sarras. Father of Eliezer and Grimal. It is said that he was born in Gaul and was sent to Rome as a slave. Later he went to Syria where he killed the son of a governor, fleeing to Babylon. He was made king of Sarras to help Tholomer, the king of Babylon, with whom he later went to war. He embraced Christianity and was baptized as Mordrain before his battle with the Saracen king and Joseph of Arimathea gave him a white shield in which, during the battle, appeared the figure of Christ on the cross that deceived the enemy. Evelake . Retrieved at on 01/21/2017.

[26] Medieval Christian views on Muhammad. Recovered in El 21/1/2017.

[27] Muhammad . Encyclopædia Britannica (2007). Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 10 January 2007, article . Retrieved at on 21/1/2017.

[28] Philip, J. The Crusades: a complete history. Published in History Today, Vol. 65 Issue 5 May 2015. Retrieved on 21/1/2017.


  1. Saracens: Islam in the Medieval European Imagination. Tolan, John V. (2002) Columbia University Press.

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