O tempora, o moros: unilateral Christian assault on “rogue” Muslim statelet

He tried to kill my Dad, says C-in-C, as high-tech shock-and-awe strategy delivers victory in two months.

The Moors arrived in what we now call Catalonia in 717 and only came under significant pressure after their defeat by the Franks at Poitiers in 732. As part of Charlemagne’s plan to create a buffer zone south of the Pyrenees, an army of Franks led by his son, Lluís el Piadós/Louis le Preux/Louis the Valiant Knight, took Barcelona in April 801. The following translation is of part of a praise poem for golden boy Louis written by Ermold le Noir and included in Jordi Galofré’s Documents de Catalunya. Ermold records neither his medication nor his salary, but his hilariously breathless style is a reminder of the perils of wedging one’s tongue too firmly in someone else’s cheeks. Although his chronicles of French exploits in Brittany still arouse wrath in Kemper, he never really bothered the Moors.

There existed then a city associated with the Moors and in revolt against the Frankish forces, a city which in ancient times the Latins called Barchinona and which had been beautified by Roman civilisation. It was a constant refuge of Moorish thieves and full of malefactors, who, coming and going from Hispania [ie territories held by the Moors], sheltered there because they found there a safe haven. Its inhabitants continuously devastated our harvests and welcomed with joy the booty of kidnappers.

Many generals had in vain tried to besiege it, employing force, ingenuity and all manner of means. But it resisted all assaults, since it was strong, surrounded by massive walls constructed of old with hard stone.


When in the cool humidity [tebiors: tepidities] of spring the countryside turns green and from the sky the sun causes the winter to flee; when the new year returns vanished perfumes and the grass swaggers along [es gronxa], full [botida: ?] of new sap, kings also return to the exercise of the ordinary duties of government and each one of them attends to the defence of his borders. The son of Charlemagne summons the Franks according to old usage and calls together the customary assembly of the great of the kingdom, whose counsels are required to inspire his actions.

Quickly and with good will they arrive, followed by immense crowds. The council meets, the King ascends his august throne, outside a crowd of servants gather up gifts brought for the prince. The deliberation is opened, the King takes the floor and exposes his thoughts in this manner:

“Magnanimous nobles, deserving of our gratitude for your services and for having been assigned by Charlemagne to the borders of the country: the Almighty has assigned to us honour beyond measure with the mission of protecting the people. See that the time of year has arrived when some nations confront others and each one takes to arms. The situation is known to you; it is unfamiliar to me; give me, then, your opinion. Where should we go?” Thus speaks the King.


Duke William of Toulouse takes the floor and, stooping, kisses the King’s feet:

“Oh light of the Franks, King, protector and father of your people, exceeding your predecessors in merit and talent, reuniting the cunning and prudence of your father! Deign to hear my counsel, welcome my desire. A ferocious people, that has as eponym Sarah [Crusaders seem to have believed that the Saracens owed their name to their rejection by Abraham’s bird, Sarah; Webster 1913 implies that the word actually derives from the Arabic sharqi = from the East, ie from the desert], does not cease sacking our country; a people of skilled horsemen and fine soldiers, which I know well and which knows me. Its cities, its castles, its seats and places, all this I have studied and more than once; I can conduct you by secure paths. On its soil has risen a city of wrongdoing, the cause of our misfortunes, which supports it. If with the grace of God you succeed in subjugating it, your people will have obtained peace and tranquillity. Direct yourself, King, against it; bring it gifts from Mars. And your William, respected prince, will be your guide.”


From all sides the Frankish troops gather and a dense crown of soldiers surrounds the walls Barcelona. The son of Charlemagne, the first, arrives with fine army; to his side flock the leaders come to destroy the city.


On the order of the King, all the Frankish army presses on all sides, innumerable, to take the city. Some launch themselves on the forests; axe strokes resound, the pines fall and the tall Lombardy poplars lie prostrate on the ground. Others build ladders, others prepare pointed stakes; some hurry along the engines, some pile up rocks. Darts and arrows rain heavily, the battering ram shakes the walls and the sling [ie trebuchet] multiplies its blows.


The second month has finished when the King and his Franks commence action against the rebellious city. The engines multiply their echoing blows, the walls are attacked from all sides; the fury of the battle redoubles as never before. Arrows fall like rain, the sling whirls without pause, and the King, who leads, encourages the leaders. The terrified Moors neither dare to mount the walls nor think now of guarding the enemy encampment.


Exhausted by the struggle and the deprivations, by unanimous agreement they decide to surrender. They open the gates and give free access to all the redoubts; the city has fallen into the hands of the king.


Pete suggests that tebiors de la primavera might be a reference to 1) moments when the temperature does not live up to expectations, 2) pints in the UK at this time of year, or 3) sickness induced by the cruelest month. That really helped.

Eric says that Louis left Franks in charge of both the secular and the sacred realms (the bishops answered to Narbonne), so we’re talking about old-fashioned imperialism here. He doesn’t know, however, whether the population was massacred.

Núria points out that Dolors Bramon’s anthology of Catalan translations of Arab writers, De Quan Érem o No Musulmans, contains the following anonymous texts:

In the year 185 [20/1/801-9/1/802] the Christians took possession of the city of Barcelona, the limit of the eastern border of the Muslims. Its occupation on the part of the Christians caused great distress for the Muslims.

During the civil war with [Emir al-Hakam]’s two uncles, Sulayman and Abd Al.lah, the Franks took advantage of the occasion, gathered together and conquered Barcelona … The armies of the Muslims retreated to [territory] further down.

There follows an interesting discussion, with a quote from Ibn Rushd, about the status of combatants, their goods and their rights. I’ll do it some other time.

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