Saracen: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Saracen was a term used by the ancient Romans to refer to people who inhabited the deserts near the Roman province of Syria and who were distinct from Arabs. The term was later applied to Arab peoples and by the time of European chroniclers during the time of the Crusades came to be synonymous for Muslim.



The Fatimid Empire at its greatest extent

The term "Saracen" comes from Greek Σαρακηνός, which has often been thought to be derived from the Arabic word شرقيين (sharqiyyin, meaning "easterners"), though the Oxford English Dictionary (s.v.) calls etymologies from this "not well founded". One of earliest references is in Ptolemy's Geography, which refers to a Sarakenoi people living in the north-western Arabian peninsula, and distinct from Arabs. The term spread into Western Europe through the Byzantines and Crusaders.[1] After the rise of Islam, and especially at the time of the Crusades, its usage was extended to refer to all Muslims, including non-Arab Muslims, particularly those in Sicily and southern Italy.[2]

In Christian writing, the name was interpreted to mean "those empty of Sarah" or "not from Sarah" see extract from John of Damascus, below). Both Christians and Muslims adopted the extra-biblical Jewish tradition that Arabs descended from Hagar's son Ishmael. Christians also called them the Hagarenes (Ἀγαρηνοί) or Ishmaelites.

Roman times

The earliest datable reference to Saracens is found in Ptolemy's Geography (2nd century A.D.), which describes "Sarakene" as a region in the Northern Sinai named after the town Saraka located between Egypt and Palestine.[3] Ptolemy also makes mention of a people called the sarakenoi living in north-western Arabia.[3] Eusebius of Caesarea references Saracens in his Eccelastical history, in which he narrates an account wherein Dionysus the Bishop of Alexandria mentions Saracens in a letter while describing the Roman emperor Decius's persecution: "Many were, in the Arabian mountain, enslaved by the barbarous sarkenoi."[3] The Historia Augusta, written in 400 [AD] also refers to an attack by Saraceni on Pescennius Niger's army in Aegyptus, 193 [C.E.] but provides little information on who they might be.[4]

Hippolytus, the book of the laws of countries and Uranius mention three distinct peoples in Arabia during the first half of the third century, the Saraceni, Taeni and Arabes.[3] The Taeni, later identified with the Arab tribe called Tayyi, were located around the Khaybar Oasis all the way up to the eastern Euphrates while the Saracenoi were placed north of them.[3] These Saracens located in the Northern Hejaz appear as people with a certain military ability and opponents of the Roman Empire who are characterized by the Romans as barbaroi.[3] They are described in a Notitia dignitatum dating from the time of Diocletian, during the 3rd century, as comprising distinctive units in the composition of the Roman army distinguishing between Arabs, Iiluturaens and Saracens.[5] The Saracens are described as forming the equites (heavy cavalry) from Phoenicia and Thamud.[5] In a praeteritio, the defeated enemies of Diocletians campaign in the Syrian desert are described as Saracens and other 4th century military reports make no mention of Arabs but refer to groups as far as Mesopotamia, involved in battles on both the Persian as well as Roman sides, as Saracens.[5][6]

The Historia Augusta carries an account of a letter to the Roman senate, ascribed to Aurelian, that describes the Palmyrian queen Zenobia as: "I might say such was the fear that this woman inspired in the peoples of the east and also the Egyptians that neither Arabes, nor Saraceni, nor Armenians moved against her."[5] Another early Byzantine source chronicling the Saracens are the 6th century works by Ioannes Malalas.[5] The difference between the two accounts of Saracens is that Malalas saw Palmyrans and all inhabitants of the Syrian desert as Saracens and not Arabs, while the Historia Augusta saw the Saracens as not being subjects of Zenobia and distinct from Palmyrans and Arabs.[5] Writing at the end of the fourth century Ammianus Marcellinus, a historian of Julian the Apostate, notes that the term Saraceni designating "desert-dwellers" of the Syrian desert had replaced Arabes scenitae.[5] After the time of Ammianus the Saracens were known as warriors of the desert.[7] The term Saracen, popular in both Greek and Roman literature, over time came to be associated with Arabs and Assyrians as well, and carried a definitive negative connotation.[6]

The Middle Persian correspondent terms for Saracens are tazigan and tayyaye; who were located by Stephanus of Byzantium in the 6th century at the Lakhmid capital city of Al-Hirah.[8]

Christian literature

Eusebius and Epiphanius Scholasticus in their Christian histories places Saracens east of the Gulf of Aqaba but beyond the Roman province of Arabia and mention them as Ishmaelites through Kedar; thus, they are outside the promise given to Abraham and his descendants through Isaac and also therefore, in Christian theology, beyond a privileged place in the family of nations or divine dispensation.[9] The Jews viewed them as pagans and polytheists in ancient times and in later Christian times they became associated with cruel tyrants from early Christian history such as: Herod the Great, Herod Antipas and Agrippa I. Christian writings, such as those by Origen, viewed them as heretics who had to be brought into the Orthodox fold. To the Christian Saint Jerome the Arabs, who were also considered in Christian theology as Ishmaelites, were also seen to fit the definition of Saracens; pagan tent-dwelling raiders of the lands on the eastern fringes of the Roman empire.

The term Saracen carried the connotation of people living on the fringes of settled society, living off raids on towns and villages, and eventually became equated with both the "tent-dwelling" Bedouin as well as sedentary Arabs. Church writers of the period commonly describe Saracen raids on monasteries and their killing of monks. The term and the negative image of Saracens was in popular usage in both the Greek east as well as the Latin west throughout the Middle Ages. With the advent of Islam, in the Arabian peninsula, during the seventh century among the Arabs, the terms strong association with Arabs tied the term closely with not just race and culture, but also the religion. The rise of the Arab Empire and the ensuing hostility with the Byzantine Empire saw itself expressed as conflict between Islam and Christianity and the association of the term with Islam was further accentuated both during and after the Crusades.

John of Damascus, in a polemical work typical of this attitude described the Saracens in the early 8th century thus: -

There is also the people-deceiving cult (threskeia) of the Ishmaelites, the forerunner of the Antichrist, which prevails until now. It derives from Ishmael, who was born to Abraham from Hagar, wherefore they are called Hagarenes and Ishmaelites. And they call them Saracens, inasmuch as they were sent away empty-handed by Sarah (ek tes Sarras kenous); for it was said to the angel by Hagar: "Sarah has sent me away empty-handed" (cf. Genesis xxi. 10, 14). These, then, were idolaters and worshippers of the morning star and Aphrodite whom in fact they called Akbar (Chabar) in their own language, which means "great". So until the times of Heraclius they were plain idolaters. From that time till now a false prophet appeared among them, surnamed Muhammad (Mamed), who, having happened upon the Old and the New Testament and apparently having conversed, in like manner, with an Arian monk, put together his own heresy. And after ingratiating himself with the people by a pretence of piety, he spread rumours of a scripture (graphe) brought down to him from heaven. So, having drafted some ludicrous doctrines in his book, he handed over to them this form of worship (to sebas).[10]

The definition of "Saracen" in another revered Christian figure, Raymond de Peñafort's Summa de Poenitentia starts by describing the Muslims but ends by including every person who is neither a Christian nor a Jew.

See also




  1. ^ "Saracen." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. Britannica Concise Encyclopedia. 23 Sept. 2007.
  2. ^ Where's Where: A Descriptive Gazetteer. London: Eyre Methuen Ltd.. 1974. ISBN 0-413-32290-4.  
  3. ^ a b c d e f Retso pg. 505,506.
  4. ^ Retso pg. 457.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Retso pg. 464,465,466.
  6. ^ a b Retso pg. 517.
  7. ^ Retso pg.523
  8. ^ Retso pg.493
  9. ^ Retso pg.507
  10. ^ The Fountain of Knowledge John of Damascus circa 730 AD Chapter On Heresy


  • Retso, Jan. 2003. The Arabs in Antiquity: Their History from the Assyrians to the Umayyads. Routledge. ISBN 0-700-71679-3


Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to Muslim article)

From Wikiquote

A Muslim is a follower of the Islamic faith, known to most medieval people as a Saracen.[1]



External links

Look up Muslim in Wiktionary, the free dictionary


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary




From Ancient Greek Σαρακηνός (Sarakēnos), which may be from Arabic شرقيين (sharqiyyin), easterners), though the Oxford English Dictionary disputes this.


  • IPA: /ˈseɹʌˌsən/
  • IPA: /ˈsæɹəˌsən/


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Saracen (plural Saracens)

  1. A group of nomadic people from the Sinai.
  2. (dated) An Arab or any Muslim, especially one involved in the Crusades.
  3. (dated) A pirate in the Mediterranean.

Related terms


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  • Merriam-Webster


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