Rare Muslim-Crusader Treaties Found

AHA Staff, January 2000

Two UCLA medieval scholars working in the Royal Archives in Barcelona have identified two unique Muslim-Crusader treaties dating from the wars between Islam and Christendom.

The two tattered, blotted documents—one parchment, the other paper, written in black ink that has oxidized to brown—are the only Christian-Islamic surrender treaties from the crusader period to survive in their original interlinear bilingual form.

"The discovery of the treaties represents one of the most important archival finds of the century for students of the Middle Ages," said Robert I. Burns, a senior history professor at UCLA who reconstructed the documents with historian Paul E. Chevedden. "All three cultures of medieval Spain—Muslim, Christian and Jewish—played a part in the drafting of these international agreements, and their ratification signaled a new stage in the evolution of Spain's multicultural society that would have dramatic effects both in Europe and in the Americas."

"The Arabic texts of these documents are extremely important," said Chevedden. "Other than these two texts, there is little documentation in Arabic for crusader-era Muslim society or for Muslim-Christian interaction in Spain in its original artifact form."

The full meaning of these battered documents emerged only from a minute reconstruction of the bilingual texts by Burns and Chevedden. Both treaties were part of an epic struggle to subdue Eastern Islamic Spain by King James the First, "The Conqueror" (1213–1276), ruler of federated Aragon and Catalonia. 

"For the history of both Islamic and Christian Spain, the recovery of these treaties is a major event," said Burns. "This discovery may have special significance for our own day, when some twelve million Muslims now reside within Europe, with more arriving daily, so that the Muslim presence and multiculturalism as in King James' day is once again, over seven centuries later, deeply marking today's Europe."

—Based on a press release from the University of California at Los Angeles