Saracen

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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 with Muslim.

Contents

Etymology

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 AD), 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 CE but provides little information on who they might be.[4]

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