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Medieval Empires and the Culture of Competition

Literary Duels at Islamic and Christian Courts

Samuel England

Paperback (Forthcoming)
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Shows how the interactive, confrontational practice of courtly arts shaped imperial thought in the Middle Ages

A probing inquiry into medieval court struggles, this book shows the relationship between intellectual conflict and the geopolitics of empire. It examines the Persian Buyids’ takeover of the great Arab caliphate in Iraq, the counter-Crusade under Saladin, and the literature of sovereignty in Spain and Italy at the cusp of the Renaissance. The question of high culture—who best qualified as a poet, the function of race and religion in forming a courtier, what languages to use in which official ceremonies—drove much of medieval writing, and even policy itself. From the last moments of the Abbasid Empire, to the military campaign for Jerusalem, to the rise of Crusades literature in spoken Romance languages, authors and patrons took a competitive stance as a way to assert their place in a shifting imperial landscape.

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Note on Arabic Translations


Introduction: Courtly Gifts, Imperial Rewards

  1. "Baghdad is to Cities what the Master is to Mankind": The Rise of Vizier Culture
  2. The Sovereign and the Foreign: Creating Saladin in Arabic Literature of the Counter-Crusade
  3. Alfonso X: Poetry of Miracles and Domination
  4. Saladino Rinato: Spanish and Italian Courtly Fictions of Crusade

Conclusion: The Ministry of Culture



'There is much to praise here...The basic idea that medieval courts negotiated their own identity through their literature
(and through literary debates) – or, at the very least, that it is possible to unpick the way in which a medieval court negotiated its identity through an analysis of its literature – is entirely plausible and persuasive...this is a book that achieves the important objective of challenging its readers both to consider new questions and to ponder the surviving sources from new perspectives.'
- Nicholas Morton, Nottingham Trent University, Al-Masāq: Journal of the Medieval Mediterranean

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