The Moorish Empire in Europe

IT would be small praise to say that Mr. Scott’s books 1 contain the best account in English of the rise and fall of Muhammadan dominion in southwestern Europe ; for these three well-made volumes, the result of twenty years of study, will find few and poor competitors in English. This is the more remarkable when the importance of Arab empire in Spain and Sicily is properly estimated and the degree of influence exercised on Mediæval Europe by Islamic civilization is adequately measured. Unfortunately, many writers have still to realize that the influence of Asia on Europe has been greater than that of Europe on Asia. Indeed, speaking in the broadest sense, the history of the world has been chiefly the history of the intercourse — religious, intellectual, political, and economic — between the two continents. The most interesting, perhaps the most important, period of this intercourse is marked by the rise of Islam, the double attack on Christendom by Muslim kingdoms at both ends of the Mediterranean, and the continued existence in Europe of a Muhammadan empire which, in the domain of arts and sciences, and in material civilization, was long the superior of any state in western Europe. The problems arising from the intimate contact of Latin and Semitic institutions, and the variety of matters in which Europe was debtor to the Arab, will lead the student far afield.

The whole story of that contact in war and peace is presented by Mr. Scott with panoramic effect; and though the method is discursive and the style at times diffuse, the results are interesting. After warning the reader that Muhammad has endured varied and for the most part unjust treatment at the hands of biographers, he concludes: “ If the object of religion be the inculcation of morals, the diminution of evil, the promotion of human happiness, the expansion of the human intellect ; if the performance of good works will avail in that great day when mankind shall be summoned to its final reckoning, it is neither irreverent nor unreasonable to admit that Muhammad was indeed an Apostle of God.” Side by side with such praise should be set a reiterated prejudice against Roman Christianity in the Middle Ages. Arab culture needs for its defense and praise no such contrast as is presented by an unmeasured condemnation of the whole course of European civilization from the eighth to the sixteenth century. Indeed, the desire to secure dramatic effect has in some respects impaired Mr. Scott’s accuracy. For this, however, the reader is partially prepared by an examination of the elaborate but poorly arranged bibliography. Much of the best in original and secondary sources is to be noted, but surprising omissions as well as curious inclusions are apparent. Macaulay knew much, but his History of England can scarcely rank as an authority on Moorish Spain. These facts are indicative of what becomes certain as doubtful questions are examined. Matters long seriously disputed are treated with such confidence and such obliviousness to the difficulties which have taxed the ablest scholars that hesitation instinctively arises on the part of those who are asked to accept some of the author’s conclusions. Yet, when all is said and done, this interesting and ardent if somewhat uncritical presentation deals with events and conditions too long neglected by English and American students. The ultra-Teutonic tendency of many of our histories is perhaps partly responsible for this neglect. We need, in fact, to be told more frequently that Europe has not always fronted to the Atlantic. This Mr. Scott does most successfully.

A. L. P. D.

  1. History of the Moorish Empire in Europe. By S. P. SCOTT. 3 vols. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Co. 1904.