-1

In medieval times, we often read of Semitic pogroms and expulsions etc., for example in Spain, or after the Black Death. Do the original sources refer specifically to "Semites" or to "Jews"? And if Semites, do they mean "Jews" or "Arabs/Moors"?

This question was suggested by the observation that such anti-Semitic calls seem to coincide with the advance of the Ottomans, for example in the late fourteenth century, the fall of Constantinople, etc. Spanish, French, and English royalty often worked with Semites as bankers, so they did not have any incentive to expel them. Rather it seems that such calls originated from bottom up, so to speak.

To take a specific example, in Spain, there must have been many families who were originally Muslim, and who probably still spoke Arabic. If a preacher condemned Jews, wouldn't it be natural to include Muslims as well? Were they also massacred along with the Jews in 1366 and 1391?

  • Worth noting that in England for example, Muslims were simply not present in the way Jews were. – Orangesandlemons Aug 30 '18 at 11:38
  • 4
    "royalty often worked with Semites as bankers, so they did not have any incentive to expel them" -> quite the opposite, expelling jewish bankers is the often-used solution to deal with debts you cannot reimburse them, or opportunities to seize their assets for the royal treasury. – Evargalo Aug 30 '18 at 12:01
  • 2
    Nearly impossible to answer without reference to the relevant, uncited, sources. – Mark C. Wallace Aug 30 '18 at 12:24
14

There are no medieval historic references to "Semites". The word did not exist until the late 18th Century. It was coined by Historian August Ludwig von Schlözer to have a useful word to describe that set of apparently related languages.

The choice of name was derived from Shem, one of the three sons of Noah in the genealogical accounts of the biblical Book of Genesis,[14] or more precisely from the Koine Greek rendering of the name, S?µ (Sem). Eichhorn is credited with popularising the term ...

It was known in the middle ages that the languages were similar. It appears that when a collective word for the languages was needed, they were called "Oriental". However, since that's just a geographic term, it has obvious drawbacks.

I highly doubt you'll find many Spanish medieval references to Jews as "Orientals".

  • 2
    Similarly, you will not find medieval Arabic or Hebrew writings referring to Irish, Germans, Russians, Persians, or Hindis as "Indo-Europeans", even though we now know that these people spoke Indo-European languages. – Robert Columbia Aug 30 '18 at 16:30
  • 1
    Jews were referred to as Jews. Moslems were Moslems or Saracens or later Moors. eg: Ott Jud (Ott the Jew) was a martial arts instructor in Austria known today for his treatise on grappling. – Daniel Sep 2 '18 at 20:17
  • 1
    @RobertColumbia - IIRC, the Byzantines during the Middle Ages generally did refer to all Western Europeans as "Franks". So there was sort of a collective word, but it wasn't language-based. – T.E.D. Sep 7 '18 at 13:59
2

To take a specific example, in Spain, there must have been many families who were originally Muslim, and who probably still spoke Arabic. If a preacher condemned Jews, wouldn't it be natural to include Muslims as well?

Focusing on this specific point : No. One major difference - Jews explicitly reject the person who Christians worship. Muslims see him as a prophet. The implications of this are obvious.

  • 2
    If only I could choose two answers! Your answer explains a lot. Nevertheless, how come that many cities had Juderia quarters but not Muslim quarters? Also Ibn Khaldun who traveled around the 'world' avoided Europe, presumably because it was dangerous for him. – Chrystomath Aug 30 '18 at 16:22
  • @ Chrystomath The bulk of Moslem Spain was Christian and the Moslems were the ruling class. When referring to a city having such and such a quarter it refers to some prominent minority group with limited political power. – Daniel Sep 2 '18 at 20:24

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.