Perceptions of Islam in the Carmen in Victoriam Pisanorum

Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2015


In 1087, a joint Pisan-Genoese army sailed to the city of Mahdia, the capital of the Zirid dynasty in North Africa, and pillaged it. This triumphant victory of Christian armies over Muslim foes is extolled at length in the Carmen in Victoriam Pisanorum, an anonymous poem composed in Pisa soon after the expedition. Although historians have long used this poem as a way of contextualizing crusading rhetoric in the years leading up to the First Crusade, I contend that the Carmen is useful beyond such endeavors. Specifically, the Carmen provides a powerful lens through which to view Pisan identity in the eleventh century. In a time when Pisa was beginning to develop peaceful commercial relationships with Christian and Muslim powers in the Mediterranean, the Carmen instead creates a narrative of Pisan history centered on holy war. The anonymous author of the Carmen is disdainful of Islam, equating Muslims with a series of Old Testament villains and presenting Islam as a heresy that threatens Christianity. Conversely, the Pisan armies that sacked Mahdia are presented as heroes both in the context of Roman and Old Testament history. As Pisa was beginning to assert commercial power in the Mediterranean, we thus are confronted with a picture of Pisan identity that embraces the role of both merchant and holy warrior.

Was this content written or created while at USF?


Citation / Publisher Attribution

Hortulus, v. 11, issue 2