Fraxinet or Fraxinetum (Arabic: فرخشنيط, romanized: Farakhshanīt or فرخسة Farakhsha, from Latin fraxinus: "ash tree", fraxinetum: "ash forest") was the site of a 10th-century fortress established by Muslims at modern La Garde-Freinet, near Saint-Tropez, in Provence. The modern Massif des Maures ("plateau of Moors") takes its name from the Muslims of Fraxinet.
For reconstructing the history of Fraxinetum, Christian Latin sources are more numerous than Muslim ones. The most important contemporary narrative of the Muslims of Fraxinetum is the Antapodosis of Liudprand, bishop of Cremona (d. 972). The bishop also mentions Fraxinetum in his Liber de rebus gestis Ottonis, an account of the reign of King Otto I of Germany. Other contemporary narrative sources in Latin are the Annales of Flodoard, which cover the years 919–966, and the Casus sancti Galli of Ekkehard (d. 973). Documentary sources are few, but the first cartulary of the Abbey of Saint-Victor at Marseille, covering the years 838–1000, contains some references in its charters to Fraxinetum.
Several biographies and saint's lives also contain information relative to Fraxinetum. The anonymous Vita sancti Bobonis, written around 896, is a witness to the foundation and earliest history of Fraxinetum. The Vita Iohannis Gorziensis, a biography of John of Gorze written around 960, contains an account of the diplomacy undertaken by Otto I in response to raids in his territory. The two Vitae sancti Maioli, biographies of Maiolus of Cluny written by Odilo of Cluny and Syrus, are important sources for the capture of their subject, which event brought about the downfall of Fraxinetum.
Among contemporary Muslim sources that touch upon Fraxinetum are the Arabic Ṣurāt al-Arḍ of Ibn Ḥawqal (977), which is a revised version of the geographical treatise Kitāb al-Masālik waʿl-mamālik by al-Iṣṭakhrī (951), and an anonymous Persian geography, Ḥudūd al-ʿĀlam (late 10th century). The Muqtabis of Ibn Ḥayyān (d. 1076) also mentions Fraxinetum.
According to Liudprand of Cremona, in about 889 a ship carrying twenty adventurers from Pechina near Almería in what was then called Al-Andalus anchored in the Gulf of Saint-Tropez in Provence. They were called muwallad, that is, converts to Islam who spoke both Latin and Arabic. They built a tiny stone fortification and protected their outposts by cultivating thorny bushes.
The region around Fraxinet was known in contemporary sources as Djabal al-Qilâl (Arabic: جبل القِلال, "mountain of the many peaks") and is, strangely enough, depicted on Arab maps of the period as an island. The area controlled by Fraxinet included St-Tropez, its gulf and hinterland, as well as Ramatuelle and its peninsula. Ibn Hawqal recorded that the area was richly cultivated by its Muslim inhabitants, and they have been credited with a number of agricultural and fishing innovations for the region. Shipwrecks in the area indicate that Fraxinet may have been a center of trade as much as piracy.
A leader of Fraxinet itself, Nasr ibn Ahmad, is mentioned in the Muqtabis of Ibn Hayyan of Córdoba, the greatest historian of medieval Spain. According to that 11th-century chronicle, Abd ar-Rahman III made peace in 939-940 with a number of Frankish rulers and sent copies of the peace treaty to Nasr ibn Ahmad, described as the commander of Farakh shanit, as well as to the Arab governors of the Balearic Islands and the seaports of al-Andalus—all of them subject to the Umayyad caliphate. Nothing else is revealed about the Fraxinet commander.
Relations with Christendom
Christian sources, especially Liudprand and the Vita sancti Bobonis, depict the Moors of Fraxinet as brigands. From their base, they ravaged the surrounding area, reaching as far as Piedmont in northern Italy and effectively raided and plundered the Alpine passes between France and Italy.
In 931 King Hugh of Italy, along with some Byzantine ships, attacked Fraxinetum. The Byzantines were able to overcome the Muslim ships with Greek fire, while Hugh's troops entered the town. However, in 941 Hugh allowed the Muslims of Fraxinetum to harass the Alpine passes for his own political ends in his struggle with Berengar of Ivrea. There was a skirmish between Muslim and Hungarian cavalry in May 942, which ended with a Hungarian victory.
It was assumed by Emperor Otto I that the Umayyad Caliph of Córdoba, Abd-ar-Rahman III, was sovereign over Fraxinetum, and he sent John of Gorze as ambassador in 953 to demand the cessation of the pirates' activities. A return embassy from the Caliph was made by the Mozarab bishop Recemund. Most authors ascribe Fraxinetum to the Caliph’s territory.
The Muslims were defeated at the Battle of Tourtour by William I of Provence. They were expelled from Fraxinetum in 973 by an alliance of Rotbold I of Provence and Arduin Glaber.
With the capture of Fraxinet the Alpine passes were reopened to Christian travellers. Renewed contact between France, Italy and Germany helped the dispersal of architectural and artistic styles, especially from the craftsmen of Lake Como, which led to rise of the Romanesque style across Western Europe.
The Andalusis introduced fine pine tar called goudron, a word derived from the Arabic qitran, with the same meaning. The Andalusis also taught the villagers medical skills and introduced both ceramic tiles and the tambourine to the area. Some French scholars believe the Andalusis of Fraxinet introduced the cultivation of buckwheat, a grain that has two names in modern French, blé noir ("black wheat") and blé sarrasin ("Saracen wheat").
- 889, Twenty Andalusis sail up the Gulf of St. Tropez and found a colony at Fraxinet.
- 906, Andalusis cross the defiles of the Dauphiné and Mont Cénis.
- 908, Andalusis occupy the Susa Valley.
- 911, Andalusis hold the Alpine passes.
- 929, Fraxinet forces advance to borders of Liguria.
- 935, Sa'id dies at the Battle at Acqui.
- 940, Andalusis occupy and colonize Toulon.
- 942, Andalusi settlement at Nice and Grenoble.
- 970, Andalusis evacuate Grenoble, Savoy and Gap.
- 972, Andalusis detain Majolus of Cluny at the Great St Bernard Pass
- 973, After the Battle of Tourtour the Andalusis evacuate Fraxinet.
- 1047, Andalusi raid on Lérins Islands.
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- Images, Documents and Maps regarding Fraxinet (in French)