A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Punic Survival Part Five: Did Punic Influence Arabization and Maghrebi Darija?

 I'm on vacation. As I've done in recent years, I've prepared a number of posts on topics of historical and cultural interest ahead of time, posts unlikely to be overtaken by events. There will be one or more of these per day, and I may drop in to comment on current developments as required.

For four posts now we have examined the question of whether Punic, the Phoenician language of Ancient Carthage and its colonies, survived as a spoken language (presumably alongside Berber and Latin, throughout the life of Roman North Africa. Some have argued that the presence of a Semitic vernacular in North Africa actually made the adoption of Arabic smoother, and some Punic enthusiasts have even gone so far as to argue that Punic influence can still be found in the spoken dialects (darija) of North Africa, along with Maltese (which, though today considered a separate language, has a grammatical structure comparable to North African Arabic dialects, though its Semitic vocabulary includes many borrowings from Romance and from Greek). Let's look at each of these assertions in turn.

It has often been noted that while the Arab conquests swept as far east as India and Central Asia and as far west as southern France, Arabic did not become the spoken language in all of that vast area; though Iran, India, and Central Asia became permanently Muslim, they retained or soon regained their original Persian, Turkic, or Indic vernaculars, though with a large input of religious and legal terms from Arabic. (Even in areas that did not remain Muslim, Arabic had a lasting influence; consider the huge presence of Arabic-based words in Spanish, and the entire Maltese language.)  But neither did Arabic remain limited to the Arabian Peninsula: it became firmly established from the Strait of Gibraltar to the Persian/Arab Gulf.

As far back as the era of Ernest Renan the idea was floated that Arabic remained established in those areas which already spoke a closely related language. Renan was an early comparative Semiticist; today the Semitic languages are understood not as a separate language family but as a sub-family of closely-related languages within the broader "Afro-Asiatic" language family (comparable to the way the Romance or Germanic or Iranian languages are embraced within the broader Indo-European famiily).

Although non-Semitic languages have always existed in the Levant and Iraq (Sumerian, Hittite, Armenian), it is indisputable that for more than a millennium before Arabic spread outside the Arabian Peninsula, closely related Semitic languages were dominant: first Akkadian/Assyrian/Babylonian, and later Aramaic/Syriac. There is little doubt that the spread of Arabic was greatly aided by the prior presence of a closely related language in Aramaic/Syriac; the Nabatean script, for example, originally was used to write Aramaic but gradually adapted to Old North Arabian, the immediate ancestor of Classical Arabic.  And early Arabic was sometimes written in the Syriac alphabet, the texts known as Karshuni in Arabic (Garshuni in Syriac). Arabic simply supplanted (though to this day not completely, for we have discussed modern Aramaic here frequently) the older, closely related language. In Jewish communities across the Arab world, various forms of Judeo-Arabic supplanted or were established alongside Hebrew and Aramaic.

The establishment of Arabic in Egypt and North Africa raises other questions, though. Last August my vacation postings examined why Coptic, which once was more entrenched than Aramaic, had died out as a spoken language while Aramaic has not. There are multiple reasons, but clearly Egypt is an Arabic-speaking country with only small pockets of Nubian and Siwi Berber speakers. If Arabic only took hold where Semitic languages were spoken, Egypt would seem to be a huge exception. And so would the rest of North Africa, though the survival of the Amazigh or Berber languages in the Maghreb show that Arabic is not as thoroughly entrenched as it is in Egypt. To this Maghrebists such as Georges and William Marçais and others have pointed to the survival of Punic as a factor facilitating the adoption of Arabic. But Punic was never spoken in Egypt, so what about Egypt?

Ancient Egyptian, and its later form Coptic, are not unrelated to Semitic; like the Berber languages and some other Saharan languages they are part of the broader Afro-Asiatic family, so one could say that Arabic took root because the languages were still related; that could also apply to the Berber languages of North Africa, regardless of any Punic survival. The Berber languages, while Afro-Asiatic, are much farther removed from the Semitic group than is Egyptian. Though not itself considered part of the Semitic sub-family, Egyptian has features that seem more Semitic than other Afro-Asiatic languages outside the Semitic group. Some basic vocabulary (including numerals an pronouns) are closely kin, as are some triliteral roots.

This question of whether Arabic put down deeper roots where Semitic languages were already spoken underlies much of the debate about the survival of Punic, and you can find, for example, an online discussion of some of the issues here.

But the question of Punic does not end with whether its survival made the adoption of Arabic easier. There are those who argue that a Punic substratum can still be identified in the colloquial dialects of North Africa (plus Maltese).  At first glance this seems extreme, but there is definitely a detectable Coptic substratum in colloquial Egyptian, and plenty of Berber loan-words in North African Arabic; could there be a Punic substratum as well? This argument today is primarily identified with the Algerian-born linguist Abdou Elimam, who is a strong advocate of treating the darija of the Maghreb as languages independent of if related to Standard Arabic.

At least one of Elimam's articles on Punic influence on Maghrebi can be found online: Du Punique au Maghribi: Trajectoires d’une langue sémito-méditerranéenne, published in Synergies Tunisie No. 1, 2009, pp. 29-38. The article (obviously) is in French, and while I believe he has written more extensively on this subject, I presume this summarizes his arguments.

Now Elimam is a Sorbonne-trained linguist and I certainly am neither, nor do I find anything impossible about the idea of an identifiable substratum of Punic in Maghrebi dialects of Arabic, but I am struck by several things. First, there is the rather tiny corpus of actual Punic texts, most of which tend to be tombstones, funerary inscriptions, and the like; Punic is a form of Phoenician but the total corpus of Phoenician texts is not great either, and the fact that we know as much as we do about either language is based in part on their extremely close resemblance to Hebrew. And all of these language are themselves relatively close to Arabic.

At the end of his article, Elimam presents a table showing vocabulary in common between Punic and Maghribi. These include Ab for father, Um for mother, bny for build, and so on. But wait: those are all good Arabic as well as good Canaanite (though modern Hebrew pronounces the first as Av today). For life he notes the similarity between Punic hayim and "Maghribi" hayat, but the latter is of course perfectly good Arabic as well. (To be fair, not all his examples are this obviously equivalent to Standard Arabic, but most are.) I have to say that this particular article doesn't completely convince me, but perhaps if I read more of his work I'd be persuaded.

UPDATE: By happy coincidence,  Lameen Souag just addressed Elimam's claims as well, as he notes in a comment below, though the blogpost is in darija.

I know this long discussion of Punic and Arabic may not have been everybody's cup of tea; on to other subjects in my remaining vacation posts, and back to normal blogging on Monday.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Did Punic Survive Until the Advent of Arabic? Part 4: The Post-Augustine Evidence

 I'm on vacation. As I've done in recent years, I've prepared a number of posts on topics of historical and cultural interest ahead of time, posts unlikely to be overtaken by events. There will be one or more of these per day, and I may drop in to comment on current developments as required.

In the third part of this survey of the survival of Punic yesterday, we examined the rather extensive evidence provided by St. Augustine of Hippo of the survival of Punic as a spoken language in his day (d. 430). But the argument that Punic was still a living language when Arabic arrived two centuries and more later requires the assumption that Punic did not die out in the interim. Skeptics have gradually yielded ground as evidence has been assembled, and many scholars accept that Punic may indeed have survived in a few places. But the evidence trail thins out considerably after Augustine. Today we will look at the evidence for the fifth to the 11th centuries; tomorrow this series will conclude with a discussion of some of the interpretations scholars have put forward about the legacy of Punic in North Africa in the Arab period.

Roughly contemporary with Augustine we also have epigraphic evidence of the survival of Punic in the trilingual funerary inscriptions in Sirte, Libya from the fourth and perhaps fifth centuries. I have not seen a standard study of these, Jongeling. Karel; & Kerr, Robert M. (2005). Late Punic epigraphy: an introduction to the study of Neo-Punic and Latino-Punic inscriptions. In part two of this series I did quote excerpts from Kerr's doctoral dissertation on Late Punic. And keep Sirte in mind when we come to the evidence of Al-Bakri below.

There is no incontestable literary evidence for Punic after Augustine, but there is a very intriguing, though in a bizarre context, account in the historian Procopius' De Bello Vandalico, "Of the Vandal Wars," from the sixth century. In last month's post about the Nika Riots we talked about Justinian and his efforts to reclaim Italy and North Africa for the Eastern Roman Empire; Procopius is the great historian of the era of Justinian. He actually accompanied Justinian's great General Belisarius on some of his campaigns. In discussing the reconquest of North Africa from the Vandals, Procopius drops an intriguing aside into a story about the legendary settlement of North Africa by the Phoenicians. I take my quote from H. B. Dewing's older translation of Procopius' History of the Wars, because it is available online even on vacation in the Georgia mountains and is free of copyright:
And finding there no place sufficient for them to dwell in, since there has been a great population in Aegypt from ancient times, they proceeded to Libya. And they established numerous cities and took possession of the whole of Libya as far as the Pillars of Heracles, and there they have  lived even up to my time, using the Phoenician tongue. They also built a fortress in Numidia, where now is the city called Tigisis. In that place are two columns made of white stone near by the great spring, having Phoenician letters cut in them which say in the Phoenician tongue: "We are they who fled from before the face of Joshua, the robber, the son of Nun."
Hardly surprising that this passage has often been dismissed; the columns near Tigisis mentioning Joshua of the Bible seem clearly a figment of legend.  But it is not the incredible tale itself but the aside that matters: "and there they have lived even up to my time, using the Phoenician tongue." Again quoting Fergus Millar on this text:
The passage of Procopius is set in the very dubious context of a legend about the settlement of N. Africa, supposedly referred to in an inscription of Phoenician language and lettering at Tigisis; Courtois has argued that the inscription could not have had its supposed contents, and consequently that the people did not understand it (and therefore that in this sentence Procopius refers to Berber). But the argument makes Procopius use 'φοινικικός' in two different senses in the same passage, and proceeds too strictly from what we might presume but cannot know. The sentence is an addition by Procopius himself, who had been in Africa with Belisarius, and (especially when combined with Augustine's evidence) should be taken to mean what it says.
The problem is that the legendary story in which the aside occurs tends to make one dismiss Procopius' possible firsthand testimony that Phoenician (Punic) was still spoken in North Africa "even up to my time, using the Phoenician tongue." Millar is right that in conjunction with Augustine's testimony, this could make a lot of sense.

Procopius, if we accept the testimony, brings us down to just a century before the Arab conquests. There is no mention of Punic, at least as such, in the early Arab histories of the conquest of the Maghreb. In fact there is only one other piece of evidence sometimes adduced to suggest a longer survival of Punic, and this is, intriguingly, quite late: the 11th century AD.

The Arab traveler and geographer Al-Bakri (Abu ʿUbayd Abu ʿAbdullah ibn ʿAbd al-ʿAziz al-Bakri (c.1014-1094) was born in Islamic Spain (Al-Andalus) and wrote several works of which the most important is his Kitab al-Masalik wa'l-Mamalik (Book of the Roads and the Kingdoms), a general geography and description of key routes of the Muslim world. As an Andalusian, Bakri knew North Africa well and his work is particularly valuable as a description of it.

There is a passage in Bakri that raises eyebrows: remember, we are talking here about the 11th century AD, some 650 years after Augustine. Let me quote Lameen Souag on Bakri's text:
The twist in this tale is that Phoenician may have survived into the 11th century AD! Al-Bakri (whom I've mentioned before) enigmatically says of the inhabitants of Sirt in Libya that:
لهم كلام يراطنون به ليس بعربي ولا عجمي ولا بربري ولا قبطي ولا يعرفه غيرهم
‍They have a speech in which they jabber which is neither Arabic nor Ajami (by which he probably means Latin but might mean Persian) nor Berber nor Coptic, which no one but them knows.
The location (in eastern Tripolitania) is about right for it to be Punic, and if it were Greek you would expect him to know, considering he cites (more or less correctly) the Greek etymology of طرابلس (Tripoli) in the next page. So was Punic still spoken in the 11th century? Your guess is as good as mine, but it looks plausible.
Now for a couple of points: the latest epigraphic evidence of Punic we have is in triliteral Greek-Latin-Punic Christian catacombs in Sirte (Sirt), so we know Punic was still known there in the 4th century and maybe the 5th. So it's interesting Bakri found an unusual language in Sirt in the 11the century; he specifically says it isn't Berber or Coptic or ʿAjami. One reason Lameen has crossed out "Persian" is that in Spain and North Africa, ʿAjami, which in the East usually means Persian, was commonly used to refer to Latin or local Romance dialects or the Mediterranean lingua franca. As Millar notes, Bakri seems to have been able to recognize Greek as well, so what was this language?

It may have been Punic. It isn't clear if Bakri had any familiarity with Hebrew, from the Jewish communities in Spain and North Africa; if he had, he should have noted the kinship if the language were indeed Punic.  At best, the Bakri quote tantalizes and perhaps teases a bit.

The Procopius and Bakri references both raise questions and I suspect the best we can do here is render a Scots verdict of "not proven."

But if indeed Punic did survive, what are the historical and linguistic implications?

Tune in tomorrow ...

Monday, July 29, 2013

Did Punic Survive Until the Advent of Arabic? Part 3: The Evidence of Augustine

I'm on vacation. As I've done in recent years, I've prepared a number of posts on topics of historical and cultural interest ahead of time, posts unlikely to be overtaken by events. There will be one or more of these per day, and I may drop in to comment on current developments as required.
In Friday's post, we looked at the evidence for the survival of the Punic language from the destruction of Carthage in 146 BC down to the era of Augustine. Today we'll look at what Augustine has to say about the survival of Punic, and tomorrow look at the (much less solid) evidence of its survival until or beyond the arrival of Arabic.

Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD), Doctor of the Christian Church, is a towering figure in the intellectual world of late antiquity; his Confessions and The City of God are still read today, and his literary output was huge; a great many of his letters, sermons, and other works survive, making him one of the most documented figures of the fourth and fifth centuries. He was also North African, born at Thagaste in Roman Africa (Souk Ahras, Algeria), studied at Madaurus, Numidia (M'Daourouch, Algeria) and at Carthage, the Roman city that arose on the site of Punic Carthage and is today a suburb of Tunis. After time in Rome and Milan he returned to North Africa and eventually became Bishop of Hippo Regius (modern Annaba in Algeria).

Ethnically, Augustine may have been of Berber origin; famously his father was a pagan and his mother, Monica, a Christian; he spent time as a Manichean before converting. Though he wrote in Latin, his writings frequently refer to another language spoken in the countryside, which he calls the lingua Punica. Some early biographers insisted he meant Berber, but it is clear from many of his references that he meant Punic, including citations of several words to be noted below. In fact, he also speaks of a "Libyan" language spoken beyond the Roman frontier, which probably refers to the "Libyco-Berber" language presumed ancestral to modern Tamazight; he did not speak this language, but apparently understood Punic. In fact, though Augustine did not know Hebrew, he explicates some Biblical names by reference to Punic. (Punic/Phoenician and Hebrew are very closely related Canaanite dialects with an almost identical lexicon.)

I have not seen one important work on this subject, W. M. Green, "Augustine's Use of Punic," University of California Studies in Semitic Philology XI (1951), but I think there is enough evidence available to demonstrate Augustine really did mean Punic. (Nor is he the only evidence for his era; his contemporary St. Jerome also refers to Punic, but for Augustine it is an everyday language, in fact, apparently the primary language of the countryside in Roman territory outside the major towns. (Whereas he seems to imply "Libyan," presumably Berber, was mainly spoken outside the Roman limes.) And he often speaks of the lingua Punica, and there are many references indicating that the Church struggled to find Punic-speaking clergy and that often translators were needed. The recent work by Brent D. Shaw, Sacred Violence: African Christians and Sectarian Violence in the Age of Augustine (Cambridge University Press, 2011) deals with the Punic-Latin divide in some detail. And Fergus Millar, in the work quoted in the previous part of this series,
The two essential points from the evidence of Augustine are firstly that the 'lingua Punica' was a Semitic language related to Biblical Hebrew; and secondly that it was fairly widespread not only in rural bishoprics but among Augustine's own congregation in Hippo. On the other hand it is clear that it did not rival Latin as a language of culture.
Augustine himself argues in one of his epistles with those who dismiss Punic's value (quoted in Wikipedia's "Punic Language" article:
Writing around AD 401, he says:
Quae lingua si improbatur abs te, nega Punicis libris, ut a viris doctissimis proditur, multa sapienter esse mandata memoriae. Poeniteat te certe ibi natum, ubi huius linguae cunabula recalent.

And if the Punic language is rejected by you, you virtually deny what has been admitted by most learned men, that many things have been wisely preserved from oblivion in books written in the Punic tongue. Nay, you ought even to be ashamed of having been born in the country in which the cradle of this language is still warm. (Ep. xvii)
But the critical evidence that leaves little room for argument that when Augustine said lingua Punica he was referring to the language of Ancient Carthage is lexical. I have already noted that Augustine, who apparently knew no Hebrew, explicated some Biblical terms from his knowledge of Punic. But two other interesting pieces of vocabulary occur in Augustine's writings.

"When our rural peasants are asked what they are. they reply, in Punic, "Chanani."

By far the most conclusive statement of all is this one, from Augustine's 
Epistulae ad Romanos inchoata expositio (ed. J. Divjak 197, Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesasticorum Latinorum Vol. 84, 162), Ep. 13:
Unde interrogati rustici nostri, quid sint, punice respondentes: "Chanani" -- corrupta scilicet, sicut in talibus solet, una littera, quid aliud respondent quam "Chananaei?"

When our rural peasants are asked what they are, they reply, in Punic, "Chanani," which is only a corruption by one letter, what else should they respond but "Chananaei?"
But Chanani is even better than the Latin Chananaei, Canaanites. "Phoenician" is a Greek name and "Punic" a Latinization of it. The Phoencians called their language Kan‘ani and their homeland Kan‘an, the same word the Bible uses for the land of Canaan and the Canaanites (כנעני). In Isaiah 19:18 Hebrew itself is referred to as "the language of Canaan" (שְׂפַת כְּנַעַן); Hebrew, Phoenician and Canaanite (and Moabite) all form the Canaanite language subgroup of Northwest Semitic, and are extremely close to each other. And as late as five centuries and a half after the destruction of Carthage, Augustine tells us that when asked what they are (unde interrogati quid sint) "our rustics" responded that they were Kan‘ani! And clearly, the language in which they replied was also Kan‘ani.

That particular anecdote, along with many other mentions in Augustine's works of people in the countryside speaking Punic, has convinced most scholars today; those who used to claim he must have meant Berber have no comparable evidence or, actually. any.

But there's another piece of lexical evidence as well.

Salus = Tria

In the same epistle quoted above, Augustine tells a story about his predecessor as Bishop of Hippo, one Valerius. Valerius was Greek and is said to have spoken Latin poorly and Punic not at all. One day he is said to have been listening to the locals speaking in Punic and he heard a word which he thought sounded similar to the Latin salus (safety or, to a churchman like Valerius, salvation). Valerius asked those with him (Augustine may have been present himself as he tells the tale) what this Punic word that sounded like salus meant in Latin, and he was told "tria", three.

So in what sort of language would the word for "three" remind a Latin speaker of salus. "Three" in Phoenician was shalush (compare Hebrew shalosh, שָׁלוֹשׁ, Arabic thalatha). Perhaps to a Latin ear the sh sound was indistinguishable from the s sound, or perhaps the local dialect of Late Punic did not make the distinction; in early Canaanite, early Hebrew and Phoenician the shin and sin were not distinguished in writing (though later Hebrew added a dot to make the distinction); and remember the story in Chapter 12 of Judges, in which the men of Ephraim were distinguished from the men of Gilead by using the word shibboleth as a password, since the Ephraimites couldn't pronounce the shin. (On a related point, our name "Judges" translates the Hebrew Shoftim, which implied more than just a judicial function; and the civil government officials of Ancient Carthage were known in Punic as shofetim, the same word but camouflaged via Latin into the English term suffetes, which you may or may not have encountered depending on how classical your education is.)

So, salus = shalush = tria = three. And Valerius is said to have preached a sermon on how Latin salus, salvation, could be achieved through the Punic meaning of the word, "three": that is, through the Trinity. A bit of a reach, and perhaps why Valerius' successor as Bishop of Hippo is much better remembered.

Augustine's evidence leaves little real doubt that in the provinces of North Africa he knew (Numidia and Africa Proconsularis, roughly Algeria and Tunisia), spoken Punic was a going concern in his era (he died in 430). Latin-Punic tomb inscriptions from Tripoli and Sirte in Libya suggest it still survived there as well.

But 430 is still over 200 years before the Arab conquest, and the argument that Arabic spread quickly because another Semitic language was already spoken there requires Punic to have survived for those centuries. The evidence trail gets much colder after Augustine, but it does not disappear entirely. Tomorrow, Procopius and al-Bakri, two very curious and arguable testimonies.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Did Spoken Punic Survive Until the Advent of Arabic? Part Two: Punic After Carthage.

I'm on vacation. As I've done in recent years, I've prepared a number of posts on topics of historical and cultural interest ahead of time, posts unlikely to be overtaken by events. There will be one or more of these per day, and I may drop in to comment on current developments as required.

Delenda est Carthago. (Also given as Carthago delenda est, and both are shortened versions; Cato used to end all his speeches, regardless of the subject he was speaking about, with something like Ceterum autem censeo Carthaginem esse delendam: roughly, "Oh, and did I mention yet: Carthage must be destroyed.") In 146 BC, Rome delendaed the bloody hell out of the place, razing all the buildings and sowing the ground with salt. Every schoolboy knows (or allegedly once knew) that. The end.

But as I noted yesterday, the Punic language survived the fall of Carthage for an indeterminate period, and certain French and North African historians have suggested it lasted until the Arab conquest of North Africa in the seventh century AD, at which point the presence of a previous Semitic linguistic substrate, namely Punic, helped speed the adoption of Arabic.

The evidence is slim and, as our Amazigh ("Berber") friends persist in reminding the rest of us, Arabic's triumph is still far from complete in the Maghreb. And the Arab conquest of the region around ancient Carthage,though it began in the 640s AD, was only complete in the 660s; Kairouan was founded in 670. From 146 BC to 670 AD is more than eight centuries, a long survival for a language that was a foreign transplant to begin with (from Phoenicia), competing with the local languages (so-called "Libyco-Berber," a presumed ancestor of modern Tamazight languages) and the official tongue, Latin, and with no surviving sponsoring polity to keep it alive.

Don't expect to be utterly persuaded by what we'll be discussing over the next few days. I'm not 100% convinced myself, but since I first heard of the idea (originally associated as far as I know with the writings of William and Georges Marçais, though I think Ernest Renan may have raised the idea earlier; it's embraced by some modern Maghrebi scholars as well) I've thought it an intriguing but definitely unproven possibility. Don't expect me to prove it: hey, remember, I'm on vacation.

Punic is not a well-attested language. Most of what survives are brief inscriptions, often tombstones.  Early Punic is virtually identical with Phoenician; there are some variants in later Punic.

For a useful listing of literary evidence of late Punic, as well as a discussion of other sources, see Fergus Millar's "Local Cultures in the Roman Empire: Libyan, Punic and Latin in Roman Africa," The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol. 58, Parts 1 and 2 (1968), pp. 126-134 (available online but only via paid download through JSTOR, from which I take an extended quote (pp. 130-131)(but do nor here include his footnotes):
The literary evidence other than that of Augustine stretches from the late first to the sixth century, and deserves to be set out in full, in chronological order by the writers:
(1) Statius, Silvae IV, 5, 45-6 (to Septimius Severus):
non sermo Poenus, non habitus tibi, / externa non mens, Italus, Italus.

(2) Apuleius, Apologia 98, 8-9 (on his step-son and opponent Sicinius Pudens):
loquitur numquam nisi Punice et si quid adhuc a matre graecissat; enim Latine
loqui neque vult neque potest. Audisti, Maxime, paulo ante, pro nefas, privignum
meum, fratrem Pontiani, diserti iuvenis, vix singulas syllabas fringultientem.

(3) Ulpian, Lib. 2. fideicommissorum (Dig. xxxii. i i. pr.) :
fideicommissa quocumque sermone relinqui possunt, non solum Latina vel
Graeca, sed etiam Punica vel Gallicana vel alterius cuiusque gentis.

(4) Ulpian, Lib. 48 ad Sabinum (Dig. XLV. i. i. 6):
proinde si quis Latine interrogaverit, respondeatur ei Graece, dummodo congruenter
respondeatur, obligatio constituta est: idem per contrarium. sed utrum
hoc usque ad Graecum sermonem tantum protrahimus an vero et ad alium,
Poenum forte vel Assyrium vel cuius alterius linguae, dubitari potest.

(5) Epit. de Caes.20,8:
(Septimius Severus) Latinis litteris sufficienter instructus, Graecis sermonibus
eruditus, Punica eloquentia promptior, quippe genitus apud Leptim provinciae

(6) Historia Augusta, vita Sept. Sev. I5, 7:
cum soror sua Leptitana ad eum venisset vix Latine loquens, ac de illa multum
imperator erubesceret ... redire mulierem in patriam praecepit.

(7) Jerome, Com. ep. Gal. II (Migne, PL XXVI, 357):
Antiquae stultitiae usque hodie manent vestigia. Unum est quod inferimus, et
promissum in exordio reddimus, Galatas excepto sermone Graeco, quo omnis Oriens
loquitur, propriam linguam eandem habere quam Treviros, nec referre, si aliqua
exinde corruperint, cum et Afri Phoenicam linguam nonnulla ex parte mutaverint.

(8) Procopius, de bello Vandalico ii, IO, 20:
[Greek text: I'll be giving a translation of this Procopius passage in a later part of this series—MCD

These texts are of course of very uneven value. Apuleius is trying to discredit his stepson, and the proof that he spoke only Punic is supposed to be his speaking Latin haltingly; and the late biographical passages on Severus have little or no weight in themselves. But the two passages of Ulpian are quite another matter. He is speaking about what is legally permissible in the first passage, and envisaging an exchange of a dubiously binding nature in the second. He is, in other words, talking about the real contemporary world, and it is not an accident that the three languages used as examples are Punic (in both cases), Celtic, and Aramaic or Syriac. It ought to follow, unless Ulpian is making a wild error, that Punic was still used by persons of something more than the lowest social standing and, from the first passage, that it was written-though not necessarily (see below) in Semitic script. Jerome compares with those in Punic changes that have occurred in another living language, Galatian. The passage of Procopius is set in the very dubious context of a legend about the settlement of N. Africa, supposedly referred to in an inscription of Phoenician language and lettering at Tigisis; Courtois has argued that the inscription could not have had its supposed contents, and consequently that the people did not understand it (and therefore that in this sentence Procopius refers to Berber). But the argument makes Procopius use φοινικικός in two different senses in the same passage, and proceeds too strictly from what we might presume but cannot know. The sentence is an addition by Procopius himself, who had been in Africa with Belisarius, and (especially when combined with Augustine's evidence) should be taken to mean what it says.
Millar also spells out the epigraphic evidence:
The literary evidence may thus provide a framework against which to set the documentary evidence, from coins and inscriptions. The coin evidence is very limited: Punic lettering appears on the coins of a few civitates liberae of the early Empire, but disappears in the first half of the first century.The very numerous Punic (or rather neo-Punic) inscriptions of Roman Africa, many with parallel Latin texts, are effectively impossible to survey with confidence, for they have never been assembled in any modern collection. Furthermore, not only in CIL viii but also in the otherwise excellent Inscriptions of Roman Tripolitania (I952) the Punic parallel texts of Latin inscriptions are mentioned but not given. It may be sufficient therefore to start from the conclusion of G. Charles-Picard in his illuminating discussion of the civilization of Roman Africa: extended Punic inscriptions appear roughly up to the beginning of the second century, and brief formulae up to the beginning of the third. This view is based to a large extent on Charles-Picard's own invaluable work at Mactar, where nearly 130 Punic inscriptions have been found, though far from all published. Among them the latest extended texts have until recently been thought to be the three inscriptions,probably of the first century A.D., on the temple of Hathor Miskar (or Hoter Miscar); thev dedicatory inscription on the frieze of the temple runs to forty-seven lines in ten columns.A subsequent discovery, however, has produced two further inscriptions from the temple, one of a mere two lines, but another of eleven columns of three, five or six lines each. It records the repair of the temple, with the names of thirty-six contributors ; eighteen of them appear to have transliterated Latin names. It is suggested by the editors that the occasion cannot have been earlier than the early second century, and may well have been considerably later.
On Latino-Punic, the blog Bubulistan in 2007 summarized a thesis in Dutch on the subject and translated a few quotes. (It's the second of the two subjects quoted in the blogpost.) Not knowing  Dutch, I've omitted the Dutch text. The thesis author is convinced that Punic survived until the seventh century.
A thesis on the subject was recently defended by Robert Kerr of Universiteit Leiden (summary in pdf). Punic written in Latin script is of course nothing new: act V, scene 1 of Plautus' Poenulus, for example, contains an entire monologue in Punic (look here for an analysis taken from Rosenberg's Phönikische Sprachlehre und Epigraphik). Yet I had no idea that the Latino-Punic corpus was so extensive (Dr. Kerr mentions 69 inscriptions, "mostly epitaphs"), nor that Punic apparently remained a living "functioning North-West Semitic language" for much longer than previously thought. Dr. Kerr believes Punic was spoken as late as the 7th century AD and offers the following insight (NL) into the Punic-Roman relations after the Third Punic War (again, please excuse the poor translation):
It was long believed that the Punic culture was done for once Carthage was destroyed and "Africa" became a province of the Roman Empire. But the culture in Tripolitania actually only came to bloom. The region went its own way. Rome didn't really bother itself with it and the Carthagian influence was already diminished after the Second Punic War when the region broke away from the Carthagian sphere of influence. We are inclined to think of that period in terms of Roman-Carthagian dichotomy. But not every Punic speaker in North Africa had posters on their wall celebrating Hannibal as a liberator.
The earliest inscriptions in the Latino-Punic corpus are from 1st and 2nd centuries AD and were found in Leptis Magna. Later specimens were found deeper inland at the edge of the desert and date back to the 3rd and 4th and perhaps even 5th century AD. According to Dr. Kerr,
... in the pre-desert part of Tripolitania, Punic inscriptions far outnumbered the Latin ones. In fact, almost no Latin inscriptions were found there.
No surprise there since apparently Punic was spoken by the mixed population which came about when Punic men married Libyan women. Punic men
[Dutch text omitted from quote]

... were settled in the border areas by the Romans. They had been in the army and were now employed to man defendable border outposts for a good pay. They were afforded a lot of freedom. In Roman sources, speakers of Punic were famous for being able to successfully cultivate the land in dry areas.
[Dutch text omitted from quote]

The system of defendable outposts and water retrieval was fragile and maintenance intensive and did not survive Berber raids beginning in the 6th century and the Islamic conquest in the 7th century.
As for the actual language of the inscriptions, there is still some controversy as to what it actually is:
[Dutch text omitted from quote]

Some berberologists and africanists still wanted to believe that while poor leaseholders still spoke Punic, the elite did not and switched completely to Latin. But the inscriptions are a first-hand proof that Punic was still spoken by the upper class on the coast as late as the 3rd century AD, as is also evident from the tradition surrounding the Emperor Septimius Severus who was born in Leptis Magna.
I found Dr. Kerr's findings concerning the phonology of the inscriptions utterly fascinating. He compared the writing conventions used in both Latin and Punic inscriptions of North Africa and found that the latter must be derived from the former. This lead him to the conclusion that the pronunciation of North African vulgar Latin must have strongly resembled that of Punic. In both languages, for example, ellision of unstressed vowels is a rule. Dr. Kerr believes that the phonology of both vulgar Latin and Punic in North Africa must have been influenced by a substrate language which he terms Berbero-Libyan. In his own words:
[Dutch text omitted from quote]
Compare that with the similarities in pronunciation of Afrikaans and South African English, or Irish and Irish English. The language is different, but the accent is immediately recognizable.
And finally, even the good old St. Augustine (who was born in Roman North Africa) comes into play here:
[Dutch text omitted from quote]

It is often assumed that Augustine actually meant "Berber" when he spoke of Punic. But he was very well aware of the difference between Punic and Libyco-Berber. Of the latter he only knew that it existed, but he did not speak it. Augustine for example recognized Hebraisms in the Old Latin translation of the Bible because he spoke Punic. He did not speak any Hebrew.
Linguistic blogger Lameen Souag, meanwhile, noted this post in 2007 as well, and adds:
In eastern Libya, as it happens, Punic continued to be written even after the Phoenician alphabet was forgotten; this body of inscriptions, using the Latin alphabet to write Punic, is called (logically enough) Latino-Punic, and a comprehensive database of such inscriptions is available from Leiden.
Unfortunately that link today brings up what appears to be a 404 error in Dutch and I'm not finding it through other searches.  Lameen also mentions Saint Augustine and the 11th century text of al-Bakri, which may hint at a very late survival, but we'll be discussing them and other evidence in later parts of this series.

All these authors have referred to the evidence of Augustine. He is the last certain point in this exploration; later evidence such as that of Procopius and al-Bakri is highly uncertain. We'll discuss Augustine on Monday; enjoy your weekend.

Today's Vacation Post Will Be Up Later

Though I prepared my vacation postings in advance I want to modify today's a bit: it will appear later in the day.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Did Spoken Punic Survive Until the Advent of Arabic? Part One

I'm on vacation. As I've done in recent years, I've prepared a number of posts on topics of historical and cultural interest ahead of time, posts unlikely to be overtaken by events. There will be one or more of these per day, and I may drop in to comment on current developments as required.

Unless you're familiar with some of the French literature on North African history you may never even have heard of the question I want to explore over the next few days: how long did Punic, the language of Ancient Carthage, survive as a spoken language? If that seems rather obscure, consider this aspect: some have argued that Punic was still spoken in some parts of north Africa at the time of the Arab conquest in the seventh century, AD. And, it has been argued, the presence of a closely related Semitic language eased the adoption of the Arabic language. A modern Tunisian linguist has gone so far as to argue that Punic underlies the modern spoken dialects (darija) of North Africa. Most would not go that far. But it's an intriguing, if unproven, assertion.

Carthage, of course, was destroyed by Rome in the wake of the Third Punic War in 146 BC. Rome destroyed the city, and also much of whatever literature and history in Punic existed. But the language did not disappear: Saint Augustine of Hippo (AD 354-450) refers to it on several occasions and apparently understood it. Some skeptics have suggested that when Augustine says "Punic," he means Berber, but he gives examples which support that it was indeed Punic, including noting that its speakers referred to it as "Chenani": clearly kan‘ani, "Canaanite," as Phoenician speakers referred to their own language. So the survival of Punic into the fourth century seems pretty reasonable. Other authors before Augustine also make occasional reference to Punic, as does a contemporary, St. Jerome.

A few inscriptions exist in "Neo-Punic," a late form of Punic, into the Common Era, and there are "Latino-Punic" inscriptions as well; there is more dispute about certain texts in the "Libyan" alphabet (ancestor of the Tifinagh used for today's Berber), buy which may include some in Punic, especially in Tripolitania.

After Augustine the trail becomes a lot more unclear; there's a passage in Procopius' account of the Vandalic War in the sixth century that speaks of Punic, but it is in a confused and rather dubious context; there's a passage in the 11th century Arab geographer al-Bakri about a language that is neither Arabic nor Berber, but it's otherwise not clear what he means.

Over the several parts of this vacation post, I'll be talking about many of these clues in greater detail.

Let me add a couple of caveats up front, though: first, other than Augustine, all the evidence is at best suggestive and not proven; getting from Augustine to the Arab conquest requires spanning three centuries. Second: epigraphical evidence is scant, and proving what languages were spoken in antiquity is difficult; even the assumption that modern Berber languages descend from ancient Libyan or "Libyco-Berber" is mostly inference and common sense, not provable. And third: we really have very little evidence of Punic as distinct from Phoenician: some tombstones and other finds in Carthage and elsewhere in North Africa and Spain, and some inscriptions in Malta that seem more Punic than Phoenician, but the maternal country's language (Phoenician) and the colonial language (Punic) seem to be more closely linked than British and American English.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

July 23, Nasser, and Sisi: Cult of Personality Emerging?

If there was one saving grace to the rule of SCAF in 2011-2012, it was that no attempt was made to create a cult of personality around Field Marshal Tantawi: it's hard to have a cult of persoality around a man with little detectable personality. Is General Sisi taking a different tack? Zeinobia notes that this banner was raised at Nasser's tomb for the July 23 celebrations yesterday:
She also reports that this photo of Nasser greeting a small boy is making the social media rounds with the assertion that the boy is a young General Sisi (born 1954), though no evidence is offered.
Even if the boy has no connection with General Sisi, it seems to add to the idea that parallels with Nasser are being encouraged.

We'll see. Nasser did at least shift to civilian clothing fairly early on, whereas this recent appearance by Sisi struck me as having an almost Central American coup feel to it:

The Byzantine Reconquest in 10th Century Syria, Part II

I'm on vacation. As I've done in recent years, I've prepared a number of posts on topics of historical and cultural interest ahead of time, posts unlikely to be overtaken by events. There will be one or more of these per day, and I may drop in to comment on current developments as required.
Coronation of Tzimisces

My opening vacation posting, on Monday, introduced the situation in the Levant in the 10th century AD, when the splintering of the ‘Abbasid Caliphate weakened the defenses of the Islamic world against their Byzantine adversaries, and the Byzantine Emperor Nicephorus Phocas waged several campaigns against the Hamdanid Amir of Aleppo, Saif al-Dawla. If you haven't read Part I, please do so before reading the rest of this.

We stopped at the coronation of the Emperor John I Tzimisces, who had just assassinated his uncle, Nicephorus Phocas. After Phocas' widow, and Tzimisces' reported lover, the Empress Theophano, had been duly packed off to a convent instead of being married to Tzimisces due to the Church's opposition, Tzimisces (the name is Armenian; his mother was a sister of Phocas), who had been one of Phocas' key generals, returned to the Syrian frontier.
But not immediately. After Tzimisces' coronation in 969, he had to spend 970-971 fighting off an incursion from Kievan Rus and otherwise securing his European frontier. In 972 he turned his attention to the Islamic world again. In that year he moved into Upper Mesopotamia.

Hamdanid power had been weakened by the campaigns of the Emperors Romanus and Nicephorus, and the powerful commander who had long controlled the frontier, Saif al-Dawla of Aleppo, died in 967. The growing Byzantine successes had provoked domestic rebellions, and he had taken ill and soon died. His son Sa‘d al-Dawla was soon driven from Aleppo by rivals. Meanwhile, as we saw last time, Antioch had been take by the Byzantines, and now even Aleppo agreed to pay tribute to Byzantium.

But also 969 was the year the Fatimids consolidated their power in Egypt, ending the weaker Ikhshidid rule and providing a major new counterweight to the Byzantines.

Meanwhile Saif al-Dawla's brother Nasir al-Dawla, ruler of the other Hamdanid state in Mosul, had endured problems of his own, fighting off challenges from rivals and seeing his capital captured by the Buyids who ruled most of Iran. Nasir al-Dawla recouped but was deposed in the same year his brother died, 967.

So Tzimisces' invasion of Upper Mesopotamia (the Jazira) in 972 found a weakened polity and met with a number of successes. In 975 he turned again to Syria, and this time advanced farther into the country than the Byzantines had done since the days of Heraclius, taking in turn Homs, Baalbek, Damascus, Tripoli, Beirut, Sidon, Damascus, Nazareth, Tiberias, and Caesarea. His goal was Jerusalem, but he was blocked by the rising Fatimid power. Most of these conquests were for the briefest of times and resulted in a tributary relationship, not Byzantine rule. In these campaigns, however, the much-weakened Hamdanids were reduced to Muslim vassals of Byzantium, which they accepted as a counterweight to the Fatimids. In 976, returning from this campaign, Tzimisces died suddenly. Poison was rumored. He was succeeded by his nephew and co-Emperor Basil II.

Basil II
Basil II is one of the best-known Byzantine Emperors, but he is primarily remembered by his nickname Bulgaroktanos, the Bulgar-killer. But in addition to his final conquest of the Bulgarians, he also campaigned in the East.

For the first decade of his reign, however, Basil had to cope with domestic rebellions, in part due to the long neglect of domestic imperial issues by his predecessors. The growing Fatimid power took advantage  of this preoccupation and regained much of the territory lost under the two previous emperors.  In 987 Byzantium signed a seven-year truce with the Fatimids. In 991, though, the Fatimids attacked the Hamdanids of Aleppo, who as we have seen were by now a Byzantine protectorate. When the Fatimids threatened to take Aleppo and Antioch, Basil took the field. Through the 990s the lines moved back and forth, and with the accession of the Fatimid Caliph al-Hakim in 1000 a truce was established. This held despite the Fatimids' conquest of Hamdanid Aleppo (which continued to pay tribute to Constantinople) and even Hakim's destruction of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in 1009, though that would ultimately lead to the Crusades.

During the Fatimid truce, Basil turned to the campaign that would ensure his fame, against Bulgaria. The border stabilized, with the main long-term gain being Antioch. It remained under a Byzantine duke until after the Battle of Manzikert in 1071, when the Seljuq Turks took eastern Anatolia from the Byzantines, taking Antioch in 1084. In 1098 they lost it to the Crusaders. The Byzantines initially saw the Crusaders as potential allies for the recovery of Jerusalem, though they were eventually disabused of that notion by the sack of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade.

The Byzantine reconquests in Syria in the 10th century were mostly brief, the one major success being returning the ancient Christian Patriarchal city of Antioch to Christian rule for over a century.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Egyptian Army in Politics, 2: 1952 and All That

I'm on vacation. As I've done in recent years, I've prepared a number of posts on topics of historical and cultural interest ahead of time, posts unlikely to be overtaken by events. There will be one or more of these per day, and I may drop in to comment on current developments as required.
 "The Army Carries Out a Peaceful Military Movement."
"Dismissal of a Number of Senior Officers and Protection if Public Faciilities."

My survey of the Egyptian Army in Politics began with my July 12 post on Colonel Urabi's revolt in 1881-1882.

In the ensuing 70 years the Army was rarely directly involved in politics, given the presence of British troops in Egypt as a counterbalance. There were some military plots during the Second World War, and military dissatisfaction with King Farouq began to build after the defeat in the 1948 First Palestine War/Israeli War of Independence.

Sixty-one years ago today, all that changed. A group of dissatisfied officers, mostly colonels and lower but including General Muhammad Naguib, seized power, deposed the King, and the following year declared a republic.

The Free Officers (1st row: Nasser, Naguib, Abdel Hakim Amer, Sadat)
In many ways all of Egyptian history since July 23, 1952 (labeled a "Revolution" after the fact) grew from the events of that day. With the exception of the one year from last July to this one, the Army has directly or indirectly been the primary source of legitimacy in Egypt ever since. With the Army now back in power it will be interesting to see how July 23, still Egypt's national day, is officially marked.

I have posted so often about 1952 that there is little new to add. You can read my posts from July of 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012, as well as all my posts tagged Naguib, Nasser, or Sadat, since all three of Republican Egypt's first three Presidents were senior figures in the original Free Officers.

The coup itself was a classic one and became a model for the Arab military regimes of the 1950s and 1960s, with other countries' officers even adopting the name Free Officers and/or calling their junta a Revolutionary Command Council. After the Army's not-a-coup-really on July 3, the Denver Post posted a collection of photos of the preludes to the coup (including Black Saturday) and the coup itself, including some of the same photos I posted last Friday.

Naguib and Nasser
Although Muhammad Naguib was the ostensible leader of the coup and became first Prime Minister and then, after the proclamation of the republic, Egypt's first President, he was soon eclipsed by his Prime Minister, Gamal Abdel Nasser, and finally deposed by him; Naguib remained a nonperson until the Sadat years, but has been somewhat rehabilitated since.

Nasser became a symbol for the Arab world, first as the man who ended the British role in Egypt and then, in 1956, resisted the triple invasion of the British and French colonial powers plus Israel. Until his image received a setback in 1967 Nasser was enormously popular.
Naguib Outflanked
Nasser's socialist reforms were less successful and his introduction of a national security state that became the model of the mukhabarat republics that dominated the Arab world for years casts a shadow on his memory, but he still as many admirers.

The third President from the Free Officers, Anwar Sadat, has also had a mixed legacy. Having lived in Egypt for two of the eleven years of his Presidency, I can attest to the shifts in his image through the years. At first seen as very much in Nasser's shadow, the 1973 war made him a hero. His 1977 trip to Israel and subsequent peace treaty was much less popular, and led to Egypt's ostracism from the Arab world. By 1981 he had become increasingly repressive, and his funeral after his assassination that year was attended mainly by foreign dignitaries with most Egyptians excluded, a sharp contrast to the millions who turned out for Nasser's. Yet now, more than 30 years later, Sadat is increasingly popular in retrospect and often referred to as a martyred President.

Egypt's fourth President, Husni Mubarak, was too junior to have been in the Free Officers (he graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1950), but he was very much a product of its legacy. Of Egypt's leaders since 1952, only Muhammad Morsi had no links to it. The Free Officers were forged in the 1948 war with Israel and led Egypt during the 1956, 1967, War of Attrition and 1973 wars. (By contrast, the current military chief, Gen. Sisi, is the first modern Egyptian military chief with no combat experience, being commissioned in 1977.)

So 1952, whether seen as a coup or a revolution, has dominated Egypt ever since.

Two videos, both in Arabic (though the first is probably self-explanatory, showing scenes of the coup; the second is Naguib addressing the country after the coup:

Monday, July 22, 2013

A Few Words About Helen Thomas

I'm on vacation, but it seems worth dropping in to remember Helen Thomas, who died over the weekend just two weeks short of her 93rd birthday. Other obituaries have emphasized her pioneering roles in journalism: first female officer of the National Press Club, first female member of the White House Correspondents' Association (and its President), first female member of the Gridiron Club, UPI White House Bureau Chief, covering Presidents from Eisenhower to Obama. She was also a proud Arab-American, and a mainstay of the Arab-American community in Washington, often anchoring a table at Mama Ayesha's Arab restaurant in its heyday in the 1970s and 1980s. In her later years, of course, her outspoken opinions about Israel led to her resignation as an opinion columnist, but her career should speak for itself.

A Forgotten Reconquest: The Byzantines in Syria in the 10th Century, Part I

I'm on vacation. As I've done in recent years, I've prepared a number of posts on topics of historical and cultural interest ahead of time, posts unlikely to be overtaken by events. There will be one or more of these per day, and I may drop in to comment on current developments as required.

After the Arab Conquest of Syria in the 630s AD, the Emperor Heraclius of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire is said to have stared back while departing Syria and bid farewell to the country. Both Arab and Byzantine sources tell of him bidding it farewell in words along these lines:
Farewell, a long farewell to Syria, my fair province. Thou art an infidel's (enemy's) now. Peace be with you, O' Syria – what a beautiful land you will be for the enemy hands.
In the mental narratives of most people, I suspect, that is the end of Imperial Byzantine rule in Syria. But not quite. I suspect most Westerners, other than those very odd people who minored in Byzantine history (yes, I admit to it), and most Syrians, and for that matter all but the most well-read Greeks, have never heard of Nicephorus Phocas, John Tzimisces or Basil Bulgaroktonos, but those three Byzantine emperors managed to reconquer major parts of Syria in the 10th century, though they never reached their goal of taking Jerusalem (though they held Damascus, Beirut, Nazareth, and Caesarea, for a short while). It was a sort of proto-Crusade, a bit over a century before the actual First Crusade, but it was an evanescent recovery at best.

Since the Arab conquest of Syria, Arabs and Byzantines had fought along the frontier, and the frontier warrior became in fact a heroic figure in both cultures: the ghazi in Islam, akritas (plural akritai) in Greek. The Byzantines sought to defend a border roughly along the Taurus range, roughly along or a bit north of today's Turkish-Syrian border. Arab raiders sometimes penetrated deep into Anatolia; sometimes Byzantium raided into Syria, but the Empire long relied on defense along the Taurus or at the Cilician Gates to the west (below).
The Border Zone and Fortresses (Wikipedia)

By the mid-900s, however, there was a growing vacuum of power in the Levant. The ‘Abbasid Caliphs in Baghdad still claimed the Caliphate, but had lost effective governing power over many of their provinces; from the late 800s Samanids and Tahirids exercised real power, and Tulunids and Ikhshidids in Egypt; in 945 a Persian (and Shi‘ite) dynasty known as the Buyids even occupied Baghdad itself, recognizing the Caliph's suzerainty but controlling the state.

In the early 900s Syria and Northern Iraq came under the control of the Hamdanids, another Shi‘ite dynasty, with Nasir al-Dawla (ruled 935-967) ruling from Mosul and his younger brother Saif al-Dawla (945-967) ruling from Aleppo. The latter is the main Arab protagonist in this tale.

While the Hamdanids provided a base of resistance to Byzantine incursions, Egypt was essentially a power vacuum until the Fatimid Dynasty from North Africa took Egypt and founded Cairo in 969 AD, by which time the Byzantine offensive was well under way The Buyids who ruled Baghdad were more concerned with their Persian base. The Hamdanids were more or less alone for the moment.
The Middle East in 970 AD (Wikipedia)
Phocas' Siege of Chanax on Crete
Enter the Byzantine general and later Emperor Nicephorus II Phocas (Nikephoros II Phokas). As a general under Emperor Romanus II Lecapenus, Phocas led an expedition that reconquered Crete from Islam in 961 AD.

Turning back to land, he campaigned in 962-963, taking Cilicia and invaded Hamdanid territory, briefly capturing Aleppo, sacking it and confiscating its treasures, the first great success in Syria. His nephew, John Tzimisces, campaigned with him. They did not seek to annex Hamdanid territory, merely to break Saif al-Dawla's power on their frontier.

In March of 963, Emperor Romanus died at age 26, possibly poisoned by his Empress. The eldest heir (the future Basil II) was only five, and the Empress Theophano, now regent, turned to Nicephorus Phocas and proclaimed him Emperor; he married the widowed (though perhaps not grieving) Empress. (Hey, why do you think we call that sort of scheming "Byzantine"?).

Nicephorus II Phocas
Now Emperor, Phocas campaigned in Cilicia in 964-966 and raided into Hamdanid Syria, while a Byzantine fleet reconquered Cyprus from the Arabs. In 968 he raided as far as Tripoli in Lebanon, and sought to besiege Antioch; he garrisoned a fort at Baghras between Antioch and Alexandretta (Antakya and Iskenderun). The local commander took Antioch against orders.

Phocas' campaigns elsewhere, against Bulgaria and Sicily, were less successful than his campaign against Saif al-Dawla, and his domestic policies generated opposition.

Meanwhile, Empress Theophano had married Phocas to retain power for her sons; Phocas is said to have been unattractive and to have taken a vow of chastity after his first wife's death. For whatever reason, the Empress had (allegedly) begun an affair with her husband's nephew and co-general John Tzimisces, and they began to plot against Phocas. (They're Byzantines, remember?) You can read the details in Wikipedia, but in the end Phocas was assassinated by his nephew/lieutenant/wife's lover John Tzimisces, who became Emperor John I. An inscription on Phocas' tomb reads, "You conquered all but a woman."

Phocas had campaigned deeper into Syria than any Byzantine general since the Arab Conquest, and had earned the soubriquet "White Death of the Saracens," but his successor Tzimisces would see even further successes. I'll deal with that in Part II on Wednesday (an Egyptian post tomorrow for July 23). But first: what about Theophano? Tzimisces wanted to marry her to further legitimize his rule, but the Patriarch of Constantinople denounced the idea and the Empress' reputation was already sullied; Tzimisces apparently decided the Orthodox Patriarch was a more useful patron than the Empress who may have plotted against both her husbands, so she was exiled to a convent on the island of Prinkipo in the Marmara (Büyükada today), where deposed Empresses traditionally were sent. (Yes, the Byzantines deposed enough of their Empresses to need a special convent for them.)

On Wednesday, in Part II: the Campaigns of John Tzimisces and Basil II in Syria.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Vacation Posts Coming

I'm going to be on vacation the next two weeks. As I did the past two years, I'm preparing a number of posts on historical or cultural subjects that won't be easily overtaken by events. At least one should appear daily; I may add others on the road, and if major events require it I'll do more, but expect at least one longer post a day; not my usual pace, but hey, I'm on vacation. The pre-prepared posts will appear each morning, and some years they've drawn more comment than my usual daily fare, so keep on dropping by.

Friday Nostalgia: 1952 was DEFINITELY a Coup

For your Friday nostalgia photos: Since people are arguing about whether or not July 3 in Egypt was a coup, can we at least agree that July 23, 1952, whether you also consider it a "Reviolution" or not, was indeed a pretty classic coup? (More on 1952 next Tuesday, the 61st anniversary.) Anwar Sadat took the radio station (though he was late for the Revolution as he'd been at the movies) and there were tanks at Abdin Palace. Yes, that was definitely a coup. (This time they just seized the Radio-TV building and the tanks were surrounding Ittihadiyya Palace. Totally a different thing.)

Ahram Headline: Make Up Your Own Joke

From Ahram Online, on today's demonstrations:
Since the story says that the hospital was "stormed" by "tens" of Morsi loyalists, I'm guessing they just wanted to use that headline.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

While the Army Settles in, the Secular Liberals are Déjà vu All Over Again

I've just noted the Army's consolidation of its role in Egypt. What about the civilian secular liberals who wanted Morsi gone so badly? This headline contains so much truth about the secular/liberal parties in Egypt since 2011, I'm not sure you even need to click through: "Disputes in National Salvation Front emerge ahead of elections."

Sisi and the Army Since the Coup

This Washington Post story emphasizes the role of Sinai in the Egyptian Army's decision to move against Muhammad Morsi; indeed Morsi's failure to support the Armed Forces' plans to clean up the armed jihadi problem in Sinai may well have been the tipping point. Others have suggested that Muslim Brotherhood rhetoric (used in Morsi's presence without him objecting) about waging jihad in Syria also triggered the Army's decision.

In a speech to the Army some days ago, General Sisi defended the Army's move as having been taken at the people's insistence; though blogger "Baheyya" found a disturbing subtext in the speech:
The speech is the intellectual gloss on the July 3 coup. Its point is that Egypt is too important to be ruled by its people. Too many regional and world powers are vested in the direction this country takes and how it gets there. Its population will be corralled to the side and left to practice their charming folkloric political rituals, with parliamentary elections and even presidential elections and what have you. An arena of electoral democracy will be constructed, but many matters of grave national import will be outside its purview. And anyway, its outcomes can always be reversed.
What about protests in Tahrir, you ask? Certainly, the generals will generously provide the paraphernalia of protest and drop flags on the cheering throngs (while dropping leaflets on those other people), then beam with paternal pride about how their cute people “impress the world.” Keeping the public in a condition of permanent political infantilism; walling off the state from democratic control; and above all, terminating the necessary political struggles that societies must engage in to build their institutions and control their destinies. This is the military’s roadmap.
Some defenders of the deposition of Morsi note that Westerners lamenting the need for a military coup fail to note that the SCAF intervention of  February 2011, which deposed Husni Mubarak, was neither more nor less of a coup than the July 3 action. (Except that unlike Morsi, Mubarak was not freely elected.) What's perhaps interesting to note, though, that it's not just Western observers: Egyptians have consistently referred to the "January 25 revolution" and avoided focusing on the February 11 military intervention, but that's what removed the intransigent Mubarak. Arguably, the Egyptian Armed Forces never really went away; when SCAF yielded power to Morsi, they did so by first issuing a Constitutional Declaration that further limited Presidential powers; the 2012 Constitution, though widely considered a Brotherhood product, gave the military remarkable power and independence.

Sisi, who like many other younger officers (born 1954: not that young but too young to have served in the 1973 war) had been stuck in the second echelon in the Tantawi years, is just now coming into focus. It's pretty clear the Brotherhood got him wrong. He may well have Islamist leanings, but he's an officer first, and security issues such as Sinai clearly soured him on Morsi. Some in the Brotherhood (and some in the West) initially thought him a Brotherhood sympathizer. They were apparently misinformed. While Sisi's speech uses rhetoric about the Army as the servant of the people, Baheyya's comments are also relevant; there's a definite portrayal as the Army as savior, and of the Army as guardian and guarantor of the security of the state.

Yes, that Turkish model, not the other one,

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Ramadan: The Month and the Book

This post is old news to all my Muslim readers, but it occurs to me that it may not be so well known among non-Muslims, and may be worth discussing briefly: the important links between the month of Ramadan and the Qur'an, which plays a central role in the ritual of the month of fasting.

Muslims believe that the first revelation of the Qur'an to Muhammad took place during the month of Ramadan,  on a night the Book itself calls the Laylat al-Qadr, the Night of Power of Night of Destiny. The Qur'an says this of it:
We have revealed this [Qur'an] on the Night of Power.
And what will explain to you what is the Night of Power?
The Night of Power is better than a thousand months.
Therein come down the Angels and the spirit
By God's permission, on every errand:
Peace! This until the rise of morn!
— Qur'an, Sura 97 (Al-Qadr)
A. Yusuf Ali translation
As I noted in an earlier Ramadan post on Laylat al-Qadr, it is believed to fall in the last ten days of the month, on an odd-numbered night, but the exact date is unknown (though some Shi‘ites observe it on the 23rd), so most Muslims mark the last ten days as a group.

But the Qur'an is part of the entire month's observance. I live just down the road from one of the biggest mosques in Northern Virginia, and each night since Ramadan began, the local police have been out directing traffic due to the numbers of people going to the mosque at night. These Ramadan prayers, known as Tarawih, are not obligatory, but are considered strongly recommended as the Prophet himself performed them. In conjunction with the prayers, it is customary to recite one juz', or thirtieth part, of the Qur'an. Most copies of the Qur'an show the text divided into 30 parts, so that the entire book is read by the end of Ramadan. Although the Qur'an is, of course, read throughout the year, its links with Ramadan are particularly deep,

Some Ramadan Nostalgia: Coffee for King Farouq's Iftar

Some Ramadan nostalgia: the servants prepare the coffee for King Farouq's guests for Iftar at the palace in the 1940s, from this site.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Tisha B'Av and Ramadan

I'm a few hours late with this since the Jewish fast day of Tisha B'Av, marking the fall of both the first and second temples, ended at sundown. Belated wishes to Jewish readers; for the history of the day see my 2009 Tisha B'Av post. This encouraging thought has been making the rounds on social media: (the Muslim is dressed in ihram for the hajj, rather than Ramadan, but the thought's a noble one):

A Couple of Ramadan Footnotes

There is, of course, much more to Ramadan than just soap operas. Here are a couple of aspects:
  • Abu Dhabi's The National looks at the tradition of the midfa‘ al-Iftar, the cannon fired at sundown to announce the breaking of the fast. Despite cell phones, public address systems (and the ambient noise of traffic), and other technology, many places, apparently including Abu Dhabi, still cling to the traditional cannon.

Egypt's Interim Cabinet: Which One Do You Notice First?

What's the first thing you notice about this picture? Is it the fact that two of the new Cabinet are women (a third seems to have missed the photo op), or that one is in clerical garb? Perhaps, but I'm guessing you noticed how clearly the uniform stands out among all those dark suits. And General Sisi is also Deputy Prime Minister as well as Defense Minister.

None of that is a surprise of course; in fact, since Sisi is one of the few Defense Ministers in recent years not to hold (yet) the rank of Field Marshal, I suspect he might have a promotion coming. [Update: A commenter notes that traditionally the rank is not given to someone without combat experience. Sisi has not served in a war.]

Nor is he the only military man: Air Marshal Reda Hafez, who was the Commander of the Air Force until last year, remains Minister of State for Military Production, the post to which President Morsi named him last August after retiring him and the other senior commanders. That gives him control over much of Egypt's military industry. And the Interior Minister, as usual, is a general in the security forces, Gen. Muhammad Ibrahim, who held the job under Morsi.

Women hold the Ministries of Health, Environment, and the powerful Information Ministry. There are said to be three Christians.

For the "You Keep Using That Word. I Do Not Think It Means What You Think it Means" Files

From The New York Times: "Egyptian Liberals Embrace the Military, Brooking No Dissent."

Liberals? If you don't understand the headline reference: from The Princess Bride:
[Vizzini has just cut the rope The Dread Pirate Roberts is climbing up]
Inigo Montoya: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Maybe we need a new word besides "Liberal"?

Monday, July 15, 2013

I've Been Neglecting the Important Stuff: This Year's Ramadan Soaps

Egyptian politics has been so front and center lately that I realize I've neglected to say anything about one of the most important issues in the Arab world during Ramadan: the month-long soap opera-style TV series that dominate Arab TV during the month of fasting. Egypt and Syria crank out dozens that are viewed throughout the Arab world (the Levant, the Gulf, etc.), and despite a coup in the first and a civil war in the second, they have not neglected their publics. (For background, see my post around this time last year.) Besides soap operas, there is a category of shows known as fawazir Ramadan, musical extravaganzas so called because they often involve riddles or fawazir.

Daily News Egypt offers a review of the Egyptian selection this year (though many are multinational and also seen elsewhere) in "Ramadan's Series, Only for the Brave": there's one about a belly dancer (as the reviewer notes, "Nothing says spirituality more than the inside of nightclubs"), one about young girls marrying older men, and the like. Ahram Online notes the Egyptian offerings have many with political themes.

Elsewhere, the other country known for producing and exporting Arabic Ramadan soap series, Syria, managed to produce the usual series despite the fact that a full scale civil war is under way. Also see here for another report on Syria. And another Syrian soap actually filmed in the UAE, recreating Damascus in Abu Dhabi for this year.

Also, Al-Bawaba has a slideshow about series that nearly were axed due to incompatibility with the holy month.

In recent years, Turkish soap operas have also been extremely popular in the Arab world, though some Arab actresses are complaining they're providing unfair competition.