Public lecture on a 12th century Latin-Arabic document

The distinguished British academic, Professor Jeremy Johns, will be giving a public lecture entitled A new Latin-Arabic document for Malta and Gozo (Queen Constance, November 1198) and the history of the Maltese archipelago from the 7th to the 13th centuries on Wednesday, 20 May at 6pm at the Aula Magna, Valletta Campus, University of Malta, St Paul Street, Valletta. The lecture is organised by the Archaeological Society Malta. Professor Johns is Professor of the Art and Archaeology of the Islamic Mediterranean, Director of the Khalili Research Centre for the Art and Material Culture of the Middle East, University of Oxford, and Fellow of Wolfson College.

More than ten years ago, Professor Jeremy Johns announced the imminent publication of an edition and study of the Latin-Arabic document that in November 1198 the Empress Constance addressed to “the whole people of the entire island of Malta and of the entire island of Gozo, our loyal Christian and Saracen subjects alike (Latin) / to all the Christians and the Muslims of Malta and Gozo – may God guide them! (Arabic)”. Later this year, the promised study will finally appear in The heritage of learning: Arabic and Islamic studies dedicated to Wadad al-Qadi (Chicago University Press, 2015). The Latin text of this document has long been known from late medieval copies, but reading it together with the hitherto unknown Arabic text gives much new information about late twelfth-century Sicily and Malta.

The document throws new light upon the Maltese archipelago under Norman rule, not least by seeming to confirm that already under Roger II, in the words of Giliberto Abbate, “the men of these islands [lived] according to different customs and laws than [did] the men of our kingdom of Sicily”. Professor Johns will also be introducing another new publication — the study by Marc Lauxtermann, Bywater and Sotheby Professor of Byzantine and Modern Greek Language and Literature at the University of Oxford, of the famous anonymous Greek poem addressed to George of Antioch, that was published in 2010 by J. Busuttil, S. Fiorini and H.C.R. Vella under the title Tristia ex Melitogaudo. In particular, he will explore the implications for the history of Malta of Lauxtermann’s radical correction of the published translations of the famous passage in this poem that describes the aftermath of Roger II’s conquest of 1127.

Photo: The Empress Constance document 1198