EDITORIAL: From ‘Islam and the Medieval Mediterranean’ to ‘Journal of the Medieval Mediterranean’

The Journal Al-Masāq was conceived in 1988 by its founding editor, Dionisius Agius, as a welcome source of inspiration for and response to changing historiographical perceptions and reconstructions of the Mediterranean space in the medieval period. At that time, there was a clear and particular need for a journal with the subtitle of ‘Islam and the Medieval Mediterranean’. In the often unconscious periphery of the Cultural Turn in the social sciences, there was an increasing interest in research organised around transcultural and interdisciplinary medieval Mediterranean questions that explicitly integrated in their scope Islam as a complex and multi-layered socio-cultural phenomenon. After all, for a long time conceptualisations of the Mediterranean had been plagued by binary constructions that tended to ‘other’ its Islamic side, to consider it an intruder, outsider or opponent in Mediterranean places and spaces, conceived as rooted in Antiquity and only re-integrated in an emerging Europe from the later Middle Ages onwards. Arguably, this goes back to Henri Pirenne’s development in the 1920s and 1930s of the much debated thesis —famously formulated in his Mahomet et Charlemagne as “sans Mahomet, Charlemagne est inconcevable”[1]— that medieval Europe emerged only when the Arab-Muslim empire conquered the Mediterranean space and disrupted any further continuities between Mediterranean (late) antiquity and the Latin West. On the socio-economic side of things, this particular but influential construction of Mediterranean —and European— history was to a large extent made obsolete by the longue durée structuralism —and its many offshoots— of Fernand Braudel’s La Méditerranée et le monde méditerranéen à l’époque de Philippe II.[2]  A similar historical consciousness of socio-cultural medieval Mediterranean complexities and of the dynamics of cultural constructions and reproductions (whether of longue or courte durée) of a variety of Mediterranean frontiers —as in the Pirenne-thesis— was more slow to catch up. Incorporating Islam into this latter problematisation was therefore an important step forward, and a journal for ‘Islam and the Medieval Mediterranean’ served as a timely vehicle to offer some modest assistance in this respect (and the subsequent growth of the journal and its establishment at the centre of medieval Mediterranean debates attest to this timeliness).


Since those early days of the journal, however, this process of growing academic and wider awareness of the cultural complexity of the medieval Mediterranean as a space and place that cannot and should not be easily reduced to simple dichotomies has not come to a stop. Nor is it likely that it ever will, and fortunately so. Seminal contributions to this process have undoubtedly been ambitious and highly inspiring works of scholarly synthesis such as Peregrine Horden and Nicholas Purcell’s The Corrupting Sea: a study of Mediterranean history[3] and David Abulafia’s The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean[4]. Most importantly, it is becoming increasingly clear that there no longer is any need to emphasise the need to include Islam into any considerations of Mediterranean history small or large; this is by now almost self-evident, an acknowledged constituent of all things medieval Mediterranean. For this reason, there is no longer any need for our journal either to emphasise Islam’s constituent contribution to Mediterranean history, or to nurture any false ideas of Mediterranean dichotomies. In the 21st century, the concept of the medieval Mediterranean has come to maturity, as a valuable unit of historical analysis that takes into account the full complexity of the agencies of medieval Mediterrean sea- and landscapes. It stands for a sea and its diverse, wide-ranging and manifold hinterlands that from late antiquity to early modernity remained politically, socio-economically and culturally integrated through intricate networks and circulations of people, ideas, values, practices, goods and environments. All of these interacted in remarkably intense, varied, and (trans-)formative ways across internal and external frontiers and borders. Many and more aspects of this complex medieval Mediterranean space are nowadays subjects of research, and in line with its own history Al-Masāq wishes to continue to be a forum for that. Thus, from 2014, the subheading appearing under Al-Masāq will be “Journal of the Medieval Mediterranean” rather than “Islam and the Medieval Mediterranean”. The change in the sub-title aims at taking stock of this integrated understanding of the medieval Mediterranean, adopting it as a framework that forms the explicit or implicit background for everything published in it. After all, the journal’s aim is and always has been to foster investigation, create a forum of ideas, and encourage debates on medieval Mediterranean particularities, paying particular attention to trans-cultural and inter-disciplinary approaches in the humanities and social sciences.

The editors

[1] H. Pirenne, Mahomet et Charlemagne (Paris: Les Presses Universitaires de France, 1992 [1st ed. 1937]), p. 166.

[2] F. Braudel, La Méditerranée et le monde méditerranéen à l’époque de Philippe II (Paris: Colin, 1949).

[3] P. Horden, N. Purcell, The Corrupting Sea: a Study of Mediterranean history (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998).

[4] D. Abulafia, The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011).

Conference information

We host a biennial conference which brings together scholars from a range of disciplines to present and discuss their work, thus providing a forum for the exchange of ideas on the Medieval Mediterranean. Our next conference will be held at Ghent University from 10th-12th July 2017.

Visit the website for more information: http://www.smm2017.ugent.be


Membership of the society provides a range of benefits including copies of Al-Masāq delivered to your door and reduced rates for participation in our conferences.

Journal: Al-Masãq

These web pages introduce the Society and its peer-review journal: Al-Masāq: Journal of the Medieval Mediterranean, as well as providing details of our biennial conference series.