The word Saracen comes from the Arab word sharq ‘east, sunrise’.
It originally referred to desert people who were not Arabs, but by the time of the Crusades, which ran from 1096 until 1272, it had come to mean Muslim Arabs – in other words, the enemy. A Saracen was a Muslim soldier who defended his territories from the Crusaders.
With the huge benefit of hindsight, it seems quite extraordinary that tens of thousands of people, both rich and poor, travelled a thousand miles, from all over Europe, to go on the First Crusade.
The Crusades were a series of military campaigns, in the name of religion, ironically enough, with the main aim being to seize the Holy Land for the Christian world.
When you’re solving the Demon in this issue, you may find this information useful.
It’s interesting that our English word admiral, meaning ‘highest-ranking naval officer’ comes from the same source, from the Arabic amir–ar-rahl ‘chief of the transport’.
In fact Arabic has been a major source of vocabulary for many languages. Over 3,000 of our standard English words and 5,000 of their derivatives have some connection with the language of the Qur’an, many of them everyday words such as mattress, guitar, magazine, zero, scarlet, jar and cork.
The Crusaders also returned with the names of the exotic materials they brought back – cotton, gauze, mohair, damask, muslin and sequins.
New foodstuffs were introduced, like coffee, sherbet, dates, apricots, lemons, limes, oranges, sugar, tuna and spinach, all of which had Arabic names, which eventually became anglicised. For instance, lemon, lime and orange were límín, lím and nãranj.
Unfortunately the Crusaders plundered ruthlessly as they travelled through the Eastern lands, as was their custom, and they found that in many ways, the Arabs and Turks were more advanced than the Europeans. As well as new words, new food and materials, they discovered new ideas, medicines, advanced building methods, and vastly superior mathematical knowledge. Algebra was invented by the Muslim mathematician Al-Khwarizmi.
But one other important idea was courtly chivalry, which would have been encountered in the Islamic poetry of the time. The French court adopted the concept of chivalric codes and elevation of femininity, and it spread to England and other parts of Europe, which had a civilising effect on the male-dominating ethos of the time.