Muslims in medieval peninsular southern Italy; Part 4- Emir Sawdan

This is the last installment of the very popular series “Muslims in medieval peninsular southern Italy.” It deals with the life and exploits of the last Emir of Bari Sawdan Al-Mawri. During his reign he expanded the Emirate’s lands further north even to Capua. It was said that he was planning to move on Naples though his plan was disrupted by a Cholera outbreak. His rule was likewise recognized by the Abbasid Caliph Al-Mutawakkil. Sawdan continued to develop Bari and built a mosque to promulgate Islamic studies.

Part 3 of this series left of with Sawdan being led away as prisoner to Benevento. His future was not only uncertain but given the enmity he faced from both Holy Roman Emperor Louis II as well as the Papacy it did not look good.

However Italian and Byzantine sources both report a growing interest in and popularity of Sawdan while he was held in Benevento. Although in captivity he was receiving a constant stream of visitors and was even dining with Louis who remained in Benevento to keep an eye on the situation in the south. It was said his charisma ended up eclipsing whatever notoriety Louis had obtained after his victory of the Muslims. Sawdan was seen as a knowledgeable confidant and was receiving both Lombard and Frankish representatives who were often complaining to him about one another. This information that he was privy to would prove advantageous to Sawdan in the near future.

Louis and his family including his trusted wife Engelberga had been living on and off in Benevento for about five years following the fall of Bari. The Chronicon Salernitarium recorded that she had deeply offended the local population by criticizing the coarseness of their women and the failure of their men to defend themselves. Her behavior was not welcome and in August of 871 Adelchis seized Louis, Engelberga and their daughter and put them under imprisonment. Finally the Bishop of Benevento negotiated their release after one month but a condition was stipulated; that Louis take an oath to leave Benevento and never return.

Blame for this conspiracy is assigned to Sawdan in the Chronicon Salernitarium where it claims Adelchis sought Sawdan’s counsel before taking action against Louis. Constantine Porphyrogenitus also relates that Sawdan had also informed Adelchis of a plan to take some of the Beneventans north in chains including presumably Adelchis himself. The Annales Bertiniani reports there was at least a plan to send Adelchis into permanent exile. This corroborates that Sawdan had knowledge of what both sides were plotting and apparently acted to support what outcome he believed would serve his interest by passing information on the Adelchis.

Louis, humiliated, returned north and upon his death in 875, the Beneventans released Sawdan. This also seems to confirm his participation in the capture of Louis. Other sources identify broader Campanian complicity including from Guaifer of Salerno and Sergius II of Naples and Barbara Kreutz of also suggested a Byzantine hand in this. Unfortunately no other information is available on what happened to Sawdan but he obviously used his intellect and cunning to rule the Emirate of Bari and after its fall to be a major player in Campanian politics eventually gaining his own freedom.

The photo is Sancta Sophia in Benevento and is courtesy of Flickr user seleniamorgillo and subject to use under the conditions of the Creative Commons.


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