This article offers a critical evaluation of a purported diplomatic mission from Genoa to the Marīnid sultan of Morocco, Abū Yaʿqūb Yusuf (r. 1286–1307 CE). Ibn Abī Zarʿ, author of a famous chronicle known as the Rawḍ al-qirṭās, or “Garden of Pages,” recorded the arrival of the Genoese along with their impressive gift: a golden or gilded tree with singing birds. His inclusion of the episode in a narrative otherwise devoted to the deeds of the dynasty and history of Fez raises several interesting questions. How did the Genoese construct or acquire the tree? Why was the nature of this gift important, and what might have been the goals of the Genoese embassy in bringing such a costly object along? I propose that we understand the embassy and its inclusion in the narrative as part of a Marīnid desire to promote the dynasty as legitimate heirs of previous Islamic rulers. This desire made use of symbols of pious and wise kingship, including the mechanical marvel represented by the tree, which bore an impressive ideological pedigree in Islamic and Christian literary and representational traditions. For their part, the Genoese may have been motivated by a desire to repair relations with Abū Yaʿqūb damaged by the activity of Benedetto Zaccaria in the straits of Gibraltar. Taken as a whole, this brief but under-studied event suggests both the Mediterranean scope of this symbol of kingship and its use by medieval diplomats to achieve practical ends.
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Research Article| December 01 2019
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Joel Pattison; A Golden Tree in the “Garden of Pages”: The Genoese Embassy to Morocco of 1292. Journal of Medieval Worlds 1 December 2019; 1 (4): 1–9. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/jmw.2019.1.4.1
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