Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies


The Muslim Discovery of Europe1

Bernard Lewis

I suppose that most textbooks of European history or of world history—which in European textbooks is much the same thing—contain a chapter called ‘The Age of the Discoveries’, or something of the kind, which deals with the period from the fifteenth century onwards when Western Europe set about discovering the rest of the world. My subject to-day is another and earlier discovery, in which the West European was not the explorer going forth to discover the barbarian, but the barbarian discovered by the explorer—the Muslim explorer. My purpose is to outline, very briefly, the sources, nature, and stages of growth of Muslim knowledge concerning Western Europe, first in the obscure centuries before the Crusades, then during that great offensive of Western Christendom against Islam, of which the expeditions to Palestine were the easternmost expression.


1 This paper contains the modified text of a communication read to the International Congress of Historical Sciences in Rome, September 1955. A more detailed treatment of the same subject is in preparation.