Three French documents relating to Africa

Most of the time when we’re working through sources culling names from them, our primary interest is in the names themselves, and not the contents of the documents (though sometimes of course you find something interesting, such as a reference to a person you know (I found Peter Abelard once!) or an interesting legal dispute, or socio-economical titbits such as women owning land and donating it to the church). We recently came across a short little article [1] in a 19th C journal that had three documents in it which were absolutely fascinating both from a linguistic/onomastic point of view as well as from a historical point of view, so we thought we’d talk a bit about them here.

One of the by-products of keeping detailed geographical information for each citation is often having to go on investigations to match medieval Latin placename forms with modern places. A lot of times, it’s easy — the common names (e.g., “Parisius”) show up a lot and are linguistically related to their modern forms. Other times, the connection isn’t immediately obvious, especially when it’s a smaller, less important city. (My knowledge of French geography has increased significantly in the last five years.) Usually the first step is to plug the Latin form of the name into wikipedia, and see if there are any hits; quite often there will be some documentary quote in the entry of the relevant modern city that includes the historical form of the name, and then it’s just a matter of triangulating what we know about the city from the document it’s mentioned in to the info in the wikipedia article to confirm that we’ve got the right one (important when there is more than one city with the same, or similar, name). The title of this article, “Chartes Inédits Relatives aux États de Bougie et de Bone (1268-1293-1480)” mentioned two cities — or rather “states” — that I didn’t recognise, but since the introductory material to the article mentioned Marseille, so I figured it would be somewhere in that area.

So I was totally taken by surprised when I found out that “Bougie” is a historic French name for the Algerian city Béjaïa, and that “Bone” (more properly “Bône”) or “Bona” is an old French name for the Algerian city Annaba, aka Hippo, where the great Saint Augustine came from.

Records from/relating to Algeria! From the middle of the 13th-century, Algeria was ruled by the Hafsid sultanate, but there were close connections between it and southern France, and thus these documents fall squarely within the scope of the Dictionary.

The first document, from 1268, is in Latin, and written under the authority of Guillaume Dagenessa, “vicarius” of Marseille, on behalf of Charles, king of Sicily, and concerns the establishment of a consulate at Bougie, with one Hugues Borgonion, a merchant, nominated as consul.

The third document, from 1480, is in Middle French and is from “Loys, par la grace de Dieu, roy de France, conte de Prouvence, et seigneur de Marceille” to “le illustrissime roy de Bone nostre chier amy”, who is, alas, unnamed, but who is the son of “le roy de Thunys”, that is, Tunisia (presumably, Uthman, Hafsid caliph from 1435–1488). The editor of the treatise speculates that the person in question might be Abu Yahya Zakariya, who was caliph of Ifriqiya from 1490-1494. It truly is a shame that the letter does not name its recipient!

The second document, from 1293, is by far the most exciting one. First, it is written not in Marseille about Béjaïa — it is written in Béjaïa, to be sent back to Marseille! Second, it is the first document in Old Occitan that we have had the opportunity to work with for the Dictionary. Three men are named — Guillem de Cadenet, “cavallier et viguier de Marseilha”, the recipient of the letter; and the two authors, Peire Jordan and Peire de Gerusalem, consuls, who are written to Guillem on behalf of all the merchants from Marseille in Béjaïa. (There is something somehow fitting about how out of three men, we only get two names. The popularity of forms of Peter in southern France is distinctive and pervasive, and while we would have loved to have more variety in these scant examples, it is satisfying to see the general pattern reinforced by such a small data set.)

What tremendously exciting documents to have come across, and we look forward to the next edition of the Dictionary which will boast not only its first names in Old Occitan but also its first names from Algeria!


References:

[1] L. de Mas Latrie, ed., “Chartes Inédits Relatives aux États de Bougie et de Bone (1268-1293-1480)”, appearing in vol. 2 of Bibliothèque de l’École des Chartres (1840-41), pages 388-397.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Three French documents relating to Africa

  1. David V Houston

    Pretty sure Bougie and Bone were used duing WWII, so presumably until the French granted independence would be my guess.
    Also. Bougie is a standard French word for candle, due to the massive production of them there.

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