XVIII. AFRICAN INTRUDERS
Whatever one may think of the condition of Sicily under Arab rule, the proceedings of these strangers was wholly deplorable so far as the mainland of Italy was concerned. They sacked and burnt wherever they went; the sea-board of the Tyrrhenian, Ionian and Adriatic was depopulated of its inhabitants, who fled inland; towns and villages vanished from the face of the earth, and the richly cultivated land became a desert; they took 17,000 prisoners from Reggio on a single occasion - 13,000 from Termula; they reduced Matera to such distress, that a mother is said to have slaughtered and devoured her own child. Such was their system on the mainland, where they swarmed. Their numbers can be inferred from a letter written in 871 by the Emperor Ludwig II to the Byzantine monarch, in which he complains that "Naples has become a second Palermo, a second Africa," while three hundred years later, in 1196, the Chancellor Konrad von Hildesheim makes a noteworthy observation, which begins: "In Naples I saw the Saracens, who with their spittle destroy venomous beasts, and will briefly set forth how they came by this virtue. . . ." [Footnote: He goes on to say, "Paulus Apostolus naufragium passus, apud Capream insulam applicuit [sic] quae in Actibus Apostolorum Mitylene nuncupatur, et cum multis allis evadens, ab indigenis tcrrae benigne acceptatus est." Then follows the episode of the fire and of the serpent which Paul casts from him; whereupon the Saracens, naturally enough, begin to adore him as a saint. In recompense for this kind treatment Paul grants to them and their descendants the power of killing poisonous animals in the manner aforesaid - i.e. with their spittle - a superstition which is alive in south Italy to this day. These gifted mortals are called Sanpaulari, or by the Greek word Cerauli; they are men who are born either on St. Paul's night (24-25 January) or on 29 June. Saint Paul, the "doctor of the Gentiles," is a great wizard hereabouts, and an invocation to him runs as follows: "Saint Paul, thou wonder-worker, kill this beast, which is hostile to God; and save me, for I am a son of Maria."]
It is therefore no exaggeration to say that the coastal regions of south Italy were practically in Arab possession for centuries, and one is tempted to dwell on their long semi-domination here because it has affected to this day the vocabulary of the people, their lore, their architecture, their very faces - and to a far greater extent than a visitor unacquainted with Moslem countries and habits would believe. Saracenism explains many anomalies in their mode of life and social conduct.
From these troublous times dates, I should say, that use of the word cristiano applied to natives of the country - as opposed to Mohammedan enemies.
"Saraceno" is still a common term of abuse.
The fall of Luceria may be taken as a convenient time-boundary to mark the end of the Saracenic period. A lull, but no complete repose from attacks, occurs between that event and the fall of Granada. Then begins the activity of the corsairs. There is this difference between them, that the corsairs merely paid flying visits; a change of wind, the appearance of an Italian sail, an unexpected resistance on the part of the inhabitants, sufficed to unsettle their ephemeral plans. The coast-lands were never in their possession; they only harried the natives. The system of the Saracens on the mainland, though it seldom attained the form of a provincial or even military government, was different. They had the animus manendi. Where they dined, they slept.
In point of destructiveness, I should think there was little to choose between them. One thinks of the hundreds of villages the corsairs devastated; the convents and precious archives they destroyed, [Footnote: In this particular branch, again, the Christians surpassed the unbeliever. More archives were destroyed in the so-called "Age of Lead" - the closing period of Bour-bonism - than under Saracens and Corsairs combined. It was quite the regular thing to sell them as waste-paper to the shopkeepers. Some of them escaped this fate by the veriest miracle - so those of the celebrated Certoza of San Lorenzo in Padula. The historian Marincola, walking in the market of Salerno, noticed a piece of cheese wrapped up in an old parchment. He elicited the fact that it came from this Certosa, intercepted the records on their way for sale in Salerno, and contrived by a small present to the driver that next night two cartloads of parchments were deposited in the library of La Cava.] the thousands of captives they carried off - sometimes in such numbers that the ships threatened to sink till the more unsaleable portion of the human freight had been cast overboard. And it went on for centuries. Pirates and slave-hunters they were; but not a whit more so than their Christian adversaries, on whose national rivalries they thrived. African slaves, when not chained to the galleys, were utilized on land; so the traveller Moore records that the palace of Caserta was built by gangs of slaves, half of them Italian, half Turkish. We have not much testimony as to whether these Arab slaves enjoyed their lot in European countries; but many of the Christians in Algiers certainly enjoyed theirs. A considerable number of them refused to profit by Lord Exmouth's arrangement for their ransom. I myself knew the descendant of a man who had been thus sent back to his relations from captivity, and who soon enough returned to Africa, declaring that the climate and religion of Europe were alike insupportable.