"Isaac the Jew", Charlemagne's Diplomat

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"Isaac the Jew", Charlemagne's Diplomat's Geni Profile

Records for Yitzhak al-Yahudi "Isaac the Jew" ben Nechemiah II

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Yitzhak al-Yahudi "Isaac the Jew" "Isaac Judaeus" ben Nechemiah II

Also Known As: ""Isaac the Jew" Diplomat of Charlemagne"
Birthdate: (87)
Birthplace: Narbonne, Aude, Languedoc-Roussillon, France
Death: circa 836 (79-95)
Nantes, Loire-Atlantique, Pays de la Loire, France
Immediate Family:

Son of Natronai Ibn Habibai, Exilarch of Pumbeditha & Almeria and unknown bat Eleazar Kalir
Father of Yehudah Zakkai ben Yitzhak
Brother of Makhir ibn Habibi al-Narboni, Nasi

Managed by: Samuel Austin - Le Maux
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About "Isaac the Jew", Charlemagne's Diplomat

In 797 AD, Charlemagne, the founder of the Carolingian empire (later crowned Holy Roman Emperor), sent a man named 'Isaac the Jew' to the Baghdad caliph Harun al-Rashid. In 802, Isaac returned to Charlemagne’s court with an elephant as a gift to the king from the sultan.

In the "Gesta Karoli Magni ad Carcassonam et Narbonam" ('Deeds of Charlemagne at Carcassonne and Narbonne'), which, in recounting the story of the conquest of Narbonne , tells of the Jews of Narbonne requesting (through their interlocutor "Isaac the Jew") that Charlemagne confirm the status of their existing leader, [Makhir] a king of the house of David (it says nothing of him being imported at the time). The Jewish episode is only a sidelight in this Christian text, which was obviously written to showcase the foundation by Charlemagne of the important monastery of La Grasse, near Narbonne.



Jews were numerous in France under Charlemagne, their position being regulated by law. Exchanges with the Orient strongly declined with the advent of the Saracen in the Mediterranean sea (Southern Italy), while oriental products such as gold, silk, black pepper or papyrus almost disappeared under the Carolingians. The only real link between the Orient and Occident was insured by the Radhanites Jewish traders.

A formula for the Jewish oath was fixed by Charlemagne. They were allowed to enter into lawsuits with Christians, and in their relations with the latter were restrained only from making them work on Sunday. They were not allowed to trade in currency, wine, or grain. Of more importance is the fact that they were tried by the emperor himself, to whom they belonged. They engaged in export trade, an instance of this being found in the Jew whom Charlemagne employed to go to Palestine and bring back precious merchandise. Furthermore, when the Normans disembarked on the coast of Narbonnese Gaul they were taken for Jewish merchants. They boast, says one authority, of buying whatever they please from bishops and abbots.

Isaac the Jew, who was sent by Charlemagne in 797 with two ambassadors (Lantfroi and Sigismond) to Harun al-Rashid, the fifth Abbasid Caliph, was probably one of these merchants. It is a curious fact that among the numerous provincial councils which met during Charlemagne's reign not one concerned itself with the Jews, although these had increased in number. In the same spirit as in the above-mentioned legends he is represented as asking the Baghdad calif for a rabbi to instruct the Jews whom he had allowed to settle at Narbonne (see History of the Jews in Babylonia). Louis le Débonnaire (814–833), faithful to the principles of his father, granted strict protection to the Jews, to whom he gave special attention in their position as merchants.

Abul-Abbas, also Abul Abaz or Abulabaz, was an Asian elephant given to Emperor Charlemagne by the caliph of Baghdad, Harun al-Rashid, in 797. The elephant's name and events from his life in the Carolingian Empire are recorded in the annales regni francorum (Royal Frankish Annals), and Einhard's Vita Karoli Magni also mentions the elephant. However, no references of the gift have been found in Abbasid records, nor any mentions of interactions with Charlemagne, possibly because Rashid regarded the Frank as a minor ruler.

Abul-Abbas was brought from Baghdad which was then a part of the Abbasid empire by a Frankish Jew named Isaac, who along with two other emissaries, Lanterfrid and Sigimund, was sent to the caliph on Charlemagne's orders. Being the only surviving member of the group of three, Isaac was sent back with the elephant. The two began the trek back by following the Egyptian coast into Ifriqiya (modern Algeria and Tunisia), ruled by Ibrahim ibn al-Aghlab who had bought the land from al-Rashid for 40,000 dinars annually. Possibly with the help of Ibrahim, Isaac set sail with Abul-Abbas from the city of Kairouan and traveled the remaining miles to Europe via the Mediterranean Sea. They landed in Genoa in October 801. The two spent the winter in Vercelli, and in the spring they started the march over the Alps to the Emperor's residence in Aachen, arriving on 1 July, 802. Abul-Abbas was exhibited on various occasions when the court was assembled, and was eventually housed in Augsburg in what is now southern Bavaria.

In 810, when he was in his forties, Abul-Abbas died of pneumonia, probably after swimming in the Rhine. The elephants' bones were conserved at Lippenham[citation needed] until the 18th century.

Primary sources:

Graboïs, "La dynastie des 'rois juifs'," presents a stemma, p. 52. While Graboïs, "La dynastie des 'rois juifs'," 50-52, accepts Zuckerman's dating of the narrative gloss as late twelfth-century,

Cohen, "TheNasi of Narbonne," 53-56, suggests that it was forged when the extant copy was made in Provence in the fifteenth century.

Graboïs, "La dynastie des 'rois juifs'," p. 52 n. 23; Zuckerman, Princedom, 170-71.

Cohen, "The Nasi of Narbonne," 50; Gesta Karoli Magni ad Carcassonam et Narbonam, ed. Friedrich Edward Schneegans (Halle, 1898), 176-80.

^ Annales regni francorum 802:117 "venit Isaac cum elefanto et ceteris muniberus, quae a rege Persarum missa sunt, et Aquisgrani omnia imperatori detulit; nomen elefanti erat Abul Abaz". Harun al Rashid is referred to as either the king of the Persians (ibid 801:116 "rex Persarum") or of the Saracenes (ibid 810:113 "ubi dum aliquot dies moraretur, elefant ille, quem ei Aaron rex Sarracenorum miserat, subita morte periit"

1 Einhard p.70. Einhard refers to the elephant as the only one Harun al Rashid had ("quem tunc solem habetat"), which is regarded an invention. Thorpe, Lewis (1969). Two lives of Charlemagne (7 ed.). Penguin Classics,. p. 184. ISBN 0-14-044213-8.

2 Sherman, Dennis; Salisbury, Joyce. The West in the World, Volume I: To 1715. 1 (3 ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill. p. 220. ISBN 0-07-331669-5. OCLC 177823124.

3 a b Kistler, John M.; Lair, Richard (2006). War elephants. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 187–188. ISBN 0-275-98761-2. http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Y0sqI1fxfnMC.

4 Sypeck, Jeff. (2006). Becoming Charlemagne. HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN 0-06-079706-1

5 Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores rerum Germanicarum in usum scholarum separatim editi 6: Annales regni Francorum inde ab a. 741 usque ad a. 829, qui dicuntur Annales Laurissenses maiores et Einhardi. Edited by Friedrich Kurze. Hannover 1895, p. 116 (digital version).

6 Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores rerum Germanicarum in usum scholarum separatim editi 6: Annales regni Francorum inde ab a. 741 usque ad a. 829, qui dicuntur Annales Laurissenses maiores et Einhardi. Edited by Friedrich Kurze. Hannover 1895, p. 117 (digital version).

7 Moshe Gil. CUP Archive, 1992 .A History of Palestine, 634-1099, Volume 1. ISBN 0521404371, 9780521404372. http://books.google.fr/books?id=tSM4AAAAIAAJ&pg=PA286

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"Isaac the Jew", Charlemagne's Diplomat's Timeline

Narbonne, Aude, Languedoc-Roussillon, France
Age 21
Narbonne, Aude, Languedoc-Roussillon, France
Age 87
Nantes, Loire-Atlantique, Pays de la Loire, France