Makhir Ibn Habibi al-Narboni, Judiarch of Narbonne
|Also Known As:||"Exilarch of Narbonne", "Makhir ben Havivai"|
|Birthplace:||Baghdad, Baghdād, Iraq|
|Death:||Died in Narbonne, Aude, Languedoc-Roussillon, France|
Son of Natronai Ibn Habibai, Exilarch of Pumbeditha & Almeria and unknown bat Eleazar Kalir
|Occupation:||Judiarch of Narbonne, Nasi, Prince of Septimania, Count|
|Managed by:||Private User|
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About Makhir ibn Habibi al-Narboni, Nasi
Makhir ben Havivai was a Babylonian-Jewish scholar, a descendant of the House of David, and the leader of the Jewish community of Narbonne in southern Gaul at the end of the eighth century. His descendants were for many generations the nasi or leaders of that community, and Carolingian client-kings in Septimania. Zuckerman suggested he was identical with Maghario (recte Magnario), Count of Narbonne in 791. However, that Magnario was probably Meginarius, a Frank, counselor to Louis the Pious in Aquitaine about 794.
Makhir belonged to the family of Exilarchs of the Jews at Babylon. The 12th century scholar Abraham ibn Daud says Charlemagne exchanged embassies with the Caliph of Baghdad, Harun al-Rashid, in 797 and 801 (as his father had with Caliph al-Mansur in 765-768) (Sefer ha-Kaballah). Charlemagne requested a prince of the house of David and was sent Makhir. However, it seems more probable that Makhir was sent to Charlemagne's father, Pépin the Short, who in 768 promised the Jews of Barcelona the right to be governed by a Jewish king in exchange for their help against the Arab rulers of the city. There is precedent for this since Makhir's grandfather was Resh Kallah of the Jews of Carcassonne who assisted Charles Martel in preparations for the Battle of Tours.
Makhir became Exilarch and Nasi (Prince) of the Jewish community at Narbonne (Septimania). He founded a Talmudic school that is said to have rivaled those in Babylon. The residence of his family at Narbonne was designated in official documents as "Cortada Regis Judæorum" (Saige, "Hist. des Juifs du Languedoc," 44).
- Justin Swanstrom, 12/31/2010
Writings by Abraham ibn Daud
According to a tradition preserved by Abraham ibn Daud in his Sefer ha-Qabbalah, written about 1161, Makhir was a descendant of the house of David. Ibn Daud wrote:
Then King Charles sent to the King of Baghdad [Caliph] requesting that he dispatch one of his Jews of the seed of royalty of the House of David. He hearkened and sent him one from there, a magnate and sage, Rabbi Makhir by name. And [Charles] settled him in Narbonne, the capital city, and planted him there, and gave him a great possession there at the time he captured it from the Ishmaelites [Arabs]. And he [Makhir] took to wife a woman from among the magnates of the town; *...* and the King made him a nobleman and designed, out of love for [Makhir], good statutes for the benefit of all the Jews dwelling in the city, as is written and sealed in a Latin charter; and the seal of the King therein [bears] his name Carolus; and it is in their possession at the present time. The Prince Makhir became chieftain there. He and his descendants were close [inter-related] with the King and all his descendants.
Whatever Makhir's Babylon origins claimed by his descendants, the relation between Makhir and Charlemagne is legendary, the more famous king substituting for his father Pepin, king of the Franks, who in order to enlist the Jews of Narbonne in his efforts to keep the Ummayad Saracens at bay, granted wide-ranging powers in return for the surrender of Moorish Narbonne to him in 759. The monkish Annals of Aniane and the Chronicle of Moissac both attribute this action to the Gothic leaders of Narbonne, rising up and massacring the Saracen garrison. Pepin with his sons Carloman and Charles redeemed this pledge in 768, granting to Makhir and his heirs extensive lands, an act that called forth an unavailing protest from Pope Stephen III. In 791 Charlemagne confirmed the status of the Jewish Principate and made the title of Nasi permanent.
The Makhir family enjoyed for centuries many privileges and that its members bore the title of "nasi" (prince). Benjamin of Tudela, who visited Narbonne in 1165, speaks of the exalted position occupied by the descendants of Makhir, and the "Royal Letters" of 1364  also record the existence of a rex Iudaeorum at Narbonne. The place of residence of the Makhir family at Narbonne was designated in official documents as "Cortada Regis Judæorum" . Makhir is said to have founded a Talmudic school there which vied in greatness with those of Babylonia and which attracted pupils from many distant points.
The Bnei Makhir and the Carolingian dynasty
Arthur Zuckerman maintains that Makhir was actually identical with Natronai ben Habibi, an exilarch deposed and exiled in a dispute between two branches of the family of Bostanai in the late eighth century. Zuckerman further proposed that Makhir(/Natronai) is to be identified with a Maghario, Count of Narbonne, and in turn with an Aymeri de Narbonne, whom heroic poetry marries to Alda or Aldana, daughter of Charles Martel, and makes father of William of Gellone. This William was subject of at least six major epic poems composed before the era of the Crusades, including Willehalm by Wolfram von Eschenbach, the most famous of the medieval Grail chroniclers. His historical counterpart, William I, Count of Toulouse led Frankish forces at the fall of Barcelona in 803. The account of the campaign in Ermold Niger's Latin poem dates the events according to the Jewish calendar and portrays William as an observant Jew. Count William was son of a Frankish Count of Septimania named Theoderic, leading Zuckerman to conclude that Theoderic was none other than Makhir, and that the well-documented descendants of Theoderic embodied a dynasty of Franco-Judeic kings of Narbonne, representing the union of the lineage of the exilarchs with that of Martel's Carolingians.
Makhir ruled during a temptestuous period. As the Mohammedans had moved up into the peninsula, a number of Visigoths and lower-class Hispani had crossed the Pyrenees into Septimania. Though the Mohammedans established a tenuous subordination of Septimania in their destructive raids between 718 and 732, they  were unable to extend their control permanently beyond the Pyrenees for reasons discussed in the foregoing chapter. Frankish counterattacks from the north, followed by the outbreak of civil war among the Mohammedans, quickly altered the balance of power. After 742, part of Septimania renounced its tributary status, though the remaining Gothic overlords in Septimania sometimes preferred distant association with Córdoba to Frankish domination. In 756 Narbonne, the largest town in the region, acknowledged the sovereignty of the Frankish monarchy, which soon incorporated all the territory down to the Pyrenees.
Charlemagne attempted to roll back the Muslim frontier by extending a Frankish protectorate over northeast Hispania at the behest of anti-Umayyad Muslim dissidents. In 778 a Frankish expedition against Zaragoza failed, but in 785 the Christian inhabitants of Gerona, in the northeastern corner of the peninsula, accepted Frankish suzerainty. In a series of limited campaigns fought between 785 and 811, Franks occupied and fortified the strongpoints of the southern Pyrenean foothills. The eastern and central Pyrenean regions were then organized on the Frankish principle into six counties -- Urgel, Pallars, Barcelona (seized in 801), Ribagorza, Sobrarbe, and Aragón -- under the Frankish monarchy.