Abigail Krasner Balbale will speak in the Work-in-Progress Seminar on Tuesday, February 23 at noon. Her talk is entitled “Wolf King of Glorious Memory: Culture and Ideology in Twelfth-Century Spain and North Africa.”

Abigail Krasner Balbale is Assistant Professor at Bard Graduate Center. Her research focuses on the intersection of political power, religious ideology, and visual and material culture in the medieval Islamic world. She is particularly interested in how medieval Islamic rulers legitimated their power through cultural production, holy war, and diplomacy. Her book in progress, tentatively entitled Wolf King of Glorious Memory: Alliance, Accommodation, and Resistance in Ibn Mardanīsh’s al-Andalus, centers on an enigmatic twelfth-century ruler who fought the Marrakech-based Almohad dynasty through an alliance with his Christian neighbors, and asserted his authority with reference to the Abbasid caliphate in the east. Her research has been supported by Fulbright, NEH, ACLS, and Mellon Fellowships. She serves as the secretary of the Historians of Islamic Art Association and is a founding board member of the Spain North Africa Project.

This talk, drawn from Balbale’s book in progress, explores the complexities of political and personal relationships among competing rulers in the Western Mediterranean in the twelfth century, and examines how these relationships were materialized in buildings and objects. Balbale focuses on the figure of Ibn Mardanish, known in Latin sources as rex lupus, who ruled eastern al-Andalus, as well as his ally Alfonso VIII of Castile, and his rivals, the North African Almohad caliphs ‘Abd al-Mu’min and Yusuf I. These men engaged with each other through battles and diplomacy, but also through trade, tribute, and cultural production. Examining and comparing the cultures of these courts reveals how rulers projected their ambitions on an imperial scale, and how they responded to others’ claims. Objects and spaces were deployed alongside poetry and polemic to argue for a ruler’s legitimacy, and could express his allegiance or opposition to other powers. Tracing the constellation of affiliations expressed in these forms reveals how these medieval rulers constructed their authority in relation to one another and to the most important powers of their day. By employing a comparative approach across Spain and North Africa, crossing religious and ethnic lines, Balbale will explore how ideology was expressed culturally in the imbricated world of the western Mediterranean.