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In auro de Paleola: On Gold, Ivory and Capetian Colonial Ambitions

Thursday Lecture Series, Belongings

dateApril 21, 2022 timeThursday, 12:15pm EDT locationVirtual Event location The Heyman Center, Second Floor Common Room, Columbia UniversityThis event will take place in person at the Heyman Center and virtually over Zoom.
  • This event will take place in person at the Heyman Center and virtually over Zoom. We ask that EVERYONE REGISTER VIA ZOOM, even those who plan to attend in person. Please read event description for further details.

  • The Society of Fellows and Heyman Center for the Humanities
email address [email protected]
  • Free and open to the public
  • Registration required. See details.
  • Image Credit/Caption: Écu d’or of Louis IX, 1270. BnF, Cabinet des médailles
Écu d’or of Louis IX, 1270. BnF, Cabinet des médailles

In the aftermath of the Crusade of 1270, when Louis IX of France died on African soil outside the ruins of Carthage, in Hafsid Ifriqiya, Louis’s younger brother Charles of Anjou, king of Sicily, negotiated an extremely generous tribute from the Hafsids after he called off the siege: 210,000 pieces of gold, each worth 50 silver dirhems, in addition to the arrières owed on the annual tribute to Sicily for the last five years. The Hafsid caliphs obtained their almost unimaginable gold through access to trans-Saharan trade. How aware were the Crusader forces of the origins of the pure bullion that so stoked their desires? Explicit references to gold transactions in the financial records of 1270 describe the gold as “auro de Paleola (gold of Paleolus),”a term in use since at least Ptolemy to describe a mythical West African “Island of Gold.” Probing the knowledge and motivation of the Capetians and Angevins in the lead up to 1270 allows us to re-examine the proto-colonial ambitions of the powerhouses of Western Europe, and to re-situate the role sub-Saharan Africa played in the medieval Mediterranean.

Sarah Guérin
is Assistant Professor in the Department of History of Art at Penn. Her teaching focuses on the art of Medieval Europe, 700–1400. She received a B.Sc. from the University of Saskatchewan (2001), and her Ph.D. from the University of Toronto (2009). Before joining the faculty at Penn in 2016, she was Assistant Professor at the Université de Montréal (2013–2016), and held postdoctoral positions at Columbia University and the Courtauld Institute of Art. Her research centers on the material conditions of medieval art, with an emphasis on the socio-economic circumstances surrounding production and use, including trade, artisanal organization, techniques, function as well as the theological conceits that influenced and enabled production. Focusing on art objects, which are defined more strongly by their material composition (ivory, gold, silver, precious stones), opens a wide range of questions regarding not only the meaning of certain materials but also the economic conditions that enable their very conception.

Attendance at SOF/Heyman events will follow Columbia-issued guidelines as they continue to develop. Given the current recommendations, we plan to allow in-person attendance for COLUMBIA AFFILIATES only. For everyone else, we're planning to livestream this event, allowing for virtual attendance.

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