Sarah Guérin

Sarah Guérin

Marlène and Paolo Fresco Fellow for African Studies
Goldrush 1270 : Paris, Florence, Tunis, Ni-Jimi
2023-2024 (January - June)


Sarah M. Guérin is Assistant Professor of Medieval Art in the History of Art Department at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research centres on the material conditions of medieval art, with an emphasis on the socio-economic circumstances surrounding production and use. These interests have led her to engage seriously with the material culture of Africa contemporary with the European Middle Ages, and especially the role trans-Saharan trade routes play in the medieval economic system. This research lead her to contributing, as a member of the steering committee and a catalogue author, to the award-wining exhibition Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time: Art, Culture and Exchange across Medieval Saharan Africa, 2019-2022. In 2022, her monograph French Gothic Ivories: Material Theologies and the Sculptor’s Craft appeared with Cambridge University Press.

Project Summary

The Crusade of 1270 is still an enigma to historians. Instead of Jerusalem, vulnerable Acre, or even Mamluk Egypt, the troupes of king Louis IX quixotically headed for Hafsid Tunisia, where the saintly king died of dysentery on African soil. The project Goldrush 1270: Paris, Florence, Tunis, Ni-jimi reads the actions of Louis IX and Charles of Anjou within a much broader field of actors, moving beyond the Mediterranean to sub-Saharan Africa. The political jostling both before and after the 1270 Crusade included not only Louis IX, Charles of Anjou, and Hafsid emir al-Mustanstir, but also the head of an Ayyubid force roaming the Sahara in search of gold, Qarâqush, and the second-generation black king of the Empire of Kanem-Bornu, situated on the shores of Lake Chad, named in the emic sources as Mai Dunama Dabbalemi. The struggle to control the sources of West African gold bullion occupied rulers from across Eurasia, leading them to intervene in sub-Saharan politics. Hitherto unremarked, two documents drafted in the shadows of Carthage, days after Louis IX’s death, definitively prove that his two brothers, Charles of Anjou and Alphonse of Poitiers, as well as his son and heir Philippe le Hardi, knew that the gold obtained from the Hafsid emir al-Mustanstir was “oro de palolus.” This term, of still uncertain etymology, used in Italian documents since at least 1181, refer explicitly to Ligurian and Tuscan knowledge that some gold came from West Africa. This project underscores the centrality of the socio-economic history of the Bilad al-Sudan, the Land of the Blacks, to Mediterranean power struggles in the years around 1300.