Pavel Blazek

discipline History

Research project

The Wives of the Saracens: Medieval Western Perceptions of Islamic Marriage


One of the main differences between medieval Islam and medieval Christianity was the contrasting doctrine of marriage. Whereas medieval Christianity recognised only monogamous marriage and taught its indissolubility, medieval Islam, following the Koran, permitted divorce as well as polygamy. This basic doctrinal difference exercised a profound influence on the social and legal practice of marriage in medieval Christian and Islamic societies. While in the Dar al-Islam divorce was common, as were, among the Islamic upper classes, multiple marriages, in Christendom monogamous marriage till death do us part became (with exceptions) the legal and social norm by the Central Middle Ages.


It is not surprising that this fundamental difference soon become one of the key elements of the medieval western image of Islam. Islamic polygamy and divorce, usually interpreted by medieval authors as the proof and result of “Mahometan licentiousness”, looms large in the writings of medieval Christian anti-Islamic polemicists, as it does in accounts by western travellers to Islamic countries. These also often report and discuss other points of difference between Christian and Islamic marriage, such as in gender roles and in the position of women.


The project explores and assesses these numerous and diverse medieval Christian responses to Islamic marriage. It asks how they shaped and participated in the broader western image of Islam and Islamic culture and how they reflected contemporary western identities.


While being primarly intended as a contribution to historical studies and specifically to the history of Islamic-Christian relations, it is hoped that the project will be of relevance and interest also to other areas of the Humanities and Social studies, in particular to the ongoing Christian-Islamic dialogue within Theology and to debates, within contemporary Philosophy, Sociology and Cultural Anthropology, on issues of cultural identity and diversity. It is also hoped that the project will contribute to the intense debate on the role and position of women in Islam and Islamic culture.



Pavel Blažek is a medievalist and intellectual historian. He studied history and medieval studies in London (University College London), Pisa (Scuola Normale Superiore), Louvain-la-Neuve (Université Catholique de Louvain) and Jena (Friedrich-Schiller-Universität), where he received his PhD (2004).


Since then he has held a number of research fellowships including, most recently, an Alexander of Humboldt Fellowship in Munich and Dresden, an Andrew Mellon Fellowship at the Warburg Institute in London and an Amplonius Fellowship in Erfurt.


His main research interests are the History Marriage and Family in Medieval Thought, the History of the Medieval Reception of Aristotle and the History of the Bible in the Medieval World. The topics he has been working on over the past years include Medieval Debates on Polygamy, the Medieval Reception of Aristotle’s Ideas on Marriage, Medieval Household Treatises, Medieval Philosophical Debates on Celibacy and Virginity, Concepts of Women in Medieval Sermons and the Medieval Tradition of the Penitential Psalms.

He has also been working on critical editions of medieval commentaries on some (pseudo-)aristotelian texts such as the Economics, the De inundatione Nili and the De pomo

Selected publications


'In the Eyes of Medieval Preachers. The Sermons Ad Mulieres of Humbert of Romans, in Church, Women and Society in the Middle Ages. St. Agnes of Bohemia and her Time', in P. Polehla and J. Hojda (eds), Ústí n. Orlicí , Oftis, 2010, pp. 97-120.


'How to Interpret Medieval Aristotle Commentaries?', Aither, vol. 1, no. 2, 2009, pp. 214-222. 


'The Virtue of Virginity. The Aristotelian Challenge', in I. Bejczy (ed.), Virtue Ethics in the Middle Ages: Commentaries on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, 1200-1500, Brill, Leiden, 2008, pp. 247-273.


'Il commento di Bartolomeo di Bruges al De inundatione Nili. Edizione del testo', Medioevo. Rivista di storia della filosofia medievale, vol. 33, 2008, pp. 221-264.


Die mittelalterliche Rezeption der aristotelischen Philosophie der Ehe. Von Robert Grosseteste bis Bartholomäus von Brügge (1246/7–1309), Brill Academic Publishers, Leiden–Boston, 2007.


junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2018/2019
Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH)
discipline Philosophy
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2016/2017
Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH)
discipline History
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2017/2018
Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH)
discipline Musicology
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2012/2013
Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH)
discipline History