Fraxinetum - Fraxinet - garde-freinet - need info on the state of the fort before the moorish invasion

Jun 2019
chilliwack bc canada
there was an incursion of saracens on the cote d'azur in 890 ad or so - i am looking for clarification on whether the fortresse called today fort-freinet existed as such in roman times or if the name applied only to the area or region at that time - historians seem to assume that the fort was originally built by the invading moors but the name is obviously latin and the area was well known in roman times - also the fort has a very strategic position with regard to the passes connecting france with italy so it must have pre-dated the moorish invasion

i've also been trying to find out what happened when the incursions reached grenoble as it appears to have been stopped at what is today called La Mure, some 30 km south of that city
Jun 2019
chilliwack bc canada
maybe it would help to clarify why i'm looking for such detailed info - i believe that the original fraxinetum is the origin of a family name - freynet - and i am trying to establish a course of events that culminated with the original people living in the area being pushed north by the invading saracens to an area near grenoble


Ad Honorem
Nov 2010
Western Eurasia
I guess you are already familiar with Liudprand's account (from The Complete Works of Liudprand of Cremona p. 45-47):

...To demonstrate this, take one example from the countless available, and, with my voice falling silent, let the village called Fraxinetum speak, which is known to lie on the border of the Italians and the Provençals.
2. As it is plainly exposed to all, one fact I reckon scarcely escapes you, indeed one you know better than I—since you can learn about it from the residents, who are tributaries of your king, that
is, Abd ar-Rahman —is that the village’s site is shielded on one side by the sea, and is defended on the other sides by a very thick grove of thorny plants. If anyone were to enter it, the arching of the prickly plants would so grab him, their very sharp rigidity would so puncture him, that he would not have the possibility of advancing or retreating, unless with great toil.
3. But by a mysterious and—since it could not be otherwise—just judgment of God, a mere twenty Saracens, having left Spain with a small ship, were transported there against their will by the wind. These pirates, having disembarked by night and secretly entered the town, slaughtered the Christians—O horror!—and claimed the place as their own; and they prepared Moor’s Mountain, right next to the village, as a refuge against neighboring peoples, making the thorny wood bigger and thicker for their protection by this agreement: that if anyone should cut even a branch from it, he would depart mankind by a sword’s blow. And thus it turned out that every access except one very narrow road was forfeited. Therefore, trusting in the harshness of the site for protection, they secretly began to inspect the neighboring populations all around; they sent many messengers to Spain who extolled the place and promised that they considered the neighboring populations to be nothing. In the end they only brought back with them scarcely a hundred Saracens who would accept the truth of their claims.
4. Meanwhile the Provençals, the nation that was closest to them, began to squabble among themselves through envy, to throttle one another, snatch property, and to do whatever evil they could think up. But since one faction could not quite do for itself what envy and pain demanded, it called to its aid the aforementioned Saracens, who were no less clever than perfidious, and with them crushed a faction of neighbors. Nor was it enough to murder neighbors, but truly they reduced to desolation the fruitful earth. But let us see what just envy procured for itself according to a certain author who
described it, saying:

More just than envy there is nothing, which continually Corrodes its author and tortures the soul.

Which, while it seeks to deceive, itself is deceived; while it strives to extinguish, is itself extinguished. What happened, then? The Saracens, since they could do little with their own men, defeating one faction with the help of another, ceaselessly increasing their troops from Spain, began to hunt down by all means those they at first seemed to defend. Therefore they ravaged, they exterminated, they made it so that no one was left. Now the other neighboring nations began to tremble since, according to the prophet, “One of them pursued a thousand, and two chased ten thousand.” And why? “Because their God had sold them and the Lord had shut them up.”

So he claims there was only a village/town before. Now if there was actually a "fortification" maybe ruins of a Roman watchtower or something, I don't know, I'm not familiar with the archeological researches of the area.

But the place's name just comes from Latin Fraxinus= ash wood. The Freynet family name itself is also coming from the tree's name, just like other wariants of the family name existing in French (Frenet, Frenette, Frenay etc) or Occitan.

Also don't forget there is some timegap, hereditary surnames caught up among the commoners only around the 14th century in France as far as i know (little earlier among the nobility), so some hundred years after the muslims conquest and their expulsion from Fraxinetum...

So personally I think it is a little bit far fetched hypothesis to connect the origin of the family name to this specific fort and those very narrow historic period and events in the 9-10th century. They both just probably derive from the name of a native and common tree there. :rolleyes:
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Jun 2019
chilliwack bc canada
thanks for your reply - yes i had come across that passage - there are several reasons why i think there is a connection - one, freynet with that specific spelling, is unique and rare both in france and everywhere else - and is the original rendering into french of fraxinetum or fraxinet - it is an older version of freinet - garde-freinet even today is still occasionally spelled garde-freynet - there were in fact many other variations of the name, which was recycled many times by the saracens to name the many forts built and occupied by the saracens along alpine passes to conduct their campaigns and so on throughout southern france - many variations of family names result from this as you noted - but none have this origianl spelling which matches the spelling of the original location and this is important

also, historical events mesh well with the subsequent geographical location of the clan i'm referring to - it is directly north of garde-freinet near grenoble, about 90 km - along the path followed by the invaders - this clan occupied a high plateau up a steep mountain side - it is still occupied today at lavaldens and has a switch-back road leading up to it - i believe this would indicate a very early settlement of the area and its reason must logically have been for defense - the valley below would have been a far better choice in times of peace

in fact, it matches the type of defensive situation they would have occupied in garde-freinet - the latest historical research shows the area described in your quote was in fact continuously inhabited much more than previously thought - whether there were still roman structures there before the saracens seized it is a question i am interested in because from the historical record, the saracen structure was built in a seemingly very short time with only a few men - but the accounts are entirely from arabic sources which would of course distort the facts in their own favor

its true that family names were instituted in france much later - but that was formalizing and enforcing what was already in place - people often adopted the name of places they were from as a form of identification much earlier - and passing family history was also an important part of it - le freynet is also the name of a small village adjoining la mure and which was probably founded after these events since la mure itself at the time, was only a chateau at the top of a large rock outcropping - this fort was successful in holding back the invaders for some time as shown by the late date grenoble which is only some 25 km further was taken - lavaldens, the location of the clan freynet is a short distance from la mure

as shown on one of the maps i posted, there were incursions as far as grenoble which was sacked somewhere between 930 and 945 from sources - that same path would have been previously followed by inhabitants of the saint tropez region who were trying to escape the constant pillaging because the coast was unsafe everywhere being in close proximity to al-andalus, modern spain

arabic sources will of course glorify the invaders in the story and there was no one left to tell the other side of it by the time they were defeated and removed from southern france around 973
Jun 2019
chilliwack bc canada
Fraxinatum: An Islamic Frontier State In Tenth Century Provence
Mohammad Ballan
Pg 5 and 6 - "They established numerous fortresses—
which Latin chroniclers in the raided regions all called Fraxinetum or
some variation of the name {Frassineto, Frascendello, Fraxinth, etc.)—
that formed the basic infrastructure supporting their expansion and
facilitating their domination of Provence and the Rhone Valley."
Jun 2019
chilliwack bc canada
frassineto is an interesting example for many reasons - there is a town by that name today that sits high on a plateau overlooking a pass thru the italian alps - this is one location of the series of saracen forts referred to by Ballan

the wikipedia entry for frassineto completely confuses it with the original fraxinatum near saint tropez in france and then further muddles it with another similar name fraissinet that was never used for fraxinatum

"Frassineto (in Arabic : فرخشنيط , Farakhshanīṭ in Latin : Fraxinetum , in French: Le Fraissinet ) was the name of a place, now La Garde-Freinet , near Saint-Tropez , in the south of France , where in the 10th century a Muslim settlement , mainly of Andalusians [1] . The name of the town derived from the ancient local village of Fraxinetum , from the Latin " frassino "". In Arabic it is known as Jabal al-qilâl ," mountain of wood "." wikipedia

about 80 km east of frassineto is frassineto po - meaning of course frassineto on the po river - given that we know the origin and raison d'etre for frassineto, it is safe to assume that it predates frassineto po and it would be very odd to claim that there is no connection between the two - of course there is - the name says so - it is frassineto on the po river

it is plausible that the people who lived in the area of frassineto were forced to leave when the saracen invaders seized the area, which likely, like fraxinatum, had something of a fort already, turned it into their own, and started raiding surrounding areas and extorting payment from travellers thru the pass

these refugees founded another town which took on the name of the one they left - and a search on facebook shows people with last names frassineto and frassinetto


Jun 2019
chilliwack bc canada
i dont think the varations of names originate with the moors or their western chroniclers but are the way the romans named them which is why chroniclers called them that - "fraxinus" means ash tree but also was used to designate a spear or javellin made of ash, possibly later any spear - this means fraxinatum is not the "original" but just one of many strategic forts built by the romans
Jun 2019
chilliwack bc canada
the ending "um" in latin is nominative - means fraxinatum corresponds to "le freynet" while fraxinet is freynet - it is a unique invented name based loosely on the latin root "fraxinus" - it is not and never has been a french word for ash tree - that word is "frêne" - thats why there can be so many variations - they are invented names loosely based on the latin root - the actual meaning that was meant was or could be "spear" - frontier forts are called "hard points" - it is a cunning way of confusing ppl about military positions and works even today with many variations on the same root word - you had to know exactly which one you were talking about and anyone else would be very confused - also these may have been kept secret by the romans for military reasons - also saracens have a long tradition of destroying local history to replace it with their own - quote from wikipedia for fraxinus "while the generic name originated in Latin from a Proto-Indo-European word for birch. Both words are also used to mean "spear" in their respective languages as the wood is good for shafts" - each military fort is the point of a spear guarding roman territory - these forts are not recorded as roman forts in history because nobody was recording history for that part of france at that time - in The Inheritance of Rome – chris wickham – pg 429 states that no recongnized european historian was writing on east fracia in 900’s except Liudprand of Cremona who was an italian living in exile in germany and writing for Otto 1st who ruled the parts of modern germany and france before becoming holy roman emperor - he didnt care about the area's history
Jan 2011
The fact that the name comes from "fraxinatum" suggests it has been the name of a location before the name of a family. Moreover, family names come most often from location names, much more than the contrary. Family names have been given to location but at a mre recent period.
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Ad Honorem
Nov 2010
You sure it's not just a latin version of Frejus?

You have to be careful using those emotive 'Chronicler' words like 'moors' and 'saracens'. This just means muslims and unfortunately that's the way writers (usually Roman Catholic monks or bishops) saw the world. If they had said where such people came from it would be a great help. For example it's ridiculous to talk about loosely-Abassid invaders from North Africa (or Italy), or later Fatimids and talk about 'their troops from Spain'. Because not only did they have different rulers they absolutely hated each other partly due to territorial rivalry and partly the whole Omeya-Abassid thing.

In the 9th century, prior to the accession of Abderraman III in 910 (?), Al Andalus (or to be more time-accurate, Cordoba) was fairly chaotic to be honest. I'd be absolutely surprised (though it's not impossible) if the big raid(s) you are talking about is anything to do with any troops from that way prior to about 920. However any group can raid anywhere in a ship - no way for our monk to know where they came from I suppose.

Alliance-wise there used to be great antipathy between the Emirs of Cordoba and the Carolingians, with various things going on in between the 2 with the Banu Qasi and various pseudo rulers in the Pyrenees. In turn the Franks were allied with the Abassids (they sent him an elephant) and the Omeyas of Cordoba loosely with the Eastern Empire (due to their own mutual antipathy. The establishment of the Spanish March by Charlemagne eliminated a lot of the uncertanty and local troublemakers and created a stability welcome to both Charlemagne and Cordoba. Relationships thawed and as a consequence alliances switched a bit, bringing the Abassids closer to the Empire. Don't discount the Empire being somewhere behind your raids into France

The situation continued. When the Calphate of Cordoba became all-powerful there was great rivalry with the Fatimids in Ifriqiya/Eastern Magreb

Personally I take a lot of these single sources with a big dose of salt . I notice our friend was bishop of Cremona, in Italy, 100 years after the date you quote of 890. Is he really well-versed on events on the Cote D'Azur in 890? He quotes Abd ar Rahman, which is almost certainly a reference to the great Caliph of Cordoba (reign 912 - 961) - but how does this tie in with dates? Which dates is friend Liudprand talking about one wonders?

As for fortresses it's extremely common to find the Roman-Muslim-Christian connection. Sometimes with Phoenecians on the front. Often with the Goths in the middle, but the Visigoths weren't really aficionados of fortresses. As for thr initial muslim invasions via Ceuta in the early 8th century, the 'arab empire' - as it briefly was then - basically took over the old Visigothic kingdom of Toledo, which included the Narbonense region of France, with considerable settlement of muslims, especially berbers and some conversions. Everything I've read (it's not much known) suggests there was no violent takeover as the Franks expanded south. The population either emigrated or just changed owners! Although it's very diificult for post-crusade attitudes to get a grip of, it's not inconceivable that pockets of islamic people stayed in tact for a while in the south of France.

Though as far as 'raids' are concerned, they would be just as vulnerable as anyone.