AL-AQBAT (Latin, Lacbat)
The village of al-Aqbat is mentioned in the twelfth-century documents of Norman Sicily. The name means “the Copts.” The village is located about 9 miles (15 km) south of Palermo, near the present town of Altofonte (Cusa, 1868, pp. 185, 229, 730). The Sicilian Orientalist Michele Amari believed the town to be the village of Caputo, which is just over half a mile (1 km) east of Monreale (Dufour, 1859, p. 39), but Bercher (1979, p. 545) has shown it to be in the vicinity of Altofonte.
Medieval documents give little information about al-Aqbat and only mention its jurisdictional borders. The town seems to have been founded during the period of Muslim rule on the island, but it appears that there were Copts in Sicily earlier, when it was under Byzantine administration (Gregorius I, 1957, Vol. 2, p. 362). The extent of their presence on the island and the nature of their settlement there are still not precisely known. There is, however, one piece of tangible evidence that sheds some light on the nature of their stay, at least in part. A tomb with Latin inscriptions belonging to a Coptic merchant from Alexandria who died in 602 has been uncovered in Palermo (Guillou, 1980, p. 258).
The town of al-Aqbat had a church and a Christian population during the twelfth century, while the surrounding settlements seem to have been predominantly Muslim. But other than its name, there is no information indicating the ethnic composition of its inhabitants. The town was located near the Oreto River in a well-watered area where sugar cane was cultivated. Close by was a silk-, linen-, and cotton-producing region with textile manufacturing (Bercher, 1979, p. 545). It is very possible that the Copts were involved in the textile industry for which they were famous in medieval times. On the other hand, they may have been brought to Sicily to introduce the cultivation of sugarcane on the island.
- Bercher, H., et al. “Une Abbaye latine dans la société musulmane: Monreale au XIIe siècle.” Annales 34 (1979):528-48.
- Cusa, S. I Diplomi Greci ed Arabi di Sicilia. Palermo, 1868.
- Dufour, A., and M. Amari. Carte comparée de la Sicile moderne avec la Sicile au XIIIe siècle. Paris, 1859.
- Gregorius I. Registrum Epistolarum, 3 vols., ed. L. Hartmann, 2nd ed. Berlin, 1957.
- Guillou, A. Longobardi e Bizantini. Turin, 1980.