Despite some interchange between the two shores of the medieval Mediterranean world, particularly in Sicily and Iberia after about 1000 CE, one may distinguish differences in between the enjoyment of secular music between Christian upper classes and Islamic upper classes on the shores of the sea in this era. Where the Islamic world is concerned, a distinction may be drawn between an initially more sophisticated east, including Egypt, the Levant, Arabia, and especially Iraq, which inherited much from the Persian and Byzantine musical heritage and from Greek philosophy of music, and a culturally remote west (North Africa and Iberia) that received some impetus from the east and only later developed its own distinctive forms. The early history of these arts in the Christian lands is more obscure but comes into sharper focus after about 1200. The two histories can be seen as almost exactly the inverse of one another, as cultural and religious discourses produced quite different attitudes toward both music and dance.

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