In 797 AD, Charlemagne, the first emperor to rule Europe since Romulus Augustus in 476 AD, sent an emissary named Isaac the Jew on a diplomatic mission to the Abbasid Caliphate’s capital in Baghdad. He returned in 801 AD astride an enormous elephant – a gift from Harun al-Rashid, the fifth caliph of the Abbasid dynasty.

After the fall of Rome and the expansion of the Umayyads, Europe enjoyed few of the trading advantages that the Western Empire had afforded the continent. Pepper, papyrus, gold and silk became rarities under the Carolingians and the threat of further incursions from Andalusian Muslims into imperial territory concerned policy-makers at Charlemagne’s court.