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Two Arabic Travel Books

Two Arabic Travel Books: Accounts of China and India and Mission to the Volga

Edited and translated by Tim Mackintosh-Smith
Edited and translated by James E. Montgomery
Philip F. Kennedy
Shawkat M. Toorawa
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: NYU Press,
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Two Arabic Travel Books
    Book Description:

    Two Arabic Travel Bookscombines two exceptional exemplars of Arabic travel writing, penned in the same era but chronicling wildly divergent experiences.Accounts of China and Indiais a compilation of reports and anecdotes on the lands and peoples of the Indian Ocean, from the Somali headlands to China and Korea. The early centuries of the Abbasid era witnessed a substantial network of maritime trade-the real-life background to the Sindbad tales. In this account, we first travel east to discover a vivid human landscape, including descriptions of Chinese society and government, Hindu religious practices, and natural life from flying fish to Tibetan musk-deer and Sri Lankan gems. The juxtaposed accounts create a jigsaw picture of a world not unlike our own, a world on the road to globalization. In its ports, we find a priceless cargo of information; here are the first foreign descriptions of tea and porcelain, a panorama of unusual social practices, cannibal islands, and Indian holy men-a marvelous, mundane world, contained in the compass of a novella.

    InMission to the Volga, we move north on a diplomatic mission from Baghdad to the upper reaches of the Volga River in what is now central Russia. This colorful documentary by IbnFadlanrelates the trials and tribulations of an embassy of diplomats and missionaries sent by caliph al-Muqtadir to deliver political and religious instruction to the recently-converted King of the Bulghars. During eleven months of grueling travel, IbnFadlanrecords the marvels he witnesses on his journey, including an aurora borealis and the white nights of the North. Crucially, he offers a description of the Viking Rus, including their customs, clothing, tattoos, and a striking account of a ship funeral.Mission to the Volgais also the earliest surviving instance of sustained first-person travel narrative in Arabic-apioneering text of peerless historical and literary value.

    Together, the stories inTwo Arabic Travel Booksilluminate a vibrant world of diversity during the heyday of the Abbasid empire, narrated with as much curiosity and zeal as they were perceived by their observant beholders.

    eISBN: 978-1-4798-4452-4
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-x)
    Tim Mackintosh-Smith

    This volume brings together the two oldest surviving Arabic travel books, dating from the third/ninth and fourth/tenth centuries. These are also two of the shortest Arabic travel books, but if they are small, their scope is huge and their vision panoramic. They set out from the heart of the Arab-Islamic empire, the hub of the Old World in their time: journeying by land from the caliphal capital of Baghdad and by sea from the great Gulf emporia of Basra and Sīrāf, they visit all seven climes of the ancient geographers, the bands of latitude encircling the inhabited earth. They take...

  4. Accounts of China and India

    • Acknowledgements
      (pp. 3-3)
    • Introduction
      (pp. 4-14)

      This is a book about an ocean and the lands that lie on its shores, about the ships that cross it and the cargoes they carry. In its own words, it is a book about

      the Sea of India and China, in whose depths are pearls and ambergris, in whose rocky isles are gems and mines of gold, in the mouths of whose beasts is ivory, in whose forests grow ebony, sapan wood, rattans, and trees that bear aloewood, camphor, nutmeg, cloves, sandalwood, and all manner of fragrant and aromatic spices, whose birds are parrots and peacocks, and the creeping...

    • A Note on the Text
      (pp. 15-17)
    • Notes to the Introduction
      (pp. 18-19)
    • Map: The Lands and Seas of Abū Zayd’s Accounts
      (pp. 20-21)
    • Accounts of China and India: The First Book
      (pp. 22-65)

      … like a sail.² It often raises its head above the water, and then you can see what an enormous thing it is. It also often blows water from its mouth, and the water spouts up like a great lighthouse.³ When the sea is calm and the fish shoal together, it gathers them in with its tail then opens its mouth, and the fish can be seen in its gullet, sinking down into its depths as if into a well.⁴ The ships that sail this sea are wary of it, and at night the crews bang wooden clappers like those...

    • Accounts of China and India: The Second Book
      (pp. 66-134)

      Abū Zayd al-Ḥasan al-Sīrāfī said: I have examined this foregoing book (meaning the First Book), having been commanded to look carefully through it, and to verify the information I find in it about the affairs of the sea and about its kings and their various circumstances,83and to compare this information with other reports passed down about these kings, known to myself but not appearing in the book. I found the date of the book to be the year two hundred and thirty-seven [851–52]—a time when maritime business still ran on an even keel, on account of all...

    • Notes
      (pp. 135-147)
    • Glossary of Names and Terms
      (pp. 148-158)
    • Bibliography
      (pp. 159-162)
  5. Mission to the Volga

    • Acknowledgements
      (pp. 165-166)
    • Introduction
      (pp. 167-179)

      On Thursday, the twelfth of Safar, 309 [June 21, 921], a band of intrepid travelers left Baghdad, the City of Peace. Their destination was the confluence of the upper Volga and the Kama, the realm of the king of the Volga Bulghārs. They arrived at the court of the king on Sunday, the twelfth of Muharram, 310 [May 12, 922]. They had been on the road for 325 days and had covered a distance of about 3,000 miles (4,800 km). They must have managed to travel on average about ten miles a day.

      The way there was far from easy....

    • A Note on the Text
      (pp. 180-187)
    • Notes to the Introduction
      (pp. 188-188)
    • Map: Ibn Faḍlānʼs Route to the Volga
      (pp. 189-189)
    • Mission to the Volga
      (pp. 190-260)

      This is the written account of Aḥmad ibn Faḍlān ibn al-ʿAbbās ibn Rāshid¹ ibn Ḥammād, the envoy of al-Muqtadir to the king of the Ṣaqālibah. His patron was Muḥammad ibn Sulaymān.² It records his observations in the realm of the Turks, the Khazars, the Rūs, the Ṣaqālibah, the Bāshghird, and other peoples. It also includes reports of their various customs and ways of living, their kings, and many other related matters, too.

      Aḥmad ibn Faḍlān said:³ In the letter of al-Ḥasan, son of Yilṭawār, the king of the Ṣaqālibah, which al-Muqtadir the Commander of the Faithful received, the king petitioned...

    • Notes
      (pp. 261-266)
    • Glossary of Names and Terms
      (pp. 267-280)
    • Bibliography
      (pp. 281-284)
    • Further Reading
      (pp. 285-298)
  6. Index
    (pp. 299-309)
  7. About the NYU Abu Dhabi Institute
    (pp. 310-310)
  8. About the Typefaces
    (pp. 311-311)
  9. About the Editor-Translators
    (pp. 312-312)