1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Ibn Batuta

IBN BATUTA, i.e. Abu Abdullah Mahommed, surnamed Ibn Batuta (1304–1378), the greatest of Moslem travellers, was born at Tangier in 1304. He entered on his travels at twenty-one (1325) and closed them in 1355. He began by traversing the coast of the Mediterranean from Tangier to Alexandria, finding time to marry two wives on the road. After some stay at Cairo, then probably the greatest city in the world (excluding China), and an unsuccessful attempt to reach Mecca from Aidhab on the west coast of the Red Sea, he visited Palestine, Aleppo and Damascus. He then made the pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, and visited the shrine of Ali at Mashhad-Ali, travelling thence to Basra, and across the mountains of Khuzistan to Isfahan, thence to Shiraz and back to Kufa and Bagdad. After an excursion to Mosul and Diarbekr, he made the haj a second time, staying at Mecca three years. He next sailed down the Red Sea to Aden (then a place of great trade), the singular position of which he describes, noticing its dependence for water-supply upon the great cisterns restored in modern times. He continued his voyage down the African coast, visiting, among other places, Mombasa and Quiloa (Kilwa). Returning north he passed by the chief cities of Oman to New Ormuz (Hurmuz), which had about 15 years before, c. 1315, been transferred to its famous island-site from the mainland (Old Ormuz). After visiting other parts of the gulf he crossed the breadth of Arabia to Mecca, making the haj for the third time. Crossing the Red Sea, he made a journey of great hardship to Syene, and thence along the Nile to Cairo. After this, travelling through Syria, he made a circuit among the petty Turkish states into which Asia Minor was divided after the fall of the kingdom of Rum (Iconium). He now crossed the Black Sea to Kaffa, then mainly occupied by the Genoese, and apparently the first Christian city he had seen, for he was much perturbed by the bell-ringing. He next travelled into Kipchak (the Mongol khanate of Russia), and joined the camp of the reigning khan Mahommed Uzbeg, from whom the great and heterogeneous Uzbeg race is perhaps named. Among other places in this empire he travelled to Bolghar (54° 54′ N.) in order to witness the shortness of the summer night, and desired to continue his travels north into the “Land of Darkness” (in the extreme north of Russia), of which wonderful things were told, but was obliged to forego this. Returning to the khan’s camp he joined the cortège of one of the Khatuns, who was a Greek princess by birth (probably illegitimate) and in her train travelled to Constantinople, where he had an interview with the emperor Andronikos III. the Younger (1328–1341). He tells how, as he passed the city gates, he heard the guards muttering Sarakinu. Returning to the court of Uzbeg, at Sarai on the Volga, he crossed the steppes to Khwarizm and Bokhara; thence through Khorasan and Kabul, and over the Hindu Kush (to which he gives that name, its first occurrence). He reached the Indus, on his own statement, in September, 1333. This closes the first part of his narrative.

From Sind, which he traversed to the sea and back again, he proceeded to Multan, and eventually, on the invitation of Mahommed Tughlak, the reigning sovereign, to Delhi. Mahommed was a singular character, full of pretence at least to many accomplishments and virtues, the founder of public charities, and a profuse patron of scholars, but a parricide, a fratricide, and as madly capricious, bloodthirsty and unjust as Caligula. “No day did his palace gate fail to witness the elevation of some abject to affluence and the torture and murder of some living soul.” He appointed the traveller to be kazi of Delhi, with a present of 12,000 silver dinars (rupees), and an annual salary of the same amount, besides an assignment of village lands. In the sultan’s service Ibn Batuta remained eight years; but his good fortune stimulated his natural extravagance, and his debts soon amounted to four or five times his salary. At last he fell into disfavour and retired from court, only to be summoned again on a congenial duty. The emperor of China, last of the Mongol dynasty, had sent a mission to Delhi, and the Moor was to accompany the return embassy (1342). The party travelled through central India to Cambay and thence sailed to Calicut, classed by the traveller with the neighbouring Kaulam (Quilon), Alexandria, Sudak in the Crimea, and Zayton (Amoy harbour) in China, as one of the greatest trading havens in the world—an interesting enumeration from one who had seen them all. The mission party was to embark in Chinese junks (the word used) and smaller vessels, but that carrying the other envoys and the presents, which started before Ibn Batuta was ready, was wrecked totally; the vessel that he had engaged went off with his property, and he was left on the beach of Calicut. Not daring to return to Delhi, he remained about Honore and other cities of the western coast, taking part in various adventures, among others the capture of Sindabur (Goa), and visiting the Maldive Islands, where he became kazi, and married four wives, and of which he has left the best medieval account, hardly surpassed by any modern. In August 1344 he left the Maldives for Ceylon; here he made the pilgrimage to the “Footmark of our Father Adam.” Thence he betook himself to Maabar (the Coromandel coast), where he joined a Mussulman adventurer, residing at Madura, who had made himself master of much of that region. After once more visiting Malabar, Canara and the Maldives, he departed for Bengal, a voyage of forty-three days, landing at Sadkawan (Chittagong). In Bengal he visited the famous Moslem saint Shaykh Jalaluddin, whose shrine (Shah Jalal at Silhet) is still maintained. Returning to the delta, he took ship at Sunarganw (near Dacca) on a junk bound for Java (i.e. Java Minor of Marco Polo, or Sumatra). Touching the coast of Arakan or Burma, he reached Sumatra in forty days, and was provided with a junk for China by Malik al Dhahir, a zealous disciple of Islam, which had recently spread among the states on the northern coast of that island. Calling (apparently) at Cambodia on his way, Ibn Batuta reached China at Zayton (Amoy harbour), famous from Marco Polo; he also visited Sin Kalan or Canton, and professes to have been in Khansa (Kinsay of Marco Polo, i.e. Hangchau), and Khanbalik (Cambaluc or Peking). The truth of his visit to these two cities, and especially to the last, has been questioned. The traveller’s history, not least in China, singularly illustrates the free masonry of Islam, and its power of carrying a Moslem doctor over the known world of Asia and Africa. On his way home he saw the great bird Rukh (evidently, from his description, an island lifted by refraction); revisited Sumatra, Malabar, Oman, Persia, Bagdad, and crossed the great desert to Palmyra and Damascus, where he got his first news of home, and heard of his father’s death fifteen years before. Diverging to Hamath and Aleppo, on his return to Damascus, he found the Black Death raging, so that two thousand four hundred died in one day. Revisiting Jerusalem and Cairo he made the haj a fourth time, and finally reappeared at Fez (visiting Sardinia en route) on the 8th of November 1349, after twenty-four years’ absence. Morocco, he felt, was, after all, the best of countries. “The dirhems of the West are but little; but then you get more for them.” After going home to Tangier, Ibn Batuta crossed into Spain and made the round of Andalusia, including Gibraltar, which had just then stood a siege from the “Roman tyrant Adfunus” (Alphonso XI. of Castile, 1312–1350). In 1352 the restless man started for Central Africa, passing by the oases of the Sahara (where the houses were built of rock-salt, as Herodotus tells, and roofed with camel skins) to Timbuktu and Gogo on the Niger, a river which he calls the Nile, believing it to flow down into Egypt, an opinion maintained by some up to the date of Lander’s discovery. Being then recalled by his own king, he returned to Fez (early in 1354) via Takadda, Haggar and Tuat. Thus ended his twenty-eight years’ wanderings which in their main lines alone exceeded 75,000 m. By royal order he dictated his narrative to Mahommed Ibn Juzai, who concludes the work, 13th of December 1355 (A.D.) with the declaration: “This Shaykh is the traveller of our age; and he who should call him the traveller of the whole body of Islam would not exceed the truth.” Ibn Batuta died in 1378, aged seventy-three.

Ibn Batuta’s travels have only been known in Europe during the 19th century; at first merely by Arabic abridgments in the Gotha and Cambridge libraries. Notices or extracts had been published by Seetzen (c. 1808), Kosegarten (1818), Apetz (1819), and Burckhardt (1819), when in 1829 Dr S. Lee published for the Oriental Translation Fund a version from the abridged MSS. at Cambridge, which attracted much interest. The French capture of Constantina afforded MSS. of the complete work, one of them the autograph of Ibn Juzai. And from these, after versions of fragments by various French scholars, was derived at last (1858–1859) the standard edition and translation of the whole by M. Défrémery and Dr Sanguinetti, in 4 vols. See also Sir Henry Yule, Cathay, ii. 397-526; C. Raymond Beazley, Dawn of Modern Geography, iii. 535-538. Though there are some singular chronological difficulties in the narrative, and a good many cursory inaccuracies and exaggerations, there is no part of it except, perhaps, certain portions of the journeys in north China, which is open to doubt. The accounts of the Maldive Islands, and of the Negro countries on the Niger, are replete with interesting and accurate particulars. The former agrees surprisingly with that given by the only other foreign resident we know of, Pyrard de la Val, two hundred and fifty years later. Ibn Batuta’s statements and anecdotes regarding the showy virtues and solid vices of Sultan Muhammad Tughlak are in entire agreement with Indian historians, and add many fresh details. (H. Y.; C. R. B.)