Ahmad ibn Fadlān ibn al-Abbās ibn Rašīd ibn Hammād
(أحمد بن فضلان بن العباس بن رشيد بن حماد) was a 10th century Arab Muslim writer
and traveler who wrote an account of his travels as a member of an embassy of the Abbasid Caliph
to the king of the Volga Bulgars
, the Kitāb ilā Malik al-Saqāliba
(كتاب إلى ملك الصقالبة).
For a long time, only an incomplete version of the account was known, as transmitted in the geographical dictionary of Yāqūt
(under the headings Atil
), published in 1823 by Fraehn. Only in 1923 was a manuscript discovered by the Turkic scholar of Bashkir
origin Zeki Validi Togan
in the Astane Quds Museum
. The manuscript MS 5229
dates from the 13th century (7th cent. Hijra
) and consists of 420 pages (210 folia). Besides other geographical treatises, it contains a fuller version of Ibn Fadlan's text (pp. 390-420). Additional passages not preserved in MS 5229 are quoted in the work of the 16th century Persian geographer Amin Razi
called Haft Iqlīm
Ibn Fadlan was sent from Baghdad
in 921 to serve as the secretary to an ambassador from the Abbasid Caliph al-Muqtadir
to the iltäbär
(vassal-king under the Khazars
) of the Volga Bulgaria
The embassy's objective was to have the king of the Bolğars pay homage to Caliph al-Muqtadir and, in return, to give the king money to pay for the construction of a fortress. Although they reached Bolğar, the mission failed because they were unable to collect the money intended for the king. Annoyed at not receiving the promised sum, the king refused to switch from the Maliki rite to the Hanafi rite of Baghdad.
The embassy left Baghdad on June 21 921 (11 Safar 309). It reached the Bulghars after much hardship on May 12 922 (12 Muharram 310). (This day is an official religious holiday in modern Tatarstan.) The journey took Ibn Fadlan from Baghdad to Bukhara and Khwarizm (south of the Aral Sea). Although promised safe passage by the Oghuz warlord, or Kudarkin, they were waylaid by Oghuz bandits but luckily were able to bribe their attackers. They spent the winter in Jurjaniya before travelling north across the Ural River until they reached the towns of the Bulghars at the three lakes of the Volga north of the Samara bend.
After arriving in Bolğar, Ahmad ibn Fadlan made a trip to Wisu and recorded his observations of trade between the Volga Bolğars and local Finnic tribes.
A substantial part of Ibn Fadlan's account is dedicated to the description of a people he called the Rūs
روس or Rūsiyyah.
Most scholars identify them with the Rus'
, which would make Ibn Fadlan's account one of the earliest portrayals of Vikings
The Rūs appear as traders that set up shop on the river banks nearby the Bolğar camp. They are described as having bodies, tall as palm-trees, with blond hair and ruddy skin. They are tattooed from "fingernails to neck" with dark blue or dark green "tree patterns" and other "figures" and that all men are armed with an axe and a long knife.
Ibn Fadlan describes the women as having emaciated unattractive angular bodies, lacking any attractive curves with high cheekbones in the face.
Ibn Fadlan describes the hygiene of the Rūsiyyah as disgusting (while also noting with some astonishment that they comb their hair every day) and considers them vulgar and unsophisticated. In that, his impressions contradict those of the Persian traveler Ibn Rustah. He also describes in great detail the funeral of one of their chieftains (a ship burial involving human sacrifice). Some scholars believe that it took place in the modern Balymer complex.
Elements of Ibn Fadlan's account are used in the novel Eaters of the Dead
by Michael Crichton
(filmed as The 13th Warrior
with Antonio Banderas
as Ibn Fadlan), in which the Arab ambassador is taken even further north and is involved in adventures inspired by the Old English
. Indeed Crichton designed "Eaters of the Dead" as being a fictional version of the historic events which created the basis of the epic "Beowulf".
A major Arabic TV series, The Roof of the World or Saqf al-Alam, (سقف العالم), was produced in 2007 charting Ibn Fadlan's journey from a contemporary perspective. The 30 one-hour episodes tackle the relations between Islam and Europe at two moments: the time of Ibn Fadlan and the present. The motivation for the series was the 2005 Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy in Denmark.
- Ch. M. Fraehn. Die ältesten arabischen Nachrichten über die Wolga-Bulgaren aus Ibn-Foszlan's Reiseberichte. – «Memoires de L'Academie Imper. des Sciences.», VI serie, 1823.
- Ibn Fadlan, Voyage chez les Bulgares de la Volga, trad. Marius Canard, Paris 1988.
- Collection of Geographical Works by Ibn al-Faqih, Ibn Fadlan, Abu Dulaf Al-Khazraji, ed. Fuat Sezgin, Frankfurt am Main, 1987.
- Gordon, Stewart. When Asia was the World: Traveling Merchants, Scholars, Warriors, and Monks who created the "Riches of the East" Da Capo Press, Perseus Books, 2008. ISBN 0-306-81556-7.