|D. M. DUNLOP
Apart from his main account, there are a few
other passages bearing on Britain scattered through al-Idrisi's
great work. Such, for example, is a short passage at the end of
the 2nd Section of the 6th Clime, where he rehearses the information
about England, especially its towns, which he is going to give
in the 7th Clime (the main account). A new detail is the statement
that the passage from the Continent to England was made from Sanqulah,
i.e. apparently St. Nicholas. The place is described elsewhere
in the same section as a town near the sea, on the banks of a
river and at the head of the gulf of Sanqulah, i.e. apparently
St. Nicholas on the Escaut."1"
Again, at the end of the 1st Section of the 6th Clime, after describing
Brittany, al-ldrisi continues:"2"
`These countries being bathed on the west by the Sea of Darkness,
there come continually from that direction mists and rain, and
the sky is always overcast, particularly on the coast. The waters
of this sea are covered with cloud and dark in colour. The waves
are enormous, and the sea is deep. Darkness reigns continually,
and navigation is difficult. The winds are violent and towards
the west its limits are unknown. In this sea are a number of inhabited
islands, but few sailors dare to risk their lives therein. Those
who do, though they have knowledge and bravery, sail only along
the coast without going far from land."3"
The time for these expeditions is restricted to the months of
August and September. The principal sailors of this sea are those
who are called the English (al-Inklisn), or inhabitants of England
(Inkirtarah), a large island, which contains many towns and inhabited
places, fertile fields and rivers, and which we shall treat of
in more detail later, if God will. In spite of all that is terrifying
in this sea and in spite of its cloud-covered waves, it contains
many excellent fish, and fishing goes on in various places. There
are also sea-animals of such size that the inhabitants of the
inner isles employ their bones and vertebrae instead of wood for
building houses. They also make from them clubs, lances, spears,
daggers, seats, ladders, and other things which elsewhere are
made of wood."4"
Al-Idrisi has another passage on similar lines at the beginning
1st Section of the 4th Clime,"5"
where he is less explicit about the English sailors and the extensive
use of whalebone, apparently, in the `inner isles'.
`The greatest width of (Spain) is about 17 days' journey, starting
promontory in the extreme west, 'vvhere ends the inhabited portion
land surrounded by the Ocean. _ No one knows what exists beyond
sea, no one has been able to learn anything for certain, because
of the difficulty of crossing it, its profound darkness, the height
of its waves, the
frequency of its storms, the prevalence of its animals (? whales)
violence of its winds. There is, however, in this Ocean a large
of islands, inhabited or desert, but no ship's captain ventures
to cross it
or to travel under full sail. They are limited to coasting, without
sight of land."6" The waves
of this sea are as high as mountains, and al- though they are
in violent commotion, remain none the less whole, not breaking
in pieces. If it were otherwise, to cross them would be im-
Elsewhere al-Idrisi actually identifies the Sea of Darkness and
the Sea of the English (here bahr al-Inqlishin)."7"
Relevant also to our subject, it would seem, is al-Idrisi's account
of the so-called Adventurers (al-Mugharrirun),"8"
who sailed from Lisbon into the Atlantic at an unspecified date
on a voyage of discovery."9"
There were eight of them belonging to one family (literally `cousins'),
and they built a transport ship, on which they put aboard water
and provisions for several months. Setting sail `when the East
wind begins to blow', they reached, after `about eleven days',
`a sea with huge waves and thick clouds, with numerous reefs scarcely
illumined by a feeble light'.
Realizing their peril, they changed direction and ran with the
sea towards the south. The older translation of jaubert,"10"
retained by Dozy and De Goeje, conceals the fact that this is
evidently a description, real or imaginary, of some northern shore.
More than this one would not care to say, but it could be that
the Adventurers reached some dangerous point on the Irish or English
coast. Their voyage southwards, which does not concern us here,
is represented as more rewarding. Whatever the details amount
the fact of this expedition seems vouched for. Al-ldrisi states
the existence at Lisbon of a street called after the Adventurers
Darb al-Mugharririn. As to dating, the expedition must have taken
place before 543/1148, when Lisbon was captured by the Christians"11",
For Khashkhash (§§ 3, 13) as the leader of the Adventurers
see next §.
§ 20. Ibn `Abd al-Mun'im al-Himyari in ar-Raud al-Mi'tdr,
a work which in its final form was completed as late as 866/1461,"12"
but which was drafted in a version already in the seventh or beginning
of the eighth century A.H., has a passage on the Ocean, as follows:"13"
`Ocean is the name of the Sea of Darkness, and it is called the
Green Sea and the Encircling Ocean, whose end and extent are not
known. There is no creature therein . . . . There risked his life
Khashkhash of Spain, who was a young man of Cordova, with a company
of other young men of the same place. They embarked in ships which
they had equipped and entered this Ocean. They were absent in
it for a time, then came back with rich booty and well-known stories
'All that is sailed of this sea is near the west and the north
(cf. n. 6, Z~. 2 I), and that is from the farthest point of the
land of the Blacks to Britain, which is the great island in the
farthest north. And in (the Ocean) are six islands opposite the
land of the Blacks, called the Eternal Islands. Then no one knows
what is after that. Hereafter, if God will, another story will
be given concerning those who entered this sea, longer than This,
at its place in the notice of Lisbon.'
This presents a cento, in which the first part is evidently al-Mas'udi
(cf. the long passage cited § 13) and the second al-Battani
(cf § g). The story of Khashkhash is from al-Mas'udi, as
the wording shows, unless we are to assume a common source. The
`other story' is that of the Adventurers, given by Ibn 'Abd al-Mun'im
in al-Idrisi's words, practically verbatim."14"
The last sentence of course is Ibn 'Abd al-Mun'im speaking sua
Levi-Proven~al believed that this Khashkllash, said to be of Cordova,
could be identified not only with Khashkhash b. Said b. Aswad
of Pechina (southeast Spain) who formed part of a deputation of
sailors in 276/889-90"15" and
Khashkhash who shared the command of the Umay-yad fleet against
the Norsemen in 245/859"16"
(see § 3), but also with the anonymous leader of the Adventurers"17"
mentioned by al-Idrisi. This construction seems very difficult,
though perhaps possible."18"
It makes a man who had held part command of a fleet, act with
his father on an embassy thirty years later. Another difficulty
seems to be to connect Khashkhash with Lisbon. It is not very
likely that a street in Lisbon should commemorate the Adventurers,"19"
unless they were natives of that city. But if so, they had nothing
to do with Khashkhash, allegedly of Cordova, but perhaps really
of Pechina. Ibn `Abd-al--\Mun'm appears not to connect the two
stories. Perhaps we should reckon the voyages of Khashkhash and
the Adventurers, with that of ` Abd ar-Rahman b. Harun already
mentioned (§ II), as having been related separately in one
of the lost works of al-Mas'udi (cf. § 13).
§ 21. Abu'1-Fida' in his Geography
(finished 721 j 1321) has the following :"20"
`In the Sea of Burdil (Bordeaux) is the island of Britain.' Elsewhere
he gives a longer account:? "21"Of
the islands of the seas which branch off from the Encircling Ocean
is the island of Britain (Bartdniyah) in the Sea of Burdil (Bordeaux),
which is a sea going out in the north of Spain. In this island
there is no water except from the rains, and depending upon this
they sow their seed.' It would appear that the `island of Britain'
is here Brittany, distinguished rather insufficiently, since the
proper name is the same, from the `islands of Britain' (also Bartanyah),
which are now eleven in number, i.e. evidently twelve as before"22"
less Brittany. The passage continues: `And the islands of Britain
are eleven islands. Of the famous islands is the island of England
(Inkiltarah). Ibn Said said: And the ruler of this island is called
al-Inkitdr in the History of Saldh ad-Din (Saladin) in the wars
of 'Akkd (Acre)."23" His capital
in this island is the city of Lundras (London). He continued:
And the length of this island from south to north, with a slight
inclination, is 430 miles. Its width in the middle is about 200
miles. He continued: And in this island are mines of gold, silver,
copper, and tin. There are no vines because of the sharpness of
the frost. Its inhabitants bring the precious metals of these
mines to the of France, and exchange them for wine. The ruler
of France has plentiful gold and silver from that source. In their
country (sc. England) is made the fine scarlet cloth from the
wool of their sheep, which is fine like silk. They place coverings
over the animals, to protect them from rain, sun, and dust. In
spite of the wealth of al-Inkitdr and the extent of his kingdom,
he admits the sovereignty of al-Faransis (the French king), and
when there is an assembly, he performs his service by presenting
before (the ruler of France) a vessel of food, by ancient custom.
In the north of island of England and somewhat north of Britain
is the island of England and somewhat north of Britain is the
island of Ireland (Irlandah). The extent of its length is about
twelve days, and its breadth in the middle is about four days.
It is well known for its numerous disturbances (fitan). Its people
were Norsemen before they became Christians, following their neighbours.
From it is exported much copper and tin. . . . And among the islands
of the Encircling Ocean is the Island of Tuli (Thule), which is
in the North Encircling Ocean. It is the extremity of habitation
in the North.'
Another passage"24" confirms
what has been here said about the export :petals to France. `Ibn
Said said: And to the east of Bordeaux is the city of Toulouse....
The river (sc. Garonne) is south of it, and ships from the Encircling
Ocean ascend it, with tin and copper, which they bring from the
island of England and the island of Ireland. It is carried on
pack-animals to Narbonne, and taken from there on the ships of
the Franks to Alexandria.'
Abu'l-Fidd' is clearly under heavy obligations here to Ibn Said
'Maghribi (c. 610/i214-673/i274), who evidently had new and somewhat
accurate information about the British Isles. Al-Inkitar (parallel,
apparently, to al-Faransis for the king of France) may be due
to a mistake. The historian Baha' ad-Din b. Shaddad, whose work
is here quoted, spoke of malik al-Inkitar, so that al-Inkitdr
is simply `England' (though indeed the :form may have been current
as Ibn Said used it)."25"
The account of Ireland is curious. The statement of Ireland's
conversion to Christianity is of course the reverse of true.
§22. Having admitted the notices
of Britain in the Persian Hudud al-
' allam (§ 16), we may also include here "26"
a notice from the Jami` at-tawarikh of the celebrated Persian
historian Rashid ad-Din "27"
especially since it qualifies for admission as having appeared
in Arabic as well as Persian."28"
The passage has been taken over practically as it stands by Banakati,"29"
whose Raudat uli'L-albdb, usually simply Ta'rikh-i Banakati, appeared
in 717/1317, i.e. a few years after the,Jami` at-tawarikh itself
(completed by Rashid ad-Din in 7I0/1310-11). It runs as follows:
`Opposite this land (Spain) in the midst of the Encircling Ocean
are two islands, of which one is Ireland (Ibarniya). From the
special nature of the earth of that country poisonous reptiles
die, and mice are not born there (tawallud na-mikunad). The men
there are long-lived, red-complexioned, of tall stature and powerful
frame, and brave. In this country is a spring of water, in which
if one places a piece of wood, in a week its surface becomes petrified.
The name of the larger island is Anglater (England). In this country
are many remarkable mountains, innumerable mines of gold, silver,
copper, tin, and iron, and different kinds of fruit. Among the
marvels of that land is a tree which produces a bird as fruit,
in the following manner. In the time of blossom a bag like an
apple forms, within which is a thing shaped like a bird. When
it grows big, it becomes alive and comes out. They keep it and
eat the fruit, till it is the size of a large duck. The meat of
the people of that land is mostly from that bird. They relate
that among the Christians, who at the time of the fast eat no
animals, there is a disagreement in regard to eating it. Some
consider it as one of the plants, since it is the fruit of a tree,
while others regard it as an animal, since blood comes from it.
In those two islands there are sheep from whose fleece come "Jerusalem
wool" (suf Q,udsi ) and exceedingly fine scarlet cloth. The
ruler of both islands has the name Squtlandyah (Scotland) [sic],
and they pay tribute to Anglater."30"
. . . The ruler of that land (France) they call Riddfrans (Rol
de France) and Anglater, the ruler of the isles, is tributary
There is not much that is new here (Cf. § z I ) . But Rashid
ad-Din had access, presumably not directly, to medieval Latin
legends. Thus we find here the old story that there are no snakes
in Ireland, alongside of the barnacle goose in a disguised form.
It is yet more remarkable that Rashid ad-Din knew about Merlin,
if not by name."31"
§ 23. Ibn Khaldun (732/1332-808/1406),
who, as is well known, took over an extensive amount of al-Idrisi
into his Muqaddimat, mentions England once or twice,"32"
but does not reproduce al-Idrisi's full text.
§ 24.. Al-Maqqari in his celebrated
work .Nafh at-lib (completed 1039/1638) has a passage as follows."33"
`And in the Encircling (Ocean) are the Eternal Isles, seven islands
west of the city of Sala. They appear to the observer on a clear
day, when the air is free from thick vapours. On them are seven
idols of the likeness of men, which point out that there is no
passage and no way beyond them. In (the Ocean) in a northerly
direction the Islands of the Blest, where are cities and villages
From them come forth (in the I 7th century!) a nation called Norsemen,
who are Christians. The first of them (sc. the islands in question)
island of Britain (sc. Brittany, Cf. § 21). It is in the
midst of the Encircling Ocean, far to the north of Spain. No mountains
or springs are there. They drink rain-water, and sow their seed
depending upon it.'
This presents a farrago of ancient and modern lore. The basis
in al-Battani is not hard to discern (cf. § 9). The Eternal
Isles, which are mentioned here with talismans strongly reminiscent
of the `Pillars of Hercules' (cf. above, ad init.), are distinguished
from the Isles of the Blest. The Norsemen appear from these last.
At the end is an echo of Abu'1-Fida', T rather Ibn Said (cf. §
2I). It is somewhat remarkable that al-Maqqari quotes this from
the Egyptian author Ibn Iyas "34"
who on his own subject, the history of Egypt, is a very respectable
A passage from the Spaniard ar-Razi with a brief mention of Brittany
(see § 14) is also quoted by al-Maqqari.
§ 25. Reserved to the last place in this survey because
its date is un-
:certain is an Arabic translation of the Geography of Ptolemy
which was published in facsimile by Prince Youssouf Kamal in 1929
"35". The manuscript from which
the facsimile was taken is Aya Sofya 2610, but the origin of the
translation remains something of a mystery. It is presumably of
a copy of the translation of Ptolemy's Geograpjy made by Thabit
b. Qurrah in the 3rd/9th century."36"
Prince Youssouf Kamal tentatively advanced his opinion that the
Arabic is a translation of a Greek manuscript f Ptolemy's Geography,
which is believed to date from the end of the four-:teenth or
the beginning of the fifteenth century A.D., and was actually
the work of the person who had previously copied the Greek manuscripts
"37" The Arabic manuscript
bears the seal of the Ottoman Sultan Bayazid II (1481-1512), according
to Prince Youssouf Kamal. A longish preamble to the translation
mentions no names, but the recipient was perhaps an Ottoman ruler
(al-malik al-a'la wa's-sultan al-jalil), so called by some client
of his who had been specially selected for the task (`abduhu al-maghrus
bi-aidi al jud wa'l-karam li-hadhihi l-khidmah). The translation
appears to be a good one, e.g. the passage about the famous `Caledonian
wood' in Britain (o KaAqBovcos Epuuos) comes out distinctly: zoa-min
al-khalij al-Lamanun yus [sic] Q,aladhun yun wa fauquhum ghab
Qaladhuni ilkh. The suggestion of the work having been specially
made for an Ottoman Sultan is probably confirmed by the statement
of Hajji Khalifah (died z o68/ r 658) that no copy of the Arabic
translation of Ptolemy's Geography was now known to exist."37"
This completes our survey of passages in the medieval Arabic authors
bearing on the British Isles. It will have been seen that Ptolemy's
'Albion' and 'Hibernia' are soon replaced by Britain and Ireland,
and ultimately England and even Scotland (both in al-Idrisi for
the first time) have dis-tinct identities. The best accounts in
Arabic which we have of the British Isles-apart from Ptolemy in
translation-are given by al-Idrisi and Ibn Said al-Maghribi,iAbu'1-Fida'
(§§ 19 and 21) . As the Middle Ages proceed, the tendency
to garble the older data is on the increase. This is very obvious
in the passage from Ibn Iyas (§ 24), and more extreme cases
could be cited. At the end of the Middle Ages less was known,
it would seem, at least theoretically, about the British Isles
than at the beginning.
This result, however, is incidental. The purpose of the inquiry
has been to establish, if possible, the existence of records in
Arabic of direct contact with Britain. The result, as will have
been seen, is almost entirely negative. Possible contacts with
the south or west coast of Ireland are as much as can be affirmed
(§§ 2, 11, 18, 19). A similar contact with the coast
of England is not excluded (§ 19).
It may be asked, Is there anything in English or Irish historical
notices which would support the view that such contacts may occasionally
have occurred? What there is amounts to very little. We find indeed
an unconfirmed mention of the Moors in Domesday Book, as sojourners
or settlers in London,"38"
i.e. in 478/1085. It has also been claimed that Arabic characters
were to be seen on tombstones at Peel in the Isle of Man in the
eighteenth century."39" Since
the stones in question appear now to have been cleared away, it
is no longer possible to examine the evidence on which this statement
was based. But it would certainly seem that until some evidence
is produced, the claim can safely be neglected.
- A. Jaubert, Geographie, d'Edrisi, ii, Recueil de voyages et
memoires, t. 6 (Paris, 1840), p. 374, cf.p.366
- Ibid, pp. 355-6. The passage is lacking in the so-called Geographia
Nubiensis (Rome, 1592) and in Ibn Khaldun, Muqaddimat, ed. Bulaq-Beirut,
- Apart from al-Idrisi here and below (n.3,p.22), a similar expression
is found once only, so far as I know, viz. in Levi-Provencal,
La Peninsule iberique au Moyen age d'apres le Kitab al-Rawd al-mitar,
&c.,p.36,... on ne parcourt couramment de l'Ocean que la partie
qui longe la terre, a l'Occident et au Nord, c'est-a-dire, depuis
les confins extremes du pays des Noirs jusqu'a la Bretagne, la
grande ile qui se trouve a l'extreme Nord. But it is there a question
of translation. The Arabic text (p.28) has simply: wa-innama
yurkabu min hadha 'l-bahr mimma yali 'l-maghrib wa'sh-shimal,
wa-dhalika min aqasi bilad as-Sudan ilka.
- For whaling in British waters cf. §18.
- Jaubert, op. cite, p. 2; text in Geographia Nubiensis (unpaginated).
- Al-Idrisi appears to say the same thing as before (cf. n. p.21)
- Jaubert op. cit. p. 231
- Apparently the correct form and not al-Maghrurun (=the Deluded).
Cf. al-Mas'udi, Muruj, i. 258: qad ataina ala dhikriha fi kitabina
fi akhbar az-zaman wa-fi akhbar man gharrara wa-khatara binafsihi
- Jaubert op. cit. pp. 26-27, cf. i.200
- instead of a sea with huge waves, &c. -Levi- Provencal's
translation, Peninsule iberique, p. 23, cf. §20 - Jaubert
gave une mer dont les ondes epaisses exhalaient une odeur fetide,
cachaient de nombreux recifs, et n'etaient eclairees que faiblement,
op. cit. p. 27; cf. Description de l'Afrique et l'Espagne par
Edrisi (Leiden, 1866), p.223.
- Al-Qazwini, ii. 373.
- E. Levi-Provencal, La Peninsule iberique au Moyen age d'apres
le Kitab al-Rawd al-mitar d'Ibn Abd al-Mun'im al-Himayari, Publication
de la Fondation de Goeje, No. XII (Leiden, 1938), p. xv.
- Op. cit, text, pp. 28-29, transl., p.36.
- Peninsule, text, p. 16; cf. §19
- Levi-Provencal, Peninsule, transl., p.36, n.3 quoting Ibn Haiyan,
Muqtabis, ed. Antuna, p. 88; cf. Histoire de l'Espagne (1944),
p. 249, n.I.
- Levi-Provencal, Histoire de l'Espagne, iii (Paris, 1953), p.
342, n. I, quoting an unpublished part of Ibn Haiyan's Muqtabis.
- This was suggested by Levi-Provencal in 1953 (see previous note)
- There are some minor inaccuracies in the various passages where
Levi-Provencal discusses Khashkhash. The deputation of which Khashkhash
b. Sa'id b. Aswad of Pechina formed a member was not sent by Sawwar
b. Hamdun (Peninsule, p.36, n.3), but to him. The story of Khashkhash,
as is clear from the Mas'udi passage in which he is mentioned,
is older than al-Bakri, twice mentioned (in Histoire de l'Espagne,
ed. I, p. 249, n. I, and again in vol. iii, p. 342, n. I) as the
source. (Al-Bakri is 5th/11th century)
- Cf. §19, end.
- Reinaud, Geographie d'Aboulfeda, text, p. 35.
- Ibid, text, p. 187
- §§9, 13, &c.
- Cf. Recueil des historiens des Croisades, Historiens Orientaux,
vol. iii (Paris, 1884), an-Nawadir as-Sullaniyah by Baha ad-Din
b. Shaddad, pp. 214, 220.
- Reinaud, op. cit., text, p. 219.
- Cf. another possible example in §22.
- After and not before Abu 'l-Fida, as might seem more correct.
But Rashid ad-Din was apparently dependent on Ibn Sa'id al-Maghribi,
cited by Abu'l-Fida.
- Recently edited by K. Jahn, Histoire universelle de Rasid al-Din,
&c. i, Histoire des Francs (Leiden, 1951), pp. 4-5. Professor
A.J. Arberry of Cambridge University kindly drew my attention
to the account of Rashid ad-Din, which is referred to briefly
in E.G. Browne's Literary History of Persia, iii. 43-44.
- It is well known that Rashid ad-Din took measures within his
lifetime to have his Persian works put into Arabic and vice versa
(Browne, op. cit., p. 77)
- See a French translation of the passage from Banakati in D'Ohsson,
Des peuples du Caucase (Paris, 1828), pp. 262-'75 (not mentioned
in C. A. Storey, Persian Literature, ii. i. 80)
- i.e. the king of England, cf. immediately below Anglater, the
ruler of the isles', and similarly Squtlandiyah for the king of
Scotland. It is somewhat striking that the usage is the same apparently
in Abu'1-Fida' (Ibn Said al-Maghribi) (see § 21), though there
al-inkitar, cf. also al-Faransis.
- Jahn, txt, p. 25; transl., p. 41 and n. I.
- Muqaddimat, ed. Bulaq-Beirut, pp. 77, 80.
- Ed. Leiden, i. 104
- Cf. Gayangos, op. cit. i. 378, n. 4. The work in question is
Nashq al-azhar fi aja'ib al-aqtar (Brockelmann, G.A.L. ii. 295),
which doubtless made use of Ibn Said al-Maghribi.
- As a special supplement to the series Monumenta Cartographica
Africae et Aegypti.
- Cf. §8
- Youssouf Kamal, Quelques eclaircissements epars, &c. (Leiden,
- The effective part of Hajji Khalifah's notice (Kashf az-zunun,
ed. Flugel, ii. 602) is wa-qad arrabuhu fi ahd al-Ma'mun wa-lam
yujad alana ta ribuhu.
- A note to chapter iv of Lord Lytton's Harold.
- So Waldron's Description of the Isle of Man, fol. 1731 (reprinted
by the Manx Society, vol. xi (1865), p.11)
The Islamic Quarterly, London