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Known as the greatest traveler of premodern times, Abu Abdallah ibn Battuta was born in Morocco in 1304 and educated in Islamic law. At the age of twenty-one, he left home to make the holy pilgrimage to Mecca. This was only the first of a series of extraordinary journeys that spanned nearly three decades and took him not only eastward to
India and China but also north to the Volga River valley and south to Tanzania. The narrative of these travels has been known to specialists in Islamic and medieval history for years. Ross E. Dunn's 1986 retelling of these tales, however, was the first work of scholarship to make the legendary traveler's story accessible to a general audience. Now updated with revisions, a new preface, and an updated bibliography, Dunn's classic interprets Ibn Battuta's adventures and places them within the rich, trans-hemispheric cultural setting of medieval Islam.
The learned man is esteemed in whatever place or condition he may be, always meeting people who are favorably disposed to him, who draw near to him and seek his company, gratified in being close to him.
'Abd al-Latif al-Baghdadi
The white and windy city of Tangier lies on the coast of Morocco at the southwestern end of the Strait of Gibraltar where the cold surface current of the Atlantic flows into the channel, forming a river to the Mediterranean 45 miles away. According to legend, Hercules founded the city in honor of his wife, after he split the continents and built his pillars, the mountain known as Jebel Musa on the African shore, the Rock of Gibraltar on the European. For travelers sailing between Morocco and the Iberian Peninsula the strait was indeed a river, only 16 miles across at its narrowest point and traversed in as little as three hours in fair weather. To sail east or west from one sea to the other was a more dangerous and exacting feat than the crossing, owing to capricious winds and currents as well as reefs and sandbars along the shores. Yet merchant ships were making the passage with more and more frequency in medieval times, and Tangier was growing along with the other ports of the strait as an entrepôt between the commercial networks of the Mediterranean and the North Atlantic. Tangier was a converging point of four geographical worlds — African and European, Atlantic and Mediterranean. It was an international town whose character was determined by the shifting flow of maritime traffic in the strait — merchants and warriors, craftsmen and scholars shuttling back and forth between the pillars or gliding under them between the ocean and the sea.
We have only a faint idea of the local history of Tangier (Tanja) in the first quarter of the fourteenth century when Ibn Battuta was growing up there, being educated, and moving in the secure circles of parents, kinsmen, teachers and friends. But there is no doubt that life in the town was shaped by the patterns of history in the wider world of the strait. If the young Ibn Battuta, preoccupied with his Koranic lessons, was indifferent to the momentous comings and goings in the region of the channel, these must have had, nonetheless, a pervading influence on the daily affairs of the city and its people.
The early fourteenth century was a time of transition for all the towns bordering the strait, as prevailing relationships between Africa and Europe on the one hand and the Atlantic and Mediterranean on the other were being altered, in some ways drastically. Most conspicuous was the retreat of Muslim power from Europe in the face of the Christian reconquista. During the half millenniumbetween the eighth and thirteenth centuries, all of the Maghrib (North Africa from Morocco to western Libya) and most of Iberia were under Muslim rule. On both sides of the strait there developed a sophisticated urban civilization, founded on the rich irrigated agriculture of Andalusia (al-Andalus), as Muslim Iberia was called, and flourishing amid complex cultural and commercial interchange among cities all around the rim of the far western Mediterranean. The unity of this civilization reached its apogee in the twelfth century when the Almohads, a dynasty of Moroccan Berbers impelled by a militant ideology of religious reform, created a vast Mediterranean empire, whose lands spanned the strait and stretched from the Atlantic coast to Libya.
The Almohad sultans, however, proved incapable of managing such an enormous territory for long. Early in the thirteenth century the political edifice began to come apart amid economic decline, religious quarrels, and countryside rebellions. In northern Iberia Christian kingdoms, which until then had existed in the shadow of Muslim civilization, took the offensive. The victory of the combined forces of Aragon, Castile, and Portugal over an Almohad army at the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212 was the first of a succession of spectacular Christian advances against Muslim territory. One by one the great Muslimcities fell, Cordova in 1236, Valencia in 1238, Seville in 1248. By mid century the Almohads were all but driven from Iberia, and all that remained of Muslim power on the northern side of the strait was the mountainous kingdom of Granada. In North Africa the Almohad state split into three smaller kingdoms, one in the Ifriqiya (the eastern Maghrib, today Tunisia and eastern Algeria) ruled by the Hafsid dynasty; a second in the Central Maghrib governed by the 'Abd al-Wadids; and a third in Morocco under a nomadic warrior tribe of Berber nomads known as the Banu Marin, or the Marinids.
Rough and ready cavalrymen with no guiding ideology, the Marinids overthrew the last of the Almohad rulers, established a new dynastic capital at Fez, and restored a measure of political stability to Morocco in the last quarter of the thirteenth century. From the start the new sultans harbored dreams of resurrecting the Mediterranean empire of their predecessors, and with this in mind repeatedly waged war against the 'Abd al-Wadids and the Hafsids, their neighbors to the east. Some of the Marinid kings mounted seaborne campaigns against the Iberian coast, but none of these invasions seriously threatened the Christian hold on the interior of the peninsula. In any event the Moroccans were obliged to pursue an active policy in the region of the strait, which was far too important strategically to be given up to the Christian states without a struggle.
The contest, however, was no simple matter of Islam versus Christianity. The battle of faiths that had dominated the decades of the Almohad retreat was losing some of its emotional ferocity, and a relatively stable balance of power was emerging among six successor states. Four of them were Muslim — the Marinids, the 'Abd al-Wadids, the Hafsids, and the Nasrids, who ruled Granada after 1230. The other two were Christian — Castile and Aragon-Catalonia. From the later thirteenth through the following century these six kingdoms competed in peace and war with little regard to matters of religion, which served mainly as ideological cover for utterly pragmatic political or military undertakings.
War and peace in the Strait of Gibraltar converged on the five principal towns which faced it — Tarifa, Algeciras, and Gibraltar on the European side, Ceuta and Tangier on the African. These ports were the entrepots of trade between the continents, the embarkation points for warriors on crusade, and the bases for galleys which patrolled the channel. In the later thirteenth and the fourteenth centuries they were the objects of incessant military rivalry among the kingsof the region. Algeciras, for example, was ceded by Granada to the Marinids in 1275, returned to Granada in 1294, taken again by Morocco in 1333, and finally seized by Castile in 1344. Indeed, Tangier was the only one of the ports to retain the same political masters throughout this period, following the Marinid occupation in 1275. Part of the reason was that in the politics of the strait, Tangier was, relatively speaking, the least important of the five cities. The others all fronted the narrow easterly end of the channel and were vital to the trade and communication of the western Mediterranean. But Tangier, lying far off to the southwest and almost facing the Atlantic, was a prize of lesser magnitude. It would be the fortune of Portugal, an Atlantic power, to wrest the city from Moroccan control, but not until 1471.
Still, Tangier was of considerable strategic value. The lovely bay, whose white beaches curve off to the northeast of the city, was the only natural indentation of any size on the entire coast of Morocco, and it could easily shelter a fleet of warships. Along with Ceuta (Sabta) and some lesser towns on the strait, Tangier had for several centuries served as a point of embarkation for naval and cargo vessels bound for Iberia. In 1279 Sultan Abu Yusuf, founder of the Marinid dynasty, supervised the massing of a fleet of 72 galleys in the bay in order to send troops to relieve a Castilian siege of Algeciras. Aside from the recurrent movement of Marinid troops, horses, and materiel through the port, the city also played host to numerous bands of Muslim pirates, who harassed shipping in the strait and made raids on the Spanish Coast. The hazardous and uncertain condition of interstate affairs no doubt stimulated the Tangierian economy and gave the population ample employment building ships, running cargos, hiring out as soldiers and seamen, and trafficking in arms and supplies. Short of a Christian attack, the city had little to lose and much to gain from the prevailing conditions of war and diplomacy in the region.
If the continuing prosperity of the city in the aftermath of the Almohad collapse resulted partly from the vigorous efforts of the Marinids to check the reconquista, even more important were developments in trade and seaborne technology. In the course of the Christian crusades to Palestine between the eleventh and the end of the thirteenth centuries, European long-distance shipping took almost full command of the Mediterranean. This was the first great age of Europe's economic development, and although trade between Christian and Muslim states grew by leaps, virtually allof it was carried in Latin vessels. In the western sea the Genoese took the lead, signing a commercial treaty with the Almohads in 1137–38 and thereafter opening up trade with a number of Maghribi ports, including Ceuta, and possibly Tangier, in the 1160s. Merchants of Catalonia, operating principally from Barcelona and protected by the rising power of the kings of Aragon, extended their commercial operations to North Africa by the early 1200s. Traders from Marseille, Majorca, Venice, and Pisa also joined in the competition, offering grain, wine, hardware, spices, and weaponry, plus cotton, woolen, and linen textiles in return for the wool, hides, leather, wax, alum, grain, and oil of North Africa and the gold, ivory, and slaves of the lands beyond the Sahara.
With commercial traffic in the western Mediterranean growing continually in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, it was only a matter of time before it would spill through the strait into the Atlantic. The Genoese, Catalans, Provencals, and Venetians were all established in the towns of the strait in the 1300s. But there were strong incentives to go further. To the south lay the Atlantic ports of Morocco and the prospect not only of expanding the Maghribi trade but of diverting some of the gold brought up from West Africa before it reached the Mediterranean outlets. By the later twelfth century Genoese vessels were already sailing beyond Tangier, round the northwestern tip of Africa, and down the coast to Sale, Safi, and other Moroccan ports. In 1291 the intrepid Vivaldi brothers of Genoa vanished into terra incognita after setting sail down the coast of Morocco, bound for India two centuries too soon.
It was also after 1275 that Genoese merchants began sailing northwestward from the strait around the great bulge of Iberia and into the waters of the North Atlantic. By 1300 both Genoese and Venetian galleyswere making regular trips to ports in England and Flanders, carrying goods from all the Mediterranean lands and returning with woolens, timber, and other products of northern Europe. Here was occurring the great maritime link-up between the ocean and the sea that would weigh so much in the transformation of Europe in the later Middle Ages.
The invasion of the Atlantic by Mediterranean shipping made the Strait of Gibraltar of even greater strategic importance than it had been earlier and gave the cities along its shore a new surge of commercial vitality. Ceuta was the busiest and most prosperous of the towns on either side of the channel in the early fourteenth century. But Tangier, which lay along the southwesterly route from the strait to the ports of Atlantic Morocco, had its share of the new shipping traffic. In fair weather months vessels from Genoa, Catalonia, Pisa, Marseille, and Majorca might all be seen in Tangier bay — slender galleys which sat low on the surface of the water and maneuvered close to shore under the power of their oarsmen; high-sided round ships with their great triangular sails; and, perhaps occasionally after 1300, tubby-looking, square-rigged cogs from some port on the Atlantic coast of Portugal or Spain. And in addition to these, a swarm of Muslim vessels put out from the harbor to "tramp" the Maghribi coast, shuttle cargo to Iberian ports, or fish the waters of the strait. The movement of Christian merchants and sailors in and out of the town must have been a matter of regular occurrence. And in normal times these visitors mixed freely with the local Muslim population to exchange news and haggle over prices.
Tangier was indeed a frontier town in the early fourteenth century. With rough Berber soldiers tramping through the steep streets to their warships, Christian and Muslim traders jostling one another on the wharves and in the warehouses, pirates disposing of their plunder in the bazaar, the city imaged the roisterous frontier excitement of the times. Perched on the western edge of the Muslim world and caught up in the changing patterns of trade and power in the Mediterranean basin, it was a more restless and cosmopolitan city than it had ever been before. It was the sort of place where a young man might grow up and develop an urge to travel.
In the narrative of his world adventures Ibn Battuta tells us virtually nothing of his early life in Tangier. From Ibn Juzayy, the Andalusian scholar who composed and edited the Rihla, or from Ibn Battuta himself in the most off-hand way, we learn that he was named Abu 'Abdallah Muhammad ibn 'Abdallah ibn Muhammad ibn Ibrahim al-Lawati ibn Battuta on 25 February 1304; that his family was descended from the Berber tribe known as the Lawata; that his mother and father were still alive when he left Morocco in 1325; and that some members of his extended family besides himself were schooled in Islamic law and had pursued careers as legal scholars (faqihs) or judges (qadis). Beyond these skimpy facts, we know only what the Rihla reveals to us by implication: that he received the best education in law and the other Islamic sciences that Tangier could provide and that during his adolescent years he acquired an educated man's values and sensibilities.
His family obviously enjoyed respectable standing as members of the city's scholarly elite. Tangier was not a chief center of learning in fourteenth-century North Africa; it was not a Fez, a Tlemcen, or a Tunis. When Ibn Battuta was growing up, it did not yet possess one of the madrasas, or colleges of higher learning, which the new Marinid rulers had begun founding in their capital. But Tangier, like any city of commerce in the Islamic world, required literate families who specialized in providing a variety of skills and services: the officers of mosques and other pious foundations, administrative and customs officials, scribes, accountants, notaries, legal counsellors, and judges, as well as teachers and professors for the sons of the affluent families of merchants and landowners.
The education Ibn Battuta received was one worthy of a member of a legal family. It is easy enough to imagine the young boy, eager and affable as he would be in adult life, marching off to Qur'anic school in the neighborhood mosque to have the teacher beat the Sacred Book into him until, by the age of twelve at least, he had it all committed to memory. The education of most boys would go no further than this Qur'anic training, plus perhaps a smattering of caligraphy, grammar, and arithmetic. But a lad of Ibn Battuta's family status would be encouraged to move on to advanced study of the religious sciences: Qur'anic exegesis, the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad (hadith), grammar, rhetoric, theology, logic, and law. The foremost scholar-teachers of the city offered courses in mosques or their own homes. Students might normally attend the lectures of a number of different men, sitting in a semi-circle at the master's feet as he read from learned texts and discoursed on their meaning.
Excerpted from The Adventures of Ibn Battuta by Ross E. Dunn. Copyright © 2012 Ross E. Dunn. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted December 9, 2009
The Adventures of Ibn Battuta written by Ross E. Dunn told somewhat about the travels that Ibn Battuta went on from Tangier to Mecca, Persia, Iraq, the Arabian Sea, Anatolia, The Steppe, Delhi, Malabar and the Maldives, China, and back home. It talked about his journey to Mecca on the hajj and how his curiosity lead him to travel to as many places as possible; making sure not to travel to the same place more than once. It also showed how wealthy he became and fit in perfectly with the Sultans, who gave him many gifts such as horses, robes, and coins. However I thought that the book was also a little deceiving. When I looked at the book I thought that it would be focused on the actual adventures that Ibn Battuta went on and all the troubles and success he had and be written from his point of view. While the book did tell about his adventures, it did not go in depth with detail like I thought it would. It was more directed to what was going on in the fourteenth century. However, I did like the fact that Dunn included passages from Ibn's journal, but I felt that there should have been more included. I did like the fact that you were given the bigger picture in the book because you were able to have a good idea of exactly what was going on at this time like with the invasions and raids of the Mongol Empire and how it affected different areas. I would not recommend this book to someone who is looking to read a book about traveling adventures, since it is more focused on the historical point of view on not on the adventures itself. But, I would recommend this book to someone looking to learn more about the fourteenth century. I would also recommend this to someone who wants to know more information about Islam and the pilgrimage to Mecca because it does a good job of explaining that.
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Posted December 9, 2008
The Adventures of Ibn Battuta by Ross E. Dunn is a great example of historical literature that brings knowledge and facts to a modern day world. This book was an enjoyable read that helped in the growth of my knowledge as a world history student. Ibn Battuta began his adventure within Tangier in 1325, visiting Egypt, Mecca, Syria, Iraq, Anatolia, the Central Asian steppe, India, the Maldives and China before returning home about twenty five years later. The Adventures of Ibn Battuta follows Ibn Battuta's travels, but often lacks the actual details of his career and personal life. It gives great informational and detailed background information and is an easy introduction to the world of Islamic life along with an entertaining adventure novel. <BR/> The author provides detailed and compelling information about the people Ibn Battuta met and the places he visited along with the theology of history and culture of many other societies. With detailed chapters, the first chapter looks into the geography and culture of Tangier, which is the homestead of Ibn Battuta. While the chapter ¿Anatolia¿ describes the differences within the region compared to Tangier that affects the Muslim culture and Ibn Batutta¿s opinions. More general information includes explanations of the Islamic law, the role of Arabic, and other types of the common culture of the Islamic world. <BR/> This novel makes The Adventures of Ibn Battuta act as a guide to the Islamic world during the 14th century. It acts as a great historical reference guide with insight into the worldly views at this time. I greatly enjoyed this book and it allowed me to further my knowledge of a great Muslim traveler. The author did a good job of keeping me intrigued with the details of his life and his adventures along the way, and overall completed the purpose of informing readers about his life and society around the 14th century.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 5, 2007
After reading this novel, I felt like I understood the basics of Islam and the Dar al-Islam much more thoroughly than I did before I read this novel. During the book, Ibn Battuta visits many countries within the Dar-al Islam such as Cairo, Persia, Syria, East Africa, Turkey, Delhi, the Maldives and the Mongol Empire and after his travels were completed, he recorded an assortment of facts and cultural information in the Rihla. All of this information is very important to us today when looking back on the Dar al-Islam and trying to understand many practices during this time period. Within each of the countries, a large significance is placed on the Islamic faith. These shared views of Islam help to unify the countries under the Dar al-Islam by providing common ground for the relation of peoples of different backgrounds and also providing a safe environment for travel and helping to facilitate the diffusion of ideas into the rest of the pre-modern world. This distribution of ideas helped to modernize the world at the time and advance societies that did not have many great ideas at the time. In his reinterpretation of this novel, Ross E. Dunn outlines this unification by showing the similar qualities within the countries of the Dar al-Islam. In my opinion, Dunn does an excellent job presenting the universal features contained within Islamic society and showing how Islam helped the world to evolve into the traveler friendly place Battuta traveled through. In order to present these features, Dunn has complied a set of sources that help to support and emphasize the imperative concepts with Ibn Battuta¿s Rihla in order to accurately depict the Islamic world of this time period without error of exaggeration by the original author. By presenting outside but still relevant sources along with the excerpts of the Rihla, Dunn has offered a very accurate picture of life in the Dar al-Islam around the fourteenth-century to the reader. I would recommend this novel to both students and adults that are interested in learning about the Muslim world of this time period. This literary work contains a lot of valuable information, especially useful when working on the world cities project assigned for this quarter, regarding many of the customs, practices and ways of life of the Islamic world during this time period. This book delivers an insight that can only be accomplished by grasping the first-hand details of the cities such as the architectural glory of many cities in their prime and the common person¿s feelings towards what were considered the great wonders of the world at this time. The use of a first-hand account adds greatly to the knowledge gained by reading this novel because of the validity of the account in the time period and the perception of his or her own time period by the recorder of all of the events that went on during the period the literary work was written in.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 23, 2006
Morrocan Ibn Battuta is (in some parts of the world) very famous as a mideval traveler who exploited his moderately good education and agreeable disposition to win favor with a range of important rulers during a quarter of a century of travels throughout much of what he considered to be the modern world. (Note: at this time, Europe was not particularly modern, and wasn't part of his itinerary for religious/cultural reasons.) The blurb at B&N gives the impression that this book is about the man's fantastic travels, but in reality Battuta's travelogue is only a hook for providing the author Dunn E. Ross an opportunity to fill in background on the culture and histories of the regions visited, and the personalities of the various eminent people encountered. Starting out at the age of 20 with a decent, but not exceptional religious education, Battuta managed to ingratiate himself with various Sultans and the like, from north Africa to India, while visiting the mid-east, central Asia, east Africa, the Indian sub-continent, and China, before returning to north Africa, and thence to the Iberian penninsula and west Africa. Everywhere he went, big shots showered him with money, horses, slaves (and, yeah, slave girls for his pleasure). He musta been a helluva good conversationalist. As the remark above might suggest, just as now, Dar al-Islam was probably not the best of places to be female in the 14th century. (Battuta married and divorced as he found it to be convenient, sometimes abandoning women with children, in addition to keeping slave girls, but was nonetheless shocked and horrified to find that in Mali women would go about bare-breasted. Have these west Africans no morals?!?) A great read that completely revised my views of much of the world in the 14th century.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
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