Journey to Russia . Little is known about the life of Ibn Fadlan. He was probably of non-Arab ancestry, and he seems to have been in the service of a high-ranking official of the Abbasid court in Baghdad. In June 921 he left Baghdad with a party of jurists and teachers on an embassy to the king of the Volga Bulgars, who had invited Khalifah al-Muqtadir to send instruction on Islam to his people. The journey took approximately two years, and the only surviving account of it is a narrative by Ibn Fadlan. His observations of the various Turkic peoples across whose territory the embassy traveled are an invaluable source for the history and ethnography of Central Asia, as are his descriptions of the Rus, the Scandinavian warrior-traders who traversed the rivers of Russia, in whose name their historical role survives. At one point in his narrative he commented on their appearance and dress:
I had never seen people of such tall stature—they are as tall as palm trees, blond, and ruddy of complexion. They do not wear shirts or caftans [robes]. Their custom is to wear a length of coarse cloth that they wrap around their sides and throw over the shoulder so that one arm remains bare. Each of them carries with him an ax, a dagger and a sword. They are never seen without these weapons. Their swords are broad with wavy stripes on the blade, and of Prankish [European] manufacture. On one side, from the point to the handle, it is covered with figures and trees and other decorations. The women fasten to their bodice a locket of iron, copper, silver or gold, according to the wealth and position of her husband. On the locket is a ring, and on that is a knife, also fastened to the front of their bodice. They wear silver and gold chains around their necks. If the man possesses ten thousand dirhams [silver coins], he has a chain made for his wife; and if he has twenty thousand, she gets two necklaces; and so she receives one more each time he becomes ten thousand richer. In this way the Rus woman acquires a great number of necklaces. Their most valued jewelry consists of green glass beads like the kind found on the ships.
C. M. Fraehn, Ibn Fozlans und anderer Araber Berichte uber die Russen alterer Zeit: Nachdruck der Ausgabe von 1823 (Habsburg: Helmut Buske, 1976). [English translation by Susan Douglass]