Ibrahim Ibn Yaʿqūb of Tortosa

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IBRAHIM IBN YAʿQŪB OF TORTOSA (tenth century), traveler. Contradictory views have been expressed both about his identity and the purpose of his journey. According to the German scholar George Jacob, there were two travelers with this same name, one a Muslim and the other a Jew from North Africa. These views, however, were refuted by T. Kowalski who established that there was only one person, named Ibrahim ibn Yaʿqūb, a Jew from the city of Tortosa in eastern *Spain, who, in the mid-tenth century, undertook a long journey to central Europe. In the opinion of many scholars Ibrahim was a slave merchant and his journey was for this purpose. T. Kowalski and H.Z. Hirschberg expressed the view that Ibrahim was a physician or translator attached to a diplomatic mission to the court of the German emperor. However, the possibility exists that he was sent by the caliph al-Ḥakam ii, known to have been a supporter of research activities, on an exploratory expedition.

Ibrahim first visited the *France of today, reaching as far as the neighborhood of the English Channel. He then traveled to Germany and in 966 arrived at the court of the Emperor Otto i. He visited the towns of Mainz and Fulda, as well as the vicinity of Schleswig. It seems that he then went to Bohemia and stayed in *Prague. There he met merchants from the countries of Eastern Europe, and it seems that he tells about these countries in their words. He is the first to speak of the kingdom of Poland, this being the reason why his narrative aroused great interest among Slavic scholars.

His story, known from the fragments of it cited in the al-Masālik wa-al-Mamālik of the Arab geographer al-Bakrī (d. 1074), is distinguished by its comprehensive character. Ibrahim shows interest in many spheres: in the distances between towns, in plants, the economic life, the people's diet, the system of medicine, and religious customs. Occasionally he mentions the Jews who lived in the countries which he visited and he also speaks of a salt mine near Magdeburg which was worked by Jews. His story was used by Arabic geographers as an important source for their knowledge of Europe north of the Pyrenees.


G. Jacob, Ein arabischer Berichterstatter aus dem 10. Jahrhundert (1891); T. Kowalski (ed.), Relacja Ibrahima b. Jaʿkūba z podrózy do krajów stowiańskich… (1946); Hirschberg, in: Sinai, 22 (1948), 276–82; Lewis in: Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 20 (1957), 412ff.; Canard, in: Etudes d'orientalisme dédiées à la mémoire de Lévi-Provençal, 2 (1962), 503–8; Ashtor, Korot, 1 (19662), 227ff.; idem, in: C. Roth (ed.), World History of the Jewish People, 2 (1966), 305–8 and index.

[Eliyahu Ashtor]

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