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Abu’l-Fidāʾ Ismāʿīl Ibn ʿAlī Ibn Maḥmūd Ibn … Ayyūb, ʿImād Al-Dīn

(b. Damascus, Syria, 1273; d. Ḥamā, Syria, 1331)

history, geography.

A Prince of the AYYūbid family, Abu’l-Fidāʾ participated from the age of twelve in the Muslim campaigns against the crusaders and the Mongols. During his youth his family lost its estates which he recovered in 1312 through his fidelity to the Mamelukes, Whom he served, as a vassal prince, until his death.

Biographical dictionaries have preserved information on a number of Abu’l-Fidāʾ’s historical-literary and scientific works. Among the most distinguished of the former is the Mukhtaṣar taʾrīkh al-bashar, a continuation of the Kāmil fiʾl-taʾrīkh of lbn al-Athīr. It is a historical treatise that begins with pre-Islamic Arabia and becomes most interesting when it deals with happendings during the author’s lifetime. Written in 1315, it was continued by Abu’l-Fidāʾ himself until 1329 and was the object of attention of a number of fourteenth-century Arabic historians, who kept it up-to-date until 1403 (among them Ibn al-Wardī until 1348, and Ibn al-Shiḥna al-Ḥalabī until the beginning of the fifteenth century). This work was translated into Western languages and became the basis for several historical syntheses by eighteenth-century Orientalists, which explains the strong influence in exerted on nineteenth-century Western historiography.

Abu’l-Fidāʾ’s outstanding work is the Taqwīm al-buldān (“A Sketch of the countries”), written between 1316 and 1321. This is a general geography of twenty-eight chapters of varying lengths, with a prologue containing interesting observations: the gain or loss of a day according to the direction in which one goes around the earth, and the assertion that three-fourths of the earth’s surface is covered with water. The descriptions of rivers, lakes, oceans, and mountains are interesting and instructive. The text contains some tables—suggested to Abu’l-Fidāʾ by his reading of the Taqwīm al-abdān (“The Cure of Bodies”) of Ibn Jazla—that recapitulate the written variants for each place name, its geographical coordinates, the sources utilized, the climate or zone to which it belongs, and the natural region in which it is located. The order followed in the presentation has often been argued.

The sources of the work are the Arabic translation of Ptolemy and the works of Idrīsī, Ibn Ḥawqal, Isṭakhri, al-Bīrūnī, and above all the Geography or Kitāb Basṭ al-arḍ fi’l-ṭūl wa’l-ʿard of Ibn Saʽīd al-Magribī. The latter book is frequently quoted, and Abu’l-Fidāʾ took from it the information about the trip of one Ibn Fāṭima (very possibly a Berber from the Sahara), who explored in detail the Atlantic and western Mediterranean coasts of Africa. The longitudes recorded in the Taqwīm al-buldān often contain obvious errors that are a result of their having been taken from sources that did not adopt the same prime meridian (some used the western coast of Africa, others the Canary Islands); poor conversion of the distance between extreme points on an itinerary into degrees and minutes of latitude and longitude; and faulty reading of the canvas maps in use in the Near East.

The Taqwīm al-buldān underwent a number of critical abridgments, among which that in Turkish by Muḥammad ibn ʿAlī Sipāhīzādé (d. 1589) should be noted.


1. Original Works. For a list of MSS, Sec C. Brockel-mann. Geschichte der arabischen Litteratur, II. 44–46, and supp. II, 44. There is a complete edition of the Mukhtaṣar, 2 vols. (Istanbul, 1869–1870) and a number of partial transactions. The Taqwīm al-buldān was edited by Joseph Toussaint Reinaud and Baron de Slane (Paris, 1840). The French translation, Reinaud and Stanislas Guyard, eds., Géographie d’Aboulféda, 2 vols. (Paris, 1848–1883), contains a lengthy prologue on Arab geography by Reinaud.

II. Secondary Literature. For the Arabic sources and works connected with the book, consult Carra de Vaux, Les penseurs de l’lslam (Paris, 1921), I. 139–146, and II, 13–14; H. A. R. Gibb, in Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd ed., I, 122; Joseph Needham, Science and Civilization in China, III (Cambridge, 1959), 561–565; George sarton, Introduction to the History of Science, III (Baltimore, 1947), 793–799; and J. Vernet, “Marruecos en la Geografia de Ibn Saʿid al-Magribī,” in Tamuda, 1 (1955), 123–157, and Kitāb basṭ al-arḍ fi’l-ṭūl wa’l-ʿarḍ (Tetuán, 1957), a critical edition of the Arabic text.

J. Vernet