Al-Bakrī, Ab

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Al-Bakrī, Abū ʿUbayd ʿAbdallāh Ibn ʿAbd Al-ʿAzīz Ibn Muḥammad

(b. ca. 1010; d. 1094)


Al-Bakrī was a Hispano-Arabic geographer who belonged to a family of landowners that took advantage of the fall of the caliphate of Cordoba, to declare itself independent in Huelva and Saltes. When his father was deposed by al-Muʿtaḍid, al-Bakrī moved to Córdoba, where he studied with the historian Ibn Ḥayyān (d. 1075)and the geographer al-ʿUdhrī (d. 1085). For much of his life al-Bakrī was a member of al-Muʿtasim’s court at Almeria, and late in life he became acquainted with the writer Ibn Khāgān. He spent much time in Seville, and was there when El Cid arrived to collect the tributes due Alfonso VI.

A man of wide-ranging knowledge, al-Bakrī was a good poet and philologist who devoted much of his time to geography, even though it appears that he never traveled outside the Iberian Peninsula. His main scientific works are the following:

(1) Muʿjam mā istaʿjam, a collection of place names that are mainly Arabian and that are frequently misspelled in common use. The analytical part is preceded by an introduction detailing the geographic framework of the region under study.

(2) Kitāb al-masālik wa’l-mamālik (completed in 1068), only part of which has been preserved. As the title (“Book of the Roads and Kingdoms”) implies, it is a description of land and sea routes written to facilitate travel. Aside from the purely geographical facts, al-Bakrī also includes historical and social data. The description of the coasts is in some instances so precise that it makes one wonder if the author’s source was a navigation or prenavigation text of the western Mediterranean. The book is independent of the works of the same title written by Oriental geographers. Still extant is a general introduction that contains a description of the Slavic and Nordic peoples; it has been published only in fragments. There is also a description of North Africa and Spain (al-Mughrib fī dhikr Ifrīqiyya waʿl-Maghrib). The first part presents interesting data about the Sahara routes and the origins of the Almoravid movement. We have only fragments of the second part, which was used by Alfonso X (el Sabio). The main source of the work (aside from al-Bakrī’s teacher al-ʿUdhrī), of which many fragments about Spain have been preserved, is the book about Ifrīqiyya written by Muḥammad ibn Yūsuf al-Warrāq (d.973). Al-Bakrī also had access to Latin sources, such as the Etimologiae of St. Isidore, the History of Orosius, and many others known in Cordoba either in Arabic versions or in oral tradition. In addition, he utilized the description of the trip of Ibrāhīm ibn Yaʿqūb, a Jew from Tortosa, to the north of Europe in the tenth century. The Kitāb al-masālik wa’l-mamālik was influential in Arabic literature for centuries.

(3) Al-Ghafiqī and Ibn al-Bayṭār cite al-Bakrī as an authority several times in their pharmacological compilations. From this we can deduce that he wrote a treatise, since lost, entitled Aʿyān al-nabār or Kitāb al-nabāt, about simple medicines, quoted by Ibn Khayr (Fahrasa, 377, Codera and Ribera, eds. [Zaragoza, 1894-1895]).


1. Original Works. There is a list of al-Bakrī’s manuscripts in Brockelmann, Geschichte der arabischen Literatur, I (Weimar, 1898), 476, and Supp. I (Leiden, 1937), 875-876. The Muʿjam ma istaʿjam was edited by F. Wüstenfeld and published as Das geographische WÖrterbuch (GÖttingen-Paris, 1876; Cairo,1945-1949). The manuscript of the Kitāb al-masālik waʿl-mamālik is in Paris (BN 5905); the part dealing with North Africa was published in French trans. by de Slane as “Descriiption de l’Afrique septentrionale,” in Journal asiatique (1858-1859), and as a book (2 vols., Algiers, 1911-1913; 1 vol., Paris, 1965). It has often been reprinted with original and translated combined. The part dealing with the Slavs was translated into Russian by A. Kunik and V. Rosen (St. Petersburg, 1878); it also appears in A. Seippel’s Rerum normanicorum fontes arabici (Oslo, 1896-1928). The best edition with Polish and Latin versions is that of T. Kowalski (Krakow, 1946).

II. Secondary Literature. The Arabic sources for the life of al-Bakrī are listed in Khayr al-Dīn al-Ziriklī, alA’lām, 2nd ed., IV, 233; secondary listings may be found in the above sources and in George Sarton, Introduction to the History of Science, 1, 768; and E. Lévi-Provençal, in in Enceclopedie de l’Islant, 2nd ed., 1, 159–161. See also the important text by his teacher al–‘Udhri, published by a l–Ahwani. i n Fraginentos geograficos–historicos de alMasdlik ila Gami‘ al–Mamalik (Madrid. 1965), and the note by J. Vernet in Revista del Instituto de estudios islamicos, 13 (1965–1966), 17–24.

J. Vernet