Ibn Khurradādhbih (or Ibn Khurd

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Ibn Khurradādhbih (or Ibn Khurdādhbih), Abu’l-Qāsim ‘Ubayd Allāh ‘Abd Allāh

(b. ca. 820; d. ca 912)

geography, history, music.

Ibn Khurradādhbih was of Persian descent; his grandfather was a Zoroastrian who later accepted Islam. His father was the governor of Tabaristān. Ibn Khurradādhbih occupied the high office of chief of posts and information in al-Jibāl (Media). In his later years he became a close companion of Caliph al-Mu’tamid at Sāmarrā. He wrote on such subjects as history, genealogy, geography, music, and wines and cookery, thus showing the scope of his knowledge and erudition and his keen interest in the social and cultural life of his time. At least nine of his works have been mentioned in Arabic biobibliographical literature. Al-Nadīm gives the following list: Kitāb adab al-samā’ (“On the Art of Music”); Kitāb jumhurat ansāb al-Furs wa’ l-nawāfil (“On the Genealogies of the Ancient Persians”); Kitāb al-masālik wā’ l-mamālik (“On Geography”); Kitāb al-tabikh (“On Wines”); Kitāb al-anwā’ (“On the Appearance of the Stationary Stars”); and Kitāb al-nudamā’ wa’ l-julasā’ (“On royal Companionship”). Al-Mas’ũdī attributes to Ibn Khurradādhbih a large work on history dealing with the non-Arabs of pre-Islamic times and admires it for its methodology and vast information (Murũj, I, 12-13). It is not unlikely that this book was the one on ancient Persian genealogies. For the caliph, Ibn Khurradādhbih had Ptolemy’s Geography translated from a “foreign language” (probably Greek or Syriac) into the “correct language,” but this may have been a simple adaptation of the work into Arabic. Some excerpts from his work on music are preserved by al-Mas’ũdī (Murũj., VIII, 88-100). Ibn Khurrad;amacr;dhbih’s main contribution, however, was in geography. His geographical compendium, Kitāb al-masālik wa’l-mamālik, has come down to us in an abridged form. The original work, according to de Goeje, was prepared about 846-847 and the second draft was made not later than 885-886. The extant abridged version deals with regional, descriptive, economic, and political geography and covers not only the “Islamic kingdom,” under the ’Absāsid rule but also the non-Islamic world. The portions on mathematical and physical geography are insufficient, although the material seems to have been drawn from Ptolemy’s work and from contemporary Arabic writings on the subject. The work also deals with stories of exploration and adventure and the wonders of the world. The major portion of it is devoted to detailed and accurate descriptions of the itineraries and road systems of the oekumene (al-rub’ al-ma’a mũra, the inhabited portion of the earth). It is here that Ibn Khurradādhbih displays his ability to handle scientifically the vast material at his disposal. Besides ancient Persian source books on the subject he seems to have used government records and firsthand accounts of Arab merchants, travelers, and sailors. The arrangement and presentation of the subject matter, the use of Persian terminology for the subdivisions, districts, and regions, and the use of Persian names shows a distinct Persian influence.

The very fact that Ibn Khurradādhbih assigns Iraq a central position vis-à-vis other provinces and takes Baghdad as the starting point to describe the itineraries shows that he equated it with the Irānshahr (Iraq) of the ancient Persians. he begins his description with al-Sawād, for, he says, the ancient Persian kings considered it dill-i Irānshahr, “the heart of Iraq.” The land and sea routes pass out of Baghdad and lead in the four directions. To the east they reach as far as Central Asia and the sea route to India and China; to the west they go as far as North Africa and Spain; to the north to Azerbaijan and the Caucasus; and to the south they extend to southern Arabia. This material formed an indispensable source of knowledge for later geographers and travelers.


Ibn Khurradādhbih’s Kitāb al-masālik is in J. de Goeje, ed., Bibliotheca geographorum arabicourm, VI (Leiden, 1889).

See also Hudud al-‘ālam, The Regions of the World, trans. and explained by V. Minorsky (London, 1937), with preface by V. V. Barthold; C. Brockelmann, Geschichte der arabischen Literatur, I (Leiden, 1943), p. 225; I. I. Krachkovsky, Istoria arabskoi geograficheskoi literatury (Moscow-Leningrad, 1957), pp. 155-158, trans. into Arabic by Salāh al-Din Uthmān Hāshim as Ta’rikh al-adab al-jughrāfi al-’Arabi (Cairo, 1963); al-Mas’ũdā, Murũj al-dhahab wa ma‘ādin al-jauhar, Les prairies d’or, 9 vols., Arabic text and French trans. by C. Barbier de Maynard and P. de Courteille (Paris, 1859-1877), I (1859), pp. 12-13, VIII (1874), pp. 88-100; and al-Nadim, Fihrist (Cairo, n.d.), pp. 218-219.

S. Maqbul Ahmad

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