Yaqut Al-H?amawi Al-Rumi, Shiham Aldin Abu ?Abdallah Yaqut Ibn ?Abd Allah

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(b.Rūm, Byzantine empire [now Turkey] 1179; d. Aleppo, Syria, 20 August 1229)

transmission of knowledge, geography.

Probably of Greek parentage, Yāqūt was taken prisoner as a young boy and was brought to Baghdad, where he was sold as a slave to a merchant named ʿAskar ibn Ibrāhīm al–Hamawi (after whom Yāqūt was also called al–Hamawi; he assumed his other names later). When Yāqūt grew up, ʿAskar gave him a little education; for being uneducated himself, he needed someone to assume the secretarial work of his trade. He subsequently engaged Yāqūt and sent him on commercial tours to what is now Qeys Island in the Persian Gulf and to Syria. In 1199, after a disagreement, Yaqut was freed by his master; he then copied and sold manuscripts and studied Arabic language and grammar under al–Ukbarī (d. 1219) and Ibn Yaʿish (d. 1245). After a reconciliation, Yāqūt rejoined his former master in the latter’s trade activities. After ʿAskar’s death, Yāqūt settled in Baghdad as a bookseller. He held strong Kharijite views that he expressed in Damascus (1215)during a public argument with a supporter of Ali ibn Abī Tāalīb. The crowd could not tolerate his attack on ʿAlī and assaulted him. He later escaped from Aleppo; went to Mosul; and then, by way of Irbil, reached Marw, where he remained for two years, consulting the rich libraries and collecting material for his books. Toward the end of 1218, Yāqūt went to Khorezm; he encountered the invading Mongol armies in 1219-1220 and escaped to Khurāsān, leaving behind all his belongings. In 1220 he reached Mosul and in 1222 finally arrived in Aleppo, where he remained under the patronage of Abuʿ –Hasan ’Alī ibn Yūusuf al–Qiftī (d. 1248) until his death. Yāqūt spent most of his life traveling in the Islamic world: Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Iran, Khurāsān, and Khorezm

Besides earning his livelihood as a bookseller, Yāqūt seems to have spent much time as an author. Only four of his several known works have been discovered: Muʿgjam al–buldan “Dictionary of the Lands” Kitab irshad al–arib ila ma rifat al–adib (or Irshad al–alibba’ ila ma ’rifat al–udaba’) Known as Mu’jam al–udaba (or Tabaqāt al–udāaba) “Distionary of the Learned Men” Kitāb almushtarik wadʿan wa’l–mukhtalif saq’an containing selections from Mu’jam al–buldan that list only the titles that applied to several places that had the same name; and Al–Muqtadab min kitāb jamharat al–nasab (on the genealogy of the Arabs). Among his other works are Kitāb almabda’ waʿl–ma’al and Kitab al–du’ al (both on history); Akhbār al–shu’ ara’ al–muta’ akhkhirin waq’l–qudama’ probably identical with Yāqūt’s Mu’jam al–shu’ ’ara’, a biographical dictionary of poets in forty–two volumes; Kitab Akhbar al–Mutanabbi on the life of the poet al–Mutanabbi; Majmu’ kalam Abi ’Ali al–Fdarist a collection of the sayings of al–Farisi (d. 987); and Unwan kitab al–aghani probably an introduction to the famous Book of Songs by Abu’l–Faraj al–Isfahani (d. 967).

In the absence of his works on history, it is difficult to judge Yāqūt’s ability as a historian; but as a biographer he was one of the outstanding scholars of medieval Islam, possessing encyclopedic knowledge. Distinguishing a man of letters (adib) from a scholar (’alim) he quotes a saying: “…the man of letters selects the choicest from everything and then composes it, while a scholar selects a particular branch of knowledge and then improves upon it.”1 For Yāqūt the science of akhbar “usages of the Prophet” was the fountainhead of all knowledge and wisdom, and was superior to all other sciences. Quoting Abu’l–AHasan ’Ali ibn al–Hasan, who quoted earlier writers on the subject, Yāqūt says that if scholars had not concerned themselves with akhbar and with the works of ’athar (usages of the companions of the Prophet), the beginnings of knowledge would have become corrupt and its ends would have perished. It had been said since ancient times, he points out, that nasab (genealogy) and akhbar were the sciences of the kings and the nobility2 With these precepts in mind, Yāqūt compiled his monumental Dictionary of the Learned Men which covers the lives of men of letters, grammarians, linguists, genealogists, famous readers (of the Koran), historians, and secretaries, with preference given to poets; authors of prose whose poetry was of a secondary order came later. This work and Akhbar al–shu ’ara’ covered, in Yāqūt’s words, most of the information relating to men of letters, including scholars and poets3 The work, in more or less alphabetical order, reveals the author’s deep interest in Arabic literaqture and his vast knowledge of the subject.

Equally concerned with geography, Yāqūt believed in its intrinsic relationship with history and emphasized the importance of orthography order, the Mujam al–buldan attempts to fixd the spellings of place names and gives their geographical positions, boundaries, and coordinates. It covers cities and towns, rivers and valleys, mountains and deserts, and seas and islands. For each place Yāqūt gives information on eminentr natives, including anecdotes and interesting facts. He was aware that earlier writers had not paid sufficient attention to the two important aspects of a place name: orthography and geographical position of the place. This earlier,4 The inspiration to produce a geographical dictionary that would serve as a travel guide to Muslims, however, came from the teachings of the Koran and other religious works5 Yāqūt believed that such a work was essential not only for the traveler but also for the jurist, the astrologer, and the savant6.

Besides utilizing a variety of sources for this work, including biographers, geographers, and historians, Yāqūt enhanced its value by adding his own experiences and observations gathered during his travels, as well as information acquired from those he met. An important aspect of the work is that Yāqūt preserved a number of passages from works that have only recently become available That he was fully conversant with the various concepts of Muslim geographers relating to mathematical, physical, and regional geography is amply evident in the long introduction, which includes discussions of the geographical and legal terms used in the book7.

Ever since its publication more than seven centuries ago, the Mu’jam has been an important historical and geographical reference work for scholars in the Islamic world as well as for Orientalists in the West. Because of its size, and abridgement was prepared in the ’Add al–Haqq, under the title Marasid al–ittila’ ’ala asma al–amkina wa l–biqa’ that included only the geographical material.

Yāqūt represented an age when knowledge in medieval Islam had almost reached its zenith. It was a period of consolidation of the knowledge acquired during the preceding centuries by the Muslim scientists, and scholars like Yāqūt had begun producing comprehensive dictionaries, biographies, and general surveys in specific aspects of the arts and general Surveys in specific aspects of the arts and science. It was about this time that the center of Muslim academic and intellectual activity had shifted from Baghdad, which played its role for over four centuries, to places like Aleppo, Damascus, and Cairo. It is for this reason that we find in Yāqūt’s works a variety of information, including ethnology, folklore, literature, and other features of medieval Islamic society. In this respect, Yāqūt may be considered one of the most outstanding transmitters of knowledge of the medieval period.


1. See D.S. Margoliouth, Yāqūt’s Dictionary of the Learned Men1 17

2.Ibid., 27–28

3.Ibid., 5–6

4. See Wadie Jwaideh, The Introductory Chapters of Yāqūt’s Mu’jam al–buldān 3–4

5.Ibid., 1–3

6.Ibid., 4–9

7.Ibid., 19f


I. Original Works The Kitāb al–mushtarik wadʿ an wa’l mukhalif saqʿan was edited by F. Wüstenfeld as Jacut’s Moschutarik, das ist: Lexicon geographischer Homonyme (Göttingen, 1846).

Muʿjam al–buldāan was edited by F. Wustenfeld as Jucut’s geographisches Wörterbuch, Kitāab Muʿjam al–buldāan6 vols. (Leipzig, 1866-1873); see also Sachindex zu Wüustenfeld’s Ausgabe von Jāqūut’s Muāgam are F. J. Heer, Die historischen und geographischen Quellen in Jaqut’s geographischem Worterbuch (Strasbourg, 1898); a version by Ahmad Amīin al–Shanqītī, 8 vols. (Cairo, 1906), with a 2–vol. supp. by Muhammad Amin al–Khāanjī (Cairo, 1907); and Wadie Jweideh. The Introductory Chapters of Yāqūt’s Muʿjam al–buldan (Leiden, 1959), an excellent analysis of the intro. The abridgement wa’ l–biqa’, was edited by T. W. Juynboll, 6 vols. (Leiden, 1851-1864); other abridgement are listed in Jwaideh, ix–x.

Kitāb irshād al–arīb ila ma ʿrifat al–adib (Mu’jam aludabā) was edited by D. S. Margoliouth as Yāqūt’s Dictionary of the Learned Men no. 6 in the E. J. W. Gibb Memorial Series, 6 vols. (Leiden, 1907–1931).

Al–Muqtadab min kitāb jamharat al–nasab is discussed in Fuat Sezgin, Geschichte des arabischen Schrifttums1 (Leiden, 1967), 269.

II. Secondary Litterature. See R. Blachere. “Yakut al–Rumīi in Encyclopaedia of Islam, I st ed., Iv, pt 2, 1153-1154: C. Brockelmann, Geschichte der arabischen LiteraturI (Leiden, 1943), 480, and Supp.,I (Leiden, 1937), 880; Hājjīi Khalifa, Kashf al–zunun,I (Istanbul, 1941), 64, 363, and II (Istanbul, 1943), 1580, 1691–1692, 1733-1734, 1734-1735, 1793; Ibn Khalli kan’s Biographical Dictionary, translated by Baron Mac Guckin de Slane al–Dīn Uthmān Hāshim as Ta’rikh alabab al–jughrafi al–ArabiI (Cairo, 1963), 335–344; and Ibn al–Qifti Inbah al–ruwah facs. Arabic text concerning Yāqūt, published by Rudolf Sellheim in his “Neue Materialien zur Biographie des Yāqūt,” in Wolfgang Voigt, ed., Forschungen und Fortschritte der Katalogisierung der orientalischen Handschriften in Deutschland (Wiesbaden, 1966), tables xvi–xxxiv.

S. Maqbul Ahmad