A Source Book in Geography

Author: Ibn Khordadbeh  | Date: 1949

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Ibn Khordadbeh Describes Byzantium, Some Trade Routes, and the Divisions of the Inhabitable World

Rome (Byzantium) and its marvels

Rome touches on the sea to the east, the south, and the west; only in the north does it have any contact with the mainland. From the eastern to the western gate the distance is twenty miles. The city is surrounded by two stone walls separated by a space of sixty feet. The inside wall is twelve feet high and seventy-two feet wide; the outside wall eight feet wide and forty-two in height. A river runs between them covered by large copper plates each one of which is forty-six feet long. This river is called Fistilatus.

From the Golden Gate to the gate of the King, the distance is twelve miles. There is a bread market that is one parasang long; the great market extends from the east to the western gate and is formed by three rows of columns and two arcades. The central arcade is surrounded by columns made of yellow Roman copper, their base and their capitals are all made of this metal. It is in this market that the merchants’ shops are located. The columns are thirty feet high. In front of these columns and these shops a canal, paved with yellow copper (brass), runs from east to west, it is fed by a branch of the sea in such a way that the ships can enter with their cargo and come all the way to the merchants’ shops.

The itinerary of the Jewish merchants

These merchants speak Arabic, Persian, Roman (Greek and Latin), Frank, Spanish, and Slavic, and travel from east to west by land and by sea. They bring to the West slaves of both sexes, eunuchs, brocades, beaver pelts, the pelts of mink and other animals, and sables. They leave from the land of the Franks on the western sea to al-Farama, and from there they carry their merchandise on camelback to al-Qulzum. There they get onto the eastern sea to get from al-Qulzum to al-Jar, the port of Medina, then to Jiddah and thence to Sind, to Hind, and to China. They bring back from China musk, aloe wood, camphor, cinnamon, and other products of those lands. They come back to al-Qulzum whence they take their merchandise to al-Farama and start out on the Western Sea.

Sometimes they go to Constantinople to sell their products to the Byzantines. If they so desire, they go from France on the Western Sea to Antioch, from thence in three stages to al-Jabiya, then they sail down the Euphrates to Baghdad, down the Tigris to Oman, Sind, Hind, and China, lands that are next to each other.

Itinerary of the Russian merchants

These are Slavs from the most distant regions of their land, the land of the Slavs; they bring beaver, black fox pelts and sables, and come to the Black Sea. The sovereign of the Byzantines taxes them for one-tenth of the value of their merchandise. When they go down the Don, the river of the Slavs passing by the capital of the Khazars, the sovereign again taxes them for one tenth of their merchandise. Thence they go to the Caspian and land at any particular place on the coast that they decide upon. This sea is sixty parasangs in diameter. Sometimes they transport their products on camelback from the Caspian to Baghdad. There, Slav servants serve them as interpreters. They call themselves Christians and pay special tax.

Divisions of the inhabited world

The inhabited world is divided into four parts;

1. Urufa (Europe), which includes Spain, the lands of the Slavs, the lands of the [figure table]

(Byzantines and Romans), the lands of the Franks and the lands of Tangiers to the frontier of Egypt.

2. Lubiya (Libya), which includes Egypt, al-Qulzum, Abyssinia, the land of the Berbers, and the adjacent lands all the way to the southern sea. These lands do not have any wild boar, or deer, or wild horses or ibex.

3. Ityufiya (Ethiopia), which includes Tihama, the Yemen, Sind, Hind, and China.

4. Isqutiya (Scythie), including Armenia, Khorasan, Turkestan and the land of the Khazars.

From Ibn Khordadbeh, Description du Maghreb et de l’Europe au IIIe-IXe siècle, trans. Hadj Sadok (Alger: Editions Carbonel, 1949), pp. 15–25 passim. Editor’s translation.


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Chicago: Ibn Khordadbeh, "Ibn Khordadbeh Describes Byzantium, Some Trade Routes, and the Divisions of the Inhabitable World," A Source Book in Geography, trans. Hadj Sadok in A Source Book in Geography, ed. George Kish (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978), 216–218. Original Sources, accessed September 28, 2023, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=D1YWC3PU2T93CYP.

MLA: Khordadbeh, Ibn. "Ibn Khordadbeh Describes Byzantium, Some Trade Routes, and the Divisions of the Inhabitable World." A Source Book in Geography, translted by Hadj Sadok, in A Source Book in Geography, edited by George Kish, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1978, pp. 216–218. Original Sources. 28 Sep. 2023. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=D1YWC3PU2T93CYP.

Harvard: Khordadbeh, I, 'Ibn Khordadbeh Describes Byzantium, Some Trade Routes, and the Divisions of the Inhabitable World' in A Source Book in Geography, trans. . cited in 1978, A Source Book in Geography, ed. , Harvard University Press, Cambridge, pp.216–218. Original Sources, retrieved 28 September 2023, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=D1YWC3PU2T93CYP.