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Ibrāhīm ibn Ya‘qūb

Tenth-century traveler who journeyed from Tortosa (Spain) through Central and Eastern Europe. Some of the written impressions of Ibrāhīm ibn Ya‘qūb (more fully, Ibrāhīm ibn Ya‘qūb al-Isrā’ilī al-Turtushi) survive through later Arabic sources. The original work was probably a report drafted for the Umayyad caliph of Spain, al-Ḥakam II (r. 961–976), following a visit to Germany as head of a delegation to Emperor Otto I. The depth of knowledge and proficiency that ibn Ya‘qūb displays in his discussions of medical matters suggest that he may have been a physician.

Ibn Ya‘qūb does not describe the route he followed, but it is reasonable to assume that he crossed the northern border of Christian Spain and traveled through Catalonia and Provence to Germany, where he met with the emperor. In all probability, he received permission to visit areas of western and northern Germany. Ibn Ya‘qūb describes the cities of Magentsa (Mainz) and Fulda, as well as the Schleswig district. He writes about Prague and Bohemia, describing Prague as a major center of world trade used by Jewish traders and others. He notes how the traders imported spices to Prague from the Orient as well as gold coins from Byzantium; these items were then exchanged for slaves, tin, hides, leathers of various types, and wheat. Additionally, he describes a salt mine near Nienburg on the Saale River in eastern Germany, where, he says, there were Jews at work. He also provides the earliest known comprehensive description of the Polish kingdom.

In his accounts, ibn Ya‘qūb dwells mainly on topographic data and provides general descriptions of the regions he visited. In the process, though, he also mentions the social characteristics of the inhabitants of the various countries as well as the food and beverages they consume, and their occupations. He assigns a great deal of importance to describing commercial and economic matters, providing extensive details about prices and currency. His descriptions also cover such religious subjects as churches and pagan rituals.

Suggested Reading

Eliyahu Ashtor, “Ibrahim ibn Jakub,” in The Dark Ages: Jews in Christian Europe, 711–1096 (New Brunswick, N.J., 1966); Tadeusz Lewicki, “Die Vorstellungen arabischer Schriftsteller des 9. und 10. Jahrhunderts von der Geographie und von den ethnischen Verhältnissen Osteuropas,” Der Islam 35 (1960): 26–41; André Miquel, “L’Europe occidentale dans la relation arabe d’Ibrahim b. Ya’qub,” Annales ESC 21 (1966): 1048–1064; André Miquel, “Ibrahim b. Ya’kub,” in Enyclopaedia of Islam, vol. 3, p. 991 (Leiden, 1971).



Translated from Hebrew by Rami Hann