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Ibn Fadlan's Journey to Russia: A Tenth-century Traveler from Baghdad to the Volga River [Paperback]

R. N. Frye
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 2005
This is the first English translation of the famous risala, letters by the tenth-century traveler Ibn Fadlan, one of the great Medieval travelers in world history, akin to Ibn Batutta. Ibn Fadlan was an Arab missionary sent by the Caliph in Baghdad to the king of the Bulghars. He journeyed from Baghdad to Bukhara in Central Asia and then continued across the desert to the town of Bulghar, near present Kazan. He describes the tribes he meets on his way and gives an account of their customs. His is the earliest account of a meeting with the Vikings, called Rus, who had reached the Volga River from Sweden. His description of the Rus, or Rusiya as he calls them, has produced much discussion about their origins, shockingly free sexual morals standards, customs, treatment of slaves and women, burial traditions, and trading habits, all explained in detail by Ibn Fadlan. The story of his travels has fascinated scholars and even prompted Michael Chrichton to write the popular novel "Eaters of the Dead," which was made into a film entitled "The 13th Warrior."

Frequently Bought Together

Ibn Fadlan's Journey to Russia: A Tenth-century Traveler from Baghdad to the Volga River + Ibn Fadlan and the Land of Darkness: Arab Travellers in the Far North (Penguin Classics) + The Travels of Ibn Battutah
Price For All Three: £34.55

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Product details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Markus Wiener Publishing Inc (April 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 155876366X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1558763661
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 812,148 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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First Sentence
The early tenth century, when Ibn Fadlan lived, was the culmination of great changes in the Islamic world. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Back Cover
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars fantastic 31 Dec 2009
By Mr. Nj Mcallister VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
About the best known and the first eye witness account of the vikings and Northern Russia. A fantastic source piece. I do wish though that we had more source work from this period from non Byzantine sources. Highly recommend this book and wish more writings from this period had survived and indeed more people had recorded the era in this part of the world
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ibn Fadlans's Journey through Russia 6 Nov 2009
What a debt of gratitude we owe to those Arabic scribes who gave an impartial eye witness account of Vikings, unlike our Anglo Saxon scribes who had good cause to be bias. This book makes for compelling reading. A true window to the past and such detail for the time it was written. Brilliant!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome 29 Jan 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A must for any heathen, it is an outsiders observations of different folk, there customs rituals and belief structures. This translation into english is an excellent addition to any personnel library, the chapter on the Rus my particular favourite.
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Amazon.com: 3.9 out of 5 stars  8 reviews
25 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Yes, Ibn Fadlan, as in, The 13th Warrior 8 Feb 2009
By The valkyrie Mist - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I understand that Michael Crichton based his book, "The Eaters of the Dead", on Ibn Fadlan's account of his journey to Russia--and the movie "The 13th Warrior" was based on Crichton's book. I've not read Crichton's book, but, being a huge fan of Medieval Norse myth and culture, I have seen the movie. (It was something of a disappointment, but that's Hollywood for you...)

It may surprise some people to discover that Ibn Fadlan was a real person, who was indeed sent on a journey to Russia, and who indeed meet the Rus (who were probably in large part Swedish Vikings), among many other peoples besides. I can't say anything about Crichton's book, but the only part of the movie with any basis whatsoever in reality was the beginning. (Yes, Ibn Fadlan even records the Russ washing and blowing their noses in a communal bowl--although Ibn never mentions this water being drunk afterward, as I believe happens in the movie.) Everything having to do with Ibn Fadlan as a "13th warrior" is pure fiction, and based, as I understand it, on the English poem Beowulf. (Perhaps that basis is largely lost in the movie, because, although I'm no scholar, I don't see much resemblance between the two.)

The reason I bought and read this book had nothing to do with Crichton or the movie; rather Ibn Fadlan's section on the Russ is very often quoted and/or referred to in other works about Viking culture, and I wanted to read the entire account for myself.

Ibn Fadlan's most vivid account of the Russ is that of the funeral of one of their cheiftans, which Ibn happened to witness. This is touched upon in the beginning of the movie, when the slave-girl is being hoisted repeatedly over the door-frame-like structure and reports seeing her master in the other world. I believe the movie leaves out the fact that this slave-girl volunteered to be sacrificed and accompany her master to the other world; the scene in which she appears directly precedes her being ritualistically killed by the "Angel of Death", who is I think also mentioned in the movie, albeit in a different context.

An often-quoted scene in this account is as follows:

"A man of the Rusiya was standing besides me [Ibn Fadlan] and I heard him talking to the interpreter, and I asked what the Rus had said to him. The interpreter answered that he said: 'They, the Arab communities, are stupid.' So I asked: 'Why?' He said: 'You go and cast into the earth the people whom you both love and honor most among men. Then the earth, creeping things, and worms devour them. We, however, let them burn for an instant, and accordingly he enters paradise at once in that very hour,' and he burst into immoderate laughter.

"He said: 'His Lord sent the wind for love of him, so that he may be snatched away in the course of an hour.' In fact an hour had not passed when boat, wood, maiden, and lord had turned to ashes and dust of ashes..."

But Ibn Fadlan encountered many peoples other than the Rus, and he writes about them all, including his interactions and (mis)adventures with them. His chapter on the Rus constitutes just a small section of his work, and this translation, by Richard Frye, contains at least as much introduction and commentary as it does actual text by Ibn Fadlan. There's a wealth of information regarding the world and circumstances in which Ibn Fadlan set out on his journey, and it sheds much light on the original text.

Many people would probably consider this a dry read--but if you're not interested in the time, places and peoples that Ibn Fadlan describes, you probably have no reason to be reading the book in the first place. If, on the other hand, you ARE interested in such things, it's an entertaining and enlightening read.
12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great analysis by Frye 16 July 2010
By C. L. Messina - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Google Vikings and the middle east and you'll likely run across Ibn Fadlan's account, as it is one of the few surviving documents that record interaction between the Vikings and Muslims. While parts are particularly interesting, namely the funeral, Fadlan's report leaves one with more questions than answers that are open to interpretation. The largest one in my mind was how much was first hand account and how much was hearsay? For example, he describes the funeral procession as a normal spectator would at a distance, but then he is in the presence of the human sacrifice as it happens. How likely is it that the Vikings would have him in such a confined space as an alien observer during their performance of a (horrific, in my opinion, but) sacred act? Also, what nationality were these 'Rus' and how long had they been in the Russian area? Where they Slavs, Slav-Swedish mixes or an entirely different race altogether? Neither the text nor Frye's assumptions are clear. Which is to say Fadlan's Embassy mission MAY have had contact with the Vikings but there is no way to be certain. Frye concedes the difficulty in differentiating Varangian, Rus and Viking peoples with the limited Archeological finds and documentation. Another thing that struck me about Fadlan's account is how short it is, or how complete some sources list it.

Although my interest was initially for the Muslim-Viking interaction as part of research I was fascinated by the Muslim-Bulghar-Khazar interactions. Frye paints an interesting picture of the relationships between Persia and the Byzantines amidst competing emerging religions. Fadlan's account gives us a good sense of the difficulty of simply getting from one place to the next in an uncertain and dangerous landscape. What it also touches is the long-forgotten Sassanian (currently Iranian) empire that gives shape and color to many things we naturally assume to be 'Muslim', but were borrowed by people of that new faith.

Fadlan's account was a little disappointing due to my own high expectations but Frye's work and the publishing project (i.e. editing, pictures, maps) is exceptional all around.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Misleading title 7 Oct 2013
By Medical Basix - Published on Amazon.com
Ibn Fadlan's journey was as part of a diplomatic mission from Baghdad to the Bulgarian king. In May, 922 he arrived in Volga Bulgaria, one of the several Bulgarian kingdoms/empires at the time, remnants of a larger empire, referred by the Roman writers as "Great Bulgaria".

While the Bulgarian Empire, located in central/southern Europe the previous century accepted Christianity, in 921 Volga Bulgarians decided to accept Islam as a state religion. The Caliph of Baghdad dispatched a diplomatic mission, Ibn Fadlan was part of it, and the purpose was a visit to the king of the Bulgarians. This numerous people happened to inhabit large area along the longest river in Europe - Volga. The purpose of the journey was not "Russia" and not "Volga River" as the writer is implying by the title of his translation.

During the journey Ibn Fadlan describes many Turkic, Slavic tribes, a small group of Viking travelers and a detailed account of the Bulgarians. For some reason many modern authors ignore the rest of the people and focus particularly on the small group of Viking traders, happened to be on business at Volga Bulgaria. I guess, stories about the Vikings sell better now days, movies too. The description of the Vikings and their funeral practices does not sound objective. Ibn Fadlan was brutally offended by the Vikings and their harsh remarks about Islam and that is probably why he described the Viking travelers as savage beasts.

In any case, the work of Ibn Fadlan is one of the few remaining descriptions about Volga Bulgaria and the people living in this part of the world at that particular time. For centuries Volga Bulgaria was the center, initiator and protector of important trade routs between Europe and Asia, West/East/North/South. The capital city was the city of Bulgar, which later successfully repulsed several attempts to be overrun by the Mongol's armies, at the time of Genghis Khan. The capital city of Volga Bulgaria was later visited by Marco Polo, now the city is renamed "Kazan".

There are several translations of Ibn Fadlan's journey, in different languages, and this one starts with a misleading title. Hopefully the author did not twist the original description, to fit his personal preferences.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Academic Resource 9 Jun 2013
By Danceboheme - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Fantastic translastion and academic resource. Great book, easy read. This is the most accurate translation I have found thus far.
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars 13 Aug 2014
By Amanda - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
It was a gift
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