Saturday, May 7, 2011

Ibn Fadlan's Journey to Russia: a Review

I wanted to read this book after reading Michael Crichton's Eaters of the Dead. He wrote his book to appear to be Ahmad Ibn Fadlan's Risala, complete with real and fake annotation. Mostly fake. It was not clear in the appendix if he took Ibn Fadlan's visit with the Rus beyond what is in the remains of the original text or not. He did. The Arab missionary and ambassador did not travel anywhere with the Rus. He merely observed them when a group of them came to Bulghar capital along the Volga.
Richard Frye wrote this book for the non-academic public. That is, it is written for the laymen. It is a translation of the largest piece of the Risala which had been preserved at Meshhed. He filled out his translation with a bit of history of the time in which Ibn Fadlan made his journey, c. 922 A.D.. I am not sure how best to refer to the Arab author since Ibn means 'son of', so perhaps Ahmad would do.
Ahmad took a long way around to visit the Bulghar king at Kazan because the Khazars, whose land he would have to cross, were hostile to the Caliph at Baghdad, Ahmad's master. It is an interesting look at a culture and history that is largely unknown to me. It is not too long or filled with obscure details that only a scholar would love. It contains some maps and illustrations, which I love. All in all, it is a good book. Two thumbs up.
If you are curious about the Ahmad's observations on the Rus, you will need to look further because Frye did not comment much on them. He stated there were many scholarly articles already on the subject.

5 comments:

anachronist said...

It's always interesting to see a culture you know from another perspective.

Tracy said...

Sounds worthwhile, though I'm such a history ignoramus I'd still need to read a much more general history of the time before I'd think about tackling it.

The Red Witch said...

Actually Richard Frye gives you enough history to go on. He wrote it for the general public who wouldn't be expected to know a great deal about medieval Arab history.

@It's always interesting to see a culture you know from another perspective.

I had not idea they had so many issues with heresy. The early days of Islam sound a lot like the early days of Christianity. Wild and wooly with the Caliph shaping up to be the pope.

Tracy said...

I had not idea they had so many issues with heresy. The early days of Islam sound a lot like the early days of Christianity

Have you read A History of God by Karen Armstrong? (I haven't yet, but it's on my wish list). There are far more similarities between religions than there are differences.

The Red Witch said...

Ahmad calls Jewish and Christians "People of the Book" I knew there were quite a few shared religious texts and that Muslims consider Jesus to be a prophet. I have also read that much of what is unsavoury in Islam i.e. the veiling of women is from Ottoman Turk culture not Islam but Mohammed's favourite wife was nine when he married her. I dislike fanatics of any stripe.