Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain & Ireland (New Series)

Articles

Ibn Baṭṭū;ṭa's Journey to Bulghàr: Is it a Fabrication?

Stephen Janicsek

The Moorish traveller Ibn Baṭṭūṭa occupies a peculiar place in medieval geography, not only because his journeys were so extensive, exceeding in length even those of Marco Polo, but because the record of them contains such a fantastic mixture of items of information, some valuable or precise, others worthless or vague in the extreme, regarding the different cities, provinces, and distinguished men that he had seen. Everyone who has traced out his journey step by step must agree that there are serious arguments against the trustworthiness of his statements regarding several of the cities which he claimed to have visited. On the other hand, it is exceedingly difficult to substantiate the suspicions thus aroused. He was a skilful narrator, and did not himself, as is well known, write down the record of his journeys; consequently the existence of one or two errors in his account of a city or a district does not prove anything against him, since it must be allowed that his memory occasionally played him false. Besides, Ibn Battuta was a typical son of the medieval East, a fact which explains certain systematic faults in his narrative. For example, he is very inconsequent; sometimes he speaks at length of a small village, and sometimes devotes no more than one or two words to a celebrated city. Sometimes, but not always, he gives an impression of sincerity, saving frankly that he was badly treated by so-and-so, or that he was told about such and such a city or country, but did not himself visit it. For this reason one is naturally inclined to accept his word when he says that he personally visited a place.