Al-Hamdani

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[pp. 117-119]

AL-HĀMDĀNĪ

(d. 945 A.D.)

Abū Muh b. al-Hasan b. Ya'qūb 'al-Hāmdānī b. al-Hā'iq. An Arab scientist from Yemen who studied the history and archaeology of the ancient south-Arabian kingdoms.

EI (s.v.); Brockelmann 1, 229.

K. jazīrat al-'arab.

Ed.: D.H. Muller, al-Hamdania Geographie der arabischen Halbinsel, 2 vols., Leiden 1884-1891.

T.: MC 570 (Müller); Ar.Ist., pp. 133-137 A:1


Those who have their homes between Capricorn, i.e. south of the Equator, and the middle of al-Ḥijāz, both East and West, are so exposed to the rays of the sunshine that they are burned by the [strong rays of] the sun passing overhead. Therefore they are dark-skinned: they have kinky, black hair and weak bodies. They are hot-tempered and many of them have rough habits (akhlāq). These are the results of a constant exposure to the sun.

He [Ptolemy] says:- They [i.e. the inhabitants of the First Climate] are those whom we generally call Ḥabash. It is not only they who resent this excessive heat, but the animals and trees are also affected by the stifling atmosphere of their country. I add: - Although the wise man [Ptolemy] names the whole Climate after the Ḥabasha, yet the Ḥabasha are only a minority; for there are [other] peoples blacker than the Ḥabasha, as well as others who have a lighter complexion; moreover, there are other peoples, whose complexion are remarkable white, in contrast to those who are of olive and brown complexions, as may be noticed among the Sīn and the Arabs - both living within this Climate. (Müller, p. 29).

[p. 118] The fourth quarter[1] [of the Earth] extends South-West and comprises the countries of such Blacks as the Zanj, the Ḥabash, the Buja, the Nūba, the Fazzān, the territory of Qayrawan (arḍ Qayrawan), then (the towns of) Qayrawan and Sūs in (the province of) Ifrīqiya, and farther on, the countries of other Black peoples who go naked and the Ghāna[2], who in the Greek language are called Numidians (nawmīdiyya), Getulians (jatūliyya) etc.

[All this quarter] has the shape of the triangle of Cancer and it is under the influence of Venus (zuhara) and Mars (al-mirrīkh), both visible in the West (maghrabiyyāni). It is presumed that in the parts of the Maghrib these [two planets] are seen in a southern direction (janūbiyyān), for Venus is [surely] in the South (janūbiyyān) and the eastern side of Mars (sharq al-mirrīkh) looks to the South (janūbī). Therefore, as these two planets are associated, it happens that most of the peoples of those countries are ruled by a king and a queen who are brothers born of the same mother: the man (ar-rajul) rules over the men and the woman (mar’a) over the women (an-nisāʾ). This is a very ancient custom among them, which they transmit from generation to generation, as by inheritance. They are very hot-tempered. The men are very ardent while approaching their women, who get married to their husbands while still virgins.

The women of some of them are owned in common partnership because of the insatiable sexual appetite (nahm) and their desire (hirṣ) of their men. Men make use of [p. 119] ornaments and are fond of them as much as their women are. This is due to the influence of Venus. Yet, under the influence of Mars, they [also] possess a virile character (rujla): they bravely face any danger even to the loss of their lives. They have, however, some (bad) qualities such are malice (khubth), villainy (sharāra), lie (ifk), deceitfulness (ghishsh), fraud (ghīla) and vice (daghal). (op.cit., p. 40).

The Nūba and, generally speaking, all the Ḥabash, the Zanj and their neighbours who dwell in the southern parts of al-Hind, are characterized by (the influence of) Scorpion (ʿaqrab) and Mars. Therefore, their behaviour is more similar to that of beasts (sibāʾ) than to human beings. They seem to be quarrelsome and aggressive, quick to fight and easy to be perplexed, as they [sometimes] commit suicide by burning (iḥrāq), by hanging (khanq) or throwing themselves into pits (taraddī), one would think that they are merciless towards one another and probably also towards themselves.

The quarter which lies in the middle of the inhabited Earth includes the countries East of Qayrawan, such as the [western] frontier of Miṣr, Aswān, the central part of the country of the Ḥabasha (bilād al-Ḥabasha al-wustā) with the towns as Nāsiʿ[3], Sawākin and 'Aydhāb, the mines region, the territory of al-Yaman along the Sea of Aden Ibyan[4]; all these countries are situated in the quarter right in the middle of the inhabited Earth. (op.cit., pp. 40 - 41).

  1. Ptolemy (followed by many ancient Arab geographers) divided the inhabited part of the Earth (oikumene) into four quarters.
  2. Ghāna, as meant by the ancient Arab geographers, seems to correspond to the territory immediately west of Lake Chad.
  3. Nāsi’ is probably a misreading for Bādi’ (today Massawa); cf. al-Ya’qūbī, n. 5.
  4. Arabskiye Istochniki: “Ibayn”; MC: “Ibyan”.