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[pp. 50-52]


(before 833 A.D.)

Geographer and astronomer at the court of the Abbasids till 846 A.D.

K. Sūrat al-Arḍ.

MS: Strasbourg, Bibl. Univ., Cod. 4247 (1037), fols.30s.

Brockelmann 1, 225

Ed.: H. von Mzik, Das K. Sūrat Al-Ard des Abu Gafar M., Leipzig 1926, pp. 107-109.

T.: MC 519-523

Towns :

In the First Climate: Longitude Latitude
Dunqula, the town of the Nūbah 53° 0' ... 30'
ʿAlwa Baḥrīyah 60° 0' 12° 20'
Zaghāwah 60° 15' 11° 0'
In the Second climate: Longitude Latitude
Jarmī(?) (Jerma?), the great town 34° 0' 19° 30'
Jarmā(?) the town of the kingdom of Ḥabash 40° 40' 19° 40'
The town of Bilāq 55° 25' 21° 40'
Suwān 56° 0' 22° 30'
Al-Qaṣr 55° 50' 21° 45'

[p. 51]

Ma'dīn az-Zumurrud (the emerald mines) 57° 0' 21° 15'
Ma'dīn adh-dhahab among the Būja 57° 55' 21° 45'

(MC 519r).


There are two lakes in the form of a circle, each having a diameter measuring 5° (degrees): The centre of the first is at Long. 50° 0' Lat. 7° 0' and the centre of the other is at Long. 57° 0' Lat. 7° 0'. Five rivers coming from Jabal al-Qamar flow into the first lake. The source of the first river is at Long. 48° 0', the second's at Long. 49° 0', the third’s at Long. 50° 0', the fourth's at Long. 51° 0' and the fifth's at Long. 52° 0'.

Five other rivers start from Jabal al-Qamar and flow down to the second lake. The source of the first is at Long. 55° 20'; the second's at 56° 20'; the third's at 57° 20'; the fourth's at 58° 20'; and the fifth's at 59° 20'.

Four rivers rise from each of these two lakes [all ending] in a [smaller] circular lake within the First Climate; the diameter of this lake is 2° (two degrees) and its centre lies at Long. 53° 30' Lat. 2° 0' in the First Climate. The first river rises from the first lake at Long. 48° 40'; the second at 49° 30'; the third at 51° 15'; these two rivers merge into one at Long. 52° 0' Lat. 1° 0' beyond the equator before flowing into the lake we have just mentioned; the fourth river rises at Long. 52° 0'. The first river of the second lake - which also ends in the smaller lake - rises at Long. 55° 30 ; the second at 56° 20', and the third at 58° 0'; these merge into one at Long. 56° 0' Lat. 1° 0' beyond the equator, before ending in the above mentioned lake; the fourth rises at Long. 59° 0'.

[p. 52]

Each of these rivers enters the small lake, through a separate mouth. From this small lake out-flows one large river which is the Nile of Egypt. It flows through the territory of the Blacks (Sūdān), the ʿAlwa, the Zaghawa the Fazzan and the Nūba. It also touches Dunqula, the town of the Nubians which is situated at Long. 52° 20’ Lat. 2° 0’ within the First Climate, if we count the Lat. degrees beginning from the northern limit of this climate back towards the equator, or at Lat. 15° 0' if we count the degrees from the equator to this point.

The Nile flows on to Long. 53° 0' Lat. 16° 20' (where it crosses into the Second Climate); then it continues in the same direction for one and a half degrees beyond the [northern] limit of the First Climate, then it bends to Long. 52° 0’ Lat. 18° 40’, turns to 51° 0’ Lat. 17° 0’ and successively to Long. 50° 0' Lat. 17° 30'; Long. 50° 20' Lat. 18° 20’; Long. 52° 30' Lat. 19° 40' until it touches the town of Malwī (Malwā) at Long. 51° 30' Lat. 19° 20', after which it reaches the town of Uswān at Long. 55° 30’ Lat. 22° 30'.

A Description of the Source (ʿayn) which lies on the line of the equator and discharges into the Nile of Egypt: also [another] source of circular form, the centre of which is on the line of the equator, and gives rise to the Nile near the town of the Nūbah. The diameter of this source (ʿayn) is 3° (three degrees) and its centre is at Long. 62° 0'. At Long. 61° 30', a river rises [from this source] and flows into the Nile at Long. 53° 0' Lat. 16° 20’, touching the borders of the First Climate. There is a branch river (khalīj) between the river which rises from this source and the Nile, upstream from the town of the Nūbah. (MC 522r).

Addenda et corrigenda

Addenda and corrigenda by R. Seignobos (21 Jan 2014)


Abū Ǧaʿfar Muḥammad b. Mūsā al-Ḫwārizmī (or al-Ḫwarazmī, al-Ḫuwarīzmī etc.)

ca. 800-ca. 847

On the author: EI2, s.v. « Khwārazmī » (J. Vernet) ; DSB, s.v. « al-Khwārizmi » (G.J. Toomer).

Editions : a decade before his edition of the whole work (mentioned by Vantini) Von Mžik published a partial edition specifically devoted to Africa, which also included a German translation and commentaries : H. von Mžik, « Afrika nach der arabischen Bearbeitung der γεωγραφικὴ ὑφήγησις des Claudius Ptolemaeus von Muḥammad ibn Mūsā al-Hwārizmī », Kaiserliche Akademie der Wissenschaften in Wien. Phil.-hist. Klasse. Denkschriften, 59, 1916, pp. 1‑67.

Translations: German translation of the African part of the work in H. von Mžik, « Afrika nach der arabischen Bearbeitung… » (see above).

Further references: C.A. Nallino, « Al-Ḫuwârizmî et il suo rifacimento della geografia di Tolomeo », Atti della R. Accademia dei Lincei, Anno 291, Seria 5a. Memorie della classe di scienzi morali, storiche e filologiche, 1894 [1] ; G.R. Tibbetts, « The beginnings of a cartographic tradition », [in :] J.B. Harley, D. Woodward (eds), The History of Cartography. Vol. 2, Book 1, Cartography in the Traditional Islamic and South Asian Societies, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1992, p. 90-107[2] ; R. Seignobos, « L’île de Bilāq dans le Kitāb Nuzhat al-Muštāq d’al-Idrīsī (XIIe siècle). Généalogie d’une confusion », Afriques [Online], 2011[3].

External links: digital reproduction (zoomable) of the map of the Nile included in Strasbourg, Bibl. univ., ms. 4247, f. 30v-31 [1037] [4]. A sketch of the map with a transcription and a partial (French) translation of its legends is freely available here[5].

Remarks: note that the only extant ms. of al-Ḫwārizmī’s Kitāb Ṣūrat alʾArḍ, now kept in the Bibliothèque nationale et universitaire de Strasbourg, contains a set of four maps that remain to this day the earliest preserved maps from the Islamic world. Although they were probably not part of the original composition, the configuration and information displayed in the map of the Nile (f. 30v-31) follows rather closely the description given in al-Ḫwārizmī’s text. The Makurian capital, Dongola (Dunqula), is located on an island formed by the junction of the Nile with an eastern tributary (the Ptolemean Astapous/Astaboras, i.e. the Atbara) representing the famous « island of Meroe » of the Ancient writers. The land of Nubia (bilād al-Nūba) lies south-east of this island, between the two rivers, whereas the name of ʿAlwa appears a bit to the east of the Atbara.

Concordance :

MC 519r = H. von Mžik, 1916, pp. 2-3, 7-9 = H. von Mžik, 1926, pp. 4, 6, 8-9

MC 522r = H. von Mžik, 1916, pp. 41-43 = H. von Mžik, 1926, pp. 106-107