Al-Mas'udi

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[pp. 124-143]

ABŪ L.-Ḥ. ‘A. Β. AL-ḤUS. B. ‘A. AL-MAS'ŪDĪ

(d. 956 A.D.)

Born in Baghdad, travelled in the Near and Far East, died in Egypt.

Brockelmann 1, 143-145; Sezgin 332-336; EI (s.v.)

Mūrūj adh-dhahab wa-ma'ādin al-jawāhir

Ed.: C. Barbier de Meynard-P.de Courteille, 9 vols., Paris 1861-1877; French translation: Ch. Pellat, Les Prairies, 2 vols., Paris-Beyrouth 1962/65.

De Goeje, BGA 8, 1894; MC 625-629; French translation: Carra de Vaux, Le Livre de l'Avertissement et de la Revision, Paris 1896.

T.: Barbier and MC and Pellat A:1


[General Information:]

Galenus points at ten qualities of the Blacks (Sūdān), namely: curly hair, thinly scattered eyebrows, wide nostrils, thick lips, sharp teeth, bad-smelling skin, black complexion, long feet and hands, sizeable genital organs and excessive aggressiveness. He adds that the last mentioned quality is due to a consequence of the imperfect composition of his brain, which is responsible for his poor intelligence. Restlessness, quick enthusiasm and excessive aggressiveness, which distinguish the Zanj among all the other black peoples, have led many other authors to make more remarks already mentioned in our previous books. (Pellat I, p. 163.)

[Geographical Data:]

I saw in "Jughrāfiyā",[1] the Nile course clearly drawn as rising from under the Jabal al-Qumr, its head [p. 125] waters flowing from twelve sources. The waters collect into two lakes (buhayratayn) similar to swamps (batā’ih); thence they flow across sandy plains and mountains in the land of the Blacks (Sūdān) who live near the Zanj. A large watercourse (khalīj) branches off from it [the Nile] and empties itself in the Sea of the Zanj, which is the Sea of Qanbalū [Island]. This is an island, the inhabitants of which are Muslims, but speak a Zanj language. The Muslims conquered this island at the rise of the Abbasid dynasty and the fall of the Omayyad dynasty and took prisoner all the Zanj who were there, as they did when they conquered the island of Crete, in the sea of the Rūm [726 A.D.]. (Pellat I, p. 205).

On the west coast of this gulf [= the Red Sea] opposite al-Ḥijāz and the country of 'Aylat- which we have already mentioned - there is the country of al-ʿAllāqī and ʿAydhāb belonging to Upper Egypt; next lies the land of the Buja, then the land of the Aḥābish and the Blacks (Sūdān) as far [south] as the extremity of the land of the Zanj where is the region of Sufāla in the Zanj territory. (Pellat I, pp. 237 - 238).

Some scientists have said, that the whole country of the Ḥabasha and the other Blacks (Sūdān) equals seven years' journey; the country of Miṣr is one-sixtieth part of the country of the Blacks and the area of the Blacks equals one-sixtieth of the whole Earth. Now the totality of the Earth is five hundred years' journey; one-third of the Earth is inhabited, another third is uninhabited deserts and one-third is occupied by the seas. The remotest lands of the Blacks - where the natives go naked - are conterminal with the country of Idrīs ibn 'Abdalla b. al-Ḥasan b. al-Ḥasan b. 'Alī Tālib, viz. the country of the Maghreb. (Pellat I, pp. 368 - 369).

Monkeys live in hot countries. They are found in Nubia (an-Nūba) and in the upper [territories of the] [p. 126] Aḥābish (a’lā bilād al-Aḥābish) towards the remotest sources of the Nile. The monkeys of the kind called "nubian" (an-nūbiyya) are of small size and face; their colour draws near the black, like that of the Nūba. (Pellat II, p. 51).

[The Nubians:]

Most of the Jacobites live in Iraq, precisely in the districts of Takrīt, Mosul and the Jazīrah. The Copts of Egypt - with the exception of some who are Melkites - the Nubians (an-Nūba) and the Armenians too, are Jacobites. According to the Jacobite traditions one patriarchal seat (kursī), with Jurisdiction to ordain (rasam) the clergy must be at Antioch and the other in Egypt: besides these two, viz. Antioch and Egypt, I do not know of any others [Jacobite patriarchal seats]. (Pellat II, p. 329).

[The old Copt summoned by Ibn Ṭūlūn] was questioned about the length of the territory of the Aḥābish along the Nile and about [their] kingdoms. He answered: I met sixty of their kings, each reigning in his own kingdom. Each king is at war with the king of his neighbourhood. Their countries are hot, scorched and black because of the drought and the predominating power of the fiery element (Istihkāmah an-nāriyya). In their country silver changes into gold: in other words, this metal, is [so] heated (tabkh) by the dry heat and warmth of the sun that it becomes gold. In fact, if such leaves of gold as are extracted from the mine in a very pure state, are put on the fire with a mixture of salt (milḥ) and ferrous sulphate (zāj) and bricks (tūb), one would obtain the quintessence of silver (fiḍḍah khālisa bayḍāʾ). (Pellat II, p. 378).

[p. 127] The old Copt [questioned by Ahmad Ibn Ṭūlūn] gave the following details about the Nubians and their country: - They have fine dromedaries (nujub), camels (ibil), cattle and sheep. Their kings ride pure-bred horses, but the people have only small pack-horses. They fight with arrows shot from bows of a strange shape: it is from them that the tribes of the Hejaz and Yemen arid other tribes have learned how to use the bow. The Arabs nick-name them "pupil-smiters". Their country produces palmtrees, vines, durra, bananas, and wheat, and is very similar to Yemen. There are grown big citrus (utruj) which equal the biggest ever produced in the lands of Islam. Their kings claim himyarite descent and their power (mulk) extends over Ma'rad[2] (Māqurra?; Ma'dan?), and Nubia (wa-nūba).

Beyond the people of 'Alwa there is a great population of Blacks (Sūdān) called Takna[3] who go naked like the Zanj: in their country gold pokes out of the ground. In the country of this nation (umma) the Nile divides into several branches; a large branch (khalīj) becomes green after its separation from the [main] Nile. The main water course, however, flows into the country of the Nūba and this is the true Nile which does not change its colour. (Pellat II, pp. 382 - 384).

When the children of Noah parted from one another, the children of Kush (wūld Kūsh) went westwards, beyond the Nile of Egypt, then divided themselves: a part of them took the way towards the south [scattering] east and [p. 128] west: they are the Nūba, the Buja and the Zanj. The other part proceeded towards the west: they are many branches such as the Zaghāwa, the Kānim, Marka, Kawkaw, Ghāna[4] and other tribes of Blacks and the Damādin.

Then those who went south divided themselves into [various] branches such as the Zanj of al-Mukayr, al-Mushkar, Barbara and other Zanj tribes; we have already mentioned them in that part of this book dealing with the Barbarī Gulf[5] of the Sea of the Ḥabasha and those branches of Blacks who live on its coasts, and the connection they have in their country with the [people of the] country of Dahlak, Zaila’ and Nāsi'[6]. These people possess red leopard skins of which they make their dress; these [skins] are [also] exported to the countries of Islam; these are the largest leopard skins and the most suitable ones for saddles.

The seas named after the Zanj and the Aḥābish are located along the right side of the Indian sea, although the two are intercommunicating.

From their land [the Zanj's and the Aḥābish's] shells (dhabl) of the sea-turtles are imported, from which combs are made in the same way as [they are made of] horns.

The most common animal in their country is the one called "zarāfa" (giraffe); it is very common only in Nubia and nowhere else in the country of the Aḥābish.

In Persian the giraffe is called "ushattarkāw". It was custom in Nubia to send a giraffe as a present to the kings [of Persia], in the same way as it is [now] given as a present to the kings of the Arabs and their successors from the Abbasid dynasty and to the Wālī of Egypt. (III, pp. 2-3).

[p. 129] Let us go back to what we mentioned in the middle of this chapter about the Zanj, their country, and the other races of Aḥābish. The Zanj, despite the fact that they hunt a large number of elephants and collect their tusks, do not make any use of them for their ornament or for their tools: in fact the Zanj adorn themselves with iron [ornaments] instead of gold and silver. Their cattle, as mentioned above, consist of oxen (al-baqar). They got to fight sitting on them as if they were camels or horses. Those oxen run fast like horses and are [harnessed] with saddles and bridles. (III. pp. 26 - 27).

Let us go back to the history of the Zanj and their kings. The [name of the] king of the Zanj is Waqlīmī[7], which means "The Son of the Great Lord" (ibn ar-rabb), because He chose him to reign and to administer justice among them. When their king treats them wrong and goes astray from righteousness, they kill him and bar his [designate] successor from taking over, on the presumption that if he [= the late King] acted wrongly, [it is a sign that] he had ceased being the Son of the Lord, Who is the King of Heavens and Earth. They call the Creator M-L-K-N-J-L-W[8], which means: "The Great Lord". The Zanj are well eloquent in their speech.[9] (III, pp. 29 - 30).

The Nūba divided themselves into two peoples, settling east and west, on both banks of the Nile. Their country is conterminal to the country of the Copts (Qībṭ), to the town of Aswān and other places of Upper Egypt [being the frontier]. Up the Nile the homes of the Nūba reach nearly ae far as the sources of this [p. 130] river. They built a great city called Dunqula which became their capital.

Also the other branch of the Nūba, viz the 'Alwa, built a great town, which they called Sūba.[10]

While I was writing this paragraph at Fusṭāṭ, the month of Rabī the Second of the year 332 A.D. (Dec. 943 A.D.), I was informed that the king of the Nūba then reigning at Dongola was Kubrā (Kubrī) ibn Surūr[11] and that he was a king, son of a king, son of another king and so on, and his power extended over Māqurra and 'Alwa. The district of his realm conterminal to the town of Aswān is called Marīs; whence the name of the "marīsī" wind (al-marīsiyya). So the territory of this king borders on Egypt, at the Ṣa'īd and the town of Aswan.

In the year 332 (943-944 A.D.) the mines (al-ma’ādin) belonged to an Arab chieftain who had under his orders Beja tribesmen, called Hadāriba: these are the only Muslims among the Beja people. (III, pp. 31 - 32).

[p. 131] [The Beja:]

The Beja (Buja) settled between the Sea of Qulzum and the Nile and divided into several tribes, subject to several different kings. In their lands there are mines of native gold and emerald. Their raiding parties (sarāyā), mounted on camels, reach Nubia, plunder the country and take many prisoners. In the past, the Nūba were more powerful than the Beja. But since the rise and the progress of Islam, a number of Muslims have settled near the gold mines and in the districts of 'Allāqī and 'Aydhāb. Many Arabs of the tribe of Rabī'a b. Nizār, b. Ma'add, b. 'Adnān, migrated to that country and became powerful. They took Beja women as wives and the Beja become powerful as a result of their relation with the Rabī'a; the Rabī'a, too, became stronger with [the help of] the Beja against their enemies and neighbours, namely the tribe of Qahtān and other (Arabs) descendants of Muḍar b. Nizār, who were living in this country.

The ruler of the territory of the mine is, at present, i.e. in the year 332 [= 943 A.D.], Abū Marwān Bishr b. Ishāq, a Rabī'a who has 3,000 Rabī'a horsemen; their allied are the Muḍar and the Yaman, as well as 30,000 Beja spearmen on camels, armed with leather shields of the Beja type (bujāwīyya). They are Hadāriba, who are the only Muslims among the Beja, while the remainder are pagans.

The chief town of the Ḥabasha is called Ku'bar,[12] which is a large town and the residence of the Najāshī, whose empire extends to the coasts, opposite to Yemen, and possesses such towns as Zayla', Dahlak and Nāsi', (ibid. III, pp. 34-35).

[p. 132] As for all the other Ḥabasha, mentioned among those who went to the Maghrib, such as the Zaghāwa, the Kawkaw and Qaraqir (Qūqū?), the Madīda (Maranda), the Marīs, the Mabras, the Malāna, the Qumātī (Garamantes?), the Dawīla (Zawilah?) and Qarma (Qurma, Garama?), they have each their own king and the capital of their kingdom. So we have completed the mention of all the races of the Blacks (sūdān), their kings, homes and territories, (ibid. III, pp. 37 - 38).

[The Baqṭ:]

When 'Amrū b. al-'Āṣ, conquered Egypt, 'Umar b. al-Khaṭṭāb wrote to him, asking him to beat the Nūba. The Muslim army attacked them, but had to admit that they were excellent archers. So long as 'Amrū b. al-'Āṣ remained governor of Egypt he refused to make peace with them. His successor, 'Abdalla b. Sa'd, granted them a peace-treaty, on [the condition that they deliver] a consignment of well-fed[13] prisoners of war (ru'ūs min as-sabā al-ma’lūfah). The king of the Nūba, neighbour of the Muslims, uses to capture them (yasbī-ha) among the non-Muslims in (other parts of) the country of the Nūba which we have previously mentioned in this chapter dealing with the Marīs and other lands of the Nūba.

This tribute in slaves became normal every year down to our own day and [the delivery] is made directly to the governor of Egypt (ṣāḥib Miṣr). These prisoners (sabā) are called "baqṭ" both in Egypt and in Nubia. Their number is 365 probably to coincide with the number of days in the year.

[p. 133] This number is delivered to the Treasury (bayt al-māl) of the Muslims as a condition of the peace agreement (sharṭ el-hudna) between them and the Nūba. In addition, forty slaves (ra's) are given to the emir of Miṣr; twenty to his delegate (nā'ib) who resides at Aswān, on the Nubian frontier and is in charge of taking over the baqṭ, i.e. the captives (as-sabī); five more slaves are given to the judge (al-ḥākim) of Aswan who, together with the emir of Aswan, presides over the consignment of the baqṭ and one to each of the twelve court witnesses (shāhid ‘adūl) chosen among the people of Aswān to supervise the delivery of the baqṭ; according to the terms agreed upon since the beginning for the signature of the truce between the Muslims and Nubians. The place appointed for the delivery of the baqṭ in the presence of the above mentioned people and of the representatives of the Nubians, duly accredited by their king, is called al-Qaṣr; it is at six miles' distance from the town of Aswān, near the island of Philae (Bilāq; Pellat: Boulāk).

Philae (Bilāq) is a town near the Cataract (al-Janādil) among the rocks. It is surrounded by the waters of the Nile like the island in the Euphrates between Rahbah Mālik b. Tūq and Hīt: these towns [on the Euphrates] are Tāwsah, 'Āna, and al-Hadītha. Philae possesses a pulpit (minbar) and a large population and many trees on both banks of the Nile. It is the terminal point of the navigation of the Nubians and the Muslims who come from the country of Miṣr and Aswān.

The town of Aswan is the residence of many Arab families descended from Qaḥṭān, from Nizār b. Rabī'a, from Muḍar, and also from the Quraishites. The country is very fertile and rich; in fact, whenever a date-stone is planted, a palm-tree grows and bears fruit within two years. (ibid. III, pp. 40 - 41).

[p. 134] Muslim citizens resident in Aswan, own many estates (ḍiyāʾ) in the Nubian territory and pay a tax on their income to the king of Nubia. These estates were bought from the Nūba many years ago, sometime between the dynasty (dawla) of the Omayyads and the Abbasids. When the Caliph al-Ma'mūn visited Egypt, the king of Nubia submitted a complaint against the holders of these estates. He sent a delegation to Fusṭāṭ to inform the Caliph that some Nubian subjects who were his slaves (ʿabīdu-hu) had sold the lands to the Aswan citizens but those lands were property of the king and not property of the tenants; the tenants held those farms only in the capacity of slaves who work on them.

Al-Ma’mūn referred the matter to the judge (al-ḥākim) of Aswān, assisted by some shaykhs and experts in law. Those Aswān citizens who had bought these farms, on learning that they would soon lose their estates through expropriation, prepared a stratagem against the king of Nubia. They approached all those Nūba from whom they had bought [lands] and instructed them that, if they were summoned before the judge, they should not declare themselves [as being] slaves of their king, but to say: - Our condition in respect to our king is the same as that of the Muslims in regard to their king. We owe him obedience, we avoid disobeying his orders. If you are slaves to your king and if your properties belong to him, we are in the same condition’.

When the judge summoned them in order to question them in the presence of the delegate (ṣāḥib) of the king, they made this declaration or another very similar to this with the same meaning. The purchase-sale of the lands was declared valid and so it has remained until today, because they denied that they were slaves (raqq) of their king. That is how, in the land of the Nūba of the province of Marīs, the estates have passed on by [p. 135] inheritance to the people. (Since then) the Nūba who are subjects of this king are divided into two classes: a class whom we have described as free (aḥrār) from all servitude, and a class of subjects who are slaves (ʿabīd). These live in the districts of Nubia but not in Marīs, which borders on Aswān.

[The Emerald Mine:]

The mine of emerald (zamarrud) is situated in the remotest district of the Upper Egypt, which is a dependency of the town of Qoṣ, and can be reached from this town.

The place where the emerald is mined is called Khariba (Kharba); it is a mountainous desert. The Beja guard this place called Khariba, and all those who dig emerald there must pay them a duty for the protection (khifārā) which they assure. (ibid. III, pp. 41-44).[14]

The caravans carrying goods from Nubia end their journey at Aswān. The population [of Aswān] is much mixed with Nubians. The Oases extend between the province of Miṣr, Alexandria, Upper Egypt, the Maghrib and that part of Ḥabasha which is inhabited by the Nūba and other people.

This year 332 H (4th September 943 A.D.), (the ruler of the Oases) is called 'Abd al-Malik b. Marwān. He is from the tribe of the Lawāta, but belongs to the marwanite sect (madhhab). The distance between him and the Aḥābish is six day's journey. (ibid. III, pp. 50 - 51).

[p. 136] The country of those Nūba, whose king is called Najāshī, is 1500 parasangs by 400. (ibid. IV, p. 39).

[The Flight of the Sons of Marwān to Nubia:]

During a meeting held in the palace of (the Caliph) al-Mansūr, at which Isā b. 'Alī, Isā b. Muḥammad b. 'Alī, Ṣāliḥ b. 'Alī, Kutam b. 'Abbās, Muḥammad b. Ja'far and b. Ibrāhīm were present, the conversation fell on the Omayyad Caliphs, their behaviour and policy and the causes of their fall. Al-Manṣūr commented: - 'Abdel-Malik was a proud, heedless tyrant; Sulaymān a glutton to whom lust was the only purpose of life; 'Umar b. 'Abd’al-'Azīz was like a one-eyed man in a kingdom of blind people; the only great man of the dynasty was Hishām. The earlier Omayyads ruled the empire which God had given them with a firm hand. They succeeded in keeping, protecting and defending the states which God had entrusted to their rule. But, their children led astray by lust and pride, had no other aim in life than to satisfy their passions, infringe the divine laws and devote themselves to pleasures. By forgetting that God is slow to punish and making light of God's secret ways, they shook all the foundation of the caliphate, showed no respect for God's own' laws and the rights of the kingdom. Therefore they became unworthy to rule and God stripped them of their power, covered them with shame and deprived them of all their wealth (na'am).'

Ṣāliḥ b. 'Alī, intervened saying "O Prince of the Believers, when 'Abdalla b. Marwān, escaped to Nubia with [p. 137] a small party of his followers, the king of the Nubians (malik an-nūba) was eager to know about them and about their story and their behaviour. When he felt sufficiently informed, he went to pay a visit to 'Abdalla, asked him questions about himself, his family and the causes of their downfall and gave him a lecture the words of which I still keep in my memory; after which he expelled him from Nubia. The Prince of the Believers might send of 'Abdalla and ask him to tell the story himself."

Al-Manṣūr ordered that 'Abdalla be taken out of prison and brought into his presence. When he stood in his presence the Caliph said to him: - “‘Abdalla, tell me the talk you had with the king of the Nūba." He answered: - ‘O Prince of the Believers! I had been in Nubia three [days], when the king came to me, and sat on the ground, though I had rich carpets (firāsh) spread before him. When I asked him why he refused to sit on a carpet which was mine, he answered: - 'I am a king and this is the duty (ḥaqq) of a king to humble himself before the power of God who raised him to power.' Then he added: - 'Why do you drink wine (khamr) while your Book prohibits that?' I answered: - 'It was a trespass committed by our slaves (ʿabīdu-na) and subjects (atbā' u-nā).' 'Why,' he continued, 'did you allow your horsemen to destroy the crops under the hooves of your horses, while your Book forbids you from causing destruction?' 'Again it was our slaves and subjects who acted in this way, through ignorance'. 'Why then,' continued the king, 'do you wear brocade (dibāj) and silks (harīr) and gold, despite of the prohibition of your Book and your religion (dīn)?' I explained: 'As power was falling from our hands, we sought help from foreign (ʿajam) peoples, who joined our religion, and they clad themselves in that apparel against our will'. The king bent down but was visibly restless; sometimes he gesticulated, sometimes he rested his hand on the sand, muttering now and then: [p. 138] 'Our slaves and our subjects! The foreigners (ʿa’ajīm) who embraced our religion!’ Then he raised his head again, and exclaimed: 'The story is not such as you describe it, no; your family permitted to themselves what God forbade; they Infringed His commandments and abused power; that is why God has withdrawn the power from you and covered you with the shame of all your crimes. Nobody can know whether His anger (naqm) is over. His punishment may befall you while you are still in my country and may involve me too. As hospitality is only for three days; provide yourselves with all that you need and leave my country.' And I complied with this order." (ibid. IV, pp. 161 - 164).

One of the nasty characteristics of Egypt is the southern wind which they call al-marīsīyya. It is so called because the inhabitants of Fusṭāṭ (Miṣr) call "marls" all the country of Upper Egypt as far as Nubia. Whenever that southern wind blows for more than thirteen days, unceasingly, the inhabitants of Fusṭāṭ buy shrouds and ointments because they know that the plague (wabāʾ) is near at hand and will tiring about death. (ibid. VI, p. 273).

Ibn Dab says: - "Hādī asked me: ‘How far is Dongola, the capital of the Nūba, from Aswān?' "It is commonly said - I replied - that it is a forty days' journey along the Nile, through a country all of which is inhabited." (ibid. VI, p. 274).

[From Kitāb at-Tanbīh:]

The wind which is known in Egypt under the name of "al-marīsīyya" is so called after the country of Marīs, the first district of the country of the Nūba up the Nile beyond Upper Egypt.

[p. 139] The inhabitants of the territories south [of Nūba] which as the Zanj, the remainder of the Aḥābish and those who live on the equator, have the sun at their zenith, live under quite different conditions. As they have the sun overhead, their land is exceedingly hot and has very little moisture; (therefore) the natives are of black complexion, have red eyes, fierce spirits: all this because of the inflammation of the air around them and the exceedingly precocious maturity of the womb. Their colour becomes black burned, their hair crisp on account of the excess of the hot, dry vapour. (BGA 8, p. 24).

The Nile rises from a source which comes from Jabal al-Qamar, seven [degrees] and half a degree (7° 30') beyond the equator, i.e. 141 farsakh and one-third, which is the equivalent of 425 miles. Ten streams flow out of this source, and each five of them collect into one of the two swamp - lakes (buṭaiḥa) which are south of the equator. Three streams rise out of each swamp-lake, and collect into one swamp-lake within the First Climate. The Nile of Egypt flows out of this swamp-lake, traverses the country of the Blacks, passing near the town of ‘Alwa, the capital of the kingdom of the Nūba, then it touches the town of Dunqula, which is also one of their towns, leaves the First Climate and enters the Second; then it passes near the town of Aswān, a town of Upper Egypt, which is the first town of Islam to those who arrive from Nubia. (op.cit., pp. 57 - 58).

The Jacobites have only two seats (kursiyāni), not more; one is that of Antioch, and the other that of Miṣr. The doctrine which predominates among the Christians in Miṣr is that of the Copts (aqbāt); more [Copts] are found in Fusṭāṭ and in its other districts (kuwar) and in the adjoining land of Nubia (fī arḍ an-nūba""); and in the [country of the] Aḥbāsh; it is the doctrine (ra’ī) of the Jacobites (al-ya'qūbiyya).

[p. 140] In that country (Egypt) the Jacobites are innumerable. The seat of their Patriarch is in a monastery called Abbā Maqārā, in the district of Alexandria. There are very few Melkites and Nestorians in Egypt. (op. cit., p. 151; Carra de Vaux, p. 209).

When Marwan was killed, he had his two sons 'Abdallah and 'Ubaydalla, with him but they escaped. In their flight they were accompanied by some relatives (ahl), freed slaves (of Turkish origin) (mawālī) and slaves (khawāss) from the Arabs, and some Khurāsānis who had joined the party of the Omayyads. They went to Aswān in Upper Egypt, thence marching along the Nile bank, they entered the land of the Nūba and of other Aḥābish: then they passed through the land of the Beja heading for Bāḍi'[15] on the coast of the Red Sea. They had fights with the peoples through whose land they passed and carried out raids, but they had to suffer great fatigue and heavy losses. 'Ubaydalla b. Marwān and some of his men died of sword, or thirst or damage; the survivors suffered all sorts of changes of fortune. 'Abdalla b. Marwān, with some who escaped safe with him, reached Bāḍi', on the coast of the mine region and the Bejaland, and crossed the sea to Judda on the coast of Mecca. He, together with his relatives and slaves who were lucky to survive, wandered around in disguise, glad to live as water-carriers, after they had been kings. Then, in the time of Abū-l-'Abbās as-Saffaḥ, 'Abdalla was seized and put in jail where he remained throughout the reign of Abū-l-'Abbās, al-Manṣūr, al-Mahdī and al- Hadī; ar-Rashīd set him free, but by that time he had become a blind old man. Rashid asked him to tell his story and he said: - "O Commandant of the Faithful! I entered the prison a young man with my sight, and came out an old, blind man". Someone says that he died under the caliphate of Rashīd, others say that it was under the caliphate of al-Amīn. (op.cit., pp. 329 - 330).

[p. 141] [From Akhbār az-Zamān:]

... To the offspring of Sūdān (wūld Sūdān) also belong the Karkar (al-Karkar), after whom their kingdom has been named. It is the largest and the most powerful of the kingdoms of the Blacks (mamālik as-sūdān). Every king [of the Blacks] obeys to the king of the Karkar and many kingdoms are actually related to the Karkar [through intermarriage?].

Next is the Kingdom of Ghāna, whose king is also very powerful. This kingdom borders on the country of the gold mines. They have a [border] line which no visitor or merchant is allowed to go beyond. Merchants lay their goods and clothing for sale along that line, then withdraw. After some time the Blacks come with their gold (dhahab) and lay it at the side of the goods they intend to purchase, then they go away. Then the merchants come back and if they find the gold offered for their goods sufficient, they collect it; if not, they withdraw again and the Blacks will come back and increase their offer until the sale is concluded in the same way as is carried on between the merchants of cloves and the producers. Sometimes, merchants, after they have left the place go back stealthily and light fires on the soil so that the gold [dust] melts and they steal it and go away. In fact, all over the soil there is gold [dust] [lit. "all their soil is gold"], and can be seen. Sometimes, however, the natives pursue the merchants, following their tracks, and kill them, if they reach them.

In their deserts there are ashbārisam mines. The ashbārisam peeps out of the sandy soil like vegetables. All the native gold which the merchants collect [in that country) is minted in the town of Sījilmāsa, a large town with four mosques. (MC 628 v).

[p. 142] [The Zaghāwa:]

Next (to the kingdom of Karkar, (Kawkaw?)[16]) is the kingdom of Zaghāwa which extends far and wide in some places borders on the Nile, opposite to the Nūba; its inhabitants are at war with the Nūba.

Next [to Fezzān] is the kingdom of the Nūba, who are the descendants of Nūba, son of Qūt, son of Miṣr, son of Hām. When their ancestor went to Egypt (Miṣr), Miṣr died and his descendants remained there and Qibṭum became his successor. At that time the Qibṭ people (al-qibṭ) came to Egypt (Miṣr) and introduced themselves as kinsmen of Qibṭum, son of Miṣr. Qibṭum sent his brothers out so seek kingdoms and food. Nūb, son of Qūt, departed away with his family and his descendants, travelled up the Nile in those regions and they established their kingdom. Their chief town is Dunqula and their territory produces palm trees cereals. It extends as far as two months' journey. The inhabitants are Christians of the Jacobite sect.

Next comes the kingdom of the Nūba conterminal with Upper Egypt. Their territory is larger, their lineage higher and their colour lighter. Their kingdom extends as far as three months' journey and their chief town is called Waqlūlah. They, too, are Christians; they have a great kingdom. Their clothing is beautiful and they have gold bracelets, because gold is found in their country even on the surface of the ground. They have date-palms and vines. Their kingdom comprises many peoples with their kings; their country is very large.

[p. 143] Next comes the kingdom of the Buja, conterminal with Nubia. They are [divided into] many kingdoms, lying between the Nile and the Sea. In each kingdom there is a king. The first kingdom of the Buja begins at the frontier of the Sūdān; it is the last territory inhabited by the Muslims. In their country the Muslims work in the mines. Beyond this region there are more kingdoms and towns.

Next to them are the Ḥabasha who are the descendants of Ḥabash (Ḥubsh) b. Kūsh b. Hām. The largest of their kingdom is the kingdom of the Najāshī, who follows Christianity; their capital is called Kafar (Ka'bar). The Arabs used since the earliest times to come to this kingdom for trade. (MC fols. 628 r - 629 r).

  1. Presumably, Ptolemy's "Geography"
  2. Sic! In Les Prairies. It could be some copyist’s mistake for “ma’dan” (the mines region), or more probably “Māqurra”.
  3. Les Prairies: “Bukna” (other possible readings: Tikna etc.) About Conti Rossini’s tentative identification of the Bukna (Tikna), cf. Riv.Stud.Or.9 (1912), p. 36 s. We cannot exclude that the Dinka tribes be meant here.
  4. See: al-Hamdānī, note (2).
  5. The Sea of Somaliland.
  6. See: al-Ya’qūbī, note (5).
  7. W-Q-LIM-I (or W-Q-LI-M-A). “Wag” in Galla means “God” (Conti Rossini, Storia d’Etiopia, p. 20).
  8. Cf. the Sidamo-Gallo word “Maganū” (“God”).
  9. Mas’ūdī goes on describing the way of public speaking among the Zanj.
  10. Ar.Ist.: “Ahd Allah”.
  11. In Mas’ūdī’s time the dynasty reigning at Dongola was, quite obviously, the dynasty of Qurgi I, of which the following kings are well known: Zacharias (Israel) II. (not a crowned king, but married to a royal princess) +840 A.D. (?); George I (Qurgi) 840 (?) – 920 A.D.; Zacharias III, son of Qurgi 920 - ? A.D. (after 930 A.D.); George II (Jirja, Jurji), son of Zacharias (969 (?) – 1002 (?) A.D.). It is hardly believable that a king with an Arabic name might have risen to the throne of Dongola between Zacharias III and George II. The name of “Kubrā Ibn Surūr” may be the Arabic translation of some Nubian-Greek title meaning “the long-lived one, son of happiness”, “the most honourable one…”. Dr. Mus’ad (al-Maktaba, p. 61, note 1) does not exclude the possibility of a king of 'Alwa “usurping” the throne of Māqurra at the time, on claims based on the matrilineal system of succession.
  12. Aksum. Presumably a distortion of “Kabūr” (the Noble), or the name of some place near the town of Aksum. (A personal communication from Dr. Mario Ayele, OFM Cap.).
  13. Ma’lūfa” (well fed) is ‘Les Prairies’. Other editions (al-Maktaba, p. 52; Ar.Ist. I, p. 233) have “ma’lūma” (a certain number).
  14. The author describes at great length (pp. 44-5) the four kinds of emerald mines at Kharba. The first and most precious is called “murr”; it is very pure and as green as grass. The second is called “bahrī” because it is in demand by the kings of Hind, Sind, Sin and the Zanj for their royal crowns (tījān) and tiaras (akilla), their signets (khāwatim) and bracelets (aswīra). The third is called “maghribī” because such kings as the western peoples as the Franks, the Lombards (Nawkard), the Spaniards (Andalus) and the Galitians (Jalāliqa), the Basques (Wishkand), the Slaves and Russians compete with one another in purchasing this kind (p. 45). The fourth, called “assam” (deaf), is the lowest in price. The size may range from 5 mithqal (1 mithqal = 9.8 grams) to the size of a lentil. An emerald potion is used against bites by snakes.
  15. [footnote omitted by the author]
  16. Mas’ūdī mentions the extraction and trade of sodium salts (al-mūmiyā) in the Fezzān Oases.