Hudud al-'Alam

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[pp. 170-175]


(983 A.D.)

Ḥudūd al-'ālam mīn al-mashrīq ilā-l-maghrib is an anonymous geographical treatise in Persian.

Ed.: W. Barthold, Leningrad 1930 (facsimile). Transl. into English with notes by V. Minorsky, Ḥudud al-'alam, Oxford 1937.

T.: MC 665 f and Minorsky P: 1

[p. 171] Part One: "On the Rivers".

The Nile. As regards the waters [= the Nile sources] called "swamps", they are numerous, but the well-known ones are nine. ... Three among them [lie in] the desolate lands of the South, beyond Nubia, close to Jabāl al-Qamar , from which ten rivers rise. (Minorsky, p. 35).

In the province of Egypt there are two mountains: one is situated on the eastern side of the Nile. From the frontier of Uswān and the beginning of the frontier of Nubia it runs due north and enters Upper Egypt. The other mountain is on the western side of the river Nile. It also starts just from the beginning of the Nubian frontier and takes a northerly direction until in the region of Fayyūm it reaches al-Rīf.[1] (MC 665 r; Minorsky, p. 68).

From each of these two lakes[2], flow six rivers and all the six rivers together form the lake which lies beyond the limits of Nubia towards the south. The river Nile comes out of these marshes and enters Nubia flowing northwards, until it crosses all the Nūba territory; then it turns westwards until it reaches the town of Sukar (Sakra), then it turns eastwards towards the side of the mountain of al-Wāḥāt and then it passes near the town of Uswān and flows in a straight direction towards the sea.

... Another very large river is that flowing through the sandy territory lying between Egypt and the Sea of Qulzum. It flows westwards traversing the width of the [p. 172] land of the Nūba. It empties itself into the Nile at a place near the town of Kābil which belongs to the Nūba and is their capital. This river is known as "Ramal al-ma'din" (The Sand of the Mine)[3]. (MC 665 r; Minorsky, p. 76).

In the territory extending south [of that described here above] no other great river is found, except the river of the Beja. It is said that it flows from a mountain lying south [of the Beja countries], traverses the Beja territory and empties itself into the [Red] Sea near the land of the Ḥabasha[4]. God, however, knows better. (MC fol. 665. v).

Then there is a sandy territory, east of which there is the Barbari Gulf and the Aila Gulf. This territory is limited by the Beja territory to the south, by the Nūba and Egypt to the west; and by the Qulzum Gulf to the north. It is called "The Sand of the Mine", because there are many gold mines. (MC 665 v).

"On the Regions".

The whole world consists of fifty-one regions, five of which - Zaba, Zanjistan, Ḥabasha, Buja and Nūba - lie to the south of the Equator. Another region extending to the extreme west lies across the Equator and this is the land of the Sūdān. (MC 666 r).

"On the Countries: ... Miṣr".

[Suwān is] the last town of Egypt and a frontier-post against the Nubians. It is situated west of the Nile [sic!] and is a town with great riches. The people are warlike. [p. 173] In the mountains which are near Suwān, but belong to al-Wāḥāt, mines of emeralds and chrysolites (zumurrud va-zabarjad) are found, and in all the world they are found nowhere else. Beyond Aswān, in the frontier region lying between Egypt and Nubia, there are many wild asses, coated with black-and-yellow stripes, and as small as sheep. If they are taken away from that country they die. (MC 666 r; Minorsky, p. 152).

"On the Country of the Ḥabash".

This country has a very mild climate. The inhabitants are of black complexion. They are very lazy and possess many resources. They obey their own king. Merchants from Oman, Ḥejaz and Bahrain often go to that country for trade purposes. Rasūn, a town on the sea coast, is the residence of their king, while the army dwell in the town of Suwar; the Commandant-in-chief resides at Rīn, with [another?] army. The country is rich in gold. (MC 666 v).

"On the Country of the Beja".

East, south and west of it is the desert ... and north of it is that desert which lies between Alexandria, Buja, Nubia and the Sea.[5] [lacuna ...]. It does not mix with his people except by necessity. And in their soil ... [lacuna] ... huge, and the residence of the king of Buja is there. (Minorsky, p. 164).

"On the Country of the Nūba".

[Lacuna] ... to the north and to the south it is limited by ... [lacuna] ... mild and moderate ([...] [p. 174] called Rābīl (Kābīl) and they [...] a place towards Ramāl al-Ma'dān, there are 20 parasangs.

Tarī (Tahī?) is a small district in the desert between the Nūba and the Sūdān.[6] There are two remote [?] monasteries belonging to the Christians of the district. It is reported that they contain twelve-thousand monks (mard-i rāhib) and whenever one of them disappears from the Nūba, one of the Christians from Upper Egypt comes to replace him.[7] (Minorsky, pp. 164 - 165).

... It is from this country that the majority of eunuchs come. The land contains gold everywhere. Their king is the best person among these sūdān. They call their king: "I-Newa-i" [?], which seems to mean: "I drink three cups of wine every three days ... not more."

From this country to Miṣr the distance is eighty days' journey by camel. On this track there is water and fodder only at one point and nowhere else. These people are of bad character and very hard to please in transactions. The upper part of their body is short, while the lower one is long: in general they are thinly built, have thick lips, long fingers and are tall. The majority of them go naked.

Traders from Egypt go there and import salt, glass and tin: these people also sell the gold-stone. A number of them work the metal in their own country; or anywhere they find a vein of gold sufficiently abundant, there they settle.

[p. 175] In the southern land there is no other region so [thickly] populated as this. Traders kidnap their children, and, after having turned them into eunuchs, they take them to Egypt and sell them there. Among them there are people who kidnap children from each other and sell them to the merchants when these visit their country. (MC 666 v; Minorsky, p. 164).

  1. Minorsky (op.cit., p. 68) has: Ibrīq (Alweit?) in place of ar-Rīf (= Upper Egypt).
  2. I.e. the two lakes formed by the ten rivers rising from Jabal al-Qamar.
  3. Most likely the Atbara River.
  4. Most likely the Barca (Baraka) River.
  5. Fol. 39 of the MS is torn at this point. Little can be made from the remaining incomplete lines.
  6. Tarī (or Tahī), if the spelling is correct, are not identified. If they are distortions of either Tur’a or Ta’a, Griffith drew the attention of Minorsky on a possible identification of the former with a village of the same name near Helwan, and the latter with a most flourishing Christian village [12,000 Christians, 360 churches], north of Ashmunein, destroyed by the last Omayyad governor. (Minorsky, op.cit., pp. 475-476).
  7. The story of the two monasteries may belong to the same source from which many similar fabulous stories in Egypt have been derived. (Minorsky, pp. 475-476).