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Classical Arabic Texts Online

Classical Arabic Texts Online is a library of Arabic geographical and historical works. It consists of a large number of authoritative text editions: the Bibliotheca Geographorum Arabicorum (BGA), itself a collection of famous geographical texts, as well as Taʾrīkh al-rusul wa-l-mulūk by Abū Jaʿfar Muḥammad ibn Jarīr al-Ṭabarī, its résumé by ʿArīb b. Saʿd al-Qurṭubī, and the Kitāb Futūḥ al-buldān by Aḥmad b. Yaḥyā al-Balādhurī, with English translation.

Classical Arabic Texts Online contains the following textgroups:

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BGA

Introduction

The online Bibliotheca Geographorum Arabicorum is the digital version of a series of critical editions of classic geographical texts, written by several of the most famous Arab geographers who lived in the period from the 9th–11th centuries CE. All original editions, including the indices and glossaries, were produced by Michael Jan de Goeje (d. 1909), Professor of Oriental languages in Leiden, between 1870 and 1894 and published by Brill.

This online edition of the BGA presents each of the geographical texts by author. The indices, glossaria and addenda that were spread over the various volumes of the print version have been attached directly to the corresponding texts. The updated editions of Muqaddasī's Kitāb aḥsan al-taqāsīm by De Goeje and J.H. Kramers’ re-edition of Ibn Ḥawqal’s Kitāb al-masālik wa-l-mamālik can be read parallel with the prior editions of these works.

Abū Isḥāq al-Iṣṭakhrī

The Kitāb al-Masālik wa l-mamālik was written towards the end of the first half of the 10th century CE, by a certain Abū Isḥāq Ibrāhīm b. Muḥammad al-Iṣṭakhrī. The work built on the earlier concept of the “atlas of Islam”, which it developed further. The climates (iqlīm) it describes are no longer those of Ptolemean geography, but, reflecting the Iranian tradition, refer to geographical entities or “countries”. Also reflecting the author’s background—whose most common nisba is al-Fārisī—Iran holds a favoured position on this work. Published in 1870, the present edition by M.J. de Goeje was the first volume in the first series of the Bibliotheca Geographorum Arabicorum. In addition to the critical edition of the Kitāb al-Masālik wa l-mamālik, the online version contains the Praefatio, Addenda et emendanda, and the Indices and Glossarium that in the print version appeared in BGA volumes 1-2 and 1-4.

Abū l-Qāsim Ibn Ḥawqal

The journeys of Abū l-Qāsim Ibn Ḥawqal, who might have been a merchant, took him to North Africa, Spain and the southern edge of the Sahara (947-51), Egypt, Armenia and Azerbaijan (c. 955), the Arabian Peninsula, Iraq, Khuzistan, and Iran (961-69), Khwarazm and Transoxania (c. 969), and Sicily (973). By about 988 CE the final version of Ibn Ḥawqal’s Kitāb Ṣūrat al-arḍ was ready. It is effectively both a continuation and an update of al-Iṣṭakhrī’s Kitāb al-Masālik wa l-mamālik and is also known under that same title.

Ibn Ḥawqal transformed what was meant as a commentary on a series of maps, also included in the online edition, into a work in its own right, which also included remarks on various countries or peoples bordering on the Islamic world, e.g. the Turks, the Khazars, the towns of southern Italy, the Sudanese and the Nubians. Although he owed much to al-Iṣṭakhrī’s work, Ibn Ḥawqal aimed to place the text firmly within his own period. He took great care to depict a region precisely in the state and at the date that he himself had seen it, with occasional references to the distant or more recent past. This is particularly true of the notes on economic matters, which form a complete break with convention. Ibn Ḥawqal was the only Arab geographer of the period who really sketched a vivid picture of production.

This online version contains both the first BGA edition by de Goeje which was published in 1873, and the second edition by J.H. Kramers published in 1938-39.

al-Masʿūdī

Al-Masʿūdī composed his Kitāb al-Tanbīh wal-ishrāf in the years 955 and 956, finishing it not long before his death. Based in part on earlier historical-geographical works, it offers a description of astronomical and meteorological phenomena, the divisions of the earth, the seas, ancient nations, universal chronology, and then the history of Islam until the caliphate of al-Muṭīʿ (r. 946-74).

al-Muqaddasī

This online version of the Arabic text of al-Muqaddasī’s Aḥsan al-taqāsīm fī maʿrifat al-aqālīm contains both editions by M.J. de Goeje: the first edition, published in 1877, and the second edition from 1906. It also presents the additional material (Praefatio, Glossarium, Addenda, and Indices) that appeared in the other BGA volumes.

Shams al-Dīn Abū ʿAbdallāh Muḥammad b. Aḥmad b. Abī Bakr al-Bannāʾ al-Shāmī al-Muqaddasī is one of the most prominent representatives of Arabic geography in the second half of the 10th century CE. Building on the tradition of the “atlas of Islam” of which al-Iṣṭakhrī and Ibn Ḥawqal were also representatives, al-Muqaddasī was the first to systematize the subject into a proper science of geography of Islam for the benefit of both merchants and the cultivated man. Al-Muqaddasī’s Aḥsan al-taqāsīm fī maʿrifat al-aqālīm (“the best division for the knowledge of the provinces”) was the first work of its kind to be accepted as a form of literature. The treatment of each “province” (iqlīm) begins with the division of its districts and towns, followed by their description. Then a general chapter of the province tends to discuss the following aspects: climate, products and specialties, waters, mines, mountains, holy places, money, taxes, weights and measures, customs, marvels, calendar, political power, factions, schools and Qurʾānic readings, and routes. Aḥsan al-taqāsīm fī maʿrifat al-aqālīm by al-Muqaddasī covers North Africa (including Iberia), Egypt, the Arabian Peninsula, Greater Syria, Iraq and Upper Mesopotamia, as well as eight non-Arab provinces including Iran and Afghanistan.

al-Yaʿqūbī

The Kitāb al-buldān (‘The book of countries’) by al-Yaʿqūbī (d. c. 905 CE) is an administrative geography based in part on the author’s extensive travels, which also contains valuable historical data. For instance, it provides the earliest information about the political history and state-building of the Sudan west of the Nile.

Ibn al-Faqīh al-Hamadhānī

Ibn al-Faqīh was the Iranian author of a geography in Arabic entitled Kitāb al-buldan written around the year 903. The original work is lost, but the abridged version, possibly composed around 1022, has survived in a handful of manuscripts. Only three manuscripts were known during De Goeje’s life and he used them all for his edition, which was originally published in 1885. Its introduction includes a summary of Ibn Faqīh’s life on the basis of the classical sources by De Goeje. Ibn al-Faqīh’s Kitāb al-buldan offers geographical and historical details not found in other sources, and it was in itself an important source for later works, for example by Muqaddasī and Yāqūt.

Ibn Khurradādhbih

Abu ’l-Qāsim ʿUbayd Allāh b. ʿAbd Allāh Ibn Khurradādhbih (d. c. 911 CE) is one of the earliest geographical writers in Arabic whose writings have survived more or less in their original form. The Kitāb al-Masālik wa l-mamālik (‘The book of itineraries and kingdoms’) made his reputation. This edition offers the annotated Arabic text along with a French translation, which can be read together online. Also available are the glossarium and the two indices to this work.

Ibn Rusta

Abu ʿAlī Aḥmad b. ʿUmar Ibn Rusta was born in Isfahan at an unknown date and he flourished in the first decade of the 10th century CE. Only the seventh volume of his Kitāb al-Aʿlāq al-nafīsa has survived. The work deals with mathematical, descriptive and human geography and a variety of historical and other subjects. One of his sources seems to have been a more complete version of Ibn Khurradādhbih, which has not survived. The Kitāb al-Aʿlāq al-nafīsa, which has been characterized as an encyclopedia of geographical knowledge, is a rich source on the kinds of subjects that interested the cultivated classes of ʿAbbāsid society.

Qudāma ibn Jaʿfar

The Kitāb al-Kharāj by Qudāma Ibn Jaʿfar is a geographical work that relied on the same sources as Ibn Khurradādhbih. Qudāma b. Jaʿfar was a prominent philologist and historian who died between 940 and 948 CE. This edition contains part of his Kitāb al-Kharāj along with a French translation of the Arabic text.

Non-BGA:

Abū Jaʿfar Muḥammad ibn Jarīr al-Ṭabarī

Abū Jaʿfar Muḥammad ibn Jarīr al-Ṭabarī (d. 923 C.E.) was a Persian-Arab historian, lawyer and Qurʾānic commentator. The Annals of the Prophets and Kings (Taʾrīkh al-rusul wa-l-mulūk) by al-Ṭabarī is one of the most important historical works about the first centuries of Muslim society in Arabic. The classic Brill edition, originally titled Annales quos scripsit Abu Djafar Mohammed Ibn Djarir At-Tabari, was supervised by M.J. de Goeje. To this day the De Goeje edition remains the only edition of the Annals with extensive indices. The online edition offers the complete text along with the indices, addenda et corrigenda, glossarium, and the general introduction by the editors.

ʿArīb b. Saʿīd al-Qurṭūbī

The Andalusian scholar ʿArīb b. Saʿd al-Qurṭubī (d. c. 980 C.E.) composed a résumé of al-Ṭabarī’s Annals, which he continued down to his own times. Originally released as volume 14 in the Annals series, it can be accessed separately in the online edition.

Aḥmad b. Yaḥyā al-Balādhūrī

Aḥmad b. Yaḥyā al-Balādhūrī (d. c. 892 CE) was one of the greatest Arab historians of the ninth century CE. The Kitāb Futūḥ al-buldān by Aḥmad b. Yaḥyā al-Balādhurī (d. c. 892 CE) was edited by M.J. de Goeje and originally titled Liber expugnationis regionum (Leiden, 1866). The work offers an account of the early conquests of the Islamic polity. It has the form of a geographical survey of the Caliphate’s territories, describing how each location came under Muslim rule.

The online version features the Arabic text and English translation, which allows for a parallel reading.