I know it’s been a while since we left off, on all fronts, so apologies for that. I maneuvered myself into a position where we couldn’t continue until I’d written a couple of meaty subscriber pieces on the Mamluks, and I just plain couldn’t find the time to write them. So we got stuck for a couple of weeks. But those pieces have been written, finally, and now we’re ready to resume and I thought the best way to do that was with another travel account to refresh everyone’s memory before we push on.
My plan moving forward is to try to do make these travel accounts shorter and more frequent than they were for the trip across North Africa. There’s more to cover now that we’re in Egypt because Ibn Battuta is much more expressive about what what he’s seeing than he’s been up to this point. As always you can follow the journey with more frequent updates on Twitter and somewhat less frequent updates on Facebook, but these posts will go into more contextual detail about the places Ibn Battuta visits and may incorporate a few more quotes from the text of his Travels.
Last time we saw Ibn Battuta through the Kingdom of Tlemcen, which at the time was at war with the Hafsids over control of the city of Béjaïa, or Bougie. Béjaïa is today a mid-sized city in north-central Algeria, but at the time it was the western capital of the Hafsid dynasty. Its site had been occupied at least since Carthaginian times, but gained in importance as a port city after the Arab conquests. It became the capital of the 11th-12th century Hammadid dynasty and retained much of that prominence under the Almohads and then the Hafsids. In the late 12th century, a young Pisan boy spent a good chunk of his youth in Béjaïa with his merchant father and became interested in mathematics. His name was Leonardo Fibonacci, and later on he would introduce Hindu-Arabic numerals as well as the concepts of zero and the decimal point to Europe. No big deal.
When Ibn Battuta set out from Tangier on Hajj in 1325, Marinid Morocco was one of three kingdoms occupying the territory of the former Almohad Caliphate. Immediately to their east, and the next stop on Ibn Battuta’s journey, was the Kingdom of Tlemcen, ruled by the Zayyanid dynasty. This map should illustrate things for you:
Precise dating for the first part of Ibn Battuta’s trip is all but impossible. We know that he arrived, or at least that he remembered arriving, in Alexandria on April 5, 1326, so just a bit shy of ten months after his departure from Tangier. We know (again, based on his recollection) that he set out from Tunis toward the beginning of November 1325. But otherwise he doesn’t really offer a lot of help with the chronology of his trek across North Africa. We’re of course further hampered by the fact that Ibn Battuta dated his adventures according to the Islamic calendar, whereas we’re converting dates to the Gregorian calendar. So when we do get specific dates keep in mind that they could still be a little wobbly. And also keep in mind that this whole journey is being recounted by Ibn Battuta years after he took it, which introduces some extra wobbliness into the situation. To simplify things, even though he doesn’t get to Alexandria until April 1326, we’ll treat his North African leg as 1325 and start 1326 with his arrival in Egypt.
Abu Abdullah Muhammad ibn Abdullah al-Lawati al-Tangi ibn Battuta, or “Ibn Battuta” for short, was born in the Moroccan city of Tangier in 1304. By all rights he was an unremarkable man: educated but not elite, born into a comfortable but not wealthy or powerful family in a city that was not one of the dominant cultural centers of the Islamic Maghreb (western North Africa). Had he remained in Tangier it’s likely that he would have lived and died in relative anonymity, and that we wouldn’t know his name today.