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© Journal of Islamic Studies 5:2 (1994) pp.

209-220

IBN BATTUTA'S JOURNEY IN THE


NORTH-EASTERN BALKANS

H. T. NORRIS
University of London

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'Few of the episodes contained in the Rihla are as full of uncertainties
and of suspicious moments as the journey to Constantinople.'1
Ibn Battuta's account of his journey from Astrakhan (al-Hajj
Tarkhan) across the steppes of the Crimea and Moldavia and thence
inland into Romania, Dobrudja, and Bulgaria is, in some respects, a
unique Arabic description of peoples and routes within the north-
eastern Balkans in the Middle Ages. Neither Abu Hamid al-GhamitT
(d. 565/1169), in his Tuhfat al-Albab1 and Kitab al-Mu'rib, nor al-IdrtsT
(c. 548/1154), in his Nuzhat al-Mushtaq,3 furnishes a first-hand descrip-
tion of the westerly regions of the Black Sea.
Ibn Battuta's memories of this entire European journey, which
spanned some six months, are of an unusual interest because they throw
light on (a) the location of the frequented routes which led from the
steppes of southern Russia and the territories of the Golden Horde in
Dashti-Qipchaq to the heart of Byzantium and the approaches to the
Bosporus; (b) the political, social, and denominational relationship
between the Turcic, Cuman (Polovtsi), Tatar, Bulghar, Greek, Vlach,
and slave population who lived, or sojourned, there in the latter half
of the fourteenth century; and (c) the familial links that joined the Tatar
khans in the lower Volga and Crimea regions with the imperial court
in Constantinople. There was a significant interfaith modus vivendi
between the communities concerned.
1
Ivan Hrbek, 'The Chronology of Ibn Battuta's Travels', Archiv Oriental™, 30
(1962), 473.
1
AbQ Hamid b. 'Abd al-Rahlm al-AndalusI al-Gharnatl, born in Granada in 473/1081,
died in Damascus in 565/1169-70. The Tuhfat al-Albab was extensively edited by
G. Ferrand, Journal Asiatique, 207 (1925).
3
In regard to al-ldrlsl's references to Romania and Bulgaria (especially the latter),
see the detailed discussion in Stojanka Kenderova and Bojan Besehev, La Peninsule
balkanique representie sur les cartes d'al-Idrisi, premiere partie, published by the Cyril
and Methodius Library (Sofia, 1990).
2IO H. T. NORRIS

It is of course hard at times to explain omissions, improbable dates,


and slips of memory in Ibn Battuta's account. But one always has to
bear in mind that, like so many travellers and pilgrims, it was the
people with whom he travelled that mattered the most, rather than the
sights which he saw.
Unlike the visit to Bulghar on the middle Volga, which is now
generally ascribed to literary motives and the imagination, we can
assume that Ibn Battuta actually crossed the Danube, either by the
river's fords or near to its delta, or else that his party took a more
inland route through what is today Romania and Bulgaria. Tracts of
waterless 'desert' are referred to in his account, though elsewhere Ibn
Battuta calls such desert or steppe verdant, flat, and treeless. Within

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Romania and Bulgaria the massive Tatar oxen and horse-drawn car-
riages4 that had been used in the steppes were forsaken, and instead
mules and horses were employed to traverse mountainous districts and
to cross river beds. These are clearly mentioned in Ibn Battuta's text.
Despite the agricultural collectives of recent decades, and changes in
the ethnic balance of populations, the 'steppes of Scythia', or of
Cumania, really existed.5 Even so, it is curious that Ibn Battuta makes
little mention of the towns and villages which archaeology has revealed
also to have existed in the late Middle Ages near the mouth of the
Danube—towns which are occasionally referred to in the reports of
other Arab geographers.
Our discussion of Ibn Battuta's Balkan journey will concentrate on
the following topics:

(a) Where was 'the town of Sari SaltQq', the last outpost of the Turks
before the steppe? Sari SaltQq of Bukhara was a half-mythical heterodox
dervish, a follower of Ahmad YasavT. He remains an obscure figure
despite a host of legends. Yet he was, or he later became, the father-
figure of the Gagaouz in Moldavia and the Balkan Dobrudja. He is
regarded as a supreme axis or 'pole' (qutb) in the Saltdq-name, deemed
one of the founders of the Bektashiyya Sufi order, and also revered by
the Kizilba§. Tombs attributed to him are sited in the Balkans as far
apart as Babadag (important in this context) in Romania, Kruje in
Albania, Blagaj in Herzegovina, and Baba Eski in Thrace. This mention
of him by Ibn BattQta is the earliest that we have, and it is of unusual
historical interest.
(b) Where did Ibn Battuta cross the Danube? Where are Mahtull, IstafllT,
4
This form of transport ('arabat)figuresat various points in Ibn Battuta's travels in
Tartary. See H. A. R. Gibb, The Travels of Ibn BattOta AD 1325-1354, Vol. 11, Hakluyt
Society, 2nd Series, No. 117 (Cambridge, 1962), 472-3, 484-6, 491, 496.
5
Ibid. 499, n. 308.
IBN BATTOTA IN THE NORTH-EASTERN BALKANS III

and al-Fanlka, and of what significance are the canals or channels he


mentions in his account?
(c) How does his reference to Dobrudja's terrain square with the many
settlements revealed by archaeological excavations in Romania and
Bulgaria?
(d) How can one explain Ibn Battuta's reference to a fortresss attributed
to the Arab warrior hero Maslama b. 'Abd al-Malik in Bulgaria?
(e) How does his Balkan journey compare with the journey of the
Patriarch Macarius through the Dobrudja in the seventeenth century,
and what facts may be gleaned about life in this Black Sea region?

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According to the record, Ibn Battuta left Astrakhan on 10 Shawwal
734 (5 June 1334), reaching Baba Saltuq on 15 July. Gibb maintained
that is was impossible to square this with his overall chronology. Instead
he proposed that Ibn Battuta left Astrakhan on 10 Shawwal 732 (5 July
1332). He reached Baba Saltuq by 9 August and arrived in
Constantinople on 18 September. However, Ivan Hrbek dates Ibn
Battuta's journey to the autumn of 1334. Ibn Battuta left Astrakhan in
the company of a former Byzantine princess, Khatun Bayalun, escorted
by the Amir Baydara, with 5000 troops, although the Khatdn herself
owned hundreds of slaves, including Greeks, Turks, and other ethnic
groups. The cortege included 400 wagons, 2000 horses, 300 oxen, and
200 camels. Some of her pages were of Indian origin, but on this
occasion she left many of them behind in the sultan's mahalla. Her
journey to Constantinople was undertaken for family reasons—princip-
ally to give birth to a child there. The route, as described in the
travelogue, passed through Ukak (of uncertain location), allegedly into
the Crimea to the city of Sudaq (or Surdaq), and then on to the
important stop at Baba Saltuq, the last town in Turkish possession.
Afterwards the wagon train continued through a steppe which was
uninhabited and almost waterless, and which it took eighteen days to
traverse. The exact route is obscure.
Byzantine territory was reached at Mahtull. The Khatan was met by
troops led by the governor, Nicholas (Niqula). A further twenty-two
days of travel were necessary in order to reach Constantinople.
However, the terrain was not steppe but Balkan uplands, mountainous
barriers, and so the wagons were left behind and the party proceeded
on horses and mules. At one point a description of three tidal channel
crossings is included. This incongruity has prompted the suggestion
that the river valley system in southern Bulgaria has been hopelessly
confused with Ibn Battuta's two-way crossing either at or near the
Danube delta. Once Mahtull was reached, Amir Baydara relinquished
his royal charge, the practice of Muslim prayer was all but proscribed,
212 H. T. NORRIS

wine was taken by the Khatun, and pork meat was consumed. The
party was received with much pageantry at the outskirts of
Constantinople. Ibn Battuta was an honoured guest for a little over a
month. He returned alone, since the Khatun, once home, finally decided
to stay with her people.
The colonization of the Dobrudja by SarT Saltuq, 'chaplain' to King
KaykawQs II, and his SaljQq Turks has aroused much interest and
comment by orientalists and historians. Halil Inalcik,6 in discussing the
role of the 'heretical Turcoman dervishes' known as babais, states that
'One of these babai §eyhs was Sari Saltuk. In 1261 he was forced to
take refuge in Byzantine territory with about forty Turcoman clans. He
was settled in the Dobrudja, whence he entered the service of the

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powerful Muslim Mongol emir Nogai, who ruled the steppes to the
north of the Black Sea. Sari Saltuk became the hero of an epic, as a
dervish and gazi spreading Islam into Europe.' According to Frederick
de Jong,7

The earliest Muslim Turkish settlement in the Dobruca is normally dated in or shortly
after 662: 1263/4 when a group of 10—12,000 Turcomans came here from Anatolia led
by the legendary San Saltik. During the fourteenth century Tatars came to the area from
the crumbling Empire of the Golden Horde. In addition, Bayezid I (1389-1402) settled
Tatars in the area of Babadag, while Mehmet I (1413-1421) similarly colonized the area
with Tatars, as well as with Turcomans from Asia Minor. During Bayezid II's reign
(1481-1512) the Volga Tatars were called upon to settle in South Bessarabia (Budjak)
and in the northern Dobruca. In an effort to increase the Muslim population in the
region of the Lower Danube, many colonists were brought to the Dobruca from Anatolia
and contributed to the turcification of the region which was complete in the early
seventeenth century.

So although the story of Baba Saltuq is a saga (destan), it rests on a


core of fact.
Ibn BattOta's mention of his name and of the alleged sojourn of some
days which he made in the babai's town is the sole Arabic reference. It
is to be found nowhere else in any Islamic text of that time. Ibn Sa'ld
al-Maghribl, for example, makes the briefest of allusions to these migra-
tions. His statement is empty of detail and silent in regard to any
personalities.

In the northern part of the Chain of the earth is the land of the Qipchaq. Al-BayhaqT
has mentioned that they were the ones who became known as the tiaqjar [Nogais or
Onoghurs?] and they inclined towards the country of Constantinople. They had many

' The Ottoman Empire, the Classic Age, 1300-1600 (London, 1973).
7
'The Turks and Tatars in Romania', Turcica, 18 (1981), 167.
IBN BATTOTA IN THE NORTH-EASTERN BALKANS 213

kings in the West. The Tatars broke them up and they saw their courage and made
them into riders as part of their company.8

It is from such sparse and unfocused accounts, which were to be


expanded considerably by the story of the Turcoman settlers and by
the miraculous feats of Sari Saltuq, that a small cycle of elaborated
ghazT literary romances was to be woven later by the Bektashiyya Sufi
order. Sari Saltuq and Hajjl Bektash were to become spiritually linked,
so that a nefes by the Bektashi poet Shiri might apply to them both:

To this world of His often have I come and gone,


I have rained with the rain and grown as the grass,

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I have guidance to the country of the West,
I was Bektash who came from Khorasan.9

Ibn Battuta's remarks about Baba Saltuq are brief and largely
unfavourable.
We came to the town known by the name of Baba Saltuq. Baba in their language has
exactly the same meanmg as among the Berbers (i.e. 'father'), but they pronounce the
b more emphatically. They relate that this Saltuq was an ecstatic devotee, although
things are told of him which are reproved by the Divine Law. This town is the last of
the towns possessed by the Turks, and between it and the beginning of the territory of
the Greeks is [a journey of] eighteen days through an uninhabited waste, for eight days
of which there is no water. A provision of water is laid in for this stage, and carried in
large and small skins on the wagons. Since our entry into it was in the cold weather
[stc], we had no need of much water, and the Turks carry milk in large skins, mix it
with cooked dugi, and drink that, so that they feel no thirst. At this town we made our
preparations for [the crossing of] the waste. As I needed more horses I went to the
khatun and told her of my need.

It will be observed that no mention is made of the reasons why Baba


Saltuq came to be associated with the town named after him. It is Ibn
Battuta's curious and trite remark about the title of this suspect saint
and the pronunciation of b in the Berber language which are evidence
for some authenticity in his story. But an examination of what is said
raises many doubts.

(a) Ibn BattQta quotes an oral report. He qualifies what he says by 'they
relate' (yadhkurOn). We have no idea from whom or where he heard
about Baba Saltuq nor what were the things that contravened the
8
Ibn Sa'ld al-Maghribl ('All b. Mosa), Kitab al-]ughrafiy8, ed. by Isma'll al-'Arabl
(Beirut, 1970), 208.
9
J. Kingsley Birge, 'Some Bektashi Poets', The Moslem World, 22 (1932), 123. He
makes passing reference to the movement of Sari Saltuq and the ghazis in his The
Bektashi Order of Dervishes (London, 1937)
H T
214 - - NORRIS

Sharfa. Were his informants from the town itself, or were they in
southern Russia or even Constantinople?
(b) The 'town' of Baba Saltuq could either have been named after him
or it could indicate the place where he spent the bulk of his time in the
steppe, or where he later had his headquarters. It could have been—
like Bury St Edmunds—a holy burial place, or else—like Canterbury,
the burial place of St Thomas a Becket—a national shrine for a time
(though Becket's name was in no way incorporated within the name of
the town).
(c) Significantly, Ibn Battuta makes no mention at all of Baba SaltQq's
tomb. He was there five days on his way to Constantinople and for an

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unknown number of days on his return journey. Had he forgotten?
Had memory of it been lost? Did he, despite his admiration for akhis
in Asia Minor, have an antipathy for heterodoxy?
(d) He calls it the last of the 'towns possessed by the Turks'. Was it
specifically Muslim? Or could it have been part of Wallachia, which
had hitherto owed a nominal allegiance to the Golden Horde? Or is
'Turks' simply synonymous with 'horsemen of the steppes'?
(e) Ibn Battuta makes no mention of the Danube river being found
anywhere close to the town, either to the north or to the south of it. It
was a town bounded by steppe. What most interested Ibn BattQta was
that fresh horses could be obtained locally.

There is a broad division of opinion amongst scholars as to where


Baba Saltuq was located. Babadag, in Romania, is advocated by J. Deny
and Bernard Lewis and supported with documentation by Machiel
Kiel.10 Others advocate a town in the steppes situated much further to
the east, either in the area north of the Crimea or in what is now the
district of Ozu and the Dnieper in the southern Ukraine.11 This has
been proposed, in part, because of the number of days' travel recorded
by Ibn Battuta. Also there is the tradition that Sari Saltuq waged war
and emigrated eastwards into the Russian steppes. It is specifically
mentioned in the destan, which Wittek and others have studied.12 We
know that in 1381 (fifty years after Ibn BattQta's journey) the headquar-
ters of Toqtamish (1380—95) and the Golden Horde was based within
10
J. Deny, 'San Saltuq et le nom de la ville de Babadaghi', in Melanges offerts a
Emile Picot (Paris, 1913), 1—15; Bernard Lewis, 'Babadaghi' in the Encyclopedia of Islam
(new ed.); M. Kiel, 'The Turbe of San Saltik at Babadag-Dobrudja, Brief Historical and
Architectonical Notes', Guney-Dogu Arrupa (Arastirmalan Dergisis 6-7, Istanbul,
1978), 205-20.
11
F. W. Hasluck, Christianity and Islam under the Sultans (Oxford, 1929), li. 432-3;
I. Hrbek, 'The Chronology of Ibn BattQta's Travels', Archw Orientalni, 30 (1962), 479.
12
P. Wittek, 'Yazijioghlu 'All on the Christian Turks of the Dobruja', BSOAS 14:3
(1952), 639-88.
IBN BATTOTA IN THE NORTH-EASTERN BALKANS 215

the middle reaches of the Don. From it control of the Crimea was
maintained. His successor, Timur-Qutling (1395-1401), transferred his
headquarters to the right bank of the Dnieper in the vicinity of Misurin
Rog (Dnepropetrovsk), from which control of the Crimea was con-
tinued and further enforced.
Until the alleged tomb of Sari Saltuq at Babadag in Romania has
been closely examined, and has been proved to be unquestionably early
in date, and to be without doubt the genuine tomb of the saint, and
localities, known or unknown, in Russia, the Ukraine, and Moldova
have been shown to offer no convincing alternative site, it is impossible
to prove either of these proposals conclusively. Though impressed by
the weight of documentary evidence in favour of Babadag assembled

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by Machiel Kiel, I remain sceptical and unconvinced that Baba Saltuq.
was located in the Balkans at all.
Arab geographers are no help. Few towns mentioned by Ibn Sa'id,
Abu'1-Fida', and others seem to square with Ibn Battuta's description.
One cannot but feel that Ibn Battuta's account of his search for fresh
mounts has something in common with more recent accounts of Tatar
life on the fringes of Budjak (Turkish Bucak, 'frontier', 'sandy region',
and 'bush-lined rivers'), the 'corner' of Moldova (Bogdan) to the north-
east of the Danube delta, a centre of the Gagaouz. In the late Middle
Ages in all probability it formed a frontier area of the realm of
Toqtamish.13
No details are given by Ibn BattQta as to how he crossed the Danube
into'the Dobrudja from Bessarabia. It would make his account more
readily explicable if his party was to have done so inland, at Isaccea,
rather than fording the channels in the delta region.
Some authorities (Gibb included) have seen in the channel crossings
which he describes near al-Fanlka, three channels in all, a memory at
least of a Danubian delta experience. This could have been the case;
but as three sizeable streams or rivers converge in south-eastern
Bulgaria, west of Edirne, it need not necessarily be so, especially since
rocks are mentioned in these channels and they seem out of place in
the Danube. Even if we were to concede the possibility of some lapse
of memory, then Ibn BattQta was in good company. An anonymous
chronicler in 1308 tells of there being seven arms to the river Danube,
and in 1318 Pietro Visconti, who was probably a member of the family
of the dukes of Milan, travelled to the delta and declared that Sulina
and Sfintu Gheorghe were suitable places for mooring ships. Some
13
See M. Kiel, op. cit. 215. On the relations between the khans of the Golden Horde,
the steppe, and the trade of the Crimea, see A. P. Grigor'ev, 'Grants of Privileges in the
Edicts of Toqtamis and Timur-Qutlug' in Gyorgy Kara (ed.), Between the Danube and
the Caucasus (Budapest, 1987), 85-102.
Zl6 H. T. NORRIS

medieval maps showed the Danube flowing into the Sea of Marmara
and others into the Dardanelles. Some showed it with two arms, others
with five or six. It was not until 1856 that a more realistic map was to
be drawn. The evidence of the change in the terrain, from the Dobrudja
flats to the uplands, favours Gibb's identification of MahtulT with
Diampolis, modern Jambol, defending the then Bulgaro-Byzantine fron-
tier. Istaflll, the next stop mentioned, in my view requires a journey
slightly to the west and near to Nova Zagora and Tirnovo and then
due south towards Haskovo oblast to Agatoniki (al- IdrTsT's AghasunikT;
al-Fanlka in Ibn BattQta's text). On this assumption, his route is
explicable from the Balkan map.

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In the fourteenth century (to cite Abu'1-Fida') SaqjT, that is to say
Isaccea, was a town of medium size and a majority of its population
was Muslim. Sulina, to the east of it, in the delta, due east of Babadag
in fact, became a Genoese port in 1318, while Enisala, situated just 8
kilometres to the east of Babadag, is today a town with traces of walls,
a Roman military camp, and more Genoese fortifications. For a time
in the fourteenth century it was ruled by Mircea al-Batin (Mircea the
Old), the ruler of Wallachia. By 1330 the Tatars were at Cetatea Alba.
Dinu C. Gurescu, in his chapter 'The Romanians in the 13th-14th
Centuries',14 maintains that large areas of the Danube were effectively
outside Muslim control. 'Local mints existed in the Genoese colonies
of the Black Sea, e.g. Cetatea Alba (Maurocastra/Moncastro), Chilia,
Licostomo (recorded in written documents of the fourteenth century).
Other kinds of local mints existed at Isaccea (in Dobrudja), Enisala,
Ostrov, Pacuil lui Soare (the late thirteenth century and after 1300).' A
little later he emphasizes the Wallachian dominance of the Danube
region where

Basarab was 'the only ruler' of the state until his death in 1352. He also ruled over the
Danubian territories close to the sea, downstream of Braila. The Arab traveller and
geographer Abulfeda wrote that Isaccea was located in the 'Wallachian land', which
means that northern Dobrudja was part of Wallachia. Basarab's state stretched also left
of the Danube delta and east of the Prut; an Arabic chronicle relating the expedition of
the Anatolian leader Umar Beg to the mouth of the Danube in 1337/8 records the
location of Chilia at the 'Wallachian border'. Basarab's rule over the south and north
Danubian regions next to the sea could have been consolidated as a result of an
understanding with the Tatars (they lent him help during the 1330 war). Under the rule
of Mircea the Old, Wallachia—including Dobrudja and the Danube Delta—stretched
over some 92,119 sq km.

Byzantine control of the mouth of the Danube has also been defended.
Vasilka Tapkova-Zaimova, in 'Quelques observations sur la domination
14
Illustrated History of the Romanian People (Bucharest, 1981), 109-18.
IBN BATTOTA IN THE NORTH-EASTERN BALKANS 217

byzantine aux bouches du Danube—le sort de Lykostomion et de


quelques autres villes cotieres',15 remarks that
This struggle was not without difficulties since the Pechenegs claimed to occupy these
localities. But without seeking to expand at length on the politics of the empire vis-a-
vts these 'barbarians' of the north, we shall content ourselves by underlining the fact
that towards the middle of the eleventh century the Byzantine fleet not only deliberately
penetrated the Danube for punitive expeditions or to carry aid to its land forces in their
expeditions in the north of the Balkan chain, but also established points at specific
distances along the line of Danube ports of which once more it was the master. We
have an example in the life of Saint Cyril Phileotes, the whole text of which has recently
been published.

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A page later, with reference to Lykostomion, this Byzantine control
is specifically explained.
This port was a sort of advance post for Vicina on the Kiha (Kilya) canal, and to be
identified with present-day Vilkov. It must have developed markedly and progressively
with the boom enjoyed by this town which was to play a major role in the maritime
trade of the Black Sea in the thirteenth century. Without doubt it shared all the
vicissitudes which Vicina endured in the following century—moments of grandeur and
of decadence—following one another in accordance with the fluctuations of the complic-
ated politics of the epoch: Byzantium at grips with, and caught between, the Bulgars
and the Mongols, complications that were occasioned by the Genoese, the intervention
of Dobrotica, etc. According to a list of the fourteenth century, during the time when
Vicma was the seat of a metropolitan, Lykostomion had its own bishop who was subject
to the patriarchate.

Basing his views on oriental sources, which tell of Michael VIIPs


campaign in the year 1261 to reconquer Constantinople and his
dispatch of Turkish nomads to the Dobrudja, Wittek stressed the
no-man's-land character of this whole region:
This 'corridor', through which the Tatars of the Golden Horde again and again swept
down for deep incursions into the Balkans, was nominally part of Bulgaria but in reality
more or less a no-man's land and effectively partitioned. Besides, Michael VIII was on
bad terms with the Bulgarians and as 'restorer of the empire' would not have hesitated
to dispose of a territory once Byzantine, though actually not in his possession.
Immediately after the reconquest of Constantinople he had re-established Byzantine
control of the Danube Delta where Vicina was an outlying possession, communicating
with the empire only by sea. To back this outpost by filling its hinterland, the Dobrudja,
with warlike allies and to erect there an obstacle against the Tatar incursions was
excellent policy.
15
Studm Balcamca, 1 (1970), 84.
16
P. Wittek, 'Yazijioghlu 'Ah on the Christian Turks of the Dobruja', BSOAS 14:3
(1952), 648-58, but see in particular p. 654. For a different view of the authority of
Byzantium over the Dobrudja, see V. Laurenti, 'La Domination byzantine aux bouches
du Danube—sous Michel VIII Paleologue', Revue Htstotre Sud-Est Europeen, 22 (1945),
184-98. For the relations between the Turks, Tatars, Byzantines, Genoese, and
2l8 H. T. NORRIS

Not the slightest whisper of any of this is conveyed in Ibn Battuta's


account of his travel in either direction. We may assume, therefore, that
the part of his journey by horse and by mule took him through modern
Bulgaria somewhat west of the route that is tentatively marked by Gibb
on his map. I suggest that Ibn Battuta's party crossed the Danube at
Isaccea (Machin/Dicina/Vicina/Vitzina), that is SaqjT, or Dhlrlstra, in
the Arabic accounts. From Babadag he went south-westwards into
central Bulgaria and so on to Istafrll and towards Adrianople.
A curiosity in this part of the Rihla is Ibn Battuta's description of a
fortress, allegedly built or defended by Maslama b. 'Abd al-Malik,
which was located at the Istafill river. Gibb has referred to the

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legends that grew up around Maslama's exploits in the vicinity of
Constantinople and he remarks that 'no other reference is known to a
fortress built by Maslama so far north of the city.'17 Indeed, it is more
often in the Caucasus, especially Derbend (Bab al-Abwab) in Daghestan,
that Maslama (confused with Abo Muslim) is famed for his knightly
feats and for the mark that he left upon local landmarks (curiously, the
name Derbend once occurred near Jambol in Bulgaria). If we knew
more about the relations between Arabs and Bulgars and how frequently
Muslim travellers passed this way, a straightforward explanation might
be possible. The mystery may be solved by the Bulgarian name for the
Byzantine Tstlllfunus (Istafill), which appears on al-IdrisT's map. This is
Sliven (as it is spelt today), called by the Turks Islimije. The root letters
slv/slb possibly underwent the change of the labial b to m, so as to
form the word slm or Sliman, this in turn suggesting Maslama to Ibn
Battuta. If such be the case—and this is a hazardous explanation—we
have here a personal comment, or a reaction, of the author himself.
Popular 'folk epics' of Arab efforts to reduce Constantinople in 716—17
could well have been on his mind when that city lay ahead of him. A
little apprehensive, he was also upset by the abandonment of Muslim
prayer rituals and dietary practices that had taken place among members
of his party after they had entered Byzantine territory.
A more probable explanation, however, is confusion between
Maslama b. 'Abd al-Malik and that other great Arab hero of the siege
of Constantinople, Sayyid 'Abdallah al-Battal GhazT al-Antakl. Ibn Sa'Td
al-Maghribl in his Kitab al-Jughrafiya, in the section on al-Bashglrd
(clime 7, part 3), refers to the Vlach city of Tirnovo (Tarnabu) in

Wallachians in the Danube delta area, see M. Alexandrescu-Drsca, 'L'Expedition d'Umar


beg d'Aydin aux bouches du Danube (1337-1338)', Studia et Acta Onentalia, 11
(1959), 3-23.
17
Op. cit. 501, n. 501
IBN BATTUTA IN THE NORTH-EASTERN BALKANS 2.1?

Bulgaria.18 He says it was exposed to Tatar attack. In fact, it became


a Tatar protectorate under Georgi Teter who may have encouraged all
kinds of Tatar and (indirectly) Muslim connections. The territory east
of it is defined as Byzantine up to the coast where the 'coastal trails'
(sahil al-dumb) were located. All of this is Christian territory. Then
Ibn Sa'ld refers to Zaghan/Zaghun, undoubtedly al-ldrlsl's Zaghun/
Zaghurina (modern Stara or Nova Zagora), which Ibn Sa'ld places a
little too close to the Black Sea (Nltash). He also adds that it is at the
'outlet of the river of al-BattaT, by the Byzantine fortress on the river
of Zaghan. This is so close to Sliven that it would appear to correspond
to IstafTlT in Ibn Battuta's account. Since al-Battal was the chief of
Maslama's guard, some link here seems all but certain.

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Ibn Battuta's description of his journey to Constantinople is the only
Arabic account we possess, suspect and imaginary at times though it
be, of what life was like for the Muslim society in the Black Sea region
of the Balkans in the middle of the fourteenth century. His companions
included Turks, Tatars, and Byzantine Greeks, and yet the dearth of
his information about localities (apart from Constantinople itself) is in
marked contrast to some other areas of the world through which he
travelled. Nevertheless, he has left us the earliest reference to Baba
(Sari) SaltQq, later to be an important Bektashl warrior saint. He
confirms a Muslim presence at least as far as the Danube. He records
the existence of an unknown site attributed to an Arab commander of
the eighth century deep inside present-day Bulgaria. Indeed, the visit to
Maslama's or Battal's Castle may have some connection with the fact
that the Balkan kingdom of the Asen dynasty of Tirnovo was one of
the regions feudally attached to the Golden Horde. He also testifies to
the ties that linked the khans of the Golden Horde with the Byzantine
emperor.
It is interesting to compare his account with that written in Arabic
by Patriarch Macarius of Antioch and his son Paul, the Archdeacon of
Aleppo, who in 1652 began their journey to Russia, via the Dobrudja
and Bessarabia. They landed at Constanta (Qustanza) and reached the
Danube (al-Tuna) which took them along a road that Ibn Battuta had
surely followed on his return journey from Constantinople. But now
the Dobrudja was Ottoman terrain.
18
See Ibn Sa'ld al-Maghribl, op. cit. 194, in relation to Tirnovo. His geographical
nomenclature illustrates the confused state of knowledge of south-eastern Europe
amongst the Arabs. He did not distinguish between BJshqlrd, Hungary, and Bulgaria.
The Turks are said to have been converted by a Turcoman faqlh in the Danube region.
It cannot be excluded that the faqjh in question, who is unnamed, derived from a faulty
report about the religious activities of a Turcoman babai. Dates preclude this being
SarT SaltQq.
ZZO H. T. N O R R I S

All its inhabitants are Muslim Tatars, for Sultan Muhammad, after having conquered
this country, expelled the Christians from it and has peopled it with Tatars, a people
who hate the Christians. Most of them are from the Crimean steppes (barr Qaraman),
from our country, and that is in order to defend the edge of the Danube river against
their Christian enemies, because it is a country of plains where herds are sent forth to
pasture and which lies at the extremity of Rumelia facing the Danube, Moldavia, and
Wallachia.15

Their last stop on the Danube was Machina (MajjTna), a town of


420 houses owned by Christian Bulgars. 'It is the last locality of Muslim
government under the authority of the Pasha of Silistra.' How changed
was the political scene. The steppes beyond the river were now part of
Moldavia and the steppes near the Dnieper were to reach to Holy

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Russia, whereas in Ibn Battuta's day they were either Tatar domain or
a no man's land that divided Byzantium and Bulgaria and Wallachia
from the Golden Horde. There was to come a day when both sides of
the Danube would form part of Christendom and when, throughout
the region, the ancient or settled Tatars would become, as they are
today in Romania, a tiny minority. Ibn Battuta's description is unique.
Some of it may be imaginary, but I suggest that there is enough fact to
vouch for its overall authenticity. No other writer in Arabic, not even
the Patriarch Macarius, conveys the immensity of the eastern plains, or
the portrait of a caravan of wagons on the march with its Borodinesque
interplay of customs eastern and western, Orthodox Christian and
Muslim, at a time when a mutual respect and tolerance were observed
in south-eastern Europe which sadly now have departed, seemingly
for ever.20
a
Basile Radu, Voyage du Patriarche Macaire d'Antioch, vol. 22 (Paris, 1933), Part 1,
Book 11, p. 145.
20
For a fuller discussion of the content of Ibn Battuta's journeys in eastern Europe,
see my forthcoming paper, which was presented and discussed briefly at the Ibn Battuta
conference held in Tangier at the King Fahd School of Translation in October 1993.
That paper will eventually be published in Morocco. A fuller chronological study of
Muslim knowledge of the Balkan peninsula in geographical works may be read in Cengiz
Orhonlu, 'Geographical Knowledge amongst Ottomans and the Balkans in the Eighteenth
Century according to Bartinli Ibrahim Hamdi's Atlas' in An Historical Geography of
the Balkans, ed. Frank Carter (London, 1977), 271-92.