|D. M. DUNLOP
THAT the Atlantic coast of Spain was well known to the Arabs in
the Middle Ages goes almost without saying, and requires no elaborate
proof. There was indeed a formidable crop of legends about the
outlandish character of the Ocean which lay beyond the Strait
(az-Zuqaq, Strait of Gibraltar). The most familiar of these (given
by alMas'udi and others) speaks of the talismanic warning to
traveler at the `Pillars of Hercules': `Beyond me is no route
nor way for those who would enter yon sea from the Sea of the
I Another legend names the Atlantic west and north of Spain the
Sea of Darkness, and says that its colour is black like ink, yet,
when you take it in a vessel, the blackness cannot be seen"2"
Such stories doubtless arose in the East, or at a very early date
in the West, before the facts were known. They are not likely
to mislead anyone. It is certain that Muslim towns lay on the
Atlantic seaboard, doubtless with sea-borne connexions between
themselves. Muslim fleets at least upon occasion cruised in Atlantic
waters."3" The amber, or rather
ambergris, of the Atlantic, gathered on the beaches of Portugal
and marketed at Santarem and Sidona (Jerez), was a regular article
of export to foreign countries (Egypt, &c.) as well as to Cordova."4"
The existence of the traffic points to the reality of the Arab
hold on the Atlantic provinces.
But when it comes to evidence for Arab voyaging
at large in the Atlantic, especially northwards to the Channel
and to the British Isles, with which we are here specially concerned,
the situation is quite different. Reliable evidence for this is
extremely difficult to come by. On the other hand, the Arabs from
an early date (not later than the ninth century A.D.) knew about
Britain and other parts of north-west Europe from Greek geographers,"5"
especially Ptolemy. In the present inquiry material of both these
kinds, so far as it is available, will have to be adduced."6"
It has seemed best to present it more or less chronologically,
according to the authors, together with some other notices which
do not come under either head, referring to movements of the Umayyad
Atlantic fleet, in its home waters."7"
Muhammad b. Musa al-Khwarizmi in his Surat al-Ard,
written according to Nallino shortly after 201 /817,"8"
mentions a number of places in Britain. This work was intended,
it seems, to illustrate a series of maps based on Ptolemy's,"9"
which had been prepared by a group of savants, presumably including
al-Khwarizmi himself, for the Caliph Ma'mun, as mentioned by al-Mas'udi:
as-surah al-Ma'muniyah allati `umilat li'lMa'mun ~tama'a `ald
san'atihd `iddah hukamd' ahl asrihi suwwira fihd al-`clam bi-afldkihi
wa-nujumihi zva-barrihi zva-bahrihi wa-`dmirihi wa-ghdmirihi wamasdkin
al-umam wa'l-mudun wa-ghair dhdlika wa-hiya ahsan mimmd taqaddamahd
min jaghrdfiyd Ibtulamayus wa jaghrdfyd Mdrinds wa-ghairihimd."10"
A number of places mentioned in the Surat al-Ard were identified
by Nallino:"11" thus Britain
(Greek AAovlwv, Albion), Arabic Aluya; Ireland (Greek 'IouEpvt'a,
Hibernia), Arabic Tubdrniyd; London (Greek AoAlMov), Arabic Lundinun;
York (Greek 'EpdpaKOV), Arabic lburaqun, or strictly perhaps Iburiqi."12"
In the edition of the work published by H. von Mzik"13"
from the Strassburg MS. it is possible to identify these and other
places in the British Isles mentioned by Ptolemy. The co-ordinates
for latitude and longitude as given by al-Khwarizmi differ more
or less from Ptolemy's. This Nallino explained as owing to his
working from maps based on Ptolemy and not Ptolemy directly."14"
Nallino assumed that the Greek text of Ptolemy was used for al-Ma'mun's
maps."15" No Arabic translation
of Ptolemy's Geography appears indeed to be recorded thus early.
See § 4. *§ 2.
In 229/844 the Norsemen made a dangerous descent
on the Atlantic coast of Spain. For a moment they occupied Cadiz,
and sacked Seville before being defeated by Umayyad forces."16"
Following upon this, according to an apparently contemporary document
preserved by Ibn Dihyah"17"
(7th/13th century), the Umayyad ruler of Spain `Abd ar-Rahman
II sent Yahya b. Hakam al-Bakri, known as al-Ghazal, accompanied
by a certain Yahya b. Habib, to arrange terms of peace with the
anonymous `King of the Norsemen' in his own country. These ambassadors
sailed from Silves, then the chief town and port of the province
of Algarve (south-west Spain) in a ship specially built for them,
and were accompanied by the ambassador of the `King of the Norsemen'
in a ship of his own."18" Unfortunately
neither the route followed by the expedition nor its destination
is clear. According to the narrative, `When they came opposite
the great promontory which enters the sea, the boundary of Spain
in the extreme west, i.e. the mountain known as Aluwiyah, the
sea swelled up against them and a violent storm descended upon
them.' Yahya al-Ghazal recited verses appropriate to their situation.
After the storm abated, they reached their goal, the land of the
Norsemen,"19" but how or where
is not mentioned. First, they put in at an unnamed island, to
refit and refresh themselves. Then they were summoned by the king,
who lived elsewhere, on what is described as `a great island in
the Encircling Ocean, in which are flowing waters and gardens,
three days' sailing, or 300 miles, from the mainland'. In this
island was a great number of Norsemen, and nearby were many other
islands, large and small, inhabited by Norsemen. A considerable
part of the mainland for several days' journey also belonged to
them. `These Norsemen are today tempore Yahya al-Ghazal) Christians,
having abandoned their old religion.' Only the inhabitants of
certain isolated islands were still pagan, worshipping fire and
practising heathen abominations. The other Norsemen were at war
with them, and made prisoners of them. It is inviting to take
this as the account of a journey to Ireland,"20"
where in the ninth century A.D. there were certainly Norse settlements.
If Ireland is the destination, the absence of place-names in the
narrative after Aluwiyah, presumably Cape Finisterre,"21"
is understandable. Though the poetry ascribed to Yahya al-Ghazal
at this juncture refers to the fury of the winds from the west
and north, it could be supposed that the two ships ran for Ireland
after the storm was over. Several critics have placed the
1) Al-Mas'udi, Muruj, i. 257. Cf. also Tanbih, ed. De Goeje
(B.G.A. viii), pp. 68-69; al-Qazwini, ed. Wustenfeld, i. 124 1'Abrege
des merueilles, transl. Carra de Vaux (Paris, 1898), p. 32; &c.
2) Al-Qazwini, i. 123.
3) See §§ 3, 6, 15, 17.
4) Al-Mas'udi, Muruj, i. 366. Cf. E. Levi-Provencal,
`La "Description de 1'Espagne" de Razi', Al-Andalus, vol.
xviii (1953), pp. 91, 97.
5) Cf. § g (Marinus of Tyre).
6) Sections marked with an asterisk contain the evidence
for direct contacts, viz. §§ 2, I I, 18, ig, 20.
7) 1These are the sections already listed in n. 3, p. 11
(marked with a dagger).
8) C. A. Nallino, 'Al-Huwarizmi e il suo rifacimento della
Geografia di Tolomeo' R. Accad. d. Lincei, Ser. quint., vol. II.
i (Rome, 1896), p. 22. Barthold, however, thought the work was more
recent by at least twenty years (Huddd al-'Alam, transl. V. Minorsky,
G.M.S., N.s. Xi. i t).
9) Nallino, ibid., p. 21.
10) Tanbih, p. 33.
11) OP, Cit-, PP- 45 ff-
12) Ed. Von M~ik, p. 35.
13) Bibliothek arabischer Histoiker u. Geographen, iii (Leipzig
14) Cf. n. 3.
15) Op. Cit., pp. 21-22.
16) E. Levi-Provencal, Hist. de lEspagne musulmane,
ed. I (Cairo, 1944), pp. 1,52 ff.
17) In his anthology Mutrib min ash'ar ahl alMaghrib
(British Museum Ar. MS. 1631 = Or. 77), quoting Tamim b. 'Alqamah
(Pons Boigues, No. 5; d. 283/896). Arabic text and translation by
Dozy, Recherches sur l'histoire et la littirature de l'Espagne pendant
le tMoyen dge, ed. 3 (Leiden, 1881), T. 2, lxxxi ff. and 269 fl:
Other references in Brockelmann, G.A.L., Supp. i. 148. See
also Husain Munis, 'Contribution a 1'etude des invasions des Normands
18) The indication is that some little time has elapsed since
the descent of the Norsemen.
19) Text: bilad al-Majus. See below for a discussion of where
this may have been. It is well known that the term al-Majus is standard
for the Vikings in Western Arabic sources. (The confusion with Magians',
strictly the priestly caste among the Zorastrians, but in general
for Zoroastrians, arises from the fact that the pagan Vikings also
burned their dead.) Al-Mas'udi conjectured that they were same as
the Rus, i.e. the Vikings, mainly Swedish who followed the `Eastern
route' [G. M. Trevelyan] and and were well known to the Arabs. See
20) So Allen Mawer, Cambridge Med. Hist. iii. 317.
21) According to the Spanish ar-Razi (cf. § 14) the
north-west corner of Spain was a mountain, like Aluwiyah here (al-Maqqari,
Nafh at-Tib, i. 84; cf. E. Levi-Provencal, La "Description
de 1Espagne" de Razi', Al-Andalus, vol. xviii (1953),
p. 6o. On the other hand, Dozy's identification of Aluwiyah with
Cape St. Vincent is perhaps confirmed by the passage cited from
the 1st Section of the 4th Clime of al-Idrisi in § 19. At all
events the `promontory in the extreme west' there unnamed should
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