TITLE: World Map of Ibn Hawqal
DATE: 980 A.D.
AUTHOR: Abu al-Qasim Muhammad ibn Hawqal
DESCRIPTION: The earliest set of maps to survive from the corpus
of Islamic cartography are those that accompany the text Kitab surat
al-ard [Picture of the Earth] of Abu al-Qasim Muhammad ibn Hawqal [Haukal]
in the manuscript dated 1086, found in the Topkapi Sarayi Müzesi Kütüphanesi
in Istanbul. Ibn Hawqal's life has come down to us in considerable detail
mainly because he was more open about himself in his book. He was born in
Nisibis in Upper Mesopotamia and spent much of his life traveling, setting
out on 15 May 943 and continuing on and off until 973, when he last appears
in Sicily. Between these dates he covered most of Islamic Africa and large
areas of Persia and Turkestan. It is possible that he acted as a trader
on his travels, since his work is full of facts relating to economic activity.
That he extols the Fatimid religious policy may mean he was a da'i or missionary
of that sect, and this would be another reason for his moving constantly
from place to place. Apart from a short work on Sicily, he is known only
for his one geography book, Kitab surat al-ard, also known as Kitab
The main difference between the work of Ibn Hawqal and that of al-lstakhri
(Slide #211) is in the former's discussion of
the western (formerly Byzantine) part of Islam. He treats Spain, North Africa,
and Sicily as three separate sections. Syria and Egypt are dealt with in
more detail, and it is interesting that when later authors like Yaqut quote
Ibn Hawqal they are almost always referring to these western regions.
Al-lstakhri's work was a commentary on the maps, and he states that "our
plan is to describe, and to delineate on maps, the various seas, ... affixing
the name of each, so that it may be known in the maps," thus showing
the importance he placed on the maps. The cartography, therefore, was still
the essential element in the work.
He was also interested in the composition of the maps, and at his meeting
with Ibn Hawqal they compared their maps. Ibn Hawqal states that al-lstakhri
had drawn a map of Sind, but he had made some mistakes, and he had also
drawn Fars, which he had done extremely well. For my part, I had drawn the
map of Azerbaijan which occurs on the following page and of which he approved,
as well as that of al-Jazirah which he considered excellent. My map of Egypt,
however, he condemned as wholly bad and that of al-Maghrib as for the most
Because he states in the text that the map "occurs on the following
page," he lets it be known that the map the reader sees is the one
he drew himself.
Ibn Hawqal's text as we know it today is again the result of three versions-a
first redaction from about 961 dedicated to the Hamdanid Sayf al-Dawlah
(died 967), a second redaction containing criticism of the Hamdanids from
about a decade later, and a final definitive version from about 988. Ibn
Hawqal himself seems originally to have wished to produce a set of maps,
but he was carried away by his commentary, and this becomes much more voluminous
and interesting than that of al-lstakhri, while to the ordinary reader the
map loses its importance because of its inadequacy. All this shows, however,
that the map is linked directly to the scholar in each case and not added
by the copyist, as are many illustrations to manuscript books or even early
printed books, which thus had a completely different provenance than the
Ibn Hawqal goes one stage further than al-lstakhri. In addition to his text
on a particular region, he also inserts a section that describes the map
literally in the simplest terms. Whether this is meant to be an aid for
the cartographer is difficult to say. This description can be understood
only in conjunction with the map itself and does not add to the information
in the main text. The section can easily be deleted without affecting the
rest of the text. An example from the section on Kirman begins:
Explanation of the names and legends that are found on the map of Kirman.
The sea appears at the top of the map; to the right of this is [the legend]
"The map of Kirman," then in the corner the word "West"
while in the corner on the left is the word "South." Then there
begins to the extreme right of the sea, going down [the page] an inscription,
stretched out round the three sides of the map which says "Boundary
of Kirman . . ."
What one really wishes to know is how close to the original version of these
scholars is the map we see in a manuscript produced several centuries after
the death of the scholar himself. This is very difficult, since probably
only one of the manuscripts now extant was produced within two hundred years
of the original map it was taken from. Kramers, however, has attempted to
classify the surviving manuscripts using the state of the maps as his criterion.
This he finds fits the state of the text as well and agrees with the comments
de Goeje made about them.
Kramers finds that the texts presumed to be by al-Istakhri can be divided
into two groups, and he regards one as earlier in origin. In this earlier
group (Istakhri I), the maps are more geometric than the later ones
(Istakhri II), while the text that goes with the later maps is more
finished and polished. On the other hand, it is the earlier texts that mention
the name al-lstakhri, so that Miller attributes the anonymous (Istakhri
II) texts to al-Balkhi (Slide #214.2), presuming wrongly that
they are earlier than the others.
The era of Arab cartography during which Ibn Hawqal worked is characterized
by collections of distinctive maps accompanying geographical treatises,
although these treatises are mostly alike in both the number of maps and
the information they contain. During this time they no longer show any trace
of the influence of European cartography and represent somewhat of a decline
also in the influence of Claudius Ptolemy. The maps produced during this
time were primarily artistic and ingenious schematic drawings. Compasses,
ruler, and set square produced the necessary geometrical figures. Some of
the maps were skillfully constructed and stylized itineraries, showing roads
and towns, but without any indication of distances; while some were highly
schematic world pictures. Because of the peculiar character of these groups
of maps and their overall similarity, they have been called the Atlas
of Islam. An atlas of this type usually consisted of 21 maps: a world
map, 3 sea-charts (the Mediterranean, the Persian Gulf, and the Caspian),
and 17 maps of separate Islamic countries; with a text of "standard
content". These atlases probably stem from one man's work, which underwent
changes as it was copied. Four known authors who drew from these maps for
their writings were Abu Zaid al-Balkhi (919-921), the first to do so, al-lstakhri
(Alestakhry, 934), Ibn Hawqal (980), and al-Muqaddasi (985). These maps
were later used as models by other Arab and Persian cartographers who added
much to them, as well as altering their appearance.
Ibn Hawqal's treatise, The Book of Roads and Provinces, is a documented
derivative. While traveling in the valley of the Indus, Ibn Hawqal met al-lstakhri
and this is a description of that fateful meeting:
He (Istakhri) showed me the geographical maps in his work, and, when I had
commented on them, he gave me his work with the words, 'I can see that you
were born under a lucky star, therefore take my work and make such improvements
as you think fit'. I took it, altered it in several particulars, and returned
it to him.
For both works we have the same divisions of subject-matter, and the same
number of chapters; the very expressions are often identical. But the account
of Ibn Hawqal is more literary and more developed; as might be expected
from a native of Bagdad who, from 943 to 969 seems to have been travelling
incessantly, though presumably, within the limits of Islam. Some of his
other sources for the treatise include Ibn Khordadbeh, Kodama, and Aldjayhany.
In the beginning of his work, Ibn Hawqal outlines the scope of his objective:
I have described the earth in its length and breath; I have given a view
of the Moslem provinces, but I have taken no account of the division of
climates, in order to avoid confusion. I have illustrated every region by
a map. I have indicated the position of each, relative to other countries.
The boundaries of all these lands, their cities and cantons, the rivers
that water them, the lakes and pools that vary their surface, the routes
that traverse them, the trades that flourish in them - all these I have
enumerated: in a word, I have collected all that has ever made geography
of interest either to princes or to people.
However, there are certain exceptions, Ibn Hawqal tells us later, which
he felt it necessary to make.
I have not described the country of the African blacks and the other peoples
of the torrid zone because, naturally loving wisdom, ingenuity, religion,
justice, and regular government how could I notice such people as these,
or magnify them by inserting an account of their countries ?
The world depicted on the above illustration is a disc-shaped earth surrounded
by ocean, with two deep bays cutting into it - from the east, the Persian
Gulf with the Red Sea and the Arabian Sea, and from the west, the Mediterranean
Sea. Again, it can be seen that the lines of the map are very stylized and
geometrical as those found on Istakhri's world map (Slide
#211). The other map of Ibn Hawqal's (Slides #213A
and 213B ) illustrate a much less stylized picture
of the world, but does include a circumfluent ocean, an almost land-locked
Indian Ocean (after Ptolemy), and an interesting and speculative West African
coastline, hinting at the Gulf of Guinea. The Nile River seems to be the
only river system deemed worthy of illustration. Distortion of Europe is
great with Italy laying east-west. Particularly of interest here is the
inclusion of the Antipodes or Southern Continent.
Some sampling of the details of the text of Hawqal's treatise will reveal
some of the geographical philosophy/theory that was so prevalent among the
Moslem world in the late 10th century. In his description of the Caspian
Sea region, he states:
The Western side of this sea belongs to Deilman and Taberistan and Gukan,
and its borders; and part of it is bordered by the deserts of Khuarezm.
On the Eastern side is Aran and Moukan and the territories of Serir and
part of the deserts of Azziah: and on the north it has the desert of Azziah,
to the territories of Siah Kouh: and on the south, Bakeil and Deilman and
the neighboring places. This sea is not connected with any other; and if
a person wishes to make a tour completely round it, nothing will impede
him but a few rivers which fall into it from various quarters. The waters
of this sea are bitter and dark-colored: its bottom is blackish sea, differing
in this respect from the Sea of Kolzum [Red Sea] or of Oman
or of Pars [Persian Gulf]. This Sea of Pars is of such clear
water that one may see the white stones at the bottom; but the waters of
this Sea of Khozr [Caspian Sea] are dark-colored, and in it there
are not found any such things as pearls, or coral or similar marine productions.
It is, however, much frequented by the ships of merchants who traffic from
one town to another: but there are many trees and forests. One island is
considerable, with a spring of water, and many trees: and there is another
large island on the borders of Lekzan, which also has fresh water. In this
ocean there are not any inhabited islands as in the Sea of Pars or of
Roum [Mediterranean Sea]: but it affords much fishing. To the island
bordering Lekzan they bring cattle from Berdaa in boats, and turn them out
to graze and leave them until they become fat.
In addressing details, the region of Islam is defined as superior to others
in that it is more extensive; bordering alike upon the northern and southern
ocean is pathless desert, but inhabited and cultivated ground stretches
along the diameter of the world, from China to Morocco. Of great inland
seas, the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean communicate with the outer
ocean, but not the Caspian. Ibn Hawqal avoids the trap into which stumbled
so many Latin geographers, and describes how one may make the circuit of
this great salt lake without ever quitting terra firma except for
the crossing of rivers. The extent and number of the tribes of Gog-Magog
(in Turkestan) were known "only to God". Wherever he leaves
the Caliphate, Ibn Hawqal is vague and uncertain. Sometimes he is downright
fabulous, or rather Koranic, as in his story of the tribe of Russian Jews
who were turned into monkeys for hunting on the Sabbath. Here and there,
however, he preserves interesting and trustworthy notices of the outside
world, as in his account of the gold mines and, still surviving, Christianity
of Nubia; of the white race scattered among the blacks of the Zanzibar coast
(these were doubtless the Arabs of the Emosaid migration); of the idol of
Moultan in Scinde, and of the habits of the Tartars of the Volga.
When he tells us that the Nile flows from the east to Fostat [Cairo],
he repeats the language of earlier writers who were thinking of the freshwater
canal from Suez to Babylon. In a similar way his language on the Nile sources
is suspiciously like certain of the Greek and Latin expressions, as to the
mysterious river springing out of a cavern near the land of Zanzibar, in
a place that could be approached, but never quite arrived at.
An Arabic wheel-map, that of Abu Ishaq al-Farisl al-lstakhri and Abu al-Qasim
Muhammad ibn Hawqal (950 to 970). Re-oriented with North at the top, it
clearly shows the strong tendency to geometrical stylization characteristic
of the second period of Arab cartography. In the original, east was at the
top, just as in the T-O maps of contemporary Latin Europe, but instead of
the Earthly Paradise the Arab scholars knew enough to place in the Furthest
East both China and Tibet. Note also how the tip of Africa points eastwards,
a mistake which the Chinese geographers were the first to correct (from
Needham after Reinaud).
Of all the countries of Islam, but especially of Mesopotamia and
the region of Samarcand, Ibn Hawqal has clear and fairly accurate
ideas. When he says, in his account of Syria, that all the Greek philosophers
came from Tyre, or, in his account of Kurdistan, that Saul, the King of
Isreal, came from the Kurdish village of Shehr Werd, Beazley believes
that he is going out of his depth. In matters of his own day, race, and
religion, however, he is far better equipped. Very curious and valuable
are his notices of the contemporary travels of the men of Tarsus,
and of the inns or caravanerais reserved for them in every great
city of Islam, as well as of the fire-temples still existing in Persia;
of the trade and manufactures of the Levantine Moslems, and of the wealth
of ports like Siraf, where "some traders were possessed of four
millions of dinars, and some of more; and yet their clothes were like the
clothes of hired laborers". To Ibn Hawqal, the pearl of the earth was
Samarcand; although he draws a picture of peace and prosperity in
almost every region from the Nile to the Oxus, and from the Taurus to the
Pamir. But in Sogd there is something better than the best. "In
all the world there is no place more delightful or more health-giving than
these three: the Plain of Samarcand, the Oasis of Damascus, the Valley of
the Aileh". But the last two do not satisfy Ibn Hawqal. "A fine
prospect ought to fill the view completely, and nothing should be visible
but sky and verdure." Now Damascus and the Aileh, though beautiful,
are of small extent, and encircled by desert;
but the Sogd, for eight days' journey, is all full of gardens and orchards
and villages, cornfields and villas, running streams, reservoirs, and fountains
both on the right-hand and on the left; and if one stood on the old castle
at Bokhara, one could not see anything but rich country as far as the eye
could reach, even to the horizon, where the green of the earth and the azure
of the heavens were united.
The people were suited to the land. They spent their money in improving
the roads, in building caravanerais, in repairing bridges. "Such was
the hospitality of the inhabitants, that one would imagine all the families
of the land were but one house." In some dwellings the doors were nailed
back against the walls, and had been so for a hundred years or more, so
that no stranger should ever be denied admittance. Food and lodging were
to be had for money in above 2,000 inns, without recourse to the generosity
of private citizens; yet every peasant allotted a portion of his cottage
for the reception of a guest, and the greatest pleasure of the owner was
in persuading a stranger to accept his house. By contrast with this, we
may notice how on another frontier of Islam, at Derbend under the Caucasus,
life was less tranquil; for the savage Tartar enemies of the city, living
all around it, were "as numerous as the waves of the sea that come
up to its walls". Fortunately at Atel on the Volga, the townsmen
had some allies - a Jewish king, a tribe of Christian Bulgarians, and a
number of Mussulman merchants. But taken altogether, Ibn Hawqal's description
portrays Islam at a time of singular prosperity. Even in Ferghanah,
where Moslems were obliged incessantly to watch the motions of the Turkish
hordes beyond Khokand, were groves and gardens and orchards, and flourishing
towns with rich bazaars, many acres of land sown with corn, and furnished
with windmills and watermills, that were not known in Europe until the first
LOCATION: Ibn Hawqal I, Topkapi Sarayi Müzesi Kütüphanesi,
(A. 3343), Istanbul, Turkey.
bn Hawqal II, Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, MS. Arabe 2214, fols.
*Bagrow, L, The History of Cartography, pp. 51-55, plate XXVII.
*Beazley, C., The Dawn of Modern Geography, volume I, pp. 451-455.
*Harley, J.B., The History of Cartography, Volume Two, pp. 111-115, 117,
122, 144-45, Figures 5.16., 6.3.
Kimble, G.H.T. , Geography in the Middle Ages, pp. 55-56.