Arabic Mission to the Volga

by Media Desk Published on: 12th January 2022

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"The earliest surviving instance of sustained first-person travel narrative in Arabic."

“The weather was so cold that you could wander around the markets and through the streets and not meet anyone. I would leave the baths, and, by the time I got home, I would look at my beard and see a block of ice.”*

*Ibn Fadlan’s Mission to the Volga, translated by James E. Montgomery, is a pioneering text of peerless historical and literary value. In its pages, we move north on a diplomatic mission from Baghdad to the upper reaches of the Volga River in what is now central Russia.

Image: Cover of the BookSource / Archived

In this colourful documentary from the tenth century, the enigmatic Ibn Fadlan relates his experiences as part of an embassy sent by Caliph al-Muqtadir to deliver political and religious instruction to the recently-converted King of the Bulghars. During eleven months of gruelling travel, Ibn Fadlan records the marvels he witnesses on his journey, including an aurora borealis and the white nights of the North. Crucially, he offers a description of the Viking Rus, including their customs, clothing, body painting, and a striking account of a ship funeral. Together, these anecdotes illuminate a vibrant world of diversity during the heyday of the Abbasid Empire, narrated with as much curiosity and zeal as they were perceived by its observant beholder.

“Montgomery’s edition…is itself the product of many years’ research, travel, and discussion and should become definitive.” Speculum

Ahmad Ibn Fadlan (Author), was a member of a diplomatic mission sent by the Abbasid caliph al-Muqtadir in 921-922AD to the king of the Volga Bulghars. His is the only existing record of that mission.

Tim Severin (Foreword by), is a British explorer, film-maker, and lecturer. He received the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award for his 1982 non-fiction book The Sindbad Voyage and is noted for his Viking historical fiction series (2005).

James E. Montgomery (Translator), author of Al-Jāḥiẓ: In Praise of Books, is Sir Thomas Adams’s Professor of Arabic at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of Trinity Hall. His latest publications are Loss Sings, a collaboration with the celebrated Scottish artist Alison Watt, and Dīwān ʿAntarah ibn Shaddād: A Literary-Historical Study.

Published by: NYU Press, 9781479899890 (Paperback), 9781479829750 (Ebook), 2017. (Read Sample)

“A compelling account which is, among other things, the earliest first-hand description of travel from the [Muslim Civilisation].” Times Literary Supplement

Note: This story has been taken from to promote their book with no commercial gain.

Related Links

Travellers and Explorers from a Golden Age


5 Things You Didn’t Know About Vikings And Muslim Civilisation


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ImageAntonio Banderas as Ahmed‪ Ibn Fadlan in 13th Warrior movie with a page from Ibn Fadlan’s journal – Source

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