EBN BAṬṬŪṬA, ŠAMS-AL-DĪN ABŪ ʿABD-ALLĀH MOḤAMMAD (b. Tangier, 17 Rajab 703 /25 February 1304; d. Morocco, 770/1368-9), the most famous Muslim traveler. A Berber from Tangier, he claims to have traveled extensively in Africa, the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia, and China. His Toḥfat al-noẓẓār fī ḡarāʾeb al-amṣār wa ʿajāʾeb al-asfār, known as the Reḥla (Journey), professes to be a chronological narrative of his journeys from his departure from Tangier as a pilgrim in Rajab 725/June 1324 to his arrival in Fez, Morocco, after a journey to Mali in Ḏu’l-qaʿda 754/December 1353. At the command of the local ruler, Ebn Baṭṭūṭa dictated an account of his journeys to the scholar Ebn Jozayy. His account of places typically consists of brief descriptions of the place and his adventures there, supplemented as needed by accounts of local shrines and holy men and of the local rulers.
The Reḥla is obviously not a completely reliable record of his travels. Dates are often inconsistent. His alleged movements in Bolḡār, Yemen, Oman, and eastern Anatolia are not credible. In Bengal, Southeast Asia, and China he names few places in relation to the distances covered. There are no satisfactory identifications for several countries. Literary sources, rather than Ebn Baṭṭūṭa’s own observations, were often used (II, pp. 399-400, tr. Gibb, pp. 490-501). As history, it is very unreliable; for example, Moḥammed Ḵᵛārazmšāh is confused with his son Jalāl-al-Dīn, and often Ebn Baṭṭūṭa recorded under his first visit to a place events of a later visit. He was a careless observer of architecture, once claiming that an elephant would be able to climb the Qoṭb Menār in Delhi. Some sections of the Reḥla—those on East Africa, Anatolia, south India, the Maldives, and Mali—are important because there are few other sources, but for Iranian lands it is of little value.
We know little about him apart from his book. His preoccupation was acquiring blessings (barakāt) from saintly men and their tombs, and he records many lively anecdotes about them, but he shows no evidence of profound learning. He disliked Shiʿites, was ambitious, married often, and was much interested in food. He expected the patronage of rulers and commented on any lack of generosity on their part (IV, pp. 400-01). Ebn Ḵaldūn refers to the scepticism with which his stories were heard at court (The Muqaddima, tr. F. Rosenthal, Princeton, 1958, I, pp. 369-71). Ebn al-Ḵaṭīb (III, p. 273) says that his learning was modest and that he traveled as a Sufi. Ebn Ḥajar, citing Ebn Marzūq, says he died as judge of ‘some town or other’ (III, pp. 480-81).
Ebn Baṭṭūṭa visited Iranian lands four times: a tour of southern and western Persia that included the Shiʿite shrine sites of Iraq in 726-27/1326-27; a journey from Hormoz to Sīrāf in 732/1332; a journey through Ḵᵛārazm, Transoxiana, Khorasan, and Afghanistan on his way from Anatolia and the lands of the Golden Horde to India in 733/1333; and a journey through southern Persia on his way home to Morocco in 748/1347.
First visit. Iraq and Persia, 726-27/1326-27. Leaving Mecca with the Iraq caravan after the pilgrimage of 726/1326, Ebn Baṭṭūṭa visited Najaf, where he observed the rituals connected with the tomb of ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭāleb and found a Persian Shiʿite, the Naqīb-al-Ašrāf, ruling as the representative of the government (I, pp. 414-21, tr. Gibb, pp. 255-59). From there he went to ʿAbbādān (Ābādān), Māčūl (Bandar Maʿšūr), Rāmez, Tostar (Šūštar), Īḏaj (Mālamīr), the capital of the Atābaks of Greater Lorestān, where the funeral customs shocked him (II, pp. 30-42, tr. Gibb, pp. 287-94), and Oštorḵān. In Isfahan, damaged by fighting between Sunnis and Shiʿites, he stayed in a Sohravardī ḵānaqāh and remarked on the excellence of the fruits (II, pp. 43-50, tr. Gibb, pp. 294-98). Passing through Yazdḵᵛāst and Māyīn, he reached Shiraz, where he enumerates, but does not describe, the shrines, including Saʿdī’s, and admires the piety of the women (II, pp. 52-89, tr. Gibb, pp. 299-319). He then returned to Iraq via Kāzerūn, Zaydān, and Ḥowayza. In Kūfa he describes the mosque of ʿAlī (II, pp. 93-96, tr. Gibb, pp. 322-24). He found Ḥella and Karbalāʾ riven by warring factions of Imamis (II, pp. 93-100, tr. Gibb, pp. 320-26). He traveled partway from Baghdad to Tabrīz with the camp (maḥalla) of the Il-khan Abū Saʿīd, whom he calls “the most beautiful of God’s creatures in features”; he is the only authority to state that the Il-khan was poisoned by his queen Baḡdād Ḵātūn, jealous of a younger rival (II, pp. 114-128, tr. Gibb, pp. 335-44). In Tabrīz he was impressed by the bāzār but scandalized by the behavior of the Turkish noblewomen shopping in the jewelry market (II, pp. 129-31, tr. Gibb, pp. 344-45).
Second visit. Hormoz to Sīrāf, 732/1332. Returning from Africa and southern Arabia five years later, Ebn Baṭṭūṭa called at Hormoz Island, at that time a thriving port for the India trade, where he visited the nearby shrine of Ḵeżr and gave an account of Sultan Qoṭb-al-Dīn Tahamtan (II, pp. 231-37, tr. Gibb, pp. 400-04). He then crossed to the mainland and passed through Kūzestān, Lār, Ḵonj, Fāl, and Sīrāf, which he confuses with Qays, all very briefly described, before crossing back to Arabia.
Third visit. Ḵᵛārazm, Transoxiana, Khorasan, and Afghanistan, 733/1333. After extensive travels in Anatolia, Ebn Baṭṭūṭa sailed to the Crimea and entered the territories of the Golden Horde, visiting the camp of Sultan Moḥammad Uzbek Khan on the way to the capital, Sarā, north of Astrakhan (II, pp. 379-98, tr. Gibb, 481-90). From there he traveled to the crowded city of Ḵᵛārazm, where the prevalent doctrine was Muʿtazilism, though not openly professed (III, pp. 3-16, tr. Gibb, pp. 541-47), and from there to Kāt and Bukhara, where he visited the tombs of Bāḵarzī and Boḵārī (qq.v.) but found the chief public buildings in ruins (III, pp. 21-28, tr. Gibb, pp. 550-54). Near Naḵšab he found the camp of the Chaghatay khan Tarmašīrīn, of whose subsequent adventures in India he gives an account (III, pp. 29-51, tr. Gibb, pp. 555-67). He found Samarkand also mostly in ruins and describes the riverside pleasure gardens and the tomb of Qoṯam b. ʿAbbās, which, he says, had been venerated by the Mongols even when they were still pagans (III, pp. 51-55, tr. Gibb, pp. 567-69). After passing through Keš, which he confuses with Nasaf, and Termeḏ, rebuilt on a new site after its destruction by the Mongols, he crossed the Oxus and entered Khorasan. He visited Balḵ, “completely dilapidated and uninhabited” but with many buildings intact (III, pp. 58-63, tr. Gibb, pp. 571-73).
Ebn Baṭṭūṭa describes an excursion into western Khorasan, but gives few personal details and the trip is chronologically difficult (tr. Gibb, pp. 533-34). It includes Herat, of which he says little, except to give a confused account of the Sarbadārs (III, pp. 63-74, tr. Gibb, pp. 574-80), Jām, Ṭūs, Mašhad, where he describes the sanctuary of ʿAlī al-Reżā (III, pp. 77-79, tr. Gibb, pp. 582-83), Saraḵs, Zāva, Nīšāpūr, Besṭām, and Hendūḵā (Andḵūy). Picking up the route from Balḵ to India, he mentions Qondūz, Baḡlān, Panjšīr, which had not recovered from the Mongols’ devastations; Parvān, Čārīkār, Kabul, described as formerly a great city, but “now a village inhabited by a tribe of Persians called al-Afḡān” (III, p. 89, tr. Gibb, p. 590), and Ḡazna, implausibly placed before Kabul. He made his way by an unknown route to the Indus. Crossing on 1 Moḥarram 734/12 September 1333, he made his way to Delhi, where he spent eight years in the service of Moḥammad b. Toḡloq, about whom he gives extensive information in the third volume of his Travels.
Fourth visit. Through southern Persia, 748/1347. Returning from alleged travels in China and Southeast Asia fourteen years later, Ebn Baṭṭūṭa came by sea to the Persian Gulf, retracing his former path from Hormoz to Ḵonj and whence to Shiraz, Isfahan, and Šūštar. He gives no further information, referring the reader to the earlier volume. On the other hand, he relates an interesting observation made during this pretended visit to China. A very high Chinese official (whom Ebn Baṭṭūṭa calls Amīr-al-Omarāʾ of China) invited him and his companions to a banquet lasting three days; thereafter, they were entertained by musicians at the service of his son; they sang in Chinese, Arabic, and Persian. The son was very fond of Persian songs. Ebn Baṭṭūṭa memorized one that was sung on his order several times. The lyrics of the music recorded by Ebn Baṭṭūṭa have been identified by the late ʿAbbās Eqbāl as a distich by Saʿdī, who had died about fifty years previously.
Bibliography: (For cited works not given in detail, see “Short References.”)
The standard text, with parallel French translation and some, mostly textual, notes is by C. Defrémery and B. R. Sanguinetti; it is based on Bib. Nat. MSS. Ar. 910 and 907, the latter, though incomplete, being Ebn Jozayy’s holograph; tr.: Ibn Battuta. Travels in Asia and Africa, tr. H. A. R. Gibb, London, 1929 (selections); Ebn Baṭṭūṭa, tr. Gibb, (annotated trans. of vols. 1-3 of the Arabic text (being completed by C. F. Beckingham); Die Reise des Arabers Ibn Baṭūṭa durch Indien und China, tr. H. von Mžik, Hamburg, 1911 (the journey from Delhi till his return to Ẓafār); Safar-nāma-ye Ebn-e Baṭṭūṭa, tr. M.-ʿA. Mowaḥḥed, Tehran, 1348 Š./1969 (complete); new rev. ed., 1370 Š/1991.
R. E. Dunn, The Adventures of Ibn Battuta, London and Sydney, 1986 (relates his travels to contemporary conditions and lists numerous studies of particular episodes).
Ebn Ḥajar ʿAsqalānī, Dorar al-kāmena fī aʿyān al-meʾa al-ṯāmena, Hyderabad, 1348-50/1929-31.
I. Hrbek, “The Chronology of Ibn Baṭṭūṭa’s Travels,” Archiv Orientálni, 1962, pp. 409-86.
Ebn al-Ḵaṭīb, al-Eḥāṭa fī aḵbār Ḡarnāṭa, Cairo, 1973-78, III.
ʿA. Eqbāl, “Šeʿr-e Saʿdī dar Čīn,” Yādgār 1/2, 1323 Š./1944, pp. 79-80.
A. Miquel, “Ibn Baṭṭūṭa,”EI2 III, pp. 735-36.
(Charles F. Beckingham)
Originally Published: December 15, 1997
Last Updated: December 6, 2011
This article is available in print.
Vol. VIII, Fasc. 1, pp. 4-6