EṢṬAḴRĪ, ABŪ ESḤĀQ EBRĀHĪM b. Moḥammad Fāresī Karḵī, 10th century Muslim traveler and geographer and founder of the genre of masālek (lit. “itineraries”) literature. Biographical data are very meager. From his nesbas (attributive names) he appears to have been a native of Eṣṭaḵr in Fārs, but it is not known whether he was Persian; he must also have lived for some time in the Karḵ quarter of western Baghdad. His description of the impressive troops led by Bāres, a former retainer of the Samanid Esmāʿīl b. Aḥmad (q.v.), in Baghdad soon after the mutiny of Ebn al-Moʿtazz (20 Rabīʿ I 296/17 December 908) is evidence that he was in the city at that time (Eṣṭaḵrī, pp. 292-93). Earlier he had made the pilgrimage to Mecca, passing through Yanboʿ, Wādī al-Qorā, ʿAyḏāb, and Zoḡar near the Dead Sea; he also mentioned stays in Kūfa, Baṣra, Ḵūzestān, Ray, Bukhara, and Samarqand (probably in 317/930). The latest event mentioned is his meeting with Ebn Ḥawqal (q.v.) in about 340/951-52 (Ebn Ḥawqal, pp. 329-30, tr. Kramers, p. 322).

Eṣṭaḵrī’s only surviving work, Ketāb al-masālek wa’l-mamālek, is also the earliest surviving descriptive geography in Arabic, accompanied by twenty-one maps (usually called, after Miller, “The Atlas of Islam”), one round map of the world and one each for the twenty climes (used in the sense of “country,” “land”) into which the author divided the Islamic world. Although Eṣṭakrī did not mention his sources, it is obvious that much of his information was borrowed from earlier works. In particular he is known to have incorporated the maps and much of the text of a lost geographical work by Abū Zayd Balḵī (q.v.); but Maqdesī (Moqaddasī, p. 6), in the last quarter of the 10th century preferred the maps of Eṣṭaḵrī. It shows unquestionable traits of the pre-Islamic Persian geographical tradition: particularly the division of the Islamic world into twenty parts and the designation of Persia as the most prosperous part of that world and Babylonia as its heart; the descriptions of Persia and Transoxania occupy two-thirds of the volume. Unlike all later geographical works it was translated into Persian at an early date. The first modern publication of the Arabic text appeared in 1839 (J. H. Moeller, ed., Ketāb al-aqālīm /Liber Climatum auctore Abu ishac el-faresi vulgo El-Issthachri, Gotha). A critical edition, based on three manuscripts in European libraries, was published by M. J. de Goeje (q.v.) in 1870 (Eṣṭaḵrī). In 1961 a new version, taking into account de Goeje’s edition but based on three manuscripts in Cairo, appeared (M. J. ʿAbd-ʿĀl Ḥīnī, ed., Cairo, 1381). Critical editions of two early Persian translations have been published by Īraj Afšār (Masālek wa mamālek, Tehran, 1347 Š./1968; Mamālek wa masālek, tr. Moḥammad b. Asʿad b ʿAbd-Allāh Tostarī, Tehran, 1373 Š./1994). De Goeje (1932) distinguished two recensions of the text, ascribing the earlier one to Balḵī and the second, enlarged version to Eṣṭaḵrī. He considered the first recension to have been written before 309/921-22 because it includes accounts of earlier events in the Maḡreb, accompanied by the words “in our time” (Miquel, 1973). More probably it was compiled between 308/920-21 and 317/929, as the pillaging of Mecca by Qarmatians in January 930 is not mentioned. The nucleus (maps, commentaries on them, and perhaps itineraries) was probably the work of Balḵī, but considerable information came from the author’s own observations or from other sources. The second recension was made between 324/935-36, the date of the latest mentioned event (ed. Ḥīnī, p. 84, n. 1) , and the death of the Samanid Naṣr II in 331/943 (p. 291). This scheme has been generally accepted, though there is no known manuscript of the first recension and no fragment that can unequivocally be attributed to Balḵī has yet been identified. J. H. Kramers (1932, p. 15) proposed a two-part classification of the known manuscripts according to the degree of schematization of the maps. The first group included four examples, among them the two oldest, in Gotha and Leiden (to which MS Cario, Dār-al-Kotob, no. Jōḡrāfīā 199 should be added); the second included five. This classification does not coincide with the recensions distinguished by de Goeje, however; manuscripts in both groups contain information later than 317/929. Eṣṭaḵrī provided a varied picture of the Islamic world in the first half of the 10th century: information on cities, routes, commerce, currency, metrology, clothing, customs, and languages. Especially rich are the chapters on Fārs, which constitute 20 percent of the work, and Transoxania, which account for 16 percent. Some information given from firsthand observation in Ketāb al-masālek was attributed by Ebn Ḥawqal to Abū ʿOṯmān and Abū Bakr Demašqˊī (Ebn Ḥawqal, pp. 473, 494).


Bibliography (for cited works not given in detail, see “Short References”):

M. J. de Goeje, “Die Istakhrī-Balkhī Frage,” ZDMG 25, 1871, pp. 42-58.

J. H. Kramers, “La question Balḵī-Iṣṭaḵrī-Ibn Hawḳal et l’Atlas de l’Islam,” Acta Orientalia 10, 1932, pp. 9-30.

Idem, “L’influence de la tradition iranienne dans la géographie arabe,” Analecta Orientalia I, 1954, pp. 147-56.

I. Y. Krachkovskiĭ, Arabskaya geo graficheskaya literatura, Moscow and Leningrad, 1957.

K. Miller, Mappae arabicae: Arabische Welt- und Landkarten, 6 vols., Stuttgart, 1926-27, I, Islam-Atlas. A. Miquel, “Istakhrī” in EI2 IV, pp. 222-23.

Idem, La géographie humaine du monde musulman jusqu’au milieu du XIe siècle, Paris, 1967, pp. 292-99.

Idem, “La description du Maghreb dans la géographie d’al-Içt’akhri,” Revue de l’Occident Musulman et de la Méditerranée 15-16, 1973, pp. 231-39.

H. Mžik, “Die Wiener Handschrift des persischen Balchī-Istachrī,” ZDMG 103, 1953, pp. 315-17.

(O. G. Bolshakov)

Originally Published: December 15, 1998

Last Updated: January 19, 2012

This article is available in print.
Vol. VIII, Fasc. 6, pp. 646-647