Back to Table of Contents2
To next page
Istakhri (957) :Kitab al Masalik wa-al-Mamalik,
(book of roads and provinces.)

Istakhri's Worldmap and its Translation

(Taken from : Mappae Arabicae by Miller Konrad)


Know that : -Bilad al Zanj means Land of the Black . Zanj means black People in Persia. It is mostly used to

                  denominate East Africa

                 -Al Bagga : The Bedja tribe who lives in Erytrea and surroundings.

                 -Bilad al Sudan : Land of Black People.


Taken from: The Oriental Geography of Ebn Haukal, an Arabian Traveller of the Tenth Century. Front Cover. Ibrāhīm ibn Muḥammad Iṣṭakhrī, Muhammad I. Haukal.

Father Giovanni Vantini FSCJ's Oriental Sources Concerning Nubia

المسالك والممالك للاصطخري أو مسالك الممالك – مصر (Tracts and kingdoms Istakhri – Egypt)

المسالك والممالك للاصطخري أو مسالك الممالك – ليدن (Tracts and kingdoms Istakhri – Leiden)

Das Buch der Länder. Translated by A.D. Mordtmann; Abu Ishḥāḳ Ibrāhīm ibn Muḥammad (al-Iṣtạkhrī.)

(The text under is a collection of what I found in these different versions.)
Here we shall not mention such peoples of the Maghrib as the Blacks (Sudan), the Buja and the Zanj, because, whereas the sound political organization is based on good morals, religion and permanent institutions, these peoples possess none of these. Only a few branches of the Blacks who dwell along the borders of the aforesaid empires [i.e. the Byzantine and the Moslem empires] possess some religious beliefs, moral and political institutions similar to [those of] the above mentioned empires. Such are the Nubians (an-Nuba) and the Ethiopians (Ḥabasha) because they are Christians and follow the customs of the Rum. Before Islam, those peoples had some links with the empire of the Rum because they were neighbours. In fact, the territory of the Nubians borders on Egypt and that of the Ethiopians (Ḥabasha) faces the Red Sea. Although the Ethiopians are separated from Egypt by a desert - where gold mines are found - they are in touch directly with Egypt and Syria (ash-Sham) through the Red Sea. Nothing farther can be said in their favour.…………………..
The inhabitants of the south are of a dark complexion, and the blackness of their skins increases as they dwell farther to the south.

Borders and distances of countries.
In the south of the earth is the land of Sudan, which lies in the extreme Magreb on the ocean, and borders on no other country; for it comes partly to the ocean, partly to the desert of Magreb, partly to the desert of Egypt on the side where the oases lie, partly to the desert, which, as we have said, is not inhabited because of the great heat. I have heard that the length of this land from the sea to the oases is 700 parasangs; the width is smaller.
Nubia is bordered by Egypt and the desert between Sudan and Egypt; also to Buja and the deserts between Buja and Kolsum, and finally to that impassable desert.
Buja is a small area between Habesch, Nubia and that impassable desert.
The land of Zanj is longer than Sudan, and borders on no other land than Habesh; Yemen, Fars and Kirman are all the way to India.
Habesch lies on the sea of Kolsum, and stretches lengthways to Zanj; It also borders on the desert between Nubia and the sea of Kolsum, as well as on Buja and on the impassable desert.………………

The Countries of Islam.
General distances.

(when talking about a line starting in the North going South)
…… take from the coast of the ocean until it ends to the land of Gog and Magog, and then pass on the Slavs, and cut off the land of Bulgarians entering and Slavs, and go in the land of the Romans to Syria until the land of Egypt and then to Nubia which is about 3-5 stations, and then the line spread in the wilderness between the Sudan and the country of Zeng until it ends to the ocean, and this is the line between the south and north of the earth; as for what I know from the distance of this line, on the one hand Gog on the side of Bulgar and the land of Sakalpah of forty stages, and the land of Sakalp in the country of the Roman to the Levant of sixty stages,…….

(when talking about the seas of the world)

……….. And the earth is all round and the ocean surrounded it like a collar, and take the sea of the Romans and the sea of Persia from this sea; As for the Caspian Sea, it does not connect to this sea, but it is a sea on its own with his coast of the Khazars on the land of the Dilem, Tabaristan and Jorjan, without preventing him from blocking a river located therein, and Lake Khorazm as well. And of something similar in the countries of Zanj as the channels and lakes beyond the Rum countries here nothing is mentioned, because they come not directly to those seas.

Illustration and description of the Persian sea.
……………..If you leave Kolsum (= Suez) travelling along the west coast of the sea, you walk through deserts from Egypt up to the territory of the Buja where gold mines are found; then you arrive at the town of Aydhab situated on the sea coast. Beyond this town, the sea widens all along the country of the Ḥabasha, which stretches opposite Mecca as far south as the territory opposite Aden. Beyond this point there are no more Ḥabasha. On their rearward side, [i.e. West] the Ḥabasha are neighbours to the Nuba, as far as the territory of the Zanj. These are the largest of the kingdoms extending along the frontier of all the Moslem countries. After that it widens, and contains different islands and countries, until it comes to China…………………Opposite under Yemen, the sea is called Bahr Aden (Sea of Aden) until it reaches Aden; From then on it is called the sea of Zanj, until it is opposite Oman, where it turns to Persia: here it widens so much that the crossing to Zanj is supposed to amount to 700 parasangs; The sea is black and dark here, and there is nothing in it. In the vicinity of Aden are pearl-banks whose products are brought to Aden. From Oman to the borders of Islam and to the vicinity of Serendib it is again called the Persian Sea; here is the crossing to the countries of Zanj the widest distance, in this sea many dangers and difficult coasts, and the most severe between Janaba and Basra,……….…………….
………………….. On the sea-coast there is a place called Zeila, which is the port for those who go to Yemen and Hejaz. On another side, [the mine] also touches the desert (mafaza) of Nubia. The Nubians too, are Christians. Their territories are larger than the Ḥabasha's and have more towns and cultivations. The Nile of Egypt is flowing through their towns and villages. [Their homes extend] as far upstream, as a sandy place of the Zanj country and beyond it, up to the impassable deserts (barari). Beyond this desert, the river ends in the land of the Zanj proper, which lies opposite Aden and extends down to the sea. The frontier of the Nuba borders that of the countries of Islam and, in some places, is contiguous to the countries of the Hind. The country of the Nuba is very large and includes an innumerable people. Someone told me that in the remotest lands of the Zanj there are cold regions inhabited by a Zanj people of white complexion, who bring from other places articles of food and clothing. This side of the Zanj country, however, is sun-burned (qashf), sparsely inhabited, poorly cultivated, except in the lands near the king's residence.

…………….The countries of Sudan are very extensive, but they are barren and poor. The inhabitants have in their mountains all the fruits that are in the lands of Islam, but they do not eat them, for they enjoy other fruits and plants unknown in the lands of Islam. The black slaves, who are brought from here to the countries of Islam, are not found in Nubia, Zanj, Habesch, and Buja, but are a special people from the borders, whose skin color is blacker and purer. It is said that they are not from the countries of Sudan Habesch, Nubia, Buja, and other depending countries, but from a country larger than these, and southward near the ocean, but northward to the deserts of Egypt beyond the oases, of Nubia and Zanj. They have no inhabited places and countries, except on the side of the Magreb, because of the difficult connections with the other peoples…………………

………………… And there is not any person who knows the fountains or source of the river Nile ; on this account, because it issues from a cavern in the territories of Zingbar, from a certain spot, which a man may very nearly approach, yet never can arrive at : after this, it runs through the inhabited and desert parts of the land of the Nubians to Misr (Egypt) ; and there where it first becomes a river, it is equal to the Deljeh and Frat together (Tigris and Euphrates.) And the water of the River Nile is the most pure and delicious of all the waters on the face of the earth.………………

Description of Fars
The biggest town of that province after Shiraz is that of Siraf. It is nearly as big as Shiraz. The houses of Siraf are build in teak wood (Saj) and other kinds of wood that come from Zang; the houses have several floors. The city is located on the sea; their buildings are close to each other and contain many inhabitants. They spend too much on buildings, so that the man from the merchants spend on his house more than thirty thousand dinars, and there are no orchards and trees, but they search their fruits and the best of their water from Mount Musharraf. The heat is extremely strong here………….
………………………..One exports from Siraf the following products that have been brought there by sea; aloes, amber, camphor, precious stones, bamboo, ivory, ebony wood, pepper, sandal and other perfumes, medicines, aromatics of which it is too long to make a list. The inhabitants are the wealthiest in Fars and mostly sailors.


Taken from: From Siraf to Sumatra: Seafaring and Spices in the Islamicate Indo-Pacific, Ninth-Eleventh Centuries C.E.   by Averbuch, Bryan Douglas,

From: Ilkhanid Persian translation of Istakhri.


A trustworthy individual reported to me that: In the year 324 (935 C.E.), I was in the city of al-Baṣra. A letter arrived there from merchants plying the sea of Oman, which said that a conflagration of fire had broken out among their vessels. Crosswinds blew from the South and the North and (the ships) were burned. A man from Fars known as Ibn Marwan was on one of the ships. They went on to say that among his possessions, 12,000 black slave boys, to say nothing of white ones, were burned. Of riches and merchandise (amta’ va aqamsa) and aromatics  (bu-yi khus), so much was burned that it wasn’t possible to calculate the sum of it, except for the camphor. Each of the 400 barks (barka) that were burned was carrying 50 kharvar (500 kilograms/0.5 metric tons) of camphor, and the bark is a small vessel…


On top a special world map in transliteration found in the Miller atlas