Ibn Battuta (1305 - 136?)
Ibn Battuta started on his travels when he was 20 years old in 1325. His main
reason to travel was to go on a Hajj, or a Pilgrimage to Mecca, as all good Muslims want
to do. But his traveling went on for about 29 years and he covered about 75,000 miles
visiting the equivalent of 44 modern countries which were then mostly under the
governments of Muslim leaders of the World of Islam, or Dar al-Islam.
His Travel to Turkey (1330 - 1331)
The Seljuk Turks were nomadic herdsmen of sheep and horses who lived in the grassy
steppes near the Aral Sea. As their population increased, the high green valleys of
Anatolia (now part of modern Turkey) became tempting. The Seljuks developed a highly
effective fighting force as they attacked their neighbors on horseback and claimed their
lands. These Turks were feared and respected, even recruited as paid soldiers of other
kingdoms (such as in Egypt where they would take over as the mamluk or
"slave" dynasty). So the Seljuk conquests began in Anatolia. In 1071 the Seljuk
cavalry defeated the mighty Byzantine army. From that point on, a series of nomadic groups
crossed over into Anatolia and spread out over the central plateau. The Byzantines had
given up all but the west quarter of this region near their capital, Constantinople
(modern day Istanbul), and a new Muslim society was emerging in Anatolia.
When the Seljuk commanders settled down in Konya, their
capital, and in other Greek and Armenian towns, these former herdsmen and warriors took up
the ways of the city. The leaders had close contacts with the Abbasids in Persia. The
Seljuk state extended from Central Asia to the plateaus and valleys in Asia Minor
(Turkey). It became a well-administered Sunni state under the nominal authority of the
Abbasid caliphs at Baghdad.
There were still large Christian populations in the towns along the coast. The process
of conversion of all of Anatolia was slow during the 1100s. The Byzantines and the Turkish
Sultans were usually at peace and they treated each other mostly with respect and
The Mongol Invasion
The Mongol invasions (in 1243 and again in 1256) changed all
that. The Turks were pushed from Central Asia into the towns and valleys of Anatolia which
increased the Turkish population greatly. By 1260 Mongol armies were lodged in most
important towns of Anatolia and had settled down to the business of taxation and keeping
order. But there was little of the terror and destruction that the Mongols had caused in
Persia and Iraq. And the Seljuk Turk Sultan kept power by paying tribute to the Mongol
Il-Khan who now lived in Persia. The Seljuks had put up mosques in the former Greek cities
and their architecture was influenced by Greek and Byzantine architecture and culture.
Persian Muslim scholars, secretaries, and architects had been invited to come to work in
Anatolia. Konya, the capital city, was an international center of learning, art, and Sufi
teaching. These Turkish cities were becoming more Muslim and more Persian than ever
And trade was what was important to the economy. The Turks had established vast trade
routes and had built huge caravanserai (camel inns) to
encourage trade. Armed guards escorted the travelers on the caravan routes to Persia and
part of the way to China as part of the Silk Road.
There was still warfare, however, between
Seljuk leaders. "The Seljuk princes of these states ruled simply by virtue of their
fitness as Turcoman war captains, the biggest of the 'big men' who succeeded in gathering
a larger following of mounted archers than their rivals with promises of booty and
land." One of these groups under the leadership of the descendants of Osman (known as
Ottomans) would soon take over all of Anatolia. They would later conquer Greece and other
parts of Eastern Europe, and eventually would take over northern Africa all the way to Ibn
Battuta's homeland of Morocco! Ibn Battuta arrived at a period of decline of the Seljuk
Turks and the Byzantines, and at the rise of the Ottoman Turks. He would meet the son of
Osman on this trip.
Ibn Battuta had spent about one year in Mecca studying and
making his third pilgrimage. He had been thinking more and more about going to get work
under the Sultan of Delhi, now part of Muslim controlled India. The sultan was welcoming
scholars and judges from abroad and gave them high paying jobs. But first Ibn Battuta had
to find a guide, someone who could speak Persian and knew India well. So in 1330 he went
to the town of Jidd on the Red Sea. After looking unsuccessfully for a guide to India for
several months, he decided to continue his travels. This time he would go northward to
Anatolia (modern Turkey). From there he could connect with Turkish caravans going to
India. He traveled back into Egypt where he met a friend, and they went by caravan to
Ibn Battuta's small group left Syria on a large galley (a trading ship) belonging to
the Genoese (from Italy) and arrived at Alanya. This town was a
busy trading port, especially known for its wood which was shipped to Egypt and Syria.
"[We] set out for the country of the Turks. ... It was conquered by the Muslims,
but there are still large numbers of Christians there under the protection of the Turkmen
Muslims. We traveled on the sea for ten nights, and the Christians treated us honorably
and took no passage money from us. On the tenth day we arrived at Alanya [where the
province begins]. This country ... is one of the finest in the world; in it God has
brought together the good things dispersed throughout other lands. Its people are the most
comely (handsome) of men, the cleanest in their dress, the most delicious in their food,
and the kindliest folk in creation. Wherever we stopped in this land, whether at a hospice
or a private house, our neighbors both men and women (these do not veil themselves) came
to ask after our needs. When we left them they bade us farewell as though they were our
relatives and our own folk, and you would see the women weeping out of grief at our
While he praised the Turks' hospitality and their commitment to the Sunni Muslim faith,
he was surprised that "they eat hashish [Indian hemp, a type of drug like
marijuana], and think no harm of it."
Ibn Battuta further described Alanya:
"There is a magnificent and formidable citadel [or fort] at the upper end of town.
... At the northwestern corner is a place where prisoners condemned to death were hurled
over the precipice by means of catapults."
"From Alanya I went to Antaliya [Adalia], a most beautiful city... one of the most
attractive towns to be seen anywhere... Each section of the inhabitants lives in a
separate quarter. The Christian merchants live in a quarter of the town ... and are
surrounded by a wall, the gates of which are shut upon them from without at night and
during the Friday service. The Greeks ... live by themselves in another quarter, the Jews
in another, and the king and his court and mamluks (slaves) in another, each of these
quarters being walled off likewise. The rest of the Muslims live in the main city. Round
the whole town and all the quarters mentioned there is another great wall."
In every town that Ibn Battuta visited, he was welcomed into a fraternity of Muslim
brothers. They provided him with food and shelter, and even competed with other
fraternities for the honor of entertaining their guests.
"We stayed here at the college mosque of the town... Now in all the lands
inhabited by the Turkmens in Anatolia, in every district, town and village, there are to
be found members of the organization known as the ... Young Brotherhood. Nowhere in the
world will you find men so eager to welcome strangers, so prompt to serve food and to
satisfy the wants of others... The members of this community work during the day to gain
their livelihood, and bring ... what they have earned in the late afternoon. With this
they buy fruit, food, and the other things which the hospice requires for their use. If a
traveler comes to town that day they lodge him.... and he stays with them until he goes
away. If there are no travelers they themselves assemble to partake of the food, and
having eaten it they sing and dance. On the morrow they return to their occupations and
bring their earnings to their leader in the late afternoon."
Ibn Battuta also visited Konya, famous home of the Sufi poet Rumi.
Dance and whirling were popular in Turkey and Persia with the Sufi brothers. It was a way
to become in ecstasy with God, as if in a trace. Below is a modern ceremony - the dancers
are sometimes called "whirling dervishes".
He also stayed at the homes of important leaders, some of them related to the Il-Khan
of Persia himself! And at each place, as was the custom, he was given "hospitality
gifts": sometimes money, fine robes, a horse, or even a slave, and often a letter of
introduction to some host in the next city on the trip. He praised most of hosts,
especially for their generosity towards him, and criticizes one as "a worthless
Ibn Battuta shared his impressions of Turkish women:
"...A remarkable thing which I saw in this country was the respect shown to women
by the Turks, for they hold a more dignified position than the men. ... I saw also the
wives of the merchants and common [men]. [Their faces are] visible for the Turkish women
do not veil themselves. Sometimes a woman will be accompanied by her husband and anyone
seeing him would take him for one of her servants."
However, in one town he is critical of the treatment of slave women.
"The inhabitants of this city make no effort to stamp out immorality - indeed, the
same applies to the whole population of these regions. They buy beautiful Greek
slave-girls and put them out to prostitution, and each girl has to pay a regular due to
her master. I heard it said there that the girls go into the bath-houses along with the
men, and anyone who wishes to indulge in depravity does so in the bath-house and nobody
tries to stop him. I was told that the [governor] in this city owns slave-girls employed
in this way."
In November of 1331, Ibn Battuta and three friends, two slave boys and a slave girl and
with several horses and gifts from governors and hosts, started out toward the Black Sea.
He had benefited greatly from the generosity of the Turks. But this next part of the trip
was difficult. He was caught in a raging river; mislead by a guide who got the party lost
and demanded money; and then almost froze to death in the wilderness. But they arrived at
the port of Sinop on the Black Sea and were ready to leave to the steppe lands - the home
of the "Golden Horde".
Ibn Battuta stayed in Constantinople for more than a month. He even got to meet the
emperor, Andronicus III. He saw many of the sights of this capital city
of the Christians - the new Rome. He even saw the great Christian church of Hagia Sophia,
though he did not go inside. But as it is said, "Byzantium in the 1330s was a minor
Greek state of southeastern Europe and little more. Its international trade had been
abandoned to the Italians, its currency was almost worthless, its landlords were grinding
the peasantry unmercifully, its army was an assemblage of alien mercenaries, and its Asian
territories had been all but lost to the triumphant Turks. It was a state living on
borrowed time and past glories".
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