Ibn Fadlan and a By-Passed Remark on an Imaginary Geographical Topos: Some Observations on the Decreasing Factual Credibility Regarding the Caucasus Area of the Silk Road

Vicente Dobroruka


This article looks at some aspects of Ibn Fadlan’s journey to the steppe during the 10th Century to ostensibly establish friendly relations between the Abbasid Caliphate and the Volga Bulgars. He left a detailed account of his trip, which includes remarks on the mythical people of Gog and Magog, traditionally considered the eschatological enemies of the civilized world. Ibn Fadlan was somewhat incongruent regarding his portraits and opinions of the Slavic or Turkic people he found in the steppe. The main contribution of this article relates to Gog/Magog and modern conceptions of the “Silk Roads”, especially concerning their extension in the North paths and their permanence in the longue durée. In this respect, some modern theses regarding these issues must be tackled, most remarkably, that of Peter Frankopan and Barry Cunliffe. Other Arabic travels to the North are also examined in order to discuss cultural continuities and breaks between the steppe and the Mediterranean world. The main objective of this article is to show that Ibn Fadlan, in spite of his alleged accuracy, also shared, even if en passant, some of the literary topoi of his time and subsequent historians and geographers added to the mythical apocalyptic theme nearly forgotten currently, namely the boundaries of civilized world and Gog/Magog. This article concludes that Ibn Fadlan was probably the first Arabic historian to believe and thrive on the study of these people, whereas his successors overstated information about them, from the 13th Century on.



Silk Road; Islamic geographers; Religious syncretism in the Middle Ages

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5007/2175-7976.2020.e66883

Direitos autorais 2020 Vicente Dobroruka

Esboços: histórias em contextos globais - ISSN da versão impressa 1414-722x (cessou em 2008) e ISSN eletrônico 2175-7976 - Florianópolis - SC - Brasil