Ibn Battuta


Ibn Battuta : biography

1304 – 1369

Near East, Central Asia and Southern Asia

After spending another year in Mecca, Ibn Battuta decided to seek employment with the Muslim Sultan of Delhi, Muhammad bin Tughluq. In 1330 (or 1332), in need of a guide and translator for his journey, he set off for the Seljuq controlled territory of Anatolia to join one of the caravans that went from there to India. From the Syrian port of Latakia, a Genoese ship took him to Alanya on the southern coast of modern-day Turkey. He then travelled overland to Konya and afterwards to Sinope on the Black Sea coast.

From Sinope he took a sea route to the Crimean Peninsula, arriving so in the Golden Horde realm. He went to port town of Azov, where he met with the emir of the Khan, then to the large and rich city of Majar. He left Majar to meet with Uzbeg Khan’s travelling court (horde), which was in the time near Beshtau mountain. From there he made a journey to Bolghar, which became the northernmost point he reached, and noted its unusually (for a subtropics dweller) short nights in summer. Then he returned to Khan’s court and with it moved to Astrakhan.

When they reached Astrakhan, Uzbeg Khan had just given permission for one of his pregnant wives, Princess Bayalun, a daughter of Greek Emperor Andronikos III Palaiologos, to return to her home city of Constantinople to give birth. Ibn Battuta talked his way into this expedition, which would be his first beyond the boundaries of the Islamic world.

Arriving in Constantinople towards the end of 1332 (or 1334), he met the Greek emperor Andronikos III Palaiologos. He visited the great church of Hagia Sophia and spoke with a Christian Orthodox priest about his travels in the city of Jerusalem. After a month in the city, Ibn Battuta returned to Astrakhan, then arrived in the capital city Sarai al-Jadid and reported his travelling account to Sultan Mohammad Uzbek. Thereafter he continued past the Caspian and Aral Seas to Bukhara and Samarkand. From there, he journeyed south to Afghanistan, then crossed into India via the mountain passes of the Hindu Kush. In the Rihla he mentions these mountains and the history of the range. From there, he made his way to Delhi and became acquainted with the sultan, Muhammad bin Tughluq.

Muhammad bin Tughluq was renowned as the wealthiest man in the Muslim World at that time. He patronised various scholars, Sufis, qadis, viziers and other functionaries in order to consolidate his rule. As with Mamluk Egypt, the Tughlaq Dynasty was a rare vestigial example of Muslim rule in Asia after the Mongol invasion. On the strength of his years of study in Mecca, Ibn Battuta was appointed a qadi, or judge, by the sultan. He found it difficult to enforce Islamic laws beyond the sultan’s court in Delhi, due to lack of Islamic appeal in India.Jerry Bently, Old World Encounters: Cross-Cultural Contacts and Exchanges in Pre-Modern Times (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993),121.

From the Rajput Kingdom of Sarsatti, he visited Hansi in India, describing it as "among the most beautiful cities, the best constructed and the most populated; it is surrounded with a strong wall, and its founder is said to be one of the great infidel kings, called Tara".André Wink, Al-Hind, the Slave Kings and the Islamic Conquest, 11th-13th Centuries, Volume 2 of Al-Hind: The Making of the Indo-Islamic World. The Slave Kings and the Islamic Conquest 11th-13th Centuries, (BRILL, 2002), p.229. Upon his arrival in Sindh, Ibn Battuta mentions the Indian rhinoceros that lived on the banks of the Indus.

The Sultan was erratic even by the standards of the time and for six years Ibn Battuta veered between living the high life of a trusted subordinate and falling under suspicion of treason for a variety of offences. His plan to leave on the pretext of taking another hajj was stymied by the Sultan, who asked him instead to become his ambassador to Yuan Dynasty China. Given the opportunity to get away from the Sultan and visit new lands, he readily accepted.