Who Was Ibn Battuta?

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Who was Ibn Battuta? Information on explorer Ibn Battuta biography, life story and works.

Ibn BattutaIbn Battuta; (1304-1377), Arab scholar, renowned primarily as a traveler. He was born in Tangier, possibly of Berber descent, and made the fîrst of several pilgrimages to Mecca in 1325. Then over a period of nearly 25 years he made a circuit of the coast of East Africa, Palestine and Syria, Byzantium and Asia Minor, southern Russia (including the Crimea), Mesopotamia and Persia, India, Ceylon, the Maldive Islands, Malaya, Sumatra, and China. After a brief respite in North Africa in 1349, he set out again to visit the little kingdom of Granada in Spain and also western and west central Africa (particularly Timbuktu and the Niger basin).

Most of Ibn Battuta’s often complex travels were methodically planned, although somewhat less carefully recorded. (Only once does he mention notes, which he claims to have lost in action with pirates in the Indian Ocean.) Often, when he settled for a time somewhere in his circuitous itinerary, he would take up employment suitable to his learning and other skills: he became an Islamic judge in Delhi, India, and the Maldive Islands; and, in somewhat unclear circumstances, he took part in a diplomatic mission to China on behalf of the Delhi sultanate. In retirement, when he again served as a judge, he dictated his reports to a court poet designated as his scribe by the sultan of Fez.

Evaluation. Largely discredited in the East as a romancer, Ibn Battııta consequently remained almost unknown in the West until his work was recovered for serious study in the mid-19th century, during the French occııpation of Algeria. Despite some discrepancies in times, places, and other particular circumstances, he has generally proved to be trustworthy, especially when he writes from first-hand observation and without any suggestion of self-justification. His markedly realistic and concrete reporting is virtually unique in medieval Arabic literature. Ibn Battuta’s work is now seen as a priceless documentation of life as it was lived over a great part of the non-Western world in the period between the collapse of old orders after the Mongol invasions and the rise of new systems— partially under the stimulus of European penetration.

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