Second Conference of the School of Mamlūk Studies Université of Liège, June 2015



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Second Conference of the School of Mamlūk Studies

Université of Liège, June 2015


Al-Maqrīzī on the descendants of Japheth son of Noah


Mayte Penelas (CSIC, Granada)


First, I would like to apologize for not being present at the conference, and to thank Frédéric Bauden for kindly offering to read this paper out. Of course, I am also grateful to him for inviting me to participate in this session.


The chapter of al-Khabar ʿan al-bashar that is going to be presented here deals with the history of Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Franks, and Goths, all of whom are said to be descendants of Japheth son of Noah, as the paper is entitled.

This fragment survives in three manuscripts, which are currently preserved in Istambul: the autograph Fatih 4340 housed at Suleymaniye Kutuphanesi, and the copies Aya Sofya 3366 of Suleymaniye and Ahmet III 2926/5 of Topkapı Sarayı. The collation of the three manuscripts evidences that the two copies, both dating from the last quarter of the fifteenth century, are based on the autograph and are independent of each other, as indicated, for example, by the omissions from one of them which are not shared by the other.

In 2013 an edition of the whole work, prepared by Khālid Aḥmad al-Mallā al-Suwaydī and ʿĀrif ʿAbd al-Ġanī, was published by “al-Dār al-ʿarabiyya li-l-mawsūʿāt” of Beirut. This edition is based—at least as far as the chapter on the descendants of Japheth is concerned—on the copy preserved at Topkapi Sarayi, even though the editors do not say anything in this regard. The 2013 edition shares the omissions, misreadings and misspellings of the Topkapi copy, having, in addition to those, several other omissions as well as countless misreadings and misspellings. The first thing that catches the eye is the fact that the headings of the chapter are either omitted without further ado or substituted for a title between brackets that has been fabricated by the editors “as an addition required by the context” (Ar. ziyāda yaqtaḍīhā al-siyāq). The reason for this is likely the fact that the editors did not use the manuscript itself but a microfilm housed at Juma Almajid Centre for Culture & Heritage of Dubai, in which the titles in red ink may be illegible; this may also account for the numerous misreadings and gaps in the edition, or at least for some of them. Therefore, a new and truly critical edition is undoubtedly justified.

The chapter on the descendants of Japheth is included in the fifth volume of al-Khabar ʿan al-bashar. This volume begins with a chapter on the brigand-poets of the Jāhiliyya, which is followed by the narrative of several battles between Arabian tribes in the pre-Islamic period. Next, the author’s attention shifts to the history of the Persians until the last Sassanid king Yazdegerd III (r. 632-651). Between the end of the Achaemenids and the beginning of the Sassanids some sections are introduced dealing with Alexander the Great, his mother Olympias, his tutor Aristotle, and the so-called mulūk al-ṭawāʾif, that is, local kings who, having been appointed by Alexander the Great, ruled over this region prior to the Sassanids. The chapter following the fall of the Sassanid Empire deals with the history of the Israelites (Ar. Banū Isrāʾīl) from Joshua’s death to the destruction of the Second Temple. Our chapter comes next, and with it, the fifth volume of al-Khabar ʿan al-bashar concludes.

The title that heads the chapter is “al-Khabar ʿan dawlat al-Yūnān wa-l-Rūm”, meaning ‘An account of the empire of the Yūnān and the Rūm’. Who were these Yūnān and Rūm? The word Yūnān reflects the name Ionians, denoting the ancient Greeks. Al-Maqrīzī says that Yūnān was one of the sons of Yāfith b. Nūḥ, ‘Japheth son of Noah’, and that his name in the Torah is Yāfān, which was arabized into Yūnān. He is obviously referring to Javan, who is mentioned in Genesis 10,4 among the seven sons of Japheth. With regard to the word “Rūm”, both the Romans and the Byzantines are referred to by this name. In al-Khabar ʿan al-bashar other genealogies for the Yūnān and the Rūm are recorded, including that given by the ninth-century philosopher Abū Yūsuf al-Kindī; the latter speaks of Yūnān as the son of Eber, and hence as a descendant of Noah also, but through his son Shem instead of Japheth. However, al-Maqrīzī affirms that the correct genealogy is the one which traces the origin of the Yūnān and the Rūm back to Yūnān, son of Japheth. And this is, in fact, the genealogy most widely accepted in Arabic historiography.

As sons of Japheth, the Yūnān and the Rūm share a common ancestry with the Ifranja, ‘the Franks’, and the Qūṭ, ‘the Goths’, who are also said to be descendants of Japheth, through his sons Gomer and Magog respectively. The term Ifranja needs some further explanation. The words Ifranj or Firanj originally denoted the inhabitants of the Carolingian empire but later were applied to Europeans in general, whereas Ifranja and Firanja are normally used to denote the land inhabited by them. However, in this chapter, the four words—Ifranj, Firanj, Ifranja and Firanja—are used to refer to the Christians from Western and Central Europe as opposed to the Christians from Eastern Europe or Rūm, i.e. ‘Byzantines’.

These are, in sum, the nations this chapter is concerned with: Greeks, Romans/Byzantines, Franks, and Goths.

To write al-Khabar ʿan al-bashar al-Maqrīzī drew upon a large number of sources, which fact has been considered one of the greatest values of this book, since some of those sources are lost. This is undoubtedly true for the book in general. However, as regards the chapter that is being presented here, its greatest merit lies, in my opinion, in the fact that it is, for the most part, an almost exact reproduction of the corresponding fragment in the second volume of Kitāb al-ʿIbar, the universal history written by the celebrated Ibn Khaldūn. The introduction to this universal history is the famous Muqaddima, the ‘Prolegomenon’ where Ibn Khaldūn set forth his ideas and thought on history, civilization, human society… It was the Muqaddima, rather than the universal history itself, the work which brought him fame. Ibn Khaldūn was born in Tunis in 1332, and settled in Cairo at the age of 50. Among the numerous people who attended his lectures was al-Maqrīzī who was in his early twenties upon the arrival of the Tunisian historian in Egypt.

Ibn Khaldūn’s ʿIbar is not lost but, as is well known, still lacks a critical edition. Al-Maqrīzī’s Khabar usually offers a reading of the ʿIbar original text more faithful than the editions of this work. That was obvious to me while working on this chapter, which on many occasions offers the same reading as, or a reading close to, that given in the source used by Ibn Khaldūn, as contrasted with the corrupt reading given in the editions. Furthermore, I have been able to confirm that by consulting the fourteenth-century copy of the second volume of ʿIbar preserved at the British Library. On countless occasions, this manuscript and al-Khabar ʿan al-bashar give the same reading against the editions. On rare occasions, however, it is the editions which offer the original reading. And this we know thanks again to al-Khabar ʿan al-bashar, which sometimes gives the same reading as the ʿIbar editions against the ʿIbar manuscript. Therefore, this chapter of al-Maqrīzī’s work stands as a valuable fifteeth-century indirect testimony of the corresponding fragment in Ibn Khaldūn’s work.

The chapter on the descendants of Japheth is divided into eight parts: a small introduction plus seven sections. Each part is headed by a small title, and begins with the same formula: “iʿlam anna…”, ‘know that…’. This is followed by a brief introduction containing general information of a genealogical, geographical and/or historical nature on the people to whom the section is devoted.



  1. As said before, the introductory section contains general genealogical information on the Yūnān and the Rūm, and on the peoples who share a common ancestry with them as descendants of Japheth.

  2. The Yūnān, ‘the Greeks’, are the first nation to whom an independent section is devoted. This section begins with a small introduction which helps to place the Greeks on the earth, and informs about the peoples they are divided into, their conflicts with the Persian Achaemenids, and their kings from Yūnān to Philip II of Macedon. Afterwards, the section focuses on the latter’s son and successor Alexander the Great, and on the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt.

  3. The next section contains information on the legendary kings of Latium and Rome, and, subsequently, on the establishment of the Republic with ‘the consuls’ (Ar. al-qanšališ). In the middle of this passage, the scanty description of Rome provided by Ibn Khaldūn in his ʿIbar is supplemented with a long fragment drawn from other sources. The section concludes with a passage concerning the foundation of Carthage, the Punic Wars, and the war between Rome and Jugurtha king of Numidia.

  4. and 4. The two following sections deal, respectively, with the pagan Caesars (Ar. qayāṣira) up to Diocletianus and Maximianus, and with the Christian Emperors from Constantine the Great to Heraclius, during whose reign the hegira of the prophet Muḥammad took place.

  1. The next section, entitled “On the rule of the Byzantine Emperors during the Islamic period till their end”, may be divided into three parts:

  • The focus of the first is on hostilities between Byzantines and Muslims from the beginning of the Islamic era to the year 837 of the Common Era (a.h. 223).

  • The second part contains an abridged version of the chapter of al-Masʿūdī’s Murūj al-dhahab entitled “On the kings of the Rūm after the rise of Islam”.

  • The third and last part, derived from Kitāb al-Kāmil of Ibn al-Athīr, begins with the mention of John Kourkouas, Domestic of the Schools of Emperor Romanos I who took Malatya from the Muslims in a.d. 934 (a.h. 322). The account of the events concerning the Byzantine emperors continues up to year 1070 (a.h. 463), when Michael VII succeeded to the throne. The focus is on the relations of the Byzantines with the Hamdanids of Aleppo and Mosul, the Buwayhids, the Fatimids, and the Seljuqids.

  1. The section devoted to the Firanj is radically different from the ones discussed thus far and deserves a more detailed outline. Up to this point the chapter on the descendants of Japheth in al-Khabar ʿan al-bashar follows the corresponding fragment in the second volume of Ibn Khaldūn’s ʿIbar closely, even though with some omissions, some slight modifications, and a few additions of minor importance. The scene in this section changes completely, as the information derived from volume 2 of ʿIbar is supplemented with material from volumes 4, 5 and 6. Furthermore, much information is not found in ʿIbar at all: on the one hand, al-Maqrīzī’s work records events that occurred after the death of Ibn Khaldūn in 1406, such as the captures of Rome by Ladislaus I of Naples in 1408 (a.h. 811), of Antequera by Ferdinand of Antequera in 1410 (a.h. 813), and of Ceuta by John I of Portugal in 1415 (a.h. 817); on the other hand, the narrative in Khabar continues beyond the point where the section of ʿIbar on the Byzantine emperors ends, namely, with the recovery of Constantinople from the Latin Empire by the Byzantine Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos in 1261, and the subsequent mention of his son and successor Andronikos II.

Al-Maqrīzī’s work goes on to inform briefly of some events concerning the Ayyubids of Egypt and the Crusades, including the capture of Jerusalem and other cities from the Crusaders by the Ayyubid sultan Saladin, the siege of Damietta by the forces of the Fifth Crusade, the capture of this city by the contingents of the Seventh Crusade, and the death of Louis IX of France in Carthage while leading the Eighth Crusade. As al-Maqrīzī says, all this is recorded in his Kitāb al-Sulūk li-duwal al-mulūk.

Then, the Firanj—so the narrative proceeds—became divided into fourteen independent “kingdoms”, on each of which some information, mainly of a political nature, is provided. These are: Venice, Ancona, Naples, Florence, Pisa, Genoa, France, Aragon, Portugal, Castile, Navarra, Sardegna and Sicily, Hungary, and Cyprus. At the end of the passage dealing with the Kingdom of Aragon, al-Maqrīzī says that many reports concerning this kingdom are recorded in his Kitāb Durar al-ʿUqūd al-farīda fī tarājim al-aʿyān al-mufīda. In fact, the passages of Khabar regarding not only the kingdom of Aragon, but also the kingdoms of Portugal, Castile, and Navarra have been extracted from the biographies of Peter I of Castile and Peter IV of Aragon included in Durar.

It is important to note that the information on the non-Iberian states and their political systems was derived neither from ʿIbar nor from any source which I have been able to identify. As Frédéric Bauden has suggested, al-Maqrīzī may have received this material from a personal informant. It is clear to me, however, that the source of most information on the Iberian kingdoms was Ibn Khaldūn’s ʿIbar, as many fragments are literally found in the fourth volume of this work, even though in disorder, and in a rather confusing and apparently unsystematic manner. And this applies to most of the section on the Franks.


  1. In the last section of the chapter, entitled “On the Goths, kings of al-Andalus”, al-Maqrīzī returns to his usual method throughout it. This section is, therefore, an accurate reproduction of the corresponding fragment in the second volume of ʿIbar. After the usual genealogical, geographical and historical introduction that opens every section, this one describes the events following the sack of Rome by the Goths in 410, the distribution of al-Andalus—that is, the Iberian Peninsula—among Vandals, Suevi and Alans, and the presence of the Visigoths in al-Andalus from Ataulf to the last Visigothic king, Roderic, from whom al-Andalus was taken by the Muslims in 711.

With regard to the sources of this chapter, most of it was derived, as has been said, from the second volume of Ibn Khaldūn’s ʿIbar. Only a long passage containing a description of Rome that al-Maqrīzī added to fol. 239r after completing it, a few supplementary data, some marginal notes, and the information on the states of the Italian Peninsula, France, Mediterranean islands, and Hungary were not drawn from ʿIbar. Al-Maqrīzī also used this work extensively for the chapter on the Jews, previous to the one studied here, and for some other passages in the rest of his Khabar. Nevertheless, Ibn Khaldūn is not mentioned either in our chapter or—as far as I can tell—anywhere in the book.

Al-Maqrīzī, per contra, does mention most of the numerous sources used by Ibn Khaldūn and even the latter’s indirect sources. The main first-hand sources Ibn Khaldūn drew upon in the relevant passage of ʿIbar are the Arabic translation of Orosius’ History and the books of Ibn al-ʿAmīd, al-Masʿūdī, and Ibn al-Athīr. From these sources Ibn Khaldūn borrowed a good deal of material from many other works.

It seems that al-Maqrīzī used more than one copy of ʿIbar, as once he gives in the margin a variant reading from “nuskha ukhra”, ‘another copy’, which is indicated by the abbreviation خ, khāʾ. It is interesting to note that the reading in the text, Lūdhrīq, is the same as that given in the ʿIbar manuscript preserved at the British Library, whilst the variant in the margin, Ṭūdhrīq, is a transliteration closer to the original spelling, as the Visigothic king referred to is Theodoric II.

As a rule, al-Maqrīzī reproduces the source text quite literally omitting some words or sentences that either are unnecessary for the right understanding of the text or do not alter its meaning, at least not significantly. This general statement is not valid for the section on the Franks—as said above—and for a passage in fol. 253r either. We shall return to this later. There are larger omissions as well, and, among them, those which attract particular attention are the passages concerning the early Christian history, including reports on evangelists, patriarchs, martyrs, Ecumenical Councils, Arianism, etc. It seems to me, however, that al-Maqrīzī omitted those passages quite at random and not on account of their Christian nature, as others on the same subjects are recorded in Khabar. Moreover, there are also omissions not related to Christianity but concerning chronology, Jews, Sassanid history, and even Islamic history, such as the death of the Prophet’s companion Abū Ayyūb al-Anṣārī during the siege of Constantinople, and the expansion of al-Aqṣà Mosque and the construction of the Dome of the Rock by the Umayyad caliph ʿAbd al-Malik b. Marwān.

From Ibn Khaldūn’s ʿIbar al-Maqrīzī derived material from many other sources: the Arabic translation of Orosius’ History and the books of Ibn al-ʿAmīd, al-Masʿūdī, Ibn al-Athīr, Ibn Saʿīd al-Maġribī, al-Ṭabarī, Ibn Ḥazm, al-Bayhaqī, Abū l-Fidā… Al-Maqrīzī made first-hand use of some of these sources to write other parts of his Khabar, but it is no doubt that he borrowed from ʿIbar most of the quotations from them included in this chapter. This is easy to verify owing to the fact that Ibn Khaldūn’s treatment of his sources is rather free, even lax on occasions, whilst al-Maqrīzī usually reproduces the source text word for word, or almost.

Among these sources, two written by non-Muslim authors are outstanding on account of the amount of information drawn from them. These are the History of Ibn al-ʿAmīd and the Arabic Orosius, which were the main sources—needless to say, through Ibn Khaldūn’s ʿIbar—for the history of Greeks, Latins, Romans, Byzantines up to Emperor Theophilos (r. 829-842), and Goths. The thirteenth-century Egyptian Coptic historian Ǧirǧis al-Makīn Ibn al-ʿAmīd wrote a universal history entitled al-Majmūʿ al-mubārak, ‘The Blessed Collection’, drawing upon sources written by other Christian authors, including primarily Saʿīd b. Baṭrīq (d. 940), al-Manbijī (d. 941), and Ibn al-Rāhib (d. ca. 1290), but also by a Muslim historian such as al-Ṭabarī. As for the other Christian source, it is an Arabic translation of the Latin Historiarum adversus paganos Libri Septem by the early-fifth-century historian Orosius. The translation was made in al-Andalus at the end of the ninth century or the beginning of the tenth. The Arab compiler used a number of other sources, including prominently the Bible and the Chronica maiora of Isidore of Seville (d. 636), to complete the information provided by Orosius and continue the narrative to the Muslim conquest of the Iberian Peninsula.

Ibn al-ʿAmīd’s History and Arabic Orosius are also among the sources of Khia, and, in this case, it seems that al-Maqrīzī used them directly, or at least not through the intermediary of ʿIbar. To write al-Khabar ʿan al-bashar al-Maqrīzī also used the Arabic Orosius at first hand for a number of fragments of different length other than the chapter on the descendants of Japheth. The difference is clear-cut: direct quotations from Arabic Orosius are, in general, quite literal, whereas those that have passed through the sieve of Ibn Khaldūn are much freer. This fact is clearly observed in the cases where a quotation from Arabic Orosius in our chapter is repeated elsewhere in Khabar, but in this last case it has been drawn from Arabic Orosius directly.

For the chapter on the descendants of Japheth al-Maqrīzī also turned to both Arabic Orosius and Ibn al-ʿAmīd’s History to complete or correct the information provided by Ibn Khaldūn, but only on very rare occasions. This is the case, for example, with the abovementioned passage inserted into fol. 253r of the holograph, which deals with Heraclius and his relation with the Sassanid Khosrau II. This passage attracts attention as it is quite different from the corresponding fragment in ʿIbar. The source seems to be Ibn Khaldūn’s work but al-Maqrīzī provides information, derived from Ibn al-ʿAmīd’s History, which either Ibn Khaldūn omits or his version is wrong. The Tunisian historian, for example, has the Byzantine emperor Maurice killed by Heraclius when it was Phocas the emperor who killed Maurice and, in his turn, was killed by Heraclius, as both Ibn al-ʿAmīd and al-Maqrīzī affirm.

Al-Masʿūdī and Ibn al-Athīr are the Muslim authorities most extensively drawn upon to write this chapter, though at a great distance from the Christian Ibn al-ʿAmīd and Arabic Orosius. However, if I am almost certain that, in this fragment, al-Masʿūdī’s work is always quoted through Ibn Khaldūn’s ʿIbar, I think that, as regards Ibn al-Athīr’s, the case might be otherwise.

Quotations from Murūj al-dhahab by the tenth-century historian from Baghdad al-Masʿūdī mainly serve to add information from a Muslim source to the “Christian accounts” provided by Ibn al-ʿAmīd and Arabic Orosius. The longest quotation attributed to al-Masʿūdī is the abovementioned passage concerning the Byzantine emperors from Heraclius to Romanos I (r. 920-944).

The Kitāb al-Kāmil of Ibn al-Athīr, who was born in Mosul in 1160 and died in 1233, was extensively used for the history of the Byzantine emperors from Romanos I to Michael VII and for the section on the Franks, section so peculiar and different from the rest as to both sources and methodological approach. It seems to me that al-Maqrīzī may occasionally have turned to Ibn al-Athīr’s work—or a related one—to complete the information provided by Ibn Khaldūn.

The works by other four Muslim authors served as minor sources of information, and were used by al-Maqrīzī directly, or at least not through Ibn Khaldūn’s ʿIbar. These are Ibn Khurradādhbih, al-Muʿāfā b. Zakariyyāʾ, Miskawayh, and Abū Ḥāmid al-Gharnāṭī, therefore ranging geographically from Iran to al-Andalus and chronologically, from the ninth century to the twelfth century. From Kitāb al-masālik wa-l-mamālik of Ibn Khurradādhbih and Kitāb Tuḥfat al-albāb of Abū Ḥāmid al-Gharnāṭī al-Maqrīzī borrowed the abovementioned lengthy fragment on Rome added to fol. 239r.

The quotations from Tajārib al-umam of Miskawayh and Kitāb al-Jalīs al-ṣāliḥ of Abū l-Faraj al-Muʿāfā b. Zakariyyāʾ are brief marginal notes serving to add information on the reasons for Constantine’s conversion to Christianity and on the aṣḥāb al-kahf, the ‘People of the Cave’, i.e. Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, respectively.


To sum up and conclude, the chapter of al-Maqrīzī’s al-Khabar ʿan al-bashar that has been presented here contains an account of the history of some of the peoples considered descendants of Japheth, most of it derived from Christian sources via the work by a Muslim historian, the noted Ibn Khaldūn. This constitutes one of the values of al-Maqrīzī’s book, which often bears a more faithful testimony to the ʿIbar original text than the editions published thus far. Also noteworthy is the passage that can be considered the most original part of the chapter—not derived from Ibn Khaldūn’s ʿIbar or from any identified source—which contains a brief description of the political systems of some European states as reported by the fifteenth-century Egyptian writer to whose History of the Humankind this session is devoted.



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