in full Walī al-Dīn ʿAbd al-Raḥmān ibn Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad ibn Abī Bakr Muḥammad ibn al-Ḥasan Ibn Khaldūn
born May 27, 1332, Tunis [Tunisia]
died March 17, 1406, Cairo, Egypt
the greatest Arab historian, who developed one of the earliest nonreligious philosophies of history, contained in his masterpiece, the Muqaddimah (“Introduction”). He also wrote a definitive history of Muslim North Africa.
Ibn Khaldūn was born in Tunis in 1332; the Khaldūniyyah quarter in Tunis still stands almost unchanged and, in it, the house where he is believed to have been born.
As Ibn Khaldūn relates in his autobiography (Al-taʿrīf bi Ibn Khaldūn), the family claimed descent from Khaldūn, who was of South Arabian stock, and had come to Spain in the early years of the Arab conquest and settled in Carmona. The family subsequently moved to Sevilla (Seville), played an important part in the civil wars of the 9th century, and was long reckoned among the three leading houses of that city. In the course of the next four centuries, the Ibn Khaldūns successively held high administrative and political posts under the Umayyad, Almoravid, and Almohad dynasties; other members of the family served in the army, and several were killed at the Battle of Al-Zallāqah (1086), which temporarily halted the Christian reconquest of Spain. But the respite thus won proved short, and in 1248, just before the fall of Sevilla and Córdoba, the Ibn Khaldūns and many of their countrymen judged it prudent to cross the Straits of Gibraltar and landed at Sabtah (now Ceuta, a Spanish exclave), on the northern coast of Morocco.
There the refugees from Spain were of a much higher level of socio-economic status than the local North Africans, and the family was soon called to occupy the leading administrative posts in Tunis. The historian's father also became an administrator and soldier but soon abandoned his career to devote himself to the study of theology, law, and letters. In Ibn Khaldūn's words:
He was outstanding in his knowledge of Arabic and had an understanding of poetry in its different forms and I can well remember how the men of letters sought his opinion in matters of dispute and submitted their works to him.
In 1349, however, the Black Death struck Tunis and took away both his father and his mother.