A 12th Century Tour, Part 6 - Lands Beyond

In the 12th century, Benjamin of Tudela traveled from his home in northern Spain to Baghdad and beyond. I'm turning his record - his itinerary - into a series of posts on medieval travel.

In this section, Benjamin truly reaches "beyond". 

Series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

Part 6: Lands Beyond

[From El-Anbar] it is five days to Hillah. From this place it is a journey of twenty-one days by way of the deserts to the land of Saba, which is called the land El-Yemen, lying at the side of the land of Shinar which is towards the North.
On my map, the 5-day El-Anbar - Hillah leg passes through Gazigan. I can't seem to rearrange everything to fit otherwise. The 21 days is the longest single leg of Benjamin's journey to date. "El-Yemen" is not modern Yemen.
Here dwell the Jews called Kheibar, the men of Teima. And Teima is their seat of government where R. Hanan the Nasi rules over them. It is a great city, and the extent of their land is sixteen days' journey. It is surrounded by mountains - the mountains of the north. The Jews own many large fortified cities. The yoke of the Gentiles is not upon them. They go forth to pillage and to capture booty from distant lands in conjunction with the Arabs, their neighbours and allies. These Arabs dwell in tents, and they make the desert their home. They own no houses, and they go forth to pillage and to capture booty in the land of Shinar and El-Yemen. All the neighbours of these Jews go in fear of them. Among them are husbandmen and owners of cattle; their land is extensive, and they have in their midst learned and wise men. They give the tithe of all they possess unto the scholars who sit in the house of learning, also to poor Israelites and to the recluses, who are the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem, and who do not eat meat nor taste wine, and sit clad in garments of black. They dwell in caves or underground houses, and fast each day with the exception of the Sabbaths and Festivals, and implore mercy of the Holy One, blessed be He, on account of the exile of Israel, praying that He may take pity upon them, and upon all the Jews, the men of Teima, for the sake of His great Name, also upon Tilmas the great city, in which there are about 100,000 Jews. At this place lives Salmon the Nasi, the brother of Hanan the Nasi; and the land belongs to the two brothers, who are of the seed of David, for they have their pedigree in writing. They address many questions unto the Head of the Captivity - their kinsman in Bagdad - and they fast forty days in the year for the Jews that dwell in exile.
There is a lot of gameable material in this paragraph.
There are here about forty large towns and 200 hamlets and villages. The principal city is Tanai, and in all the districts together there are about 300,000 Jews. The city of Tanai is well fortified, and in the midst thereof the people sow and reap. It is fifteen miles in extent. Here is the palace of the Nasi (Prince) called Salmon. And in Teima dwells Hanan the Nasi, his brother. It is a beautiful city, and contains gardens and plantations. And Tilmas is likewise a great city; it contains about 100,000 Jews. It is well fortified, and is situated between two high mountains. There are wise, discreet, and rich men amongst the inhabitants. From Tilmas to Kheibar it is three days' journey. People say that the men of Kheibar belong to the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh, whom Shalmaneser, king of Assyria, led hither into captivity. They have built strongly-fortified cities, and make war upon all other kingdoms. No man can readily reach their territory, because it is a march of eighteen days' journey through the desert, which is altogether uninhabited, so that no one can enter the land.
I've combined Teima and Kheibar into one city; Benjamin isn't terribly specific. It is unlikely he visited the region, if it ever existed.
Kheibar is a very large city with 50,000 Jews. In it are learned men, and great warriors, who wage war with the men of Shinar and of the land of the north, as well as with the bordering tribes of the land of El-Yemen near them, which latter country is on the confines of India. Returning from their land, it is a journey of twenty-five days to the river Virae, which is in the land of El-Yemen, where about 3,000 Jews dwell, and amongst them are many a Rabbi and Dayan.
Thence it takes five days to Basra (Bassorah) which lies on the river Tigris. Here there are 10,000 Jews, and among them are scholars and many rich men. Thence it is two days to the river Samara, which is the commencement of the land of Persia. 1,500 Jews live near the sepulchre of Ezra, the priest, who went forth from Jerusalem to King Artaxerxes and died here. In front of his sepulchre is a large synagogue. And at the side thereof the Mohammedans erected a house of prayer out of their great love and veneration for him, and they like the Jews on that account. And the Mohammedans come hither to pray. Thence it is four days to Khuzistan, which is Elam. This province is not inhabited in its entirety, for part of it lies waste. In the midst of its ruins is Shushan (Susa), the capital, the site of the palace of King Ahasuerus. Here are the remains of a large structure of great antiquity. The city contains about 7,000 Jews and fourteen synagogues.
In front of one of the synagogues is the sepulchre of Daniel of blessed memory. The river Tigris divides the city, and the bridge connects the two parts. On the one side where the Jews dwell is the sepulchre of Daniel. Here the market-places used to be, containing great stores of merchandise, by which the Jews became enriched. On the other side of the bridge they were poor, because they had no market-places nor merchants there, only gardens and plantations. And they became jealous, and said "All this prosperity enjoyed by those on the other side is due to the merits of Daniel the prophet who lies buried there." Then the poor people asked those who dwelt on the other side to place the sepulchre of Daniel in their midst, but the others would not comply. So war prevailed between them for many days, and no one went forth or came in on account of the great strife between them. At length both parties growing tired of this state of things took a wise view of the matter, and made a compact, namely, that the coffin of Daniel should be taken for one year to the one side and for another year to the other side. This they did, and both sides became rich. In the course of time Sinjar Shah-ben-Shah, who ruled over the kingdom of Persia and had forty-five kings subject to his authority, came to this place. 
He is called Sultan-al-Fars-al-Khabir in Arabic (the mighty Sovereign of Persia), and it is he who ruled from the river Samara unto the city of Samarkand, and unto the river Gozan and the cities of Media and the mountains of Chafton. He ruled also over Tibet, in the forests whereof one finds the animals from which the musk is obtained. The extent of his Empire is a journey of four months. When this great Emperor Sinjar, king of Persia, saw that they took the coffin of Daniel from one side of the river to the other, and that a great multitude of Jews, Mohammedans and Gentiles, and many people from the country were crossing the bridge, he asked the meaning of this proceeding, and they told him these things. He said, "It is not meet to do this ignominy unto Daniel the prophet, but I command you to measure the bridge from both sides, and to take the coffin of Daniel and place it inside another coffin of crystal, so that the wooden coffin be within that of crystal, and to suspend this from the middle of the bridge by a chain of iron; at this spot you must build a synagogue for all comers, so that whoever wishes to pray there, be he Jew or Gentile, may do so." And to this very day the coffin is suspended from the bridge. And the king commanded that out of respect for Daniel no fisherman should catch fish within a mile above or a mile below.
Thence it takes three days to Rudbar where there are about 20,000 Israelites, and among them are learned and rich men. But the Jews live there under great oppression. Thence it is two days to Nihawand, where there are 4,000 Israelites. Thence it is four days to the land of Mulahid. Here live a people who do not profess the Mohammedan religion, but live on high mountains, and worship the Old Man of the land of the Hashishim. And among them there are four communities of Israel who go forth with them in war-time. They are not under the rule of the king of Persia, but reside in the high mountains, and descend from these mountains to pillage and to capture booty, and then return to the mountains, and none can overcome them. There are learned men amongst the Jews of their land. These Jews are under the authority of the Head of the Captivity in Babylon.
Thence it is five days to Amadia where there are about 25,000 Israelites[156]. This is the first of those communities that dwell in the mountains of Chafton, where there are more than 100 Jewish communities. Here is the commencement of the land of Media. These Jews belong to the first captivity which King Shalmanezar led away; and they speak the language in which the Targum is written. Amongst them are learned men. The communities reach from the province of Amadia unto the province of Gilan, twenty-five days distant, on the border of the kingdom of Persia. They are under the authority of the king of Persia, and he raises a tribute from them through the hands of his officer, and the tribute which they pay every year by way of poll tax is one gold amir, which is equivalent to one and one-third maravedi. [This tax has to be paid by all males in the land of Islam who are over the age of fifteen.]
I debated including the following story, but decided it's worth listing in full. It's not every day a Messiah comes around.
At this place (Amadia), there arose this day ten years ago, a man named David Alroy of the city of Amadia. He studied under Chisdai the Head of the Captivity, and under the Head of the Academy Gaon Jacob, in the city of Bagdad, and he was well versed in the Law of Israel, in the Halachah, as well as in the Talmud, and in all the wisdom of the Mohammedans, also in secular literature and in the writings of magicians and soothsayers. He conceived the idea of  rebelling against the king of Persia, and of collecting the Jews who live in the mountains of Chafton to go forth and to fight against all the nations, and to march and capture Jerusalem. He showed signs by pretended miracles to the Jews, and said, "The Holy One, blessed be He, sent me to capture Jerusalem and to free you from the yoke of the Gentiles." And the Jews believed in him and called him their Messiah. When the king of Persia heard of it he sent for him to come and speak with him. Alroy went to him without fear, and when he had audience of the king, the latter asked him, "Art thou the king of the Jews?" He answered, "I am." Then the king was wrath, and commanded that he should be seized and placed in the prison of the king, the place where the king's prisoners were bound unto the day of their death, in the city of Tabaristan which is on the large river Gozan. At the end of three days, whilst the king was sitting deliberating with his princes concerning the Jews who had rebelled, David suddenly stood before them. He had escaped from the prison without the knowledge of any man. And when the king saw him, he said to him, "Who brought thee hither, and who has released thee?" "My own wisdom and skill," answered the other; "for I am not afraid of thee, nor of any of thy servants." The king forthwith loudly bade his servants to seize him, but they answered, "We cannot see any man, although our ears hear him." Then the king and all his princes marvelled at his subtlety; but he said to the king "I will go my way"; so he went forth. And the king went after him; and the princes and servants followed their king until they came to the river-side. Then Alroy took off his mantle and spread it on the face of the water to cross thereon. When the servants of the king saw that he crossed the water on his mantle, they pursued him in small boats, wishing to bring him back, but they were unable, and they said, "There is no wizard like this in the whole world." That self-same day he went a journey of ten days to the city of Amadia by the strength of the ineffable Name, and he told the Jews all that had befallen him, and they were astonished at his wisdom.
After that the king of Persia sent word to the Emir Al-Muminin, the Caliph of the Mohammedans at Bagdad, urging him to warn the Head of the Exile, and the Head of the Academy Gaon Jacob, to restrain David Alroy from executing his designs. And he threatened that he would otherwise slay all the Jews in his Empire. Then all the congregations of the land of Persia were in great trouble. And the Head of the Captivity, and the Head of the Academy Gaon Jacob, sent to Alroy, saying, "The time of redemption is not yet arrived; we have not yet seen the signs thereof; for by strength shall no man prevail. Now our mandate is, that thou cease from these designs, or thou shalt surely be excommunicated from all Israel." And they sent unto Zakkai the Nasi in the land of Assur (Mosul) and unto R. Joseph Burhan-al-mulk the astronomer there, bidding them to send on the letter to Alroy, and furthermore they themselves wrote to him to warn him, but he would not accept the warning.
Then there arose a king of the name of Sin-ed-din, the king of the Togarmim, and a vassal of the king of Persia, who sent to the father-in-law of David Alroy, and gave him a bribe of 10,000 gold pieces to slay Alroy in secret. So he went to Alroy's house, and slew him whilst he was asleep on his bed. Thus were his plans frustrated. Then the king of Persia went forth against the Jews that lived in the mountain; and they sent to the Head of the Captivity to come to their assistance and to appease the king. He was eventually appeased by a gift of 100 talents of gold, which they gave him, and the land was at peace thereafter.
Adler adds the following story in a footnote.
"The excitement [of Alroy's rebellion] among the Jews lasted for a considerable time. Two impostors, with letters purporting to emanate from Alroy, came to Bagdad, and worked upon the credulity of the community. Men and women parted with their money and jewellery, having been brought to believe that on a certain night they would be able to fly on angels' wings from the roofs of their houses to Jerusalem. The only thing which made the women feel unhappy was the fear that their little ones might not be able to keep pace with them in the aerial flight. At daybreak the fraud was discovered, but the impostors had meanwhile decamped with their treasure. The chronicler adds that the year in which this occurred was called The Year of Flight."
I vaguely recall that a few "miraculous transport" scams were performed in later years, possibly in Russia, but I can't find them in my notes. Oh well. Miraculous transportation or flight is a very common theme in medieval miracles and saints tales. The most famous is Phillip's transportation in Acts 8:26-40. From a modern point of view, Phillip's teleportation is the least interesting thing in those verses. See Fred Clark's article here.
From this mountain it is a journey of twenty days to Hamadan, which is the great city of Media, where there are 30,000 Israelites. In front of a certain synagogue, there are buried Mordecai and Esther. From thence it takes four days to Tabaristan, which is situated on the river Gozan. Some [four] thousand Jews live there.
The river Gozan, as you might (ok, definitely won't) recall, was mentioned back in Part 4, next to Ras-el-Ain. This could be the same river, or, more likely, it's a slight issue with Benjamin's note-taking. According to Adler, "In each of the localities Benjamin was told that the river was called Gozan; for in the Mongolian language "Usun" is the name for water or river."
Thence it is seven days to Ispahan the great city and the royal residence. It is twelve miles in circumference, and about 15,000 Israelites reside there. The Chief Rabbi is Sar Shalom, who has been appointed by the Head of the Captivity to have jurisdiction over all the Rabbis that are in the kingdom of Persia. Four days onward is Shiraz, which is the city of Fars, and 10,000 Jews live there. Thence it is seven days to Ghaznah the great city on the river Gozan, where there are about 80,000 Israelites. It is a city of commercial importance; people of all countries and tongues come thither with their wares. The land is extensive.
It is Adler's belief that Benjamin never proceeded past Ispahan, but turned south and proceeded directly to Egypt. In his view, everything past this point should be treated as hearsay.
Thence it is five days to Samarkand, which is the great city on the confines of Persia. In it live some 50,000 Israelites, and R. Obadiah the Nasi is their appointed head. Among them are wise and very rich men.
Thence it is four days' journey to Tibet, the country in whose forests the musk is found. Thence it takes twenty-eight days to the mountains of Naisabur by the river Gozan. And there are men of Israel in the land of Persia who say that in the mountains of Naisabur four of the tribes of Israel dwell [...]
I've omitted a section on the names and origin of the tribes. You can read it here.
The extent of their land is twenty days' journey, and they have cities and large villages in the mountains; the river Gozan forms the boundary on the one side. They are not under the rule of the Gentiles, but they have a prince of their own, whose name is R. Joseph Amarkala the Levite. There are scholars among them. And they sow and reap and go forth to war as far as the land of Cush by way of the desert.
They are in league with the Kofar-al-Turak, who worship the wind and live in the wilderness, and who do not eat bread, nor drink wine, but live on raw uncooked meat. They have no noses, and in lieu thereof they have two small holes, through which they breathe. They eat animals both clean and unclean, and they are very friendly towards the Israelites. Fifteen years ago they overran the country of Persia with a large army and took the city of Rayy; they smote it with the edge of the sword, took all the spoil thereof, and returned by way of the wilderness. Such an invasion had not been known in the land of Persia for many years. WWhen the king of Persia heard thereof his anger was kindled against them, and he said, "Not in my days nor in the days of my fathers did an army sally forth from this wilderness. Now I will go and cut off their name from the earth." [...]
I've omitted the story of the invasion, the reprisal, and the other details. You can read it here.
Thence one returns to the land of Khuzistan which is by the river Tigris, and one goes down the river which falls into the Indian Ocean unto an island called Kish.
On the map, you will need to skip back to Khuzistan, then follow the river Tigris to the left and up. This entire section of the map is a convoluted mess, I know. There's not much I can do about it.
It is a six days' journey to reach this island. The inhabitants neither sow nor reap. They possess only one well, and there is no stream in the whole island, but they drink rain-water. The merchants who come from India and the islands encamp there with their wares. Moreover, men from Shinar, El-Yemen and Persia bring thither all sorts of silk, purple and flax, cotton, hemp, worked wool, wheat, barley, millet, rye, and all sorts of food, and lentils of every description, and they trade with one another, whilst the men from India bring great quantities of spices thither. The islanders act as middlemen, and earn their livelihood thereby. There are about 500 Jews there.
Thence it is ten days' journey by sea to Katifa, where there are about 5,000 Jews. Here the bdellium is to be found. On the twenty-fourth of Nisan rain falls upon the water, upon the surface of which certain small sea-animals float which drink in the rain and then shut themselves up, and sink to the bottom. And about the middle of Tishri men descend to the bed of the sea by ropes, and collect these shell-fish, then split them open and extract the pearls. This pearl-fishery belongs to the King of the country, but is controlled by a Jewish official.
Thence it is seven days' journey to Khulam which is the beginning of the country of the Sun-worshippers. These are the sons of Cush, who read the stars, and are all black in colour. They are honest in commerce. When merchants come to them from distant lands and enter the harbour, three of the King's secretaries go down to them and record their names, and then bring them before the King, whereupon the King makes himself responsible even for their property which they leave in the open, unprotected. There is an official who sits in his office, and the owner of any lost property has only to describe it to him when he hands it back. This custom prevails in all that country. From Passover to New Year, that is all during the summer, no man can go out of his house because of the sun, for the heat in that country is intense, and from the third hour of the day onward, everybody remains in his house till the evening. Then they go forth and kindle lights in all the market places and all the streets, and then do their work and business at night-time. For they have to turn night into day in consequence of the great heat of the sun. Pepper is found there. They plant the trees thereof in the fields, and each man of the city knows his own plantation. The trees are small, and the pepper is as white as snow. And when they have collected it, they place it in saucepans and pour boiling water over it, so that it may become strong. They then take it out of the water and dry it in the sun, and it turns black. Calamus and ginger and many other kinds of spice are found in this land.
The people of this country do not bury their dead, but embalm them by means of various spices, after which they place them on chairs and cover them with fine linen. And each family has a house where it preserves the embalmed remains of its ancestors and relations. The flesh hardens on the bones, and the embalmed bodies look like living beings, so that every man can recognize his parents, and the members of his family for many years. They worship the sun, and they have high places everywhere outside the city at a distance of about half a mile. And every morning they run forth to greet the sun, for on every high place a solar disc is made of cunning workmanship and as the sun rises the disc rotates with thundering noise, and all, both men and women, offer incense to the sun with censers in their hands. Such are their superstitious practices. And throughout the island, including all the towns there, live several thousand Israelites. The inhabitants are all black, and the Jews also. The latter are good and benevolent. They know the law of Moses and the prophets, and to a small extent the Talmud and Halacha.
I've mentioned this before in a few comments, but medieval identity was shaped (in order) by: function (knight, merchant, prince, beggar) then religion then other identifying features. If you encounter the King of the Dog-Headed people,  you'd treat him like a king before anything else. If you're recording something remarkable, it's rank first, then religion, then skin colour or appearance.
Thence it is twenty-three days by sea to Ibrig, and the inhabitants are fire-worshippers, and are called Duchbin. Among them are about 3,000 Jews, and these Duchbin have priests in their several temples who are great wizards in all manner of witchcraft, and there are none like them in all the earth. In front of the high place of their temple there is a deep trench, where they keep a great fire alight all the year, and they call it Elahutha. And they cause their sons and daughters to pass through the fire, and even their dead they throw into it. Some of the great men of the country make a vow to die by fire. In such cases the man communicates his intention to the members of his household and his relations, and says:—"I have vowed to throw myself in the fire whilst I am yet alive," then they answer, saying: "Happy art thou." And when the day of the performance of his vow arrives, they prepare for him a grand banquet, and if he is rich he rides on horseback, if poor he goes on foot to the border of the trench and throws himself into the fire. And all the members of his family shout to the accompaniment of timbrels and dancing until the body is entirely consumed. At the end of three days two of their high priests come to his house and to his children and say unto them: "Arrange the house, for this day your father will come to give his last directions as to what ye shall do." And they bring witnesses from the city. Then Satan is made to appear in the likeness of the deceased, and when his widow and children ask him how he fares in the other world he answers: "I went to my companions, but they would not receive me until I had discharged my obligations to the members of my house and to my neighbours." Then he makes his will and divides his property among his children, and gives directions that all his creditors should be paid and that his debts should be collected. Then the witnesses write out the will, and he goes his way and is seen no more. And by means of this trickery and witchcraft which these priests practise, the people are confirmed in their errors and assert that there is none in all the land like their priests.
Thence to cross over to the land of Zin (China) is a voyage of forty days. Zin is in the uttermost East, and some say that there is the Sea of Nikpa (Ning-po?), where the star Orion predominates and stormy winds prevail. At times the helmsman cannot govern his ship, as a fierce wind drives her into this Sea of Nikpa, where she cannot move from her place; and the crew have to remain where they are till their stores of food are exhausted and then they die. In this way many a ship has been lost, but men eventually discovered a device by which to escape from this evil place. The crew provide themselves with hides of oxen. And when this evil wind blows which drives them into the Sea of Nikpa, they wrap themselves up in the skins, which they make waterproof, and, armed with knives, plunge into the sea. A great bird called the griffin spies them out, and in the belief that the sailor is an animal, the griffin seizes hold of him, brings him to dry land, and puts him down on a mountain or in a hollow in order to devour him. The man then quickly thrusts at the bird with a knife and slays him. Then the man issues forth from the skin and walks till he comes to an inhabited place. And in this manner many a man escapes.
This seems rather unfair to the griffon.
Thence to Al-Gingaleh is a voyage of fifteen days, and about 1,000 Israelites dwell there. Thence by sea to Chulan is seven days; but no Jews live there. From there it is twelve days to Zebid, where there are a few Jews. From there it is eight days' journey to India which is on the mainland, called the land of Aden, and this is the Eden which is in Thelasar. The country is mountainous. There are many Israelites here, and they are not under the yoke of the Gentiles, but possess cities and castles on the summits of the mountains, from which they make descents into the plain-country called Lybia, which is a Christian Empire. These are the Lybians of the land of Lybia, with whom the Jews are at war. The Jews take spoil and booty and retreat to the mountains, and no man can prevail against them. Many of these Jews of the land of Aden come to Persia and Egypt.

Trade Route Map of Part 6

This one is a little larger than normal. Benjamin is, according to Adler, the first European to mention China, even if his description is a little vague.
Martin Jan Månsson's Medieval Trade Networks map

Representative Map of Part 6

We are finally starting our journey "back".

Summary of Part 6

Because Benjamin inserted a great deal of second-hand information, calculating the distance he traveled, let alone how long it actually took him, is pointless for this section.

He saw:

-A great city surrounded by mountains
-A nation of raiders with many great cities
-A nation that dwells in the desert, in tents
-Two cities ruled by brother princes
-A sect of professional mourners for a lost kingdom, dwelling in caves and fasting
-A kingdom that cannot be reached, as it is three weeks across a desert.
-A city which moves the coffin of a holy figure from one side of the river to the other to ensure equal prosperity.
-A city which suspends the coffin of a holy figure from a bridge to ensure equal prosperity.
-A forest where rare animals that produce perfume dwell.
-A messianic rebel who cannot be captured.
-A people with no noses and who eat only meat, but who are very friendly.
-An island of merchants and traders only.
-An place that produces a rare plant resin.
-Strange animals which come to the surface once each year to drink rainwater, then sink to the depths.
-A pearl fishery.
-A land of astrologers.
-A market where the king is responsible for all property, enforcing extreme honesty.
-A land where the heat is so great all business is conducted t night.
-A land of many spices.
-A nation where people are embalmed with spices, covered in linen, and preserved in homes.
-A land with powerful wizards.
-A land where the dead appear to dictate their wills.
-A bird that can be tricked into rescuing trapped sailors.

1 comment:

  1. This has been one of my favorite series thus far, I want to comment more directly upon it but its so overwhelming! There is so much here!