IBN FAḌLĀN AND THE RŪSIYYAH*
account of the caliphal embassy from
Ibn Faḍlān’s account of his participation
in the deputation sent by the Caliph al-Muqtadir in the year 921 A.D. to the
King of the Bulghārs of the Volga, in response to his request for help,
has proved to be an invaluable source of information for modern scholars
interested in, among other subjects, the birth and formation of the Russian
state, in the Viking involvement in northern and eastern Europe, in the Slavs
and the Khazars. It has been analyzed and commented upon frequently and forms
the substance of many observations on the study of the ethnography and
sociology of the peoples concerned. Yet it is no exaggeration to say that, with
a few very conspicuous exceptions, the majority of the scholars who refer to
it, who base their observations upon it and who argue from it, are at best improperly
familiar with classical Arabic. In the case of the people known as the
Rūsiyyah, for example, two modern commentators have surveyed Ibn Faḍlān’s
Kitāb, or a portion of it, and have all too hastily identified the
Rūs, variously, as the Vikings and the Russians, a scholarly commonplace among those involved 
in the Normanist debate. Both authors give the impression that they are
blissfully unaware that their identifications may be contentious or that the
Rūs have now been the subject of heated debate for more than one and a
half centuries, though in later years the balance has swung in favour of the
Normanists. Pavel Dolukhanov, however, a leading authority on the archaeology
of the period, in his The Early Slavs: Eastern Europe from the Initial
Settlement to the Kievan Rus,
It is the nature of the accuracy of Ibn Faḍlān’s report which interests me in this study. I shall concentrate on a test case: the section of the Kitāb devoted to the Rūsiyyah. My interest in this passage was occasioned by the three and a half years which I spent as Senior Lecturer in Arabic at the University  of Oslo, where, among scholars interested in the Vikings, as indeed among scholars generally, it is widely assumed that the Rūs were Scandinavians of eastern Swedish origin and where there are those who cast aspersions upon Ibn Faḍlān’s veracity as an observer. In a companion piece I have attempted to set the Kitāb, and this section in particular, within a wider textual context. Ibn Faḍlān’s cultural chauvinism does not, however, in my opinion, necessitate a total rejection of his veridicality.
The translation and commentary of the following
passage benefited from the observations of Kjellfrid Nome and Ulla Stang Dahl,
students in the Arabic Storfag at
I am not convinced that by Rūs/Rūsiyyah our text means either the Vikings or the Russians specifically. I am neither a Normanist nor an anti-Normanist. The Arabic sources in general quite simply do not afford us enough clarity. The tendency among scholars is to presume that different Arab authors mean the same thing when they apply the names Rūs or Majūs to the people they describe. After a perusal of the sources, this strikes me as a perilous presumption. It is a distinct possibility that the medieval Arabs themselves were perplexed as to the exact identity of the Rūs, confusing, say, two different peoples. This, indeed, is the conclusion which Mel’nikova and Petruchkin (as reported by Dolukhanov, 190) draw, arguing that:
Arab writers who often used the word ‘ar-rus’ never attached to it any ethnic significance. They viewed the ‘ar-rus’ as warriors and merchants regardless of their ethnic  affiliation. The same applies to Byzantine sources, which often mentioned ‘people calling themselves the Ross’ (Rhos), who in reality were groups of Scandinavians accomplishing various missions.
Although Mel’nikova and Petruchkin seem both to have their cake and to eat it (by evaluating unequally both sets of linguistic evidence—consistency on the part of the Greeks, inconsistency on the part of the Arabs), their assessment of the Arab sources is judicious. Each reference ought to be evaluated on its own merits. To avoid prejudicing the issue, I have therefore retained the transliterated form Rūs and Rūsiyyah and have generally referred to peoples and places in accordance with Ibn Faḍlān’s own usage.
In 1970 I. P. Šaskol’skij,
in a survey of modern trends within the Normanist problem (“Recent Developments
in the Normanist Controversy,” in Varangian Problems, Scando Slavica
Supplementum 1 [
The evidence is highly circumstantial at best.
Given the complexities of their conjectured origins, it may, nonetheless, not
be amiss to view the Rūs at this stage of their development, as they began
Dolukhanov (197) characterizes the Kievan Rus’ as “a loose confederation of regional arenas of power with strong separatist trends”. In a time of such manifest change and lack of imposition of cultural uniformity, it would be unwise to look for unanimous consistency among the Rūs, each group of whom may have represented a variable level of ethnic assimilation. These are cautious appraisals according to which the Rūs appear as a more fluid social unit than recent scholarship has hitherto, often with its interests firmly vested in nationalist concerns, been willing to acknowledge. The Rūsiyyah in the passage which follows are a fine example of ethnic/social fluidity,  combining, as Ibn Faḍlān portrays them (assuming, of course, that he has not himself confused two distinct peoples, either with or without the ethnonym Rūs), both essentially Varangian (costumary, among others) and Khazarian (regal) ethnic traits. It is quintessentially this fluidity that must be determined.
I saw the Rūsiyyah when they had arrived on their trading expedition and had disembarked at the River Ātil. I have never seen more perfect physiques than theirs—they are like palm trees, are fair and reddish, and do not wear the qurṭaq or the caftan. The man wears a cloak with which he covers one half of his body, leaving one of his arms uncovered. Every one of  them carries an axe, a sword and a dagger and is never without all of that which we have mentioned. Their swords are of the Frankish variety, with broad, ridged blades. Each man, from the tip of his toes to his neck, is covered in dark-green lines, pictures and such like. Each woman has, on her breast, a small disc, tied <around her neck>, made of either iron, silver, copper or gold, in relation to her husband’s financial and social worth. Each disc has a ring to which a dagger is attached, also lying on her breast. Around  their necks they wear bands of gold and silver. Whenever a man’s wealth reaches ten thousand dirhams, he has a band made for his wife; if it reaches twenty thousand dirhams, he has two bands made for her—for every ten thousand more, he gives another band to his wife. Sometimes one woman may wear many bands around her neck. The jewellery which they prize the most is the dark-green ceramic beads which they have aboard their boats and which they value very highly: they purchase beads for a dirham a piece and string them together as necklaces for their wives.
They are the filthiest of all Allāh’s creatures: they do not clean themselves after excreting or urinating or wash themselves when in a state of ritual impurity (i.e., after coitus) and do not <even> wash their hands after food.  Indeed they are like asses that roam <in the fields>.
They arrive from their territory (min baladi-him) and moor their boats by the Ātil (a large river), building on its banks large wooden houses. They  gather in the one house in their tens and twenties, sometimes more, sometimes less. Each of them has a couch on which he sits. They are accompanied by beautiful slave girls for trading. One man will have intercourse with his slave-girl while his companion looks on. Sometimes a group of them comes together to do this, each in front of the other. Sometimes indeed the merchant will come in to buy a slave-girl from one of them and he will chance upon him having intercourse with her, but <the Rūs> will not leave her alone until he has satisfied his urge. They cannot, of course, avoid washing their faces and their heads each day, which they do with the filthiest and most polluted water imaginable. I shall explain. Every day the slave-girl arrives in the morning with a large basin containing water, which she hands to her owner. He washes his hands and his face and his hair in the water, then he dips his comb in the water and brushes his hair, blows his nose and spits in the basin. There is no filthy impurity which he will not do in this water. When he no longer requires it, the slave-girl takes the basin to the man beside him and he goes through the same routine as his friend. She continues to carry it from one man to the next until she has gone round everyone in the house, with each of them blowing his nose and spitting, washing his face and hair in the basin.
The moment their boats reach this dock every one of them disembarks, carrying bread, meat, onions, milk and alcohol (nabīdh), and goes to a tall piece of wood set up <in the ground>. This piece of wood has a face like the face of a man and is surrounded by small figurines behind which are long  pieces of wood set up in the ground. <When> he reaches the large figure, he prostrates himself before it and says, “Lord, I have come from a distant land, bringing so many slave-girls <priced at> such and such per head and so many sables <priced at> such and such per pelt.” He continues until he has mentioned all of the merchandise he has brought with him, then says, “And I have brought this offering,” leaving what he has brought with him in front of the piece of wood, saying, “I wish you to provide me with a merchant who has many dīnārs and dirhams and who will buy from me whatever I want <to sell> without haggling over the price I fix.” Then he departs. If he has difficulty in selling <his goods> and he has to remain too many days, he returns with a second and third offering. If his wishes prove to be impossible he brings an offering to every single one of those figurines and seeks its intercession, saying, “These are the wives, daughters and sons of our Lord.” He goes up to each figurine in turn and questions it, begging its  intercession and grovelling before it. Sometimes business is good and he makes a quick sell, at which point he will say, “My Lord has satisfied my request, so I am required to recompense him.” He procures a number of sheep or cows and slaughters them, donating a portion of the meat to charity and taking the rest and casting it before the large piece of wood and the small ones around it. He ties the heads of the cows or the sheep to that piece of wood set up in the ground. At night, the dogs come and eat it all, but the man who has done all this will say, “My Lord is pleased with me and has eaten my offering.”
When one of them falls ill, they erect a tent away from them and cast him into it, giving him some bread and water. They do not come near him or speak to him, indeed they have no contact with him for the duration of his illness, especially if he is socially inferior or is a slave. If he recovers and gets back to his feet, he rejoins them. If he dies, they bury him, though if he was a slave they leave him there as food for the dogs and the birds.
 If they catch a thief or a bandit, they bring him to a large tree and tie a strong rope around his neck. They tie it to the tree and leave him hanging there until <the rope> breaks, <rotted away> by exposure to the rain and the wind.
I was told that when their chieftains die, the least they do is to cremate them. I was very keen to verify this, when I learned of the death of one of  their great men. They placed him in his grave (qabr) and erected a canopy over it for ten days, until they had finished making and sewing his <funeral garments>.
 In the case of a poor man they build a small boat, place him inside and burn it. In the case of a rich man, they gather together his possessions and divide them into three, one third for his family, one third to use for <his funeral> garments, and one third with which they purchase alcohol which they drink on the day when his slave-girl kills herself and is cremated together with her master. (They are addicted to alcohol, which they drink night and day. Sometimes one of them dies with the cup still in his hand.)
When their chieftain dies, his family ask his slave-girls and slave-boys, “Who among you will die with him?” and some of them reply, “I shall.” Having said this, it becomes incumbent upon the person and it is impossible ever to turn back. Should that person try to, he is not permitted to do so. It is usually slave-girls who make this offer.
When that man whom I mentioned earlier died, they said to his slave-girls, “Who will die with him?” and one of them said, “I shall.” So they placed  two slave-girls in charge of her to take care of her and accompany her wherever she went, even to the point of occasionally washing her feet with their own hands. They set about attending to the dead man, preparing his clothes for him and setting right all he needed. Every day the slave-girl would drink <alcohol> and would sing merrily and cheerfully.
On the day when he and the slave-girl were to be burned I arrived at the river where his ship was. To my surprise I discovered that it had been beached and that four planks of birch (khadank) and other types of wood had been erected for it. Around them wood had been placed in such a way as to resemble scaffolding (anābīr). Then the ship was hauled and placed on top of this wood. They advanced, going to and fro <around the boat> uttering words which I did not understand, while he was still in his grave and had not been exhumed.
Then they produced a couch and placed it on the ship, covering it with quilts <made of> Byzantine silk brocade and cushions <made of> Byzantine silk brocade. Then a crone arrived whom they called the “Angel of Death” and she spread on the couch the coverings we have mentioned. She is responsible for having his <garments> sewn up and putting him in order and it is she who kills the slave-girls. I myself saw her: a gloomy, corpulent woman, neither young nor old.
When they came to his grave, they removed the soil from the wood and then removed the wood, exhuming him <still dressed> in the izār in which  he had died. I could see that he had turned black because of the coldness of the ground. They had also placed alcohol, fruit and a pandora (ṭunbūr) beside him in the grave, all of which they took out. Surprisingly, he had not begun to stink and only his colour had deteriorated. They clothed him in trousers, leggings (rān), boots, a qurṭaq, and a silk caftan with golden buttons, and placed a silk qalansuwwah <fringed> with sable on his head. They carried him inside the pavilion on the ship and laid him to rest on the quilt, propping him with cushions. Then they brought alcohol, fruit and herbs (rayḥān) and placed them beside him. Next they brought bread, meat and onions, which they cast in front of him, a dog, which they cut in two and which they threw onto the ship, and all of his weaponry, which they placed beside him. They then brought two mounts, made them gallop until they began to sweat, cut them up into pieces and threw the flesh onto the ship. They next fetched two cows, which they also cut up into pieces and threw on board, and a cock and a hen, which they slaughtered and cast onto it.
 Meanwhile, the slave-girl who wished to be killed was coming and going, entering one pavilion after another. The owner of the pavilion would have intercourse with her and say to her, “Tell your master that I have done this purely out of love for you.”
At the time of the evening prayer on Friday they brought the slave-girl to a thing that they had constructed, like a door-frame. She placed her feet on the hands of the men and was raised above that door-frame. She said something and they brought her down. Then they lifted her up a second time and she did what she had done the first time. They brought her down and then lifted her up a third time and she did what she had done on the first two occasions. They next handed her a hen. She cut off its head and threw it away. They took the hen and threw it on board the ship.
 I quizzed the interpreter about her actions and he said, “The first time
they lifted her, she said, ‘Behold, I see my father and my mother.’ The second
time she said, ‘Behold, I see all of my dead kindred, seated.’ The third time
she said, ‘Behold, I see my master, seated in
Six men entered the pavilion and all had intercourse with the slave-girl. They laid her down beside her master and two of them took hold of her feet, two her hands. The crone called the “Angel of Death” placed a rope around her neck in such a way that the ends crossed one another (mukhālafan) and handed it to two <of the men> to pull on it. She advanced with a broad-bladed dagger and began to thrust it in and out between her ribs, now here, now there, while the two men throttled her with the rope until she died.
 Then the deceased’s next of kin approached and took hold of a piece of wood and set fire to it. He walked backwards, with the back of his neck to the ship, his face to the people, with the lighted piece of wood in one hand and the other hand on his anus, being completely naked. He ignited the wood that had been set up under the ship after they had placed the slave-girl whom they had killed beside her master. Then the people came forward with sticks and firewood. Each one carried a stick the end of which he had set fire to and which he threw on top of the wood. The wood caught fire, and then the ship, the pavilion, the man, the slave-girl and all it contained. A dreadful wind arose and the flames leapt higher and blazed fiercely.
One of the Rūsiyyah stood
beside me and I heard him speaking to my interpreter. I quizzed him about what
he had said, and he replied, “He said, ‘You Arabs are a foolish lot!’” So I
said, “Why is that?” and he replied, “Because you purposely take those who are
dearest to you and whom you hold in highest esteem and throw them under the
earth, where they are eaten by the earth, by vermin and by worms, whereas we
burn them in the fire there and then, so that they enter Paradise immediately.”
Then he laughed loud and long. I quizzed him about that <i.e., the entry
They built something like a round hillock over the ship, which they had pulled out of the water, and placed in the middle of it a large piece of birch (khadank) on which they wrote the name of the man and the name of the King of the Rūs. Then they left.
He (Ibn Faḍlān) said: One of the customs of the King of the Rūs is that in his palace he keeps company with four hundred of his bravest and most trusted companions; they die when he dies and they offer their lives to protect him. Each of them has a slave-girl who waits on him, washes his head and prepares his food and drink, and another with whom he has coitus. These four hundred <men> sit below his throne, which is huge and is studded with precious stones. On his throne there sit forty slave-girls who belong to his bed. Sometimes he has coitus with one of them in the presence of those companions whom we have mentioned. He does not come down from his throne. When he wants to satisfy an urge, he satisfies it in a salver. When he wants to ride, they bring his beast up to the  throne, whence he mounts it, and when he wants to dismount, he brings his beast <up to the throne> so that he can dismount there. He has a vicegerent who leads the army, fights against the enemy and stands in for him among his subjects.
Foote and Wilson (408 and 411) make the following comment:
Ibn Fadlan . . . writes as an eyewitness, and although there is no reason to doubt his general accuracy, we must bear a number of factors in mind before generalizing on the basis of his account. It is the funeral of a rich and important man; it is a funeral by cremation; it took place in Russia (and many Russian scholars do not accept it as a description of a Scandinavian ceremony), where the Norsemen had been subject to foreign influence, perhaps especially from the Volga Turks; finally, some things in the account can only have been obtained by Ibn Fadlan through an interpreter. . . . Striking elements in this description, such as the ‘Angel of Death,’ the ritual intercourse, and the wary and naked kindler of the pyre, cannot be paralleled in Norse sources, and other items—the ‘door-frame’ object and the vision of paradise ‘beautiful and green’—are too vague to provide secure links. These things can be neither accepted nor rejected as widespread features of Norse burial rites, but there remain a good many other details that are reflected in our archaeological and  literary sources.
As for the identity of the people called Rūs in this account, there are a number of possibilities:
(i) they are Scandinavians, in particular the eastern Swedish tribe known by this name: a group of elite merchant-pirates operating out of Ladoga and Rørik’s Hill-Fort;
(ii) they are an autochthonous people, the ethnic group known as the Rus’ who took their name from the river Ros’;
(iii) the account represents a conflation of at least two distinct ethnic groups, of eastern (Slavic) and northern (Scandinavian) provenance known to the Arabs indistinguishably as Rūs and influenced by ideas about the people known as the Majūs and the Ṣaqālibah;
(iv) the people described are a people in the process of ethnic, social and cultural adaptation and assimilation—the process whereby the Scandinavian Rūs became the Slavic Rus’, having been exposed to the influence of the Volga Bulghārs and the Khazars;
(v) Ibn Faḍlān has mistakenly identified a group of Kievan chieftains on an expedition to extort tribute from the Slavs (usually in the form of marten furs) as merchant-warriors on a trading mission, basing his interpretation on his acquaintance with the Rūs as merchants;
(vi) it is erroneous to think of an ethnos with a distinct identity, as opposed to a multi-ethnic confederation based on common economic and political objectives (Golden’s solution, given above), which confederation would have been subject to a preponderant Scandinavian influence;
(vii) the textual history of the Kitāb, taken in conjunction with the religious prejudice of the author (as evinced in the depiction of Rūs sexual customs and the Islamicization of Valhalla), is too problematical to permit any conclusions to be drawn from the work.
I hold that we are here given a picture of a people in the process of ethnic, social and cultural adaptation, assimilation and absorption, one typical of “the chameleon-like character of the Viking abroad, adapting himself to his surroundings where he saw something he thought was good; merely imposing his economic and administrative will on an area” (Wilson, VP, 111).  This would account for the absence of any signs of cultural impact left by the Varangians, in the form of toponyms, nomenclature, and linguistic calques (see Dolukhanov, 190, and Logan, 203). As Dolukhanov (195) put it:
The Varangians were rapidly incorporated into the Slav élite, acquiring Slavic names, language and habits, and losing the remains of their Scandinavian identity.
To corroborate this point, I would like to refer to Martin Carver’s recent theories concerning the composite (the word he uses is “poetic”) nature of the burial at Sutton Hoo, a ceremonial performance which was expressive of the political, cultural and religious aspirations of Anglo-Saxon England, a declaration of regal alignment with pagan Scandinavia and rejection of Christian Kent. We can no longer countenance those arguments which interpret the burial as a fixed, immutable event, for such contentions, by positing the burial ceremony as static and unchangeable, consider it determinative of ethnos rather than vice-versa.
Ibn Faḍlān’s traders are the mercantile warrior elite who placed themselves firmly at the top of the Slavic social scale, and his picture attests to the fluidity of the process of cultural and racial intermingling, a fluidity which many commentators, with an agenda very decidedly their own, have wished to neglect, curtail or abandon:
The principal historical question is not whether the Rus were
Scandinavians or Slavs, but, rather, how quickly these Scandinavian Rus became
absorbed into Slavic life and culture. . . . In 839 the Rus were Swedes; in
1043 the Rus were Slavs. Sometime between 839 and 1043 two changes took place:
one was the absorption of the Swedish Rus into the Slavic people among whom
they settled, and the second was the extension of the term ‘Rus’ to apply to
these Slavic peoples by whom the Swedes were absorbed. (
Ibn Faḍlān’s account sheds valuable light on the celerity of this process of assimilation and absorption, which was accomplished in the space of two centuries.
The preceding discussion has been largely, though not exclusively, philological,  focussed on a process of historical identification. There are, of course, other riches in Ibn Faḍlān’s text. His observations on the importance of slaves in the Rūs world, as chattels and items of trade, suggest, in the context of master-slave relations depicted in the text, the reasons for the celerity of the process of cultural assimilation, from Viking to Slav. Ibn Faḍlān is himself fascinated by the artefacts of the Rūs; their trimetalism, clothing, domestic arrangements and the textiles which constituted the funerary pomp of the dead chieftain. He also provides useful observations on the (un)suitability of the Rūs as potential members of the Islamic polity, and stresses their very distinct alterity to a Muslim audience.
Perhaps, from an exclusively Arabic perspective, the most remarkable feature of this account of the Rūs is the impression it conveys of being essentially detached, indeed its almost scientific character, eschewing, by and large, the improbable, and blatantly fictitious, blemishes which loom all too large in the majority of the accounts of foreigners and foreign lands found in Arabic geographical and travel works. It is a consciously restrained narrative, which does not balk at the opportunity to point to the cultural and religious superiority of Islam, but which is not drawn by this impulse into wildly extravagant tales, which often pruriently dwell on sexual improprieties. The account is not, with minor exceptions, a fusion of tall tales appropriate to a male assembly, the audience which proved very influential in shaping so much of the Arabic narrative style in the classical period, but is passably ‘ethnographic’ observation, generally divested of rhetorical filigree and of the propensity for risqué elaboration and the fantastic. The atmosphere of the all-male majlis, the salon, with its entertaining anecdotes and ribald improprieties, is lacking. Avoidance of such an atmosphere obtains throughout the Kitāb.
* I am grateful to the participants of the Middle Eastern History Seminar, Department of Near Eastern Studies, New York University, who discussed a version of this article on 14.4.1997, and in particular to Dr. Ariel Salzmann, the discussant on that occasion, for her stimulating and pertinent remarks.
 J. B. Simonsen, Vikingerne ved
 P. G. Donini, Arab Travelers and Geographers,
 For a full bibliography of Russian and other works, see the very fine article by P. B. Golden, “Rūs,” EI2, viii, 618–29, and the French translation of the Kitāb by M. Canard, “La relation du voyage d’Ibn Fadlân chez les Bulgares de la Volga,” Annales de l’Institut d’Etudes Orientales de l’Université d’Alger (1958): 41–116, not mentioned by Golden. Further, partial, versions (in English) are given by C. Waddy, in Antiquity (1934): 58 ff., E. O. G. Turville-Petre, Myth and Religion of the North: The Religion of Ancient Scandinavia, London, 1964, 272–73, J. Simpson, Everyday Life in the Viking Age, London, 1967, 111–13, 196–200, S. M. Stern and R. Pinder-Wilson, in P. Foote and D. Wilson, The Viking Achievement, London, 1970, 408–11. Other versions are A. S. Cook, “Ibn Faḍlān’s Account of Scandinavian Merchants on the Volga,” Journal of English and Germanic Philology 33 (1923): 54–63 (reprinted in A. R. Lewis, The Islamic World and the West, A.D. 622–1492, New York, 1970), A. F. Major, “Ship Burials in Scandinavian Lands and the Beliefs That Underlie Them,” Folklore 35 (1924): 113–50 and H. M. Smyser, “Ibn Faḍlān’s Account of the Rūs with Some Commentary and Some Allusions to Beowulf,” in J. B. Bessinger and R. P. Creed (eds.), Franciplegius: Medieval and Linguistic Studies in Honor of Francis Peabody Magoun, Jr., New York, 1965, 92–119. Mention should be made of Harris Birkeland’s Norwegian translation of A. Seippel’s edition of Yāqūt and related texts (Rerum Normannicorum Fontes Arabici, Oslo, 1896): Nordens historie i middelalderen etter arabiske kilder, Oslo, 1954, 17–24, and Stig Wikander’s Swedish translation, Araber, Vikingar, Värangar, Lund, 1978, 31–72.
 Accounts of this nature by foreigners, usually
Muslims or Christians, like the eleventh century Adam of Bremen (on whom, see
P.H. Sawyer, Kings and Vikings: Scandinavia and
 “Pyrrhic Scepticism and the Conquest of Disorder: Prolegomena to the Study of Ibn Faḍlān,” in the proceedings of a conference held at Pazmany Peter University, Hungary, 1999 (forthcoming). There is an unavoidable degree of overlap between these two articles.
 The importance of fire-worship among the Slavs
features prominently in Arab accounts: P. B. Golden, “al-Ṣaḳāliba,”
EI2, viii, 876–87. See further M. Gimbutas, The Slavs,
 See the remarks of Golden, “al-Ṣaḳāliba,” 872 and Canard on the ethnonym ṣaqālibah which designates “toutes sortes de peuples du nord-est de l’Europe, Finnois, Bulgares, Burṭās, Turcs (et même Germains)” (49).
 Sawyer (27) notes “that many Islamic writers only
had vague, and often muddled ideas of the situation in
 The text used is S. Dahhān, Risālat
 Sawyer, Kings and Vikings, considers the Vikings to have been pirates who extorted tribute and plundered goods, in which they subsequently traded. The furs and slaves which Ibn Faḍlān mentions were favourite forms of tribute which they would have coerced the local population into paying.
 On the height of the Viking peoples, comparing
 Golden, “al-Ṣaḳāliba,” notes “the
close association, in the Islamic geographical literature, of a certain
fair-haired, ruddy complexioned population type of
 “The appearance of male dress can for the most
part only be reconstructed from pictures in
 See A. N. Kirpičnikov, “Connections between
 This may be the single-edged battle knife or scramasax, which in the tenth century was an “auxiliary weapon to the sword” (Kirpičnikov, VP, 70).
 See Kirpičnikov, VP, 58–64, for a discussion of swords: “It was not Scandinavian but Frankish blades which were predominant in Rus” (64). Canard 118 translates mushaṭṭabah as “striées de lanures.” The epithet is perhaps intended to capture the appearance of swords produced by the technique of pattern welding. “During this process a pattern would emerge along the central section, where the intertwined strips of steely and plain iron would show up in patterns of light and dark like eddying waves, coiling snakes, twigs, or sheaves of corn” (Simpson, 126). Ibn Faḍlān captures perfectly the dual nature of Viking merchant-warriors: “The crystallization of the two social groups, warriors and merchants, which were very often indivisible, formed a fundamental feature of the Scandinavian social pattern” (Dolukhanov, 174). “War in the Viking age was nothing but a continuation of foreign trade with the admixture of different means” (Dolukhanov, 176).
 For tattoos, see Togan, 227–28. Shajar I take to have a similar meaning to its use by Ibn Jubayr, Riḥlah, ed. W. Wright, Leiden, 1907, 333, describing the mosaics in the Church of the Antiochite in Palermo: juduru-hā . . . qad ruṣṣiʿat kullu-hā bi-fuṣūṣi l-dhahabi wa-kullilat bi-ashjāri l-fuṣūṣi l-khuḍri (each of its walls . . . had been decorated with gold tesserae and crowned with lines of dark-green tesserae).
 Note that Ibn Faḍlān does not describe how the women dress but concentrates on their accessories. He may intend the reader to assume that the women were clad in the same garments as the men, although this is unlikely. Compare his remarks with the following: “Female dress in its typical form . . . consisted of a shift or under-dress, its neck-slit sometimes closed by a small disc brooch. The over-dress, worn on top of this, consisted of a rectangular piece of cloth wound round the body and reaching the armpits; this was held up by shoulder-straps, fixed in front on each shoulder by an oval brooch.” (Roesdahl, 126) See also Simpson, 65–66. Although Roesdahl describes Danish Vikings, the small disc brooch closing the neck-slit seems to be what Ibn Faḍlān refers to and confirms the MS reading ḥalqah instead of Yāqūt’s widely countenanced ḥuqqah, restored by Dahhān (150). It should not be confused with the tortoise shell brooches used to hold the over-dress in place, as Canard, following Togan, and Smys(104) do. I have been unable to trace the detail of the dagger attached to the brooch but suggest that it describes the often “elaborate silver cloak-pin,” such as the one found at Birka, which “was fastened by a cord tied to the small ring” (J. Graham-Campbell, The Viking World, London 1989, 117).
 These neckbands, usually strung with Thor’s hammers as pendants, which Ibn Faḍlān does not mention, are well attested for the period: see Kirpičnikov, VP, 56–57.
 This has long been recognised as a textual crux. Canard offers “des perles de verre vertes . . . de même fabrication que les objets en
céramique . . . que l’on trouve sur leurs bateaux” and remarks that “these ceramic objects seem to have been intended for commerce” (118–19). Smyser
(96), following Togan, gives, “their most prized ornaments are green glass
beads (corals) of clay, which are found on the ships.” The relative clause
qualifies al-khazari l-akhḍari and not min al-khazafi. These
beads are usually made of glass and are coloured (Roesdahl, 131). “Originating
in the Mediterranean area . . . beads of this early type did not reach Ladoga
from the Mediterranean, which was the centre of production, via Eastern Europe,
but via the northern route, probably through the agency of the Northmen” (O. I.
Davidan, “Contacts between Staraja Ladoga and Scandinavia,” VP, 88–89).
Ladoga has been excavated to reveal, among other commodities, “glass beads
originating from the eastern Mediterranean area” (Dolukhanov, 184); see further
pages 186 (Porost’ on the Volkhov) and 187 (Kolopy Gorodok, upstream from
 Ibn Faḍlān may not mean that the women wear all this jewellery around their necks, for “many pendants . . . were suspended from a loop or a hole in the lower part of an oval or trefoil brooch rather than from a necklace” (Roesdahl, 132).
 According to Islamic practice, the use of bodily functions necessitates wuḍūʾ (ablution); janābah is major ritual impurity.
 It is improbable that they build these log huts
every time they arrive. Various types of dwellings were used by the Vikings for
mercantile purposes, especially, in this area, “farmsteads situated on
trade-routes . . . used as market-places” (Dolukhanov, 180). It is unlikely to
be a permanent, fortified trading station of the type discussed by D. M. Wilson
(“East and West: A Comparison of Viking Settlement,” VP, 107–15: “The
Vikings came to Russia as traders, . . . their object was to reach the great
east-west trade route and the capital of the eastern Empire at Constantinople.
To do this they had perforce to establish trading stations to defend themselves
against possible attack” ). There were trading stations farther up river.
Rørik’s Hill-Fort is one such location. Ibn Faḍlān seems to
refer to the international trading mart in Bulghār territory, and these
wooden houses may have been maintained for the Rūs by local traders. It is
unfortunate that we cannot be more precise about the exact location and nature
of these dwellings Ibn Faḍlān mentions. The transhumant character of
the Bulghār settlement contrasts with the King’s wish to construct a
fortress, which suggests plans to settle, perhaps actuated by burgeoning
prosperity and probably influenced by Varangian example. Dolukhanov (180)
remarks that the archaeologist Sedov “noted that non-agrarian, trade-and-craft
settlements emerged in the seventh-eighth centuries in areas situated beyond
the ‘limes,’ and populated by Germans, Slavs and Balts who had no urban
traditions in classical antiquity. These settlements developed into proto-towns
or vics (camps) or coastal trade factories. Although these centres had
emerged in areas of dense agricultural population, their further evolution was
closely related to commercial links, particularly in the Baltic area.” The
characteristic features of the vics, trading camps, were: “a variable
numerical composition of population, a changeable pattern of social roles, a
lack of fortifications, at least at an initial stage, a variability of burial
rite implying poli-ethnicity (sic), and a limited life-span by the ninth and
early eleventh centuries” (Dolukhanov, 181). This tallies with what we know of
the Khazar capital of Itil (see Koestler, 52–53), which also boasted a
trade-and-craft suburb and “housed poli-ethnic (sic) bands of adventurers, who
specialized in long-distance trade and military raids, as well as the craftsmen
who served them” (Dolukhanov, 181), and of the late ninth-century Rørik’s
Hill-Fort on the Volkhov river (Dolukhanov, 187), while the Bulghār
encampment visited by the embassy is apparently in the early stages of vic-development,
in the process of changing from an emporium or gateway-community (“administered
trading settlements . . . mostly inhabited by alien merchants” [R. Hodges and
D. Whitehouse, Mohammed, Charlemagne and the Origins of Europe, London,
1989, 92], a feature of complex pre-market and pre-state societies) to an
international market-place. Varangian military intervention in the East “greatly
enhanced the development of already existing proto-urban centres, turning them
into effective market-places and military-administrative strongholds”
(Dolukhanov, 189). If Ibn Faḍlān does mean that this disembarkation-point
is the site of the market on the confluence of the Volga and
For the significance of this passage, the details of which Ibn Faḍlān could scarcely himself have witnessed, see my article referred to earlier. Smyser (104) discusses the passage.
 This section, with its mention of the dock, which Canard (120) assumes is also the market-place, and of the cultic sanctuary, is further evidence of the nature of the settlement discussed above (footnote 24).
 By nabīdh Ibn Faḍlān may mean mead, made from fermented honey, and not beer as is widely supposed.
 See Simpson, 182–83, for Viking idols, and Smyser, 105, for tremenn, wooden men.
 “The Rus traded principally in furs, . . . a
constant, but probably small, marketing in slaves was part of the Rus
commercial activity, although the Rus seem to have conducted this business
privately and not in public markets” (Logan, 197).
 Rūs fondness for Islamic silver is attested
by the numerous coin hoards discovered in
 Compare the phrase qūlī kayfa mā shītī in a poem by Abū Nuwās (see J. E. Montgomery et al., “Revelry and Remorse,” JAL 25, no. 2 (July 1994): 133 (verse 10).
 This familial identification of the lesser gods and goddesses is somewhat problematic: it is unlikely (if this description refers to Rūs and not Slavic practice) that the main idol represents Odin, the leader of the tribe of deities known as ësir, who was associated with the aristocracy and the warrior classes (see Simpson, 177–79 and Roesdahl, 161), but may perhaps be Frey, of the Vanir, a god “particularly associated with the Swedes” (Foote and Wilson, 389), a god generally held to be responsible for trade and shipping. His sister Freyja was the leader of the female divinities known as the Disir, “who had influence on fertility and daily prosperity” (Roesdahl, 162). A sacrifice of an ox or a bull was most appropriate to Frey, who seems also to have been thought of as a bull, while his sister was thought of as a cow. Cf. Turville-Petre, 255–56. Jones and Pennick (A History of Pagan Europe, London, 1995, 144) on the other hand, associate Frey with the horse and the pig. Dedications of such sites were “a move to establish friendship with its typical bargaining nature, maintained and balanced by gifts” (Foote and Wilson, 395). See further Foote and Wilson, 399. This is presumably an item of information which Ibn Faḍlān derived from the interpreter.
 The verb used here is taṣaddaqa. The merchant probably held a feast of some sort. Ibn Faḍlān has interpreted the festive sharing of the meat in the light of Islamic ritual practice.
 Ibn Faḍlān has earlier mentioned a similar (funerary) practice among the Ghuzz, who eat the flesh of the horse but suspend its head, tail, feet and hide (Dahhān, 99). See Simpson, 186.
 The Scandinavian pagan religion was heavily
anthropomorphic. A similar appeasement of, and thanksgiving to, a deity by
means of offerings is described in the tenth century Byzantine De
Administrando Imperio: “On the island of St. Gregory, we are told, ‘they
perform their sacrifices because a gigantic oak tree stands there; and they
sacrifice live cocks. Arrows, too, they peg in round about, and others bread
and meat, or something of whatever each may have, as is their custom. They also
throw lots regarding the cocks, whether to slaughter them, or to eat them as
well, or to leave them alive.’ The nature of these rites has been disputed, and
is still not clear: the fact that some of them are attested among the
Scandinavians has led to the suggestion that we have here an account of Viking
sacrifices. On the other hand, the description seems also to tally with our
admittedly meagre knowledge of Slavonic pagan ritual.” (D. Obolensky, “The
Byzantine Sources on the Scandinavians in
 This lack of proper burial for slaves and social inferiors is in keeping with Viking practice (see Roesdahl, 167–68). Ibn Faḍlān has earlier mentioned a similar practice of dealing with the sick among the Ghuzz, although the invalid among the Ghuzz seems to be able to rely on his slaves and retinue, while among the Rūs Ibn Faḍlān refers to total isolation (Dahhān, 99). Smyser (106) discusses other “repetitions” in the Rūs section, taken from the Ghuzz and Bulghār sections of the account, concluding that some of the details better fit a Scandinavian than a Slavic context. Presumably, ethnic influence was not exclusively exerted on the Rūs, but may also have worked in the reverse direction (Rūs –> Slav/Bulghār).
 The verb yataqaṭṭaʿu is more appropriate to the rope than the corpse, which will, like the corpse of the slave in the last section, have been consumed by scavengers.
 Ibn Faḍlān refers to the standard
judicial procedure of punishing thieves (Foote and Wilson, 381). He may also
have witnessed human sacrifice by hanging to Odin, the god of the gallows (see
Turville-Petre, 253–54, who suggests that human sacrifices may have been strung
up after they had been ritually slaughtered). The suggestion of Turville-Petre
that “sacrificial victims were criminals, and that the death penalty had a
sacral meaning” (254) fits this context well. The use of the rope to throttle
the slave-girl below is surely of this category: human sacrifice in honour of
Odin. See also Simpson 185 and 186: “A scene on one of the
 Both cremation and inhumation are attested among
the Varangians. Modern scholarship, however, is unaware of the frequency of
cremation when compared with interment, because “cremations leave little trace
and are therefore less easily discovered and examined” (Roesdahl, 164). It is
not clear whether elaborate cremations on this scale took place, because
cremation leaves so little behind. Hence, on the basis of archaeological
remains alone, one cannot maintain, as does Simpson (192) “that these customs
can never have been so common in the Scandinavian homelands as the Arabs say
they were in Russia, or they would have left more traces in the archaeological
record; probably the fact that the Rus slave-traders had so many women readily
available made it cheap for them to indulge in practices which were rare
luxuries elsewhere.” Indeed, it is possible that cremation was especially
favoured by the Rūs, as opposed to other Viking peoples. In this respect,
the Arabic sources may be able to supplement our knowledge because the
Northmen, among others, were often referred to as majūs, Magians,
i.e., fire-worshippers, on account of the cremation of their dead. Note
further, however, that the
 The Arabic is wa-saqafū ʿalay-hi.
Such chambers have been discovered and they are constructed of wood. See
Turville-Petre, plate 46: “Burial chamber found in the ship-grave of
 The text at this point gives the impression that Ibn Faḍlān did not have to travel to witness the funeral. Indeed the narrative anticipates itself in the detail of the self-sacrifice of the slave-girl. Ibn Faḍlān must relate this at this juncture, however, for his narrative of the funeral to have any coherence. It is clear from the next section, in the phrase ḥaḍartu ilā l-nahri, that this is not so, i.e., that, having learned of the funeral preparations from the Rūs whom he has just described, he travelled into Rūs territory to witness these events, perhaps as far as Ladoga or Rørik’s Hill-Fort on the Volkhov, both of which settlements functioned as capitals of Rørik’s newly fledged empire. By 862 A.D., so the Russian Primary Chronicle intimates, “on account of these Varangians the district of Novgorod became known as the land of Rus” (Logan, 185; see Dolukhanov, 194). On the historical worth of the Chronicle, see Sawyer, 20–21.
 The text merely has al-rajul al-faqīr,
but a poor chieftain may be intended, for it was apparently in
 Sumptuous raiment and furnishings have been found
in the Mammen grave near Viborg and at Ladby on
 Adopting Yāqūt’s reading yashtarūna for yunabbidhūna.
 As noted by Simonsen (50), this detail is at variance with the account of the girl’s death at the hands of the “Angel of Death.” It may be a slip on the part of Ibn Faḍlān or a later copyist, and we should not read too much into it. It is even possible to gloss the phrase taqtulu jāriyatu-hu nafsa-hā as “sacrifices herself.”
 The custom of killing slaves and interring them as grave-goods was not uncommon among the Vikings (Roesdahl 24, 167). For other peoples, see Canard, 124–25.
A fine death for a Viking to die: “Hardacnut died
the death all good Vikings would desire, ‘standing at his drink’” (Wilson, VP,
108). “The Russian Chronicle states that
 I retain the translation “slave-girls” pace Canard (125), who gives “jeunes filles,” because they are the daughters of the “Angel of Death.” It is not clear, however, whether this is a symbolical or a uterine relationship. Turville-Petre persuasively suggests that the slave-girl thus “was treated as a princess” (273).
 Ibn Faḍlān evidently did not witness these preliminary proceedings, since they were over before he arrived.
 Stern and Pinder-Wilson render, “around it was arranged what looked like a large pile of wood” (408–9); Smyser, “around it (the ship) was made a structure like great ships’ tents out of wood” (98).
 i.e., the four timbers which were to hold the keel in place. The shallow draught and low keel of Viking ships made them very suitable for portage. Ibn Faḍlān witnesses the placing of the ship upon the funeral pyre, pace Simpson, 197.
 Stern and Pinder-Wilson translate, “She is in charge of embalming the dead man and preparing him” (409).
 A conjectural translation for a conjectural emendation, jawān bīrah. Sacrifices conducted by women are attested elsewhere (Turville-Petre, 261).
 See Smyser, 116, for the term “pandora.” The inclusion of a musical instrument at this stage of the ceremony has not been remarked on overmuch.
 The qurṭaq and the caftan are apparently ceremonial insignia, marks of the deceased’s honour, since they were not worn on a daily basis by the Rūs. Sawyer (114) comments that these Rūs “had been away from their homeland long enough to acquire alien habits of dress, for the silk tunic that was specially made for the dead Rus chieftain had buttons, which were not then used in Scandinavian costume.”
 There is no way of knowing whether this qubbah is a canopy constructed of wood or is a tent. There are parallels for the former in “the Gokstad and Oseberg ship-burials, where the corpse lies in a bed inside a little wooden shelter very like a tent” (Simpson, 197).
 “Perhaps these . . . ‘fragrant plants’ correspond to the bracken strewn over the floor of the grave chamber of the Sutton Hoo ship. . . . Moss and juniper bushes (were) used to line the grave chamber of the Tune ship.” (Smyser, 116) It is more likely that these herbs were somehow used to effect communication with the spirit-world.
 See Smyser’s note (117), “The sweating of the horses is evidently a relic of torturing sacrificial animals (or human beings) to enhance the value of the sacrifice to the god.” See further Jones and Pennick, 140: “guardians of his grave.”
 The presence of the livestock here leads Canard
(129) and Simonsen (51) to conclude that the dead chieftain must have been
settled in the area for quite some time. Viking trading ships, such as the
Skuldelev ship apparently used in the Baltic area, were designed to carry such
livestock (see Roesdahl 34–36), and so this feature of Ibn Faḍlān’s
account cannot be used as evidence of settlement. Ca. 1015 A.D. Thietmar of
Merseburg noted of Danish Viking rites that “they offered to their gods
ninety-nine people and equal numbers of horses as well as dogs and cocks . . .
as bloody sacrifices” (Roesdahl 162). Ibn Faḍlān here, presumably
unfamiliar with Rūs conceptions of these rituals, does not distinguish
between distinct rituals: blood sacrifices/sacral meals (the cows), sacrifices
to establish contact with the spirit world (the cock and the hen) and the
committal of grave goods to the deceased, generally a “selection of the
deceased’s personal property, symbols of rank and necessities such as food”
(Roesdahl, 166). See further ibid., 165 (dogs, food and drink), 166 (slaves),
169 (riding gear, weaponry, horses [symbols of both death and fertility,
associated with Frey], drinking vessels), 171 (the extravagant, aristocratic
ship graves at Ladby and Hedeby). “These graves illustrate vividly concepts
central to the traditional picture of Valhall. . . . What could be better to
take to Valhall than your horse and weapons? Horses resplendent in their
trappings were suitable for high-ranking men—even though they were not likely
to have been used in battle—and presumably they also had to bear their masters
to the Other World. Weapons were obviously necessary and the other grave-goods
were no doubt useful both for the journey and for feasting on arrival.”
(Roesdahl, 169–70) See further Turville-Petre, 271–72. In
 This action is reminiscent of the cock and hen
sacrifice in the preceding section. It too must presumably be a way of
communicating with the spirit world; communication between the dead chieftain
and the spirit world had already been established. See also Roesdahl, 162, for
the unusual contents of a female grave. Turville-Petre (273) suggests “that it
is possible that birds of this kind symbolized rebirth.” The platform and
chanting are also found in a thirteenth century work (The Saga of Eirik the
Red)—treating of the eleventh century—in which a female shaman prophesies
the future (Simpson, 189–90). This was the form of sorcery known as seiðr (Foote and Wilson, 404). The Arabic ashrafat ʿalā suggests that she mounts this
platform. Simpson herself thinks that “the wooden frame symbolizes a barrier
between this world and the Otherworld” and sees in the ritual killing of the
hen “a vivid symbol of the renewed life beyond the barrier of death” (Simpson,
 Her dead master is apparently already seated at
the communal table, feasting, before the cremation ceremony stipulated by Odin.
She is, of course, under the influence of a strong hallucinogenic. Her desire
to be reunited with family and her master contradicts Roesdahl’s assertion that
“apart from the Valkyries who fetched the dead warriors, there do not seem to
have been any women in Valhall” (170). This and the discordant picture of the
communal table at which the dead chief sits has led to doubts being cast on the
identification of this paradise as Valhalla. The assertion that “
 In all likelihood, the nabīdh, throughout translated as alcohol, was drugged (see Roesdahl, 19).
 Smyser (100 and 109) misunderstands this passage: “It is hard to see how the slave girl . . . got her head between the qubba and the side of the ship.”
 Canard (131) attributes this comment to the interpreter, but it is just as likely to be Ibn Faḍlān’s own construction of events, failing to see the ritual importance of the noise, intended to distract the attention of the spirit world, whose presence might mar the second ritual marriage inside the pavilion.
 The text does not support Canard’s view (132) that
the crone left the pavilion whilst this funerary marriage was taking place. The
cultic prominence of copulation with the slave-girl as well as the designation
of the crone as the “Angel of Death” are perhaps suggestive of the cult of
Frey. “The idol of Freyr in
 For the use of the rope, see above. It is not too fanciful to suggest that the “Angel of Death” here employs a technique similar to cutting the “blood-eagle,” a process of human sacrifice whereby “the ribs were cut from the back and the lungs drawn out” (Turville-Petre, 254–55). This form of slaughter was associated with Odin. Ibn Faḍlān is not likely to have witnessed this with his own eyes.
 This ritual nakedness was “a sign of mourning” (Simpson, 200), though it has also been proposed that the anus is covered to protect against infiltration by the spirits of the dead on the ship.
 The Rūs seem triply to ensure that the dead
chieftain would enter
 i.e., the burial site. The
building of the barrow and the erection of a monument were standard Varangian
burial practice. Ibn Faḍlān specifies, however, that the barrow was built over
the site of the cremation, whereas “normally the burning took place on a
different site from that where the ashes were to rest” (Simpson, 193). On page
200 Simpson, perhaps basing herself on Birkeland’s Norwegian translation, has
given an incorrect rendering of the Arabic, while
 This is the hird, the comitatus so typical of the Germanic kings and chieftains, whose members often conceived of themselves as a closed society, set apart from their fellow men. See the discussion in Foote and Wilson, 100–105, and Roesdahl, 25.
 Golden, “Rūs” (622) remarks that “the sacral
ruler described by Ibn Faḍlān in 309/921–2 . . . certainly possessed
many of the attributes of a holy Turkic Ḳaghan” (see the detailed
discussion on p. 623). The presence of the hird makes it unlikely that “this
notice is not a contamination from the notice on the KhazaḲaghan,”
although such a remote possibility (remote because of the phrase fa-ammā)
cannot be ruled out. See Smyser, 102–3. The sacral king, a concept which
Koestler (92–93) considers a borrowing by the Rūs/Slavs (although it would
be best to insist on the Slavic role) from the Khazars as their imperial
role-models, lends credence to Dolukhanov’s querying the extent “of
Scandinavian participation in the Kievan ruling élite and in their army” (195).
The title of khāqān for the King of the Rūs is attested
in 839 A.D., when “an embassy came from Constantinople to Emperor Louis the
Pious at Ingelheim near
 See further Smyser, 94.
 “The strength of the local population of European Russia and the international character of the trade was sufficient to destroy the character of the Scandinavian incomers” (Wilson, VP, 114), implying that they may have been resistant to such change, which cannot be justified.
 Martin Carver, Sutton Hoo: Burial Ground of
 Kovalevsky’s theory, as explained by H. Ritter (“Zum Text von Ibn Faḍlān’s Reisebericht,” ZDMG 96 : 100), that the author’s restraint was due to the miniscule importance of adab in the training of a faqīh is hardly tenable, but should be explained in terms of audience and patronage/commissioning as well as the rhetoric of eyewitness testimony.
 See G. R. Smith’s discussion of the relevance to Arabic narrative literature of the male majlis in his contribution on Ibn al-Mujāwir in the H. T. Norris Festschrift (forthcoming).