Eastern Europe in the Geographical Work of Abū al-Fidāʾ: Personal Experience and the Burden of Tradition

Keywords: Abū al-Fidāʾ, Eastern Europe, geographical tradition, personal experience, written sources, research strategies


This paper raises the question of the influence of a scholar’s personal experience on their research strategies, which determines the selection of sources, the purpose of creating a work, its structure, and content. The author refers to A Sketch of the Countries (Taqwim al-buldan), a work on Eastern Europe in world geography by Abū al-Fidāʾ, a Syrian scholar of the first third of the fourteenth century and emir of the city of Hama. The purpose of the paper is to reconstruct Abū al-Fidāʾ’s methods of work employing source analysis and trace the correlation between his principles of selection of sources, on the one hand, and the parameters of the geographical area characterised by him in Eastern Europe, on the other. The personal experience of the geographer, who was primarily a military leader and politician and maintained constant contact with the leaders of Mamluk Egypt, had a decisive influence on the content of messages about Eastern Europe. With access to information related to Egypt’s relations with the outside world, including with the strongest state in Eastern Europe at that time – the Golden Horde, Abū al-Fidāʾ was able to compose original descriptions of the Black Sea, and give detailed characteristics of the Golden Horde cities of the Northern Black Sea region, the Azov region, and the Lower and Middle Volga regions. The analysis of the geographer’s reports demonstrates that the ethnopolitical picture of Eastern Europe in Abū al-Fidāʾ’s treatise is practically exhausted by the borders of the Golden Horde, despite the presence of rich material about Rus’ and the Eastern Baltics in the treatise of the famous Arab geographer al-Idrisi (12th century), whose work Abū al-Fidāʾ widely used to characterise different regions of the world. At the same time, the basis of Abū al-Fidāʾ’s story about Eastern Europe is formed by extensive excerpts from the work of Ibn Sa‘id al-Maghribi, a Spanish-Arab geographer of the second half of the thirteenth century related to the territory under the control of the Golden Horde khans. Thus, the significance of al-Idrisi’s information about Eastern Europe was assessed by Abū al-Fidāʾ in the light of the information about the region that came to Mamluk Egypt through channels connected with the Golden Horde. It was the relevant information about certain objects in the region that performed structure-forming functions in the description deforming the traditional context or even completely displacing it.

Author Biography

Irina Konovalova

Dr. Hab. (History), Head of the Department of Auxiliary Historical Disciplines, Institute of World History of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

32a, Leninsky Ave., 119334, Moscow, Russia.

ORCID 0000-0002-7093-6045



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How to Cite
Konovalova, I. (2022). Eastern Europe in the Geographical Work of Abū al-Fidāʾ: Personal Experience and the Burden of Tradition. Quaestio Rossica, 10(3), 1043–1056. https://doi.org/10.15826/qr.2022.3.715