Arab travelers: Harun ibn Yahya, from Constantinople to Rome

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Following “Viaggi e viaggiatori arabi” by Francesco Gabrieli, let’s discover together the first Arab traveler who reached and wrote about Constantinople and Rome: Harun Ibn Yahya


Before starting with our narration, one very important thing must be specified: to date, what you are about to read are some of the only sources you will find online about Harun ibn Yahya. For some strange reason, in fact, no one has bothered to give this great and mysterious character the right attention and this is the reason why I wanted more than ever to tell you about it, in the hope that in the future new texts may be published and translations of his travel reports. Obviously, due to the scarcity of information, what you will read is taken solely from “Viaggi e viaggiatori arabi” by Francesco Gabrieli, with all the merits and risks of relying on a single (and no longer young) text.

Harun ibn Yahya, from Constantinople to Rome

“He is the first Arab Arab traveler, known to us by name, from Constantinople in the Abbasid age. He was, at least at the beginning of his wanderings, a traveler in spite of himself, having been captured in action of war or rather in a pirate raid, at Ashkelon in Palestine, and taken as a prisoner to Constantinople, where he had to recover his freedom quite soon. From there, we do not know in what quality and with what company, he crossed the Balkan Peninsula, and from Veneto went down to Rome. Here we lose track of him; some references, at the end of his report, to southern France and Britain certainly do not correspond to a direct experience of those countries.


The story of his adventures, with the widespread descriptions of the two Rome, has been preserved for us by the 10th century geographer Ibn Rusta, and is commonly referred to around 880-890. Harun, of whom nothing is known apart from this episode (he was supposed to have been a Christian Arab of Syria, but in reality in his report there is no specific indication of the author’s faith, whether Muslim or Christian), says of having been transported from Ashkelon by sea to Antalya, and from here having crossed Asia Minor by the Sangario and Nicaea (these two identifications are discussed), and then again by sea towards Constantinople. […]

The itinerary from Constantinople to Rome, which was certainly followed personally by our traveler, although he presents the data in an impersonal form, reached Thessaloniki, and to the south the town of Kitros; then cutting from south-west to north-east la Macedonia and Slavonia, opened in Split, and going up the Dalmatian coast entered Italy. Venice appears for an instant under the name of “village of Bandaqis” (or Bandaqiyyin), and then we move on to Longobardia and its inhabitants, of which Harun seems to recognize the foreign origin and their settlement in the Po Valley. to return the description of Pavia in the incomplete text. With twenty days of travel among the Lombards, that is, from the Po Valley to the Apennines, our Arab pilgrim descends to Rome.

“Viaggi e viaggiatori arabi” by Francesco Gabrieli

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