Viking Sources in Translation

al-Tartushi on Hedeby

Ibrahim ibn Yacoub (or Ahmad) al-Tartushi (i.e., "from Tortosa" in Spain) lived in the tenth century. He seems to have been an emissary from the Arab ruler of Spain to the the German emperor Otto I. He left behind an account of his travels, which includes the following description of "Schleswig", i.e., Hedeby. His work does not survive in its entirety, but excerpts from it have been preserved in Arab geographical collections. The excerpt here below derives from a geographical compilation by al-Qazwini (died 1283).

He says: Schleswig is a very large town situated at the Ocean. Within there are sources of fresh water. The people there adore Sirius, except for a few, who are Christian. They have a church there.

al-Tartushi recounts: They celebrate a feast, to which all of them come together in order to honor their god and to eat and drink. When a man kills a sacrificial animal, whether it be an ox, ram, goat, or pig, he hangs it on a pole outside his house so that people will know that he has made a sacrifice in honor of the god. The town is poor in goods and blessings. They mainly eat fish, which exists there in large quantities. If any of them gives birth to a child, they throw them into the ocean in order to diminish their expenses. He also says that it is the right of the women to divorce their husbands whenever they like. There is also an artificial eye makeup. When one uses it, the beauty of both men and women is enhanced, and it never disappears. And he says: I have never heard any more awful singing then the singing of the people in Schleswig. It is a groan that comes out of their throats, similar to the bark of the dogs but even more like a wild animal.

Source: Georg Jacob, Arabische Berichte von Gesandten an germanische Fürstenhöfe aus dem 9. und 10. Jahrhundert (Berlin and Leipzig, 1927), p. 29 (contains a translation into German), and Harris Birkeland, Nordens historie i middelalderen etter arabiske kilder, Skrifter utgitt av Det Norske Videnskaps-Akademi i Oslo II. Hist.-Filos. Klasse. 1954. No. 2; Oslo 1954), pp. 103-104 (contains a translation into Norwegian). English translation on the basis of Jacob's German and Birkeland's Norwegian by Anders Winroth, © 2006.

This text is part of Viking Sources in Translation. Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use.

© 2006 Anders Winroth