Abū ʿUbayd ʿAbd Allāh ibn ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz ibn Muḥammad ibn Ayyūb ibn ʿAmr al-Bakrī (Arabic: أبو عبيد عبد الله بن عبد العزيز بن محمد بن أيوب بن عمرو البكري), or simply al-Bakrī (c. 1040–1094) was an Arab Andalusian historian and the greatest geographer of the Muslim West.[1]

Abū ʿUbayd ʿAbd Allāh ibn ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz ibn Muḥammad ibn Ayyūb ibn ʿAmr al-Bakrī
EraCaliphate of Córdoba
Main interest(s)Islamic history, geography


Al-Bakri was born in Huelva, the son of the sovereign of the short-lived principality there.[2] He belonged to the Arab tribe of Bakr.[3] When his father was deposed by al-Mu'tadid he moved to Córdoba, where he studied with the geographer al-Udri and the historian Ibn Hayyan. He spent his entire life in Al-Andalus, most of it in Seville and Almeria. He died in Córdoba without ever having travelled to the locations of which he wrote.[4]


Al-Bakri wrote about Europe, North Africa, and the Arabian peninsula. Only two of his works have survived. His Mu'jam mā ista'jam contains a list of place names mostly within the Arabian peninsula with an introduction giving the geographical background. His most important work is his Kitāb al-Masālik wa-al-Mamālik ("Book of Highways and of Kingdoms") (كتاب المساليك والمماليك). This was composed in 1068, based on literature and the reports of merchants and travellers, including Muhammad ibn Yusuf al-Warraq (904-973) and Abraham ben Jacob.[4][5] It is one of the most important sources for the history of West Africa and gives crucial information on the Ghana Empire, the Almoravid dynasty and the trans Saharan trade.[5] Although the material borrowed from Yusuf al-Warraq dated from the 10th century, he also included information on events that occurred close to the time that he wrote.[5]

Al-Bakri mentions the earliest urban centers in the trans Saharan trade to embrace Islam, late in the 10th century, Gao was one of the very few along the Niger River to have native Muslim inhabitants. Other centres along the serpentine bends of the great river eventually followed: Takrur (Senegal); Songhay (Mali); Kanem-Bornu (Chad); and Hausa-territories (Nigeria). By the 11th century, reports on these and other flourishing Islamic cities made their way north to Al-Andalus in southern Iberia, enabling Al-Bakri to write in his Kitab al-Masalik wa al-Mamalik (Book of Highways and Kingdoms):

"The city of Ghana consists of two towns situated on a plain", "One of these towns, which is inhabited by Muslims, is large and possesses twelve mosques in one of which they assemble for the Friday prayer. There are salaried Imams and Muezzins, as well as Jurists and Scholars."[6]

His works are noted for the relative objectiveness with which they present information. For each area, he describes the people, their customs, as well as the geography, climate and main cities. Similar information was also contained in his written geography of the Arabian Peninsula, and in the encyclopedia of the world in which he wrote. He also presented various anecdotes about each area. Unfortunately, parts of his main work have been lost, and of the surviving parts, some have never been published.[5]


The crater Al-Bakri on the Moon is named after him.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ E., Lévi-Provençal. "Abū ʿUbayd al-Bakrī".
  2. ^ Lévi-Provençal 1960, p. 155
  3. ^ Hermes, N. (2012). The [European] Other in Medieval Arabic Literature and Culture: Ninth-Twelfth Century AD. Springer."Judged as the greatest geographer of al-Andalus, polyvalent scholar Abu ʿUbayd ʿAbd Allah al-Bakri belonged to the powerful Arab tribe of Bakr ibn Wail"
  4. ^ a b Vernet 1970
  5. ^ a b c d Levtzion & Hopkins 2000, pp. 62–63
  6. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-11-30. Retrieved 2011-09-23.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)


  • Lévi-Provençal, E. (1960), "Abū ʿUbayd al-Bakrī", Encyclopaedia of Islam 2nd Ed. Vol. 1, Leiden: Brill, pp. 155–157.
  • Levtzion, Nehemia; Hopkins, John F.P., eds. (2000), Corpus of Early Arabic Sources for West Africa, New York, NY: Marcus Weiner Press, ISBN 1-55876-241-8. First published in 1981. Pages 62–87 contain an extract from "The Book of Routes and Realms" describing West Africa.
  • Vernet, J. (1970), "Bakrī, Abū ʿUbayd ʿAbdallāh Ibn ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz Ibn Muḥammad al-", in Gillispie, Charles C. (ed.), Dictionary of Scientific Biography Vol. 1, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, pp. 413–414.

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