THE BOOK OF CONTEMPLATION
PART I GREAT EVENTS AND CALAMITIES DURING MY LIFE
1.… there were not many Muslim casualties in that battle: The first 21 folios of the manuscript are missing, so the text begins in the middle of the first surviving account. It is not certain what battle Usama refers to here. According to his own accounting (see ‘An Enumeration of Usama’s Battles’ in the Lost Fragments from The Book of Contemplation in Other Excerpts, below), Usama was engaged in only two serious battles with the Franks under Zangi. Hitti (Memoirs, p. 25) favours the encounter near Qinnasrin of 532 (1138); Rotter (p. 238, n. 1) does not specify. But it is more likely the battle at Rafaniya of 531 (1137) that is intended here since Usama explicitly states of Qinnasrin that ‘there was no actual engagement’, which hardly fits this gory account. Moreover, Ibn al-Qalanisi (Ta’rikh, p. 259) describes a battle matching Usama’s description, and locates it at the fortress of al-Bari’a, near Rafaniya.
2. al-Rashid: ‘Abbasid caliph in Baghdad (r. 1135–6), succeeding his father al-Mustarshid, who took the throne in 1118.
3. the atabeg: By this title, Usama means his first patron, the atabeg Zangi ibn Aq-Sunqur, ruler of Mosul, Aleppo and much of northern Syria (r. 1127–46).
4. gilded cuirass: (Arabic jawshan mudhahhab) a lamellar cuirass of small (gilded) metal plates, not a ‘gilden byrnie’ as in Hitti (Memoirs, p. 25). Usama’s point is one of irony, i.e., that this ostentatious armour, intended to protect its wearer, instead attracted the attention of the enemy and so led to his death.
5. Ibn al-Daqiq: This Arabic nickname ‘Slender-son’ or ‘Flour-child’, depending on your interpretation, is more likely an attempt to reproduce the sounds of a Frankish name or title. Miquel (p. 94, n. 6) suggests ‘Benedict’. He is no doubt identical to the ‘Philip ibn al-Daqiq’ mentioned in Ibn al-Athir, al-Bahir fi’l-dawla al-atabakiya, ed. A. Tulaymat (Cairo: Dar al-Kutub al-Haditha, 1963), pp. 101–2.
6. king of the Romans: (Arabic malik al-Rum) by ‘Romans’, Arabic writers usually meant the Byzantines, who indeed called themselves Rhomaioi, Romans. I intentionally retain the inaccuracy. In this case, the Byzantine ‘king’ is the emperor John II Com-nenus, who invaded Syria in the spring of 1138. The siege lasted from 28 April until 31 May.
7. Al-Yaghisiyani: This is Usama’s commanding officer, Salah al-Din Muhammad al-Yaghisiyani. He was Zangi’s chamberlain and leading amir.
8. You’d better find… your lands: Zangi had made al-Yaghisiyani his governor over Hama. The latter’s son Ahmad was named governor of Baalbek.
9. Mosul: Headquarters of the atabeg Zangi and chief city of Upper Mesopotamia.
10. So I rode out and reached Shayzar: The remainder of this passage is nearly illegible in the original and has vexed all editors and translators. My own translation is a compromise and mostly follows the readings of Samarrai (p. 27). Hitti (Memoirs, p. 27) reads this passage as describing Usama’s woe at the destruction wrought by the Byzantine siege of Shayzar. But Gibb (p. 1006) was the first to point out that the treacherous al-Yaghisiyani is the most likely culprit. Cf. Miquel, p. 97. As Usama later describes, the siege of Shayzar was not, on the whole, so very destructive, and it does not feature in the list of prominent battles he witnessed (see ‘An Enumeration of Usama’s Battles’ in the Lost Fragments from The Book of Contemplation in Other Excerpts, below).
What seems to be described is as follows: hearing in Hama of the approaching Byzantine troops, Usama’s wish was to return to his family’s nearby castle at Shayzar to help defend it. Al-Yaghisiyani, however, wished instead to retreat to Mosul, and so sought to force Usama’s withdrawal by seizing his household in Hama while he was off in Shayzar. As we shall see, Usama remained in Shayzar for the siege and then deserted Zangi and sought service in Damascus.
11. the lord of Damascus: Shihab al-Din Mahmud ibn Buri, prince of the Burid dynasty (r. 1135–9), Usama’s new lord. Not to be confused with Shihab al-Din Mahmud ibn Qaraja, lord of Hama.
12. eight years… numerous battles: That is, 1138–44, eight years inclusive. Curiously, none of these ‘numerous battles’ is named in Usama’s list accounting (see ‘An Enumeration of Usama’s Battles’ in the Lost Fragments from The Book of Contemplation in Other Excerpts, below). Perhaps they were not major engagements.
13. fiefs: (Arabic al-iqta’) these are not exactly the same as fiefs familiar in the medieval West, being more properly the granting of rights over tax-money rather than the land itself, and not involving homage. But as the practice developed, the two institutions were close enough by Usama’s time to merit the translation here.
14. the commander Mu’in al-Din: Mu’in al-Din Unur (sometimes Anar, Anur), mighty atabeg of the Burid princes, d. 1149.
15. certain things came to pass: Usama was involved in court intrigues in Damascus against Mu’in al-Din, involving the latter’s rival, the local headman, Ibn al-Sufi. But the exact circumstances are very vague. See Cobb, pp. 30–31.
16. Concerning this, I say: With this poem, Usama tries to claim to Mu’in al-Din that anything the latter may have heard against him (such as rumours of a plot) was just slander, and his flight from Damascus was not evidence of his guilt but rather a selfsacrificing gesture to remove the source of Mu’in al-Din’s troubles.
17. al-Hafiz: Al-Hafiz was caliph of the Fatimid dynasty (r. 1131–49).
18. dinars: The dinar was the standard gold coin of the Islamic world.
19. al-Afdal ibn Amir al-Juyush: Fatimid vizier, d. 1121.
20. black troops: (Arabic al-sudan) a special corps of black Africans purchased as slaves and trained as soldiers. The fighting began on 23 September 1149.
21. Al-Hafiz was overwhelmed by all this: Reading, with Miquel (p. 98, n. 3), ghuliba minhum for Hitti’s ghaba ‘anhum.
22. not even two goats locked horns over it all: That is, the expected furore never occurred.
23. Al-Zafir… Ibn Masal: Al-Zafir was Fatimid caliph (r. 1149–54). Ibn Masal was effectively in control of Fatimid affairs even before being named vizier. On him, see EI2, s.v.
24. the amir Ibn al-Sallar: Also ‘Ibn al-Salar’ in some sources. On him, see EI2, s.v. ‘al-’Adil ibn Salar’. He was governor of Alexandria at this time.
25. Go out to al-Hawf: That is, the eastern Delta region of Egypt, an area used by the rulers of Egypt to settle and recruit Arab tribesmen since early Islamic times.
26. large host of Lawata: A tribe of Berber origin, though Usama (and others) describe them as Arabs.
27. ‘Abbas (a stepson of Ibn al-Sallar): As Usama states more specifically below, ‘Abbas was the son of one of Ibn al-Sallar’s wives and Tamim ibn Badis, a prince of the Zirid dynasty of Tunisia who died in exile in Alexandria.
28. Dalas: A town in Upper Egypt on the left bank of the Nile.
29. ‘al-Malik al-’Adil’: ‘The Just Ruler’.
30. that night: 26 Ramadan 544 (27 January 1150).
31. lote tree: (Arabic Nabq) Zizyphus spina Christii, also known as the jujube tree.
32. Nur al-Din: Nur al-Din Mahmud (r. 1146–74) was son and successor of the atabeg Zangi and lord over Zangid possessions in northern Syria and, eventually, Damascus and central Syria as well. Like Ibn al-Sallar, he too bore the title al-Malik al-’Adil.
33. Tiberias: A large city in northern Palestine on the Sea of Galilee conquered by the Franks and held in fief by Raymond of Tripoli.
34. Gaza: A prominent town of southern Palestine, conquered by the Franks. As Usama notes, it was at that time being rebuilt, the citadel being granted to the Templars by Baldwin III of Jerusalem.
35. Ascalon: A coastal town in southern Palestine. It was the Fatimids’ main bridgehead and military centre in Palestine, having held out against the Franks for over fifty years. As it was located just a few kilometres north of Frankish-held Gaza, it was largely isolated except by sea.
36. a camel-load of clothes… and turbans: It is worth noting that, correctly loaded, a camel can bear upwards of 200 kilos. Dabiq was a town (precise location unknown) of the Nile Delta noted for its gold brocades and colourful linens. Ciclatoun (Arabicsiqlatun) is an undefined luxury cloth, perhaps of silk and gold; Chaucer mentions it in the Tale of Sir Thopas. Squirrel-fur was a luxury imported from the northern steppes and much prized in the south. Dimyat is better known as Damietta, a principal town of the Delta that was, like Dabiq, renowned for its finely woven cloth.
37. al-Jafr: Located in modern Jordan, this is a desert outpost northeast of Ma’an, indicating that Usama was hoping to avoid crossing through the more densely settled Frankish lands west of the Jordan River by sticking to the less populous (and less firmly controlled) lands to the east. Al-Jafr is thus not an ‘oasis in the desert between Egypt and Palestine’ as claimed by Hitti (Memoirs, p. 35, n. 27).
38. Mahri camels: The region of Mahra in southern Arabia was famed for its noble and swift camels, prized in battle.
39. mamluk-troops: The term mamluk is used almost exclusively to denote soldiers of slave or servile origin, usually captured prisoners of war from peoples beyond the frontiers of the Islamic world, above all Turks.
40. a garment, a brayer, a barker and a bead: An odd locution; Usama is perhaps taking note, as many city-dwelling literati of his day did, of the quaint and curious vocabulary of the Bedouin. Or at least he is pretending to do so.
41. sandarach resin: (Arabic sindarus) the resin of the Tetraclinis articulata tree, used for incense and for medicinal purposes in the medieval Islamic world.
42. who are you then?: Usama condescends into the colloquial here (Arabic aysh antum?) to talk with the Bedouin.
43. They only eat carrion: A practice strictly forbidden in the Qur’an (5:4).
44. Hisma: The rocky highlands bordering the eastern edge of the Gulf of ‘Aqaba in southern Jordan and northern Arabia.
45. Since the feast of Ramadan: Better known as ‘Id al-Fitr, ‘the Feast of Fast-Breaking’, or al-’Id al-Saghir, ‘the Lesser Feast’, marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
46. orach leaves: (Arabic qataf) orach or mountain spinach (Atriplex hortensis) may well be one of the oldest and most common of cultivated plants known, valued for its nutritious green leaves.
47. Feast of Sacrifice: (Arabic ‘Id al-Adha) also known as the Great Feast, al-’Id al-Kabir, celebrated on the tenth day of the month of Dhu’l-Hijja, meaning Usama’s Bedouin hosts had been without food for nearly two months. As this trip took place in 544 (1150), we can place Usama’s visit to al-Jafr at roughly 10 April 1150.
48. abridged and combined… camels ran off: As Usama clarifies below, the point is that Usama and his men stopped to pray while the camels with the guides continued ahead, leaving Usama without direction in the desert. In accordance with Islamic law, Muslims are allowed to shorten and combine prayers (normally said at intervals throughout the day) when travelling.
49. bridle and some Maghribi dinars: The original text is obscure. According to Hitti, it reads sarfasar dananir maghribiyya, which he says could also be sarfasar dhahab wa-dananir maghribiyya, ‘a gold bridle and Maghribi dinars’. The bridle certainly seems out of place in this list of treasure unless it is precious. The reader should take note that a single gold dinar weighed, in the ideal, about 4.25 grams – Usama’s bag of four thousand dinars, then, would have weighed 17 kilos, or a little under 40 pounds – no small parcel.
50. Wilderness of the Children of Israel: The Sinai Desert.
51. Bosra: An ancient city (Roman Bostra) of the Hawran region of central Syria, 140 km south of Damascus, the site of striking Roman ruins, including an amphitheatre that was used as a fortress in the Middle Ages.
52. Asad al-Din Shirkuh: Shirkuh ibn Shadi was one of the atabeg Zangi’s Kurdish amirs. He went on to serve Zangi’s son Nur al-Din, under whom he became one of the leading military men of the regime. He was also the uncle of the future sultan Saladin.
53. Sunday night: (Arabic laylat al-ithnayn) ‘the night of Monday’, but as the day was held to begin at nightfall by medieval Muslims, this corresponds to Sunday night.
54. yours truly: The Arabic actually reads fa-qala li ‘ya fulan…, a common idiom used to avoid naming someone. Hitti translates this (as many do) as ‘O so-and-so’, which hardly makes sense to the uninitiated. In this case, Usama uses the idiom out of (a somewhat pretentious) humility to avoid mentioning his own name in his text.
55. the very heart of Frankish territory: And thus not ‘by-passing the frontiers of the Latin Kingdom’ as I claimed in Cobb, p. 36.
56. ‘Ayn al-Dawla al-Yaruqi: An amir once in the service of the Burids of Damascus and, as luck would have it, one of Usama’s principal foes during his tenure there (see Vie, pp. 230–31). It is not clear that Nur al-Din sent him with Usama out of ill-will, as Miquel (p. 110, n. 85) suggests.
57. the Cave of the Seven Sleepers: (Arabic al-Kahf wa’l-Raqim) a location frequently designated by either of these two Arabic names or (as here) both of them at once. The names are first mentioned in the Qur’an in association with the legend of the Cave of the Seven Sleepers (18:9–26). But the exact location is never specified, leaving the exegetes to assign various locales. The most popular was that accepted here by Usama, a place somewhere in the region of ‘Amman, perhaps, as Hitti (Memoirs, p. 39) suggests, to be identified with the stunning (and cleft-ridden) ruins of the Nabatean city of Petra.
58. pay us a little good-morning visit: (Arabic sabahuna) to give the customary morning visit. Usama is indulging in bravado here.
59. fools: The word is illegible in the original, but the context clearly refers to the Muslim infantry – and not very kindly.
60. My brother… Ascalon: Usama’s brother ‘Izz al-Dawla ‘Ali had thus not been in Ascalon ‘for the past few years’, as stated in Cobb, p. 36, but had come with him.
61. Bayt Jibril: Better known as Bayt Jibrin, a small town about halfway between Gaza and Jerusalem, controlled by the Franks and, since 1134, a base for the Frankish military order of the Knights Hospitaller.
62. Yubna: Modern Yavne, on the coast about 30 km south of Tel Aviv, Frankish Ibelin. The castle there was built between 1140 and 1143.
63. As for the unrest… it happened like this: On this confusing sequence of events, see Vie (pp. 236–54) and Cobb (pp. 37–42).
64. Bilbays to defend the country from the Franks: Once the principal city of the eastern Delta, Bilbays was an important Fatimid garrison on the invasion route into and out of Palestine. Ibn al-Sallar is here sending troops to garrison the city and guard Egypt’s frontier, and so is certainly not sending them, as Hitti has it (Memoirs, p. 43), ‘for the conquest’ of the city.
65. household managers: Usama uses a Perso-Arabic title ustadh-dar, a director of the household affairs of the vizier or caliph; a major-domo.
66. public chambers… private quarters: The ‘private quarters’ (Arabic dar al-haram) included, as the Arabic name suggests, what modern readers might call the ‘harem’, i.e., the women’s quarters, but they also included much else besides that was not for the view or access of strangers. They are here contrasted with the public chambers (dar al-salam), where guests were received and lodged.
67. came to loathe Nasr: As other chroniclers hint, ‘Abbas may have been angry that his son and the caliph had become lovers, an anger that Usama helped to fuel (see Kamil, 11:191–2).
68. Then the caliph ignored him… ropes: In this whole passage, the Arabic pronouns are indeterminate: it could well be Nasr, playing coy, who is ignoring the caliph.
69. My lord… Day of Judgment: Usama’s little speech here is laced with Qur’anic vocabulary.
70. son of al-Zafir: This is the Fatimid caliph al-Fa’iz (r. 1154–60), having acceded at about the age of five.
71. sons of al-Hafiz: These are some of the brothers of the slain caliph al-Zafir alluded to above, and thus, despite their irenic statement to ‘Abbas, they stood as possible rivals for the succession.
72. Then ‘Abbas came out… blood was pouring out of him: I have taken some liberties with the original Arabic syntax here. What is being described is ‘Abbas dragging Yusuf out by the neck, using a wrestler’s head-lock, not a decapitated head as in Miquel (p. 119), for reasons explained in the next note.
73. brought the two of them… killed them there: In Arabic faadkhaluhima… wa-qataluhima. The use of the dual in the Arabic indicates two victims, one Abu al-Baqa, the other clearly Yusuf, who thus cannot have been decapitated (see note above). This second victim therefore cannot be Abu al-Baqa’s unnamed father as Miquel (p. 119) suggests.
74. Ibn Ruzzik: Governor in Upper Egypt who would become (as Usama chronicles here) the last of the truly powerful Fatimid viziers, holding the post from 1154 to 1161. A mosque that he built outside the walls of medieval Cairo still bears his name (al-Tala’i’) and is one of the principal Fatimid monuments of the city. On him and the events being described by Usama, see EI2, s.v. ‘al-Tala’i”.
75. He then returned… command of things: In Arabic ‘ada ila darihi wa-amrihi wa-nahyihi, literally, ‘he returned to his palace and his commanding and forbidding’. ‘Commanding and forbidding’ refers to the beloved Islamic ethical formula that all Muslims, especially statesmen, are encouraged to adopt, namely to command the good and forbid the wrong. Here it is used to suggest that ‘Abbas was back to the business of running Egypt and, possibly, putting a bit of stick about, too.
76. Barqiya: In the eastern part of Cairo, named after Barqa, the north African region where many of the troops came from.
77. Victory Gate: (Arabic Bab al-Nasr) the principal north gate of the old city walls of Cairo, which still stands.
78. From my fief… full of grain: Here Usama is quite clear about what an iqta’ (see n. 13 above) of his day involved. Kum Afshin was about 15 km to the north of Cairo.
79. the early morning hours of Friday: One recalls here that the horoscope of ‘Abbas had, after all, recommended a Saturday departure (see above).
80. al-Muwaylih: Usama is evidently taking more or less the same route he took on his first mission to Syria. Al-Muwaylih is a desert outpost about 50 km northeast of ‘Aqaba, in modern Jordan – despite Hitti’s claim (Memoirs, p. 53, n. 76).
81. Wadi Musa: ‘The Valley of Moses’, or Vaux Moyse to the Franks. This is the stunning canyon and area of badlands around Petra, in modern Jordan.
82. stone-pelted devils: An allusion to Qur’anic imagery of Satan and the practice of pelting places associated with him with stones.
83. Rabi’a and Mudar: Two of the principal genealogical groupings of Arab tribes. Usama’s point is that there was plenty of water to go around.
84. that battle with the Franks: At al-Muwaylih, described above.
85. 130 mithqals: A mithqal is an Arabic measure of weight ideally equal to the weight of a gold dinar coin, or about 4.25 grams, making this ‘saddle’ weigh 552.5 grams, just over one pound, thus absurdly light if the text is accurate. But the term saraj, usually translated as ‘saddle’, in fact refers not merely to the saddle itself, but to all its accoutrements, including straps and saddle-cloths, and it must be the latter that is drawing Usama’s attention here. Saddle-cloths could indeed be richly sewn and decorated (for examples, see the medieval drawings of horsemen collected in Carole Hillenbrand, The Crusades: Islamic Perspectives (London: Routledge, 2000), pp. 446–55). Even so, an embroidered cloth of one pound in weight would be very thin (and unkind to its mount). Perhaps Usama refers solely to the weight of the gold used in the embroidery. Cf. Hitti, Memoirs, p. 54, n. 81.
86. Husam al-Mulk: This man, nephew of ‘Abbas, is not to be confused with the Husam al-Mulk who was the son of ‘Abbas, and who was killed by the Franks during this battle, as mentioned above.
87. he apologized and kept silent: That is, Husam al-Mulk is implying that Usama’s men stole the saddle unfairly, while Usama hastens to point out that he, after all, is its proper owner.
88. al-Afdal Ridwan: This is al-Afdal Ridwan ibn al-Walakhshi, a Fatimid vizier who was ousted by a rising of the troops against him on 14 June 1139. He fled to Syria, where Usama met him (see below). He is not to be confused with a Ridwan prominent in the early history of the Crusades, Ridwan ibn Tutush, Seljuk lord of Aleppo.
89. Perhaps… kindness: Here Usama consciously echoes the ‘injustice and ingratitude’ he cited earlier.
90. Salkhad: A fortified city of the Hawran region of central Syria, some 120 km southeast of Damascus.
91. Amin al-Dawla Gumushtagin al-Atabaki: Gumushtagin was lord of Salkhad and then Bosra beginning in 1110 (despite Hitti, who misreads the name).
92. Ridwan… putting it to siege: As Usama clarifies below, Ridwan has come to Baalbek seeking military aid from his fellow Fatimid officer in a bid to oust his enemies from Egypt. Zangi’s siege of Baalbek took place from August to October 1139.
93. Mu’in al-Din: The atabeg of Damascus, where Usama was based at the time.
94. ruler of Egypt: (Arabic ‘Aziz Misr) an allusion to the title given to the iniquitous Pharaoh in the Qur’an (12:30, 51), a title adopted (ironically) by some later Muslim rulers of Egypt. Despite Hitti’s claim (Memoirs, p. 57, n. 91), it was not ‘a title borne by the Fatimite caliphs’, though there was one caliph called ‘Aziz.
95. Amin al-Dawla: Gumushtagin, Ridwan’s host. Here, Ridwan enlists the aid of Gumushtagin in his attempt to return to Egypt and seize power there (contrary to what I stated in Cobb, p. 33).
96. first arrived in Cairo: Usama arrived in Cairo in November 1144. Ridwan had returned to Cairo as Zangi was besieging Baalbek in 1139. It is thus five years since Ridwan was captured and imprisoned.
97. Wednesday night: (Arabic laylat al-khamis) ‘the night of Thursday’, 13 April 1148, according to Derenbourg (Vie, p. 210, n. 2).
98. crossed over into Giza: That is, from the right bank, where Fatimid Cairo is located, to Giza (and the nearby Pyramids) on the left bank.
99. Master of the Gate: (Arabic Sahib al-Bab) traditionally the next-in-line to become vizier. This, in fact, was Ridwan’s post before his rise to power.
100. al-Aqmar Mosque: The ‘Moon-Lit’ Mosque, whose elaborate white-grey decorations still dazzle. The mosque was built some decades earlier, in 1125, in the northern part of Fatimid Cairo.
101. The Egyptians… acquire his valour: Cannibalism, though not unknown in Usama’s world, is of course strictly forbidden in Islam. The account is, in any case, almost certainly just a literary device by which Usama underlines the depth of the scheming Ridwan’s fall from grace.
102. even if the divine decree had not been executed: That is, on ‘Abbas, whose own story started this digression about Ridwan.
103. On that day: That is, the day the Franks attacked Usama and killed ‘Abbas at al-Muwaylih en route to Syria: Usama has returned to the main thread after the digression about Ridwan.
104. twenty ratls of blood: A ratl is a unit of weight, though it was occasionally, as here, employed to measure volume. In this case, it is roughly equivalent to a pint or .568 litres, so twenty ratls is about eleven litres of lost blood. Since the human body only contains about five litres of blood, the man is clearly exaggerating for rhetorical effect.
105. entered the service of Nur al-Din: In June 1154. By this time, Damascus had finally submitted to Nur al-Din, who made it his capital, though he spent much of his time on campaign in the north.
106. Aswan: Then, as now, the southernmost city of Egypt and bridgehead into East Africa. Note that, for Usama in Syria, it is easier to cross to Aswan from Mecca in Arabia than to return to Cairo and proceed up the Nile.
107. the king of the Franks: Baldwin III of Jerusalem (r. 1143–63), the first Palestinian-born King of Jerusalem who, among other things, finally captured Ascalon from the Fatimids in 1153, just before Usama’s arrival in Damascus. In contrast to his relations with Baldwin III, Usama had been on rather good terms with his father and predecessor as King of Jerusalem, King Fulk of Anjou, as he describes below.
108. with his cross right on it: Perhaps indicating the royal seal.
109. in the region of Ra’ban and Kaysun: Two cities located on the upper Euphrates in eastern Anatolia. Kaysun is also known as Kaysum. They belonged to Mas’ud, sultan of the Seljuks of Rum, and were the subject of some of Nur al-Din’s military campaigns in 1155.
PART II WONDERS OF WARFARE, AGAINST INFIDELS AND MUSLIMS
1. Mahmud ibn Qaraja: Shihab al-Din Mahmud ibn Qaraja (d. 1123). His father, Qaraja, had been lord of Harran and then Homs. Upon Qaraja’s death in 1113, Mahmud’s brother Khir-Khan became lord of Homs and named him lord of Hama. He is not to be confused with Shihab al-Din Mahmud ibn Buri, Burid lord of Damascus (r. 1135–9). See Kamil, 10:373, 493.
2. having no result: (Arabic ma taghabb) the point is not that there was no respite (as in Hitti, Memoirs, p. 63), but that no one was gaining any ground.
3. You do not even think… extra measure: Usama also cites this anonymous poem in his collection Lubab (p. 47).
4. Malik ibn al-Harith al-Ashtar: Malik al-Ashtar (d. 658) was a renowned warrior, partisan of the caliph ‘Ali and general nuisance to all his rivals during Islam’s early decades. On him, see EI2, s.v. ‘al-Ashtar’. Malik’s epithet al-Ashtar (‘Droopy-Eyed’) can, in fact, refer to two separate eye-conditions: entropion, the folding-in of the eyelid onto the surface of the eyeball, or ectropion, the folding-out of the eyelid so that it droops markedly down and away from the eye.
5. in the days of Abu Bakr al-Siddiq: That is, during the so-called Ridda Wars in Arabia shortly after the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632. His successor, the caliph Abu Bakr (known also as al-Siddiq), led Muslim armies against those tribes that had renounced their allegiance to Islam.
6. returned to Hama: Much of the account that follows is not clear in the original and, thus, its reading is conjectural.
7. quntariya-spear: The quntariya is a spear of Byzantine origin (cf. Greek kontarion), probably with a wooden haft. Usama also uses the more generic term rumh, which is properly the classic Arab spear, slightly longer than the quntariya, and with a cane or reed haft.
8. ‘Antara ibn Shaddad: ‘Antara ibn Shaddad al-’Absi was a famous poet of pre-Islamic Arabia (sixth century). As the verses cited indicate, his father was a proud ‘Absi tribesman, but his mother a slave. On him, see EI2, s.v. ‘Antara’.
9. Apamea: (Arabic Afamiya) an ancient city located a few kilometres northwest of Shayzar in the Orontes Valley. The southern-most possession of the Crusader lords of Antioch, it was frequently used as a base for incursions further into Syria. Known also as Qal’at al-Mudiq, it is dominated today by an impressive medieval walled town and a vast field of Classical ruins.
10. Il-Ghazi: Najm al-Din Il-Ghazi ibn Artuq was a member of the Artuqid family and a prominent commander in the Seljuk army.
11. the year 513: The date Usama provides is incorrect. In fact, this is the date of another battle, not that of the Battle of al-Balat, better known in the West as the ‘Field of Blood’ or ager sanguinis, which took place on 28 June 1119.
12. Roger: Roger of Salerno was regent of the Principality of Antioch (r. 1112–19). Typically for the era, Roger had once been an ally of Il-Ghazi, when the two joined forces against the Seljuks at the Battle of Tall Danith in 1115. Roger’s massacre of prisoners in the wake of that battle gained him widespread infamy.
13. Wadi Abu al-Maymun… pillagers: The precise location of Wadi Abu al-Maymun, ‘The Valley of the Father of Bohemond’, is not known, but it is clearly in the vicinity of Apamea. The ‘pillagers’ appear to be irregular troops whose job was to raid the hinterland of a city for animals, crops and other movable property.
14. hauberk: (Arabic dir’) a heavy shirt of armour made of mail.
15. gambeson: (Arabic tijfaf) a form of ‘soft armour’, a quilted felt garment worn, as in this example, beneath hard armour, the dir’ or mail hauberk. Cf. Hitti (Memoirs, p. 68): ‘wearing a coat of mail and the full armor of war’.
16. bumped backwards from the seat of my saddle: That is, he was jolted over and behind the low back support of his saddle-seat, not completely unhorsed as Derenbourg (Vie, p. 41) has it. Though taller than modern riding saddles, medieval Islamic saddles had a relatively low back and lacked the wrap-around support (the cantle) of medieval European saddles.
17. saddle-blanket: It is not clear what is meant exactly by the generic term markub thaqil fidda, as markub usually indicates a riding-animal itself, but here clearly indicates some part of its saddle-gear. That it is described as thick and of silver suggests a saddle-blanket akin to the gold-embroidered one described in an earlier account at the end of Part I.
18. the dark mare: Literally, ‘the green mare’ (Arabic al-khadra’) or perhaps as Gibb (p. 1007) ingeniously suggests, it is the horse’s name: ‘he was riding al-Khadra’.
19. Thus I say… do no damage: In fact, the technique that Usama is advocating is known from medieval Islamic manuals of war as the ‘Syrian thrust’, though it is not entirely clear from his description if it is similar to the couched technique of medieval European cavalry of this time and later.
20. that little bone that is in one’s chest: What Usama terms al-’usfura, which has perplexed most translators. As the term was used to designate the blaze on a horse’s head or (colloquially) vertical pegs used on ploughs, it seems that Usama means the sternum here (as Miquel, p. 152, n. 29, suggests), and not a ‘vein’ as in Hitti (Memoirs, p. 70).
21. With this hand… all things: An allusion to Qur’an 3:26.
22. man born to our household: The kinship term Usama uses is muwallad, that is, a child of a slave or mamluk, and who is thus also a slave, born into the household of the owner.
23. woman’s get-up: (Arabic ma’raqat imra’a) which kind of clothing is not stated. Usama’s point (as is clarified below) is that he appeared not just comical, but unarmed.
24. I am waiting… horses of those infidels: A pious way of saying he’s going to steal them.
25. He wasn’t wearing any trousers: The absent article of clothing is specified as sarawil. That is, his legs were unprotected, a detail that becomes relevant below.
26. Mu’in al-Din: Atabeg of Burid Damascus and patron of Usama.
27. at the time I was an enemy of Hama’s lord: This context allows us to fix the date of these events between 1136 and 1137, when Usama himself was working for the atabeg Zangi and his commander al-Yaghisiyani at Hama.
28. for pity’s sake: The implication of the Arabic is that the gift would serve as alms.
29. bodyguard: The Arabic word is al-jandariya, from Persian jan-dar.
30. Mudhkin: Hitti reads this as ‘Muthkir’, and was unable to identify it. But as a village named Mudhkin in the vicinity of Kafartab is known from other sources, it would seem to be a variant spelling on Usama’s part. Cf. Ibn al-’Adim, Zubdat al-Halab min ta’rikh Halab, ed. Sami Dahhan (Damascus: IFAO, 1968), 2:47. Usama’s man is thus a local boy.
31. Kafartab: A small fortified town on the medieval road from Shayzar to Aleppo, once a possession of Usama’s family.
32. controlled by al-Yaghisiyani: That is, Usama’s commanding officer in Hama – this explains why one of Usama’s men is involved.
33. two farsakhs: A farsakh was a measure of distance roughly equivalent to 6 km.
34. one day… Rafaniya: The atabeg Zangi, Usama’s lord at the time, was besieging a small fortified town, about 40 km northwest of Homs.
35. brought from town: The town where Usama’s horses are stabled is Hama, where he was posted, just a few kilometres away. Oddly, Hitti (Memoirs, p. 74) leaves this phrase out altogether.
36. at the end of this particular period: That is, of this cluster of discrete battles and encounters, which punctuated Usama’s early career, as he says explicitly in the introduction to this section, above. Thus, this was not ‘the battle which was the last to take place in this war’, as Hitti (Memoirs, p. 74) has it, since the battle described in this account, against the Muslim Banu Qaraja of Homs and Hama, was not part of Zangi’s siege against Frankish Rafaniya, described in the preceding account.
37. rolled out the red carpet for them: (Arabic wa-basatnahum) an expression used to describe the cheery greeting of guests. Usama is being ironic here, a nuance lost in Hitti’s ‘we encountered them’ (Memoirs, p. 74).
38. kazaghand… aventail: A kazaghand (from Persian kaz-agand, ‘stuffed silk’) describes a multi-layered form of armour which included a layer of mail as well as internal padding and external (often decorative) fabric; an aventail (Arabic litham) is the leather or armoured piece that dangles from the back of a helmet, protecting the neck and throat, as should be clear from the rest of the account. It is thus not a ‘visor’ as Hitti (Memoirs, p. 74) has it.
39. chisel-headed arrow: The reading is uncertain. The root of the key term, k-sh-m, denotes anything ‘cut off from its origin’, especially a nose cut off from one’s face. This would suggest that the arrow is of the blunted broad-headed type, normally associated with hunting rather than war. Such hunting arrows could be used in war against unarmoured foes, or against horses. This would coincide with Usama’s intent here, as he says this wound was akin to the ‘similar thing’ that occurs in the next account, namely a trifling arrow wound that kills its victim against all expectation. His point is that, had the soldier been wearing an aventail, the arrow would have been harmless, but Fate had other plans.
40. Kar’a: I have been unable to identify this location (also read ‘Lar’a’), but it is clearly a place between Apamea and Shayzar.
41. out of fear of the Kurds: The Arabic text reads ‘ala khawf al-akrad. Kurds were commonly recruited as soldiers in Islamic armies of this period in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere. But Samarrai (p. 70, n. 134) makes the interesting suggestion that this may be a misreading of a placename Harf al-Akrad or the like, i.e., the location to which Shihab al-Din has withdrawn.
42. Jum’a: The Numayri warrior of Shayzar whom Usama depicts above as a model of warrior’s disdain.
43. Burj al-Khurayba: The reading of this toponym, Burj al-Khurayba or al-Khariba, ‘the Tower of the Little Ruins’ or ‘Stoneheap Tower’, is complicated here by the interposition of the name ‘Musfan’ in the manuscript, itself marked as if to suggest that the copyist saw it as an error of some kind. But this is probably the Hisn al-Khurayba, mentioned below.
44. But I am in the home of my father: Mahmud ibn Qaraja indicates here his loyalty to his hosts, Usama’s family – he was not actually related to them. Usama’s uncle plays along.
45. and then through three on his right: Hitti (Memoirs, p. 76) omits this last phrase.
46. How close the funeral to the wedding: Here Usama alludes to a line of early Islamic poetry, attributed to various authors, ‘And so does Fate act: his funeral was the closest of things to his wedding.’
47. Qays ibn al-Khatim: An Arabian poet (d. 620).
48. the Ansar: Literally, ‘Helpers’. These were those natives of Medina who supported the Prophet Muhammad and his cause when he emigrated to that city.
49. Battle of al-Hadiqa: Hadiqa was an area of orchards and gardens just outside Medina, where a pre-Islamic battle between the tribes of Aws and Khazraj was fought.
50. court of the sultan Malikshah: For ‘court’ Usama uses the Persian term dar-gah. Malikshah was sultan of the Seljuk dynasty from 1072 to 1092.
51. the Cerdagnais: Usama calls him al-Sardani, i.e., William Jourdain II (Guillem-Jorda II), count of Cerdagne and lord of Tripoli (1105–9). The attack would have taken place around 1108.
52. al-Find al-Zimmani: The sobriquet of the pre-Islamic poet Sahl ibn Shayban (seventh century).
53. al-’Ala: That is, the Jabal al-’Ala region of rocky uplands, not far from Antioch, extending from the west bank of the Orontes River to the vicinity of the town of Idlib in northern Syria.
54. Turcopoles: (Arabic turkubuli) native mercenary troops employed by the armies of the Franks. Some were Muslim, others were converts from Islam or were native Christians. They are usually interpreted as light cavalry, but in fact served a variety of military functions.
55. dagger in his boot: Usama uses the Persian word dashneh to denote this dagger, which is a short, double-edged knife.
56. Ibn Mula’ib: Sayf al-Dawla Khalaf ibn Mula’ib al-Ashhabi was a notorious bandit and warlord in northern Syria, a constant thorn in the side of local rulers, including the Banu Munqidh of Shayzar. He was eventually murdered and the Franks captured Apamea not long after these events.
57. javelin: Usama uses the Persian word khisht, a light javelin used by footmen.
58. In that chest… forty-three of them: Copying the complete text of the Qur’an was considered an act of great piety. That said, it was not standard Muslim burial practice to include burial goods. By masatir, ‘copy-books’, Usama means the lightly ruled quires of paper that copyists practised in, not hefty bound tomes.
59. The Great Commentary: (Arabic al-Tafsir al-Kabir) a typical enough title for works of this kind. Such commentary and scholarly apparatus were commonly added in a small tight hand in different colours in the margins of a Qur’an copy.
60. tenth and fifth parts: The Qur’an consists of 114 chapters (or suras), which are divided into thirty sections (ajza’), which can be combined to form tenths (three sections) or fifths (six sections), both of which are standard units used in the recitation of the texts on ritual occasions.
61. that same day: 25 July 1104, the day of the battle with Ibn Mula’ib when Usama’s father was wounded in his hand. To distinguish the two individuals involved, in what follows I have translated the Arabic term mawla as both ‘lord’ (for the king Ridwan) and as ‘master’ (for ‘Izz al-Dawla Nasr).
62. Ridwan: Ridwan ibn Tutush was the Seljuk lord of Aleppo from 1095 to 1113. He is not to be confused with the adventurous Egyptian vizier al-Afdal Ridwan, whose tragic fate Usama relates in Part I.
63. All servants and subjects: The text reads al-ghilman wa-awlad al-hilal, that is, servants born of servile status as well as people born free.
64. back in the days of my father: That is, in the days of Tutush, Seljuk lord of Aleppo from 1078 to 1095.
65. Instead, Sham’un told him: Note that Sham’un does not tell him the story he wishes to hear (Usama tells it below), but instead the story of his saving his master just a few days prior.
66. Sadid al-Mulk ‘Ali: Usama’s grandfather, the conqueror and first lord of Shayzar.
67. my uncle ‘Izz al-Dawla: Usama is mistaken here. ‘Izz al-Dawla was the title of his uncle Nasr (d. 1098) and appears in the previous anecdote. He probably means his uncle Sultan, who bore the similar title, ‘Izz al-Din.
68. Tall Milh: Tall Milh (‘Salt Hill’) is a small hill about 6 km to the west of Shayzar.
69. I, just a youth: This was perhaps an incursion by Count Bertrand of Tripoli in the summer of 1110, so Usama would have been about fifteen (see Vie, pp. 86–7).
70. the dyke: Usama calls it al-sakr, a low retaining wall presumably intended to hold back the waters of the Orontes during flooding. From the statement of his father, it seems it extended from the walls of the lower town, so Usama could use it to mount the walls safely.
71. ones that rise and set: Of course, all stars rise and set. He is perhaps referring to constellations, which rise and set as distinctive groupings, and provided at least a foundation for astrology and navigation. Note too that Usama expresses misgivings about astrology that were common (but certainly not universal) among the pious of his day.
72. gate… opened: Medieval city gates were invariably closed at night.
73. What’s the name of this here town?: The Arabic reads Ayyu shay’in ismu hadha al-balad. This is a good example of one of Usama’s colloquialisms that has been ‘Classicized’.
74. And we turned… choke-hold… save him, though: The original text indicates that ‘one of them took the head of Jum’a under his armpit’ – this is exactly how Usama describes a similar hold used in another context in Part I, during the massacres of the Fatimid royal family. Hitti and Samarrai (p. 80) both change the Arabic to make it ‘the son of Jum’a’ in the Frank’s choke-hold, presumably because they assume Mahmud had been killed. But there is no evidence to prove such a conclusion.
75. overlooks the plaza… that road: Usama’s description still matches the topography of the town of Apamea today, which is accessible only via a winding road overlooking a broad open area or plaza (Arabic maydan).
76. cap on his head: The cap was a qalansuwa, a thick quilted cap, almost a form of soft armour.
77. Mayhap the body is cured by illness: Here Usama quotes a verse of the poet al-Mutanabbi (d. 955).
78. Dhakhirat al-Dawla Hittan: Hitti reads this cousin’s name as ‘Khitam’, but this is surely the Dhakhirat al-Dawla Hittan ibn Munqidh known from other sources as a prominent amir later in the days of Saladin. The two names look nearly identical in unpointed Arabic script.
79. You may dislike something though it is good for you: Qur’an 2:216.
80. Upper Mesopotamia: (Arabic al-Jazira) northern Iraq, where Mosul is, and which served as the primary base of operations for Zangi (‘the atabeg’).
81. He had come with me into exile: The text reads wa-qad tagharrab ma’i. That is, Ghunaym came with Usama from Shayzar. In the surviving text of the book, this is one of Usama’s few references to his expulsion. Cf. Hitti (Memoirs, p. 88), ‘kept me company on my sojourns in foreign lands’.
82. Basahra’ Castle: Hitti (Memoirs, p. 89) reads ‘Bashamra’, a castle in northern Syria. But it seems a locality in Upper Mesopotamia is intended and so, following Gibb (p. 1007), I suggest Basahra’, near Mosul.
83. I saw the austringer… French Moult: The text reads baziyar, often translated ‘falconer’, but as the birds in questions are goshawks (Arabic baz), a hawk-handler or austringer is intended. In falconry, French Moult (Arabic hass) is a blanket term used to describe any ailment that would cause a bird to moult out of season or grow misshapen feathers.
84. francolin: (Arabic durraj) Francolinus francolinus, a tasty partridge-like bird that favours marshes.
85. climbed up on the mill: The Orontes River (which does indeed contain a few small islands along its course) fed a number of water-wheels on its banks, some used for milling grain, others for propelling water into irrigation-works. A few examples, primarily of Ottoman origin, can still be seen on the Orontes today (where children climb on them as a diving platform, not unlike the archers described here).
86. man of courage: Usama calls him rajulan shuja’an, a play on the man’s title, Shuja’ al-Dawla, ‘Courage of the State’.
87. Sarhank… Khutlukh: All prominent local amirs. Sarhank is the same champion that roused Jum’a’s sense of honour in another encounter that Usama described above; Ghazi al-Talli’s last name indicates his place of origin, but it is not specific: perhaps Syrian Tall Mannas or Mesopotamian Tall Bashir (Frankish Turbessel); Khutlukh bears a Seljuk title of Persian origin (sipah-salar), commander.
88. leading down to al-Jalali: Hitti (Memoirs, p. 92, n. 73) says that the Jalali is a tributary of the Orontes, but I have not been able to confirm this independently – there are certainly no major tributaries in the vicinity of Shayzar. Thus, one assumes that, to Hitti, the Jalali Mill mentioned above was named after the river. But the mill is far more likely to have been named after its builder, a local ruler with a title like Jalal al-Din or Jalal al-Dawla (a good candidate is an old ruler of Aleppo, Jalal al-Dawla Nasr, r. 1074–6). If that is the case, then the mill is once again meant here and not a tributary.
89. went down: Hitti (Memoirs, p. 92) has misunderstood the topography here: the horseman finds himself ‘ala shafir al-wadi, which is at the side of a canyon (i.e., the Orontes Valley), as with a bank of a river, not ‘on the very edge of a precipice’. Usama’s point is that the horseman falls, but finds himself on the side of the canyon convenient to his comrades’ location at the Jalali Mill (with the cattle), and so goes down to them in safety.
90. Bandar-Qanin: Location unknown. The word bandar, however, is of Persian origin, meaning town, especially a market-town.
91. projecting window: The window is called a rawshan, a Persian term used to describe the projecting bay-windows that are often covered with intricately carved wooden screens or mashrabiyat.
92. Bohemond’s son: Usama simply calls him Ibn Maymun, that is, Bohemond II, Frankish lord of Antioch (r. 1126–30), and son of Bohemond of Taranto.
93. Rabiyat al-Qaramita: ‘Carmathian Height’. The Carmathians, or Qaramita, were an extremist Shi’ite sect prominent in the history of Syria during the tenth century.
94. Banias… Damascus: The town of Banias, located at the head of the Jordan River, was captured by the Franks in 1140. It was well known for these surrounding woods, which Ibn al-Qalanisi (Ta’rikh, p. 520) mentions as the subject of Frankish raiding. Banias should not be confused with the Syrian coastal town of the same name, conventionally spelled Baniyas. The truce between Frankish Jerusalem and Burid Damascus, for which Usama was to some degree responsible, was settled in 1139, while Usama served the Burid atabeg Mu’in al-Din (1138–44).
95. Fulk, son of Fulk: Fulk V, count of Anjou, Touraine and Maine, and King of Jerusalem (r. 1131–43) by virtue of his marriage to Queen Melisende.
96. Tancred: Usama calls him Dankari. He was a nephew of Bohemond of Taranto and served as his regent over Antioch almost continuously from 1101 to 1112.
97. noble horse of the Khafaja: The Khafaja was a largely nomadic Arab tribe of Syria whose horses were greatly prized.
98. serjents: Usama represents the French term in Arabic as sarjand.
99. Badrahu: Derenbourg transcribes this as ‘Badrhawa’, but the long alif at the end of this name is not a letter, but an example of alif al-wiqaya, a mark used to prevent a final letter waw from being misread as the word for ‘and’. I have transcribed the name accordingly. Either way, it is difficult to interpret. On the basis of his reading, Derenbourg (Vie, p. 57, n. 2) suggests ‘Pedrovant’, but my reading suggests a simple ‘Pedro’ will do.
100. water: The Orontes River.
101. Yahya ibn Safi Left-Hand: The man’s epithet is al-A’sar, ‘the Left-Handed’, or, possibly, ‘the Unlucky’.
102. al-Ruj: This name, variously applied by different texts to a district, valley, castle or town, has caused no end of grief to medievalists. Fortunately, Dussaud (pp. 165–70) seems to have sorted it all out. In this instance, Usama means the vast and rugged district south and west of Aleppo.
103. Mawdud: The isbasalar Sharaf al-Din Mawdud was the Seljuk governor of Mosul and the commander of the sultan’s armies sent against the Franks.
104. The right thing… our tents and baggage: The point here is that Mawdud’s original camp on the river was exposed, so he is enjoined to set up tents wherever he can behind the safety of Shayzar’s walls (and not ‘on the roofs of the lower town’, as Hitti,Memoirs, p. 97, bizarrely puts it).
105. Tall al-Turmusi… Tall al-Tulul: Tall al-Turmusi (‘Lupin Mound’) is to be identified with the ‘Termeise’ mentioned by Dussaud (p. 208), about 6 km downstream from Shayzar. Tall al-Tulul (‘Hilly Mound’) is located just north of Tall al-Turmusi. Tall al-Milh, mentioned in a battle above, is also quite nearby, suggesting that this area, a broad triangular plain on the north bank of the Orontes, was a common battlefield for Shayzar’s armies. These mounds, it should be noted, are common features of the Syrian landscape, often the ruin-mounds of ancient, now-deserted settlements.
106. one of our Bedouin troops: Hitti (Memoirs, p. 99), reading min al-maghrib, has ‘one of our combatants from al-Maghrib [Mauretania]’, and likewise Miquel (p. 191). But Samarrai’s reading (p. 92) of min al-’arab, ‘from among the Arab tribesmen’, is surely correct, given that the man’s father (as revealed below) was a camel-merchant living in Tadmur/Palmyra.
107. Palmyra: Known in Arabic as Tadmur, Palmyra is an ancient caravan city whose superb ruins still dominate their verdant oasis in the heart of the Syrian desert, about 240 km northeast of Damascus – a journey long enough to suggest the value of eight camels.
108. saw something… described to him: This is Usama’s polite way of saying she was ugly.
109. Another example… in the year 565: This was during the period when Usama was serving under Qara Arslan, lord of Hisn Kayfa, in Diyar Bakr, in Upper Mesopotamia. The poet al-Mu’ayyad al-Baghdadi was a minor man of letters (d. 1202), and so probably a young man when he related this story to the old warrior-poet Usama.
110. young toughs: The narrator calls them ‘ayyarun. They are addressed below as fityan (literally, ‘youths’), which I have rendered with the Turk’s overly familiar ‘boys’ and shabab (‘young men’). These terms suggest that these are the sort of young men often found in cities and towns of the medieval Near East, who formed semi-official gangs or militias. They frequently took upon themselves the defence of their cities and the ‘protection’ of their neighbourhoods.
111. Turkish attendant… bag: The term used to describe the Turk is ghulam, which probably indicates that we are dealing with a Turkish soldier of slave origin, a mamluk. His charge, the girl, is referred to as a jariya, a female domestic servant or slave, and evidently one in service to a wealthy household. The saddle-bag (khurj) must have been a large bundle, since the Turk later asks for help unloading it.
112. al-Anbar: A town in Iraq on the Euphrates, some 80 km to the west of Baghdad.
113. Pfft: By this explosive interjection, I attempt to convey the scatological onomatopoeia of the Arabic verb used here, darata, meaning both ‘to scoff’ and ‘to fart’.
114. Bursuq… by order of the sultan: Bursuq was named commander (isbasalar) by the Seljuk sultan Muhammad I, replacing Maw-dud, whom Usama mentions earlier. This campaign took place in September 1115.
115. prominent amirs: The names of some of these commanders deserve some notice. The Commander of the Armies (amir al-juyush) Uzbeh is also known in other sources by the roughly equivalent appellation of Juyush-Bek. Usama is confused about Sunqur Diraz (‘Sunqur the Tall’ in Persian): he is not lord of al-Rahba, but the similarly named Aq-Sunqur (in Turkish ‘White Falcon’) was. As Aq-Sunqur was a mamluk of Bursuq’s, it is probably this latter man that was present, and not Sunqur Diraz. The Zangi mentioned here is not to be confused with Usama’s first patron, the mighty atabeg Zangi. This Zangi is a mere commander, a brother of Bursuq. Finally, Isma’il al-Bakji (in Persian ‘Isma’il the Grand’), known from other sources, is a correction on Hitti’s part: Usama or the scribe had misread the name as ‘al-Balkhi’.
116. Theophilos: As a Theophilos (Arabic Thiyufil) is mentioned below as the Frankish lord of Kafartab some nine years earlier, Hitti reads his name here too, though it could also be Manwil, Manuel. In either case, his name suggests that he is a Greek rather than a Frank.
117. entered the fosse and began digging a tunnel: In preparation for sapping the walls, discussed in detail below. Khurasan was a region of the Seljuk sultanate, comprising northeastern Iran and Afghanistan. The fosse (Arabic khandaq) was the defensive trench dug outside the city walls.
118. barbican… tower: Both ‘barbican’ and ‘tower’ refer to the same structure in this account, though Usama seems to use the term ‘barbican’ (Arabic bashura) to refer specifically to the outer entrance of this structure, a structure which in its entirety is a ‘tower’(burj).
119. inner wall remained as it was: That is, they had hoped to damage the inner curtain-wall of the citadel, but instead only collapsed the outer walls of the barbican-tower that extended from the curtain. The main defensive wall remained an obstacle.
120. reached its highest point: That is, by climbing the rubble of the outer barbican-tower walls, the infantry are able to climb over the inner curtain-wall and assault the citadel.
121. on the parapet between the two tower walls: This is a somewhat vague phrase, badan min haytan al-burj. Other sources of the era use badan to describe stretches of city wall. As the top of a wall, connected somehow to the two walls of the damaged barbican-tower, is describe here, and as badan means, literally, a coat of armour, I assume some sort of defensive outcropping on top of the barbican is intended, perhaps what is known as a ‘hoarding’ in the West or a machicolation of some kind.
122. naphtha: This highly flammable substance was used as a grenadelike weapon in ‘naphtha-pots’ by ground troops, as well as in naval combat as in the famous ‘Greek fire’.
123. doubled hauberk: In fact, probably just two hauberks (Arabic zardiyatayn) at once, a common practice in the West as well.
124. But the Turk… spear had been: The Arabic is perplexingly pronominal: wa-masha ila al-ifranji wa-qad dakhala ‘ala al-rumh ilayhi. Having knocked the spear aside with his shield, the Turk steps into the Frank’s zone of attack before he can recover.
125. like a man at prayer: The text reads ka’l-raki’, i.e., like a Muslim at prayer, which would also suggest he had his hands held at his head.
126. al-Sayyid al-Sharif: This amir, presumably one of Bursuq’s men, has not yet been identified.
127. Danith: A small town between Aleppo and Kafartab. The following reference is to the first Battle of Danith, a serious Muslim defeat.
128. Lu’lu’ the Eunuch: Lu’lu’ al-Khadim, also known as al-Yaya (Turkish yaya, infantryman), became effective lord of Aleppo after the death of Ridwan ibn Tutush in 1113 until his own death in 1118. Cf. Hitti (Memoirs, p. 105, n. 109), where his date of accession is incorrectly given as 1117, and he is called ‘Badr al-Din’. This was in fact the title of another Lu’lu’, the atabeg of Mosul, in the thirteenth century, and last of the Zangids.
129. lord of Antioch: Roger (Arabic Rujar) of Salerno (r. 1112–19).
130. Commander of the Armies: That is, the amir al-Juyush Uzbeh, whom Bursuq sent to Aleppo as a result of Lu’lu’’s ruse.
131. one of the three men… mentioned earlier: Evidently in the opening portion of the text that is missing from the manuscript. This is a reference to the assault on Shayzar by the Nizari ‘Assassins’ in the spring of 1114.
132. Chief Sahri: By ‘Chief’ I translate the title ra’is, which, despite Hitti’s claim (Memoirs, p. 107, n. 112), is not a menial title as it was in Hitti’s post-Ottoman context, but a title indicating a ruler’s local headman through whom he governed the local populace. In large cities like Damascus, the ra’is was often one of the most powerful men in the city.
133. Hisn al-Khurayba: ‘Fort Stoneheap’. This may well be the same place as the Burj al-Khurayba (‘Stoneheap Tower’) that Usama mentions elsewhere.
134. Yunan: This Yunan (or Jonas) is, like Chief Sahri above, called ‘Chief’ (Arabic ra’is, actually colloquial rayyis). As such, Yunan is not a ‘muleteer’, as Hitti (Memoirs, p. 108) calls him, but a neighbourhood headman in Frankish Tripoli, as his authority over the robber-gang, whom he calls ‘boys’ (Arabic fityan), may also indicate. He is described as a ‘Nasrani’, a term that is typically used to denote native Christians.
135. Mount Sinai: (Arabic al-Tur) the rustic province of Sinai was Fatimid Egypt’s easternmost frontier. As Rotter (p. 100, n. 20) points out, the text should be corrected here, as the original Arabic reads min Misr, ‘from Egypt’. I have rearranged a few of Usama’s sentences here for the sake of clarity.
136. The son of the governor… story: This anecdote, and the few that follow it, are classic examples of the genre of tales known as ‘Relief after Misfortune’ stories (al-faraj ba’da al-shidda – Usama uses these very words), a popular genre in medieval Arabic literature to which whole books were devoted.
137. I used to travel… Fulk: Jamal al-Din Muhammad was Burid lord of Damascus from 1139 to 1140, though real power was held by Usama’s patron, the amir Mu’in al-Din. The truce with the Kingdom of Jerusalem under King Fulk V that Usama mentions was a product of Mu’in al-Din and Usama’s efforts and began in early 1140. See Cobb, pp. 28–30. The Baldwin mentioned here is King Baldwin II, father of Fulk’s wife, Queen Melisende. As Usama clarifies below, the favour Baldwin owed Usama’s father was connected to his stay at Shayzar in 1123 as a hostage after being captured in battle.
138. William Jiba: Usama calls him Kilyam Jiba. The man is otherwise unknown and his surname is conjectural. As Usama clarifies below, the setting of all this is the city of Acre.
139. Acre: (Arabic ‘Akka) chief port of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. After its capture in 1104, it attracted the commercial interests of the major Western maritime powers. It was an ideal base for someone like William Jiba.
140. The amir Qara Arslan… Amid: Qara Arslan (‘Black Lion’) was lord of Hisn Kayfa in the province of Diyar Bakr, which straddled Upper Mesopotamia and eastern Anatolia. Amid, its historic capital city, is now known by the name of its former province: Diyarbakr, in eastern Turkey. Qara Arslan was a member of the Artuqid (or Urtuqid) dynasty, a long-lived and far-flung family of Turkish warlords. Usama was in Artuqid service from 1164 to 1174, composed many of his works and may have started the present one there. See Cobb, pp. 49–56.
141. Yaruq: The servant is said to be ifranji (Frankish) but his name is Turkish.
142. Kamal al-Din ‘Ali ibn Nisan: Ibn Nisan was technically the vizier of Amid, but he in fact held real power in the city. In cities of the era, al-baladiya indicates the locally raised militia of the town and not ‘the inhabitants’, as Hitti (Memoirs, p. 113) and Miquel (p. 213) have it.
143. Bridge Fortress… tribe: The Bridge Fortress (Arabic Hisn al-Jisr) is the Gistrum of Frankish sources. It was a small fort, built by the Banu Munqidh, housing a local garrison at the bridge across the Orontes, just below Shayzar. The Banu Kinana were an Arab tribe of ancient prominence. The Banu Munqidh were a clan of this same tribe. Ibn al-Ahmar (Red’s Son) is otherwise unknown.
144. Kafarnabudha: This village (known now as Kafarnaboudi) lies between Shayzar and Kafartab.
145. as mice seek out those wounded by leopards: On the belief that mice had a peculiar attraction to leopard-wounds, see below.
146. A digression: Usama also tells this story in his collection Lubab (p. 101).
147. Ibn al-Munira: Born in Kafartab, Ibn al-Munira later settled in Shayzar, probably fleeing the Frankish capture of his town during the First Crusade. He was a respected grammarian and religious scholar (d. 1110). Thus, Usama would have been younger than fifteen years old at the time of this conversation.
148. Judge’s Mosque: This reading is based upon the version of this story in Usama’s collection Lubab (p. 199), which reads Masjid al-Qadi.
149. The Franks… Banias… patriarch: It is not clear exactly which siege of Banias is intended here, but by context the patriarch can be identified as William, patriarch of Jerusalem.
150. contrasting example: Usama relates this account in his collection Lubab (p. 199).
151. Zahr al-Dawla… elegant frame: The man’s title means ‘Flower of the State’, hence Usama’s reference to the man’s ‘elegant frame’.
152. He then told him the purpose of his journey: But he does not, to our frustration, tell Usama.
153. Fadl ibn Abi al-Hayja’… Abu al-Hayja’: As Usama clarifies, his source Fadl is the son of the Kurdish lord of Irbil, Abu al-Hayja’, who is the ultimate source of this account. Irbil is a town in Upper Mesopotamia, about 80 km east of Mosul.
154. sultan Malikshah… amir Ibn Marwan: Malikshah was sultan of the Seljuk dynasty from 1072 to 1092. We are dealing here with a story from an older generation. The Kurdish Marwanid dynasty controlled much of Diyar Bakr in the tenth and eleventh centuries before losing their lands to the Seljuks. The reference here is probably to Malikshah’s first visit to Syria in 1082, meaning the ‘Ibn Marwan’ in this account is the amir Mansur (d. 1096).
155. Khilat: Also known as Akhlat, this is a fortified town at the northwest corner of Lake Van in Armenia. During the twelfth century, the region was governed by the Turkoman Shah-i Arman (‘King of Armenia’) dynasty. The account here describes Zangi’s betrothal to the daughter of the ruler Suqman al-Qutbi, whose widow, Inanj Khatun, seized power from Suqman’s ineffectual son Ibrahim in 1128.
156. Bitlis: (Arabic Badlis) a town about 25 km southwest of Lake Van, not far from Khilat, in eastern Anatolia. With the Seljuk conquest of the region in 1084, the city was granted to a Turkish commander, Muhammad ibn Dilmaj, whose descendants ruled until 1192. It is not certain which Ibn Dilmaj is intended here. These events took place in 1131.
157. training-grounds: A maydan is an open plaza generally used for equestrian drills and training. They were a common feature of the horse-warrior cities of the medieval Near East, almost always extramural, as seems to be the case here.
158. Malik ibn Salim: One of the last of the ‘Uqaylid dynasty, a clan of Bedouin origin that once controlled most of northern Syria and Mesopotamia. After the Seljuk conquests, their domains became ever more circumscribed in marginal areas of Mesopotamia, such as al-Raqqa and al-Qal’a (a short form of Qal’at Ja’bar, ‘The Citadel of Ja’bar’). These nearby towns of the middle Euphrates are a little more than halfway between Aleppo and the modern city of Deir ez-Zor. The impressive ruins of the castle at al-Qal’a can still be seen, though where once they dominated the river plain, they now occupy an artificial peninsula in Lake Assad.
159. Joscelin: (Arabic Juslin) Joscelin of Courtenay, lord of Tall Bashir and soon to be named count of Edessa. The events described here took place in 1120 or 1121.
160. The atabeg… had assembled in Apamea: This was during the massive offensive of 1115 ordered by the Seljuk sultan. Tugh-dakin (or Tughtakin) was the atabeg of Damascus. His descendants ruled after him as the Burid dynasty. Fearing his autonomy in Syria would be lost in the process of a Seljuk campaign against the Franks, he, along with Il-Ghazi, the Artuqid lord of Mardin (in Upper Mesopotamia), made common cause with the Franks of Antioch (themselves assisted by Tripoli, Edessa and Jerusalem) and repulsed the Seljuk army at Danith.
161. I myself have witnessed…: Usama included another version of this anecdote in his Kitab al-’Asa, ed. Hasan ‘Abbas (Alexandria: al-Hay’a al-Misriya al-’Amma li’l-Kitab, 1978), pp. 337–8.
162. Mahmud ibn Salih: Mirdasid ruler of Aleppo (1060–74). The ascetic Usama is describing in 1138 must therefore be a descendant of one of that ruler’s muwallads, rather than one himself.
163. Constantinople: (Arabic al-Qunstantiniya) capital of the Byzantine empire.
164. Franks attacked us on the road from Egypt: A reference to the attack at al-Muwaylih, in Jordan, described in Part I. Usama survived the assault, but his patron, the disgraced vizier ‘Abbas, was killed. His son Nasr (called here Nasr al-Kabir) was not killed during the battle but only after he had been ransomed back to the new ruler of Egypt.
165. unable to walk: One must recall here that Usama was gravely injured during his flight from Egypt. Usama refers to his poor horse here as ikdish, a colloquial term of Persian origin meaning ‘mixed breed’, but used (as kadish) to describe a nag or workhorse.
166. Hayzan: Also Layzan, a town in Sharwan province in the eastern Caucasus, near the Caspian Sea. The narrator seems to have been imprisoned during a conflict with the local Muslim lord of the place, perhaps during the Seljuk invasion of Sharwan beginning in 1118.
167. Companions of the Prophet: The generation of pious men who were contemporaries of the Prophet Muhammad. Their exemplary behaviour is as much a guide to proper Islamic conduct as is the Prophet’s.
168. Frankish king of the Germans… marched on Damascus: Though it is hard to tell from this account, this is a reference to the Second Crusade and the ill-fated Frankish assault on Damascus in July 1148. The king of the Germans (malik al-Alman) was Conrad III (note that he is, like anyone hailing from Europe, described as a ‘Frank’), whom Usama makes the leader of the Crusade, ignoring Louis VII of France.
169. most virtuous of all Muslims: The story of these two men was a favourite of Muslim chroniclers of the era. Indeed, al-Findalawi, a jurist (faqih) of the Maliki school of Islamic law, became something of a local hero.
170. cavalier: The man’s name, Faris, means, literally, ‘horseman, cavalier, knight’.
171. Asfuna: A small fortress near Ma’arrat al-Nu’man that had once belonged to the Banu Munqidh.
172. Fakhr al-Mulk ibn ‘Ammar: The independent ruler of Tripoli, who was ousted when the Franks captured the city in 1109. After passing through as an exile to Shayzar, Damascus and Baghdad, he took power near Tripoli in the town of Jabala as described here. See Kamil, 11:152–4.
173. Shihab al-Din… Tall Mujahid: Yaghisiyani and his son Ahmad, governor of Hama, are also mentioned in Usama’s account of his return to Shayzar in 1138 during the joint Byzantine-Frankish siege in Part I. Shihab al-Din Mahmud reigned as lord of Damascus (1135–9). Tall Mujahid (‘Holy-Warrior Mound’) is unidentified, but it would appear to be in the vicinity of Hama.
174. Ghazi al-Talli: Described in another anecdote above as a prominent amir. My translation of what follows differs significantly from Hitti (Memoirs, p. 128) and is inspired largely by Gibb (pp. 1008–9).
175. The battle was between them and… Malik ibn Salim: The opponents of the Banu Numayr tribe here are minor princes of the ‘Uqaylid dynasty. The events described here took place in 1107–8.
176. Darayya: One of the villages of the Ghuta, the oasis that surrounds Damascus.
177. left Baalbek… service of the atabeg: In effect, the lord of Baalbek, a member of the Burid dynasty, has joined forces with Zangi to make war on his own brother, the Burid lord of Damascus.
178. Dumayr: A little village with a fort, probably of Roman origin, just to the north of Damascus, clearly visible on the road to Palmyra today. Usama gives a valuable clue about the slowness of troop movements here: the army left Darayya in the Ghuta in ‘the early part of the night’ and was only a short distance north of Damascus at Dumayr when morning broke.
179. Sharuf: This would appear to be a tributary of the Orontes from this description, and is undoubtedly to be identified with the River Sarut that debouches into the river between Hama and Shayzar.
180. Mahmud ibn Qaraja… Khir-Khan ibn Qaraja: The brothers Mahmud and Khir-Khan ibn Qaraja were lords of Hama and Homs respectively, owing allegiance (technically) to the Seljuk sultan.
181. compound spears: Comprised of rumh-spears rather than the quntariya-style spear.
182. Baldwin, king of the Franks… Timurtash: Baldwin II, count of Edessa (r. 1100–118) and King of Jerusalem (r. 1118–31), was captured in battle in 1123 and was released, after passing through many hands, with the intercession of Usama’s uncle Sultan (see Ibn al-’Adim, Zubda, 2:22, and Cobb, pp. 15–16). Timurtash (d. 1154) was the Artuqid ruler of the city of Mardin. In 1124, he took control of Aleppo, where Baldwin was being held prisoner.
183. the Bridge: That is, Hisn al-Jisr, the ‘Bridge Fortress’, the small fortress at the bridge that crossed the Orontes just below Shayzar.
184. God… made His creatures of various sorts: An allusion to Qur’an 71:13.
185. an omen may employ speech as its agent: The text reads wa’l-fa’l muwakkil bi’l-mantiq, a phrase that perplexed Hitti (Memoirs, p. 135: ‘a good omen is superior to logic’) and Miquel (see his intricate note 18, p. 244); Rotter (p. 125) chose to drop it altogether. But the language is straight out of the lexicon of commerce: it refers to the anecdote preceding it, in which Muhasin says he will be stung, and so is stung, fulfilling the omen.
186. Sabiq ibn Waththab: Sabiq ibn Waththab ibn Mahmud ibn Salih, one of the surviving children of Waththab ibn Mahmud, a member of the Mirdasid dynasty of Aleppo and northern Syria, who played a prominent role in that dynasty’s downfall on the eve of the First Crusade. Waththab survived the downfall of his family and he and his sons became minor lords in northern Syria.
187. In those grasslands: (Arabic al-ghalfa’) not a ‘thicket of brambles’ as Hitti (Memoirs, p. 135) has it (cf. Miquel, p. 245: fourré), but ungrazed lands abounding in various kinds of herbage. The man’s fear of entering a wide open space hiding a lion is thus very understandable.
188. horse-herdsman: The text reads juban al-khayl, horse-herdsman, an adaptation of the Turkish chuban, herdsman.
189. table-master: The title is Persian khawan-salar – effectively the servant in charge of the kitchen.
190. took to circling the pool: This residence, like many traditional homes in the region today, is a building with rooms leading off an interior courtyard with a pool, fountain or cistern in the centre.
191. it was granted a full pardon: The text reads ‘utiqa dhalika al-khuruf min al-dhabh. Usama uses the legalese of granting a slave freedom for humorous effect here.
192. senile old fool: Following Samarrai (p. 129), I read the word in question as al-mufannid, a weak-minded man or liar, someone whose word cannot be trusted. The reference (as Hitti, Memoirs, p. 137, n. 13, notes) might be to the leader of the Nizari ‘Assassin’ sect, the famous ‘Old Man of the Mountain’, whose headquarters was at Masyaf, in the mountains west of Shayzar, and for whom Usama had no great love. Hitti’s reading, al-mu’abbad, ‘the one worshipped’, seems redundant given the rest of Usama’s condemnation. Then again, it may be a reference to the leader (Arabic muqaddam) of the adherents of various sects in the Wadi al-Taym area around Baalbek, described by Ibn al-Qalanisi (Ta’rikh, pp. 351–2) and Ibn al-Athir (Kamil, 10:656).
193. Latakia once belonged to my uncle: As Usama’s uncle Nasr became lord of Shayzar in 1082, and as Latakia was lost to the Banu Munqidh in 1086, these events must have taken place in that interval, some ten years before Usama’s birth. The brothers in question then will have been old retainers of his household when they related the tale.
194. Ma’arzaf: A village with a small fort about 15 km southwest of Shayzar.
195. Hunak: A village about 35 km northeast of Shayzar, just off the modern road to Ma’arrat al-Nu’man.
196. landlord: The text uses the Arabic muqta’, i.e., in Western terms, he holds the village as fief.
197. holy-warrior leopard: The text reads al-namir al-mujahid, the leopard who goes on jihad.
198. Qadmus… Banu Muhriz: Qadmus was a fortress in the Jabal Ansariye which later was captured by the Nizaris. The Banu Muhriz were one of the many local families that held small principalities in the region in the early twelfth century.
199. variety of wild beast called a tiger… ibn Zafar: Usama uses the accepted term for tiger, babr. Though not unknown to medieval Muslim zoologists, the tiger was considered something of a natural wonder (and rightly so). There are, of course, no tigers in Africa, so it is not clear what his informant, Ibn Zafar, actually saw. Ibn Zafar was a well-travelled man-of-letters, born in Sicily, raised in Mecca and settled and died in Hama in 1170 (see Siyar, 20:522–3).
200. weighing twenty or twenty-five ratls: As a unit of weight, the ratl varied slightly over time and space. In late medieval Egypt, the ratl was equivalent to about 434 grams or about a pound. In Syria, the ratl was slightly heavier. Even still, these are payloads that could inflict serious damage.
201. The Franks March on Damascus: This sub-heading, the only one of its kind, appears in the margin of the manuscript. It was probably added by the copyist.
202. The Franks… march on Damascus and capture it: This is the ‘Damascus Crusade’ of Baldwin II in 1129. Bohemond II of Antioch had captured Kafartab in 1127.
203. lord of Edessa and Tall Bashir… Antioch: Edessa (Arabic al-Ruha) was the centre of a short-lived Crusader principality on the Upper Euphrates, some 170 km northeast of Aleppo. Both Edessa and nearby Tall Bashir (Frankish Turbessel) were controlled by Joscelin I. Antioch was ruled at the time by Roger of Salerno.
204. burgesses: Usama uses the word al-burjasiya, a Frankish loanword, literally, bourgeoisie.
205. Mudhkin: A town near Kafartab.
206. public wailer at our funerals: Ritual wailing was a commonly accepted public role for old women in many cultures of the ancient and medieval Mediterranean.
207. blow of the mangonel-stone upon that old man’s head: Usama refers here to the anecdote above about the mangonels at the Byzantine siege of Shayzar; he is returning to this sub-section’s main theme of wondrous blows.
208. attempt on the citadel of Shayzar: Usama refers here to the attack on Shayzar by the Nizari Isma’ili ‘Assassins’ in 1114.
209. The Batini: Usama uses this term as a synonym for the Nizari Isma’ilis, because of their belief that the Qur’an possesses an inner esoteric truth (batin) known only to an elect few.
210. Abu Qubays Castle: Located in the mountains west of Shayzar. As we shall see, this Iftikhar al-Dawla was an ally of Usama’s uncle Sultan.
211. brief exposition by way of introduction: Usama seems to have got carried away with his long and detailed ‘brief exposition’ here, which is really just intended as background to explain the presence of Bohemond II and the Franks in his story about the witch Burayka, below.
212. Roger: Usama calls him Rujar, i.e., Roger of Salerno (r. 1112–19).
213. Baldwin the Prince: Usama calls him Baghdawin al-Bruns, i.e., Baldwin II, King of Jerusalem (r. 1118–31). The epithet might also be read al-ru’ayyis, ‘the little chief’.
214. Danith… 14 August 1119: In fact, Usama has his chronology and geography confused. Roger met his death at the ‘Field of Blood’ or ager sanguinis, at al-Balat, not nearby Danith, and on 28 June 1119, not 14 August. In fact, there were two battles at Danith, the first being a less-renowned Muslim defeat that took place in 1115, as Usama relates above. The second, more famous ‘Battle of Danith’ of 14 August is the battle between Il-Ghazi and Baldwin II that Usama describes below. Moreover, it should be said, this second Battle of Danith was not ‘a draw’ as he later states, but a victory for Baldwin II.
215. Robert, the lord of Sahyun, Balatunus: This is Robert FitzFulk ‘the Leper’, an Antiochene nobleman and lord of Sardana. Sahyun (Frankish Saone) is an ancient and imposing castle high in the mountains east of Latakia, now known as Qal’at Salah al-Din (‘Saladin’s Castle’). The castle of Balatunus lies just to the south of Sahyun.
216. when the army of the East arrived under Bursuq: A reference to the great Seljuk campaign against a Frankish-Muslim coalition in 1115. After the initial furore of the First Crusade, such alliances between Muslim rulers and Frankish lords were quite common.
217. After Balak was killed, Baldwin came into the possession of Timurtash: Nur al-Dawla Balak was the nephew of the aforementioned Il-Ghazi. He had captured Baldwin II in battle in April 1123. Baldwin changed hands a few times before being ransomed, thanks to the intervention of the Banu Munqidh of Shayzar. Balak died in 1124. His cousin Timurtash had succeeded Il-Ghazi as lord of Aleppo in 1122.
218. exempted us from paying it: A reference to the annual tribute imposed by Tancred of Antioch upon Shayzar since 1110.
219. al-Suwaydiya: The port of Antioch.
220. son of Bohemond: Usama calls him Ibn Maymun. This is Bohemond II, son and heir of Bohemond of Taranto, founder of the Principality of Antioch. He arrived to take his throne in October 1126, when he was only seventeen or eighteen years old.
221. illicit profit… stipend by which he was employed: A hypersensitive concern over the licitness of one’s livelihood was a distinctive mark of the pious in Usama’s time, and money that came from government sources, with its inevitable ties to oppression and moral compromises, was a prime target for such attitudes. Usama is lampooning the idea, noting that the man would rather take money from a witch than from his soldier’s stipend.
222. So I put down my sword: The text reads fa-wada’tu sayfi…; Hitti (Memoirs, p. 152) oddly has ‘Taking up my sword…’
223. cotton-carders: Al-Dhahabi, Duwwal al-Islam, ed. F. M. Shaltut (Cairo: al-Hay’a al-Misriya al-’Amma li’l-Kitab, 1974), 2:31, notes that the community of Isma’ilis that had settled at Shayzar used to card cotton there.
224. may God do something with you, and do it again: A polite way of saying she cursed him roundly.
225. peregrines… zaghariya-hounds: Peregrines (Arabic shahin), Falco peregrinus, and the lesser-known sakers (Arabic saqr), Falco cherrug, are varieties of falcons commonly used on the hunt. Cheetahs were quite frequently used as hunting allies on the ground.Zaghariya-hounds are hunting-dogs, possibly of European origin.
226. night of Nisf Sha’ban: Sha’ban, the eighth month of the Muslim calendar, could be marked by additional fasting, remembrance of the dead, and prayers, especially on the Nisf, or middle day, of the month (as described here).
227. eyesight like that of Zarqa’ al-Yamama: Zarqa’ al-Yamama was a figure of Arabian legend, whose eyesight, it is said, allowed her to see three days’ distance away.
228. after Ibn Mula’ib was killed: In 1106, at the hands of Isma’ili assassins. See Usama’s account in the Lost Fragments from The Book of Contemplation in Other Excerpts below.
229. Nada al-Sulayhi: Unidentified. His name may also be read ‘Bada’.
230. Rafaniya, which belonged to them at the time: The Franks had taken Rafaniya in 1126 (see Vie, p. 481, n. 1).
231. manager of his household: The text reads qahramanat darihi, the highest-ranked female servant.
232. Saruj: In Upper Mesopotamia, southwest of Edessa, conquered by the Franks in 1101.
233. The ‘Wonders’ of the Frankish Race: Usama makes heavy use of the word ‘ajiba in his writings, a common term for any marvel or subject that generates wonder, both positively and negatively. I employ quotation marks in this section heading to convey this ambiguity.
234. al-Munaytira: A Frankish fortress and town high in the Lebanese mountains, near Afqa in the north of modern Lebanon.
235. dryness of humours: The text reads nashaf, ‘dryness’. This makes complete sense given the generally Galenic framework in which physicians in the medieval Levant operated. Hitti, however, prefers to read this as Persian nishaf, ‘imbecility’.
236. Their king: Fulk V of Anjou, King of Jerusalem.
237. al-Aqsa Mosque: The main mosque of Jerusalem, located on the Haram al-Sharif or Temple Mount platform. Under Frankish rule, the Christian military order of the Templars (Arabic al-dawiya) used the al-Aqsa Mosque as their headquarters.
238. praying towards Mecca: The text reads ila al-qibla, ‘towards the [proper] direction of [Muslim] prayer’. In Jerusalem this is due south. In the Middle Ages, most Christians, following ancient practice, prayed towards the east.
239. Dome of the Rock: The magnificent domed structure near the centre of the Haram al-Sharif or Temple Mount platform in Jerusalem, not far from the al-Aqsa Mosque. The Franks converted it into a church during their occupation of the city.
240. May God be exalted far beyond what the infidels say!: The Frank offends both Usama’s theology and Christology. For Muslims, God is transcendent: He would never take so base and material a form as a human being, nor is He ever afflicted with youth or age. Consequently, there can be no Son of God. Thus for Muslims, Jesus is the son of Mary and will return as the Messiah, but he is a strictly human prophet. On Muslim conceptions of Jesus, see Tarif Khalidi, The Muslim Jesus: Sayings and Stories in Islamic Literature (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2001).
241. regard for honour or propriety: By ‘regard for honour’ here I translate nakhwa, translated above as ‘courage for the sake of honour’, i.e., this is a specific emotion, a sense that one’s honour must be policed. With ‘propriety’ I translate the roughly synonymousghayra, often translated ‘jealousy’ but connoting a sense of earnest concern for one’s reputation.
242. Whenever I went to Nablus… sense of propriety!: As the reader may notice, this anecdote, a much-beloved one among Usamo-logists, is probably too good to be true, bearing all the structural and rhetorical hallmarks of a joke. So Usama’s claim to have ‘witnessed’ this, as with modern urban legends, must be taken with a grain of salt. Nablus is Classical Neapolis, ancient Shechem, some 50 km north of Jerusalem. As Usama notes throughout the text, it was a town where Muslims and Franks mixed with some frequency.
243. Ma’arra: That is, the town of Ma’arrat al-Nu’man, about 40 km north of Shayzar, captured by the Franks in 1098, lost, and then recaptured in 1105.
244. madame… ‘the lady’: Usama uses the term al-dama, which he (or Salim – it is not clear) translates accurately into Arabic as al-sitt, ‘the lady’.
245. Tyre: Port city in the far north of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, captured in 1124.
246. William de Bures: Usama calls him Kilyam dabur, William (or Guillaume) de Bures. He was granted the lordship of Tiberias, one of the principal fiefdoms in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, in 1119, and served as constable and regent of the Kingdom when Baldwin II was held captive in Aleppo in 1123. As Usama explains, by ‘us’ Usama refers here to himself and his lord Mu’in al-Din of Damascus.
247. Let this go and bring the conversation back to Harim: A hemistich from the sixth-century pre-Islamic poet Zuhayr ibn Abi Sulama al-Muzani, by which Usama states his desire to change the subject.
248. And let us stop discussing… move on to something else: A line that has perplexed Usama’s editors and translators. My reading follows that of Miquel (p. 300, n. 16), which is largely the result of context. Cf. Gibb (p. 1006) and the oddly anatomical Hitti(Memoirs, p. 167).
249. vicomte: Usama renders the Frankish term as al-biskund and gives its Arabic synonym as shihna, governor.
250. they did some work on his eyes: Usama uses a euphemism fa-kahalahu, ‘they applied kohl to him’, a verb normally used to describe the application of dark make-up around the eyes, using small metal wands to apply it, as was the fashion. But despite Gibb’s claim (p. 1009), the term was also used as a bit of gallows humour to describe the practice of sticking sharp, red-hot sticks into the eyes, blinding the victim but leaving their eyeballs whole: see E. W. Lane, An Arabic-English Lexicon, 8 vols. (London and Edinburgh: Williams and Norgate, 1863–93), s.v. kahala.
251. Burhan al-Din ibn al-Balkhi: Contrary to the opinion of Miquel (p. 302, n. 23), Ibn al-Balkhi (d. 1154) was not ‘un personage inconnu’, but one of the greatest religious scholars of his day. See Siyar, 20:276.
252. Chief Tadrus ibn al-Saffi: Despite Usama’s name-dropping, this urban ‘Chief’ (ra’is) is quite unknown. Derenbourg (Vie, p. 474, n. 4) suggests his name might be a rendering of a Greek name such as Theodoros Sophianos. Unfortunately, this creation has been taken as a real person in subsequent scholarship.
253. ‘Urs: Derenbourg (Vie, p. 475, n. 3) suggests ‘Hurso’.
254. bourgeois: Usama’s narrator uses the term burjasi, which is glossed here as tajir, ‘merchant’.
255. meaning his master: Usama’s uncle, Sultan. But the attendant (ghulam) could hardly be so direct about Sultan and so named Homs as his master’s residence to deflect any rage. Sultan clearly saw right through him.
256. Lu’lu’: Not to be confused with Lu’lu’, ruler of Aleppo (1113–18).
257. Sayf al-Din Sawar: Governor of Hama for the Burid dynasty of Damascus in 1128–9. He later sought service with the atabeg Zangi. See Ta’rikh, pp. 374, 382, 450.
258. saw our men crossing the ford: That is, the men (presumably civilians) from Shayzar were crossing through the water away from the oncoming Franks towards the safety of Shayzar’s walls. To avoid drowning, some went on the shoulders of others.
259. Commander: I am translating the Persian title salar.
260. Exalted is He who created His creatures in various sorts: An allusion to Qur’an 71:13.
261. Khatun: Turkish for ‘Lady’; it may in fact be the woman’s title, her status as daughter of the powerful Seljuk amir Tutush providing sufficient identification for the men in her life.
262. Masyaf Castle… heat of Shayzar: The castle (which Usama calls Misyath), southwest of Shayzar in the salubrious climate of the Nusayri mountains, was taken from the Banu Munqidh by Nizaris in 1140 and became one of their most redoubtable lairs.
263. the Bridge: That is, from the Bridge Fortress, where a garrison of Kinani tribesmen kept watch, as we have seen.
264. mail chausses: (Arabic kalsat al-zard) pieces of armour designed to protect the legs.
265. horse armour: The Arabic (zardiyatihi) implies mail horse armour.
266. In the year 539… Damascus: This is the campaign of the atabeg Zangi of Mosul and Aleppo against the Burid dynasty of Damascus.
267. al-Qutayyifa… al-Fustuqa: Al-Qutayyifa lies about 40 km northeast of Damascus, on the road to Palmyra. Al-Fustuqa was a khan (essentially a caravanserai) lying further down the road towards Damascus (see Vie, p. 149, n. 4).
268. ‘Adhra’… al-Qusayr… the khan itself: ‘Adhra’ is a village in the Ghuta, the oasis settlements ringing the city of Damascus. Al-Qusayr (‘Fortlet’) is here not the small town on the road to Homs – despite the statement of Samarrai (p. 169, n. 374) – but rather Khan al-Qusayr, located just outside the Ghuta on the Palmyra road. The ‘khan itself’ is al-Qusayr’s khan.
269. just to ruin my reputation: Hitti has la-tuksar, ya Musa, ‘in order to be destroyed, O Musa!’ But al-Yaghisiyani’s name is Muhammad, not Musa. I follow here the reading of Samarrai (p. 169): li-tuksar namusi.
270. dirty little so-and-so: Usama’s demure kadha wa-kadha surely, and regrettably, hides al-Yaghisiyani’s more pungent expletive.
271. officers of the guard: Usama uses the Persian term shawish, sergeant, guardsman.
272. valley of Halbun: The village of Halbun lies to the northwest of Damascus, in the rough highlands beyond Jabal Qasiyun, the wizened escarpment that overlooks the city.
273. to enter the service of Nur al-Din: Nur al-Din had captured Damascus from the Burids in April 1154 and made it his capital. Usama was by now already in his service, having entered immediately upon his eventful flight from Egypt (as detailed in Part I), but he is perhaps here assisting Khusraw ibn Talil to make the transition. Khusraw became a prominent amir under Nur al-Din and later under Saladin.
274. Church of Baal: The unpointed Arabic text has produced some contorted interpretations of this phrase (see Miquel, p. 330, n. 16, for a list); I follow Samarrai (p. 172). By ‘church’ here I am literally translating kanisa, though Usama clearly means the awe-inspiring ruins of the Hellenistic Temple of Baal in Baalbek, as famed in his day as in ours.
275. I was present… defeat at Amid: These events took place in 1134. Al-Sawr was a small citadel on the banks of the Khabur River in the province of Diyar Bakr, about 50 km northeast of Mardin. By ‘crossbowmen’ I translate jarkhiya, the jarkh being a large and unwieldy, yet nevertheless portable, form of crossbow used in siege and naval warfare. Amid was the chief city of the region and an Artuqid capital.
276. citadel of al-Bari’a: Frankish Montferrand, also known as Barin; this fortress is located northwest of Homs, quite close to Rafaniya. This is a reference to Zangi’s campaigns in the area in the summer of 1137, which probably included the battle that is described on the first remaining folio of the manuscript (see Part I).
277. Abu Bakr al-Dubaysi: This amir (d. 1157) was lord of Jazirat ibn ‘Umar (modern Cizre in Turkey).
278. I have three retainers: Kujak is listed as a great Seljuk amir in an earlier anecdote; Sunqur is otherwise unknown, though Hitti (Memoirs, p. 186, n. 33) says he was ‘one of Zanki’s viziers’. Samarrai (p. 176) reads his name as ‘Juqur’ and identifies him with Zangi’s deputy in Mosul, Abu Sa’id Juqur al-Hamadhani (d. 1144).
279. battle at Baghdad: This was a battle between the atabeg Zangi and the ‘Abbasid caliph al-Mustarshid, in 1132.
280. Qafjaq’s location… in the mountains of Kuhistan: Qafjaq was a Turkoman amir. Kuhistan refers to the mountainous region straddling the borders of modern Iran and Afghanistan, bordered on the west by the Dasht-i Kavir and on the east by the Hari Rud.
281. parcham-ornament: Usama uses the term barjam, from the Persian parcham, the tail of a sea-cow, which was hung from the necks of horses as decoration.
282. al-Karkhini: In Upper Mesopotamia, between Daquqa and Irbil.
283. as if he were plundering Romans: Usama refers here to a point of Islamic law: Jews and Christians living under Islamic rule, as dhimmis, are supposed to be protected from being treated as prisoners of war.
284. Only a few years had passed: Actually, more than a ‘few years’, as Usama’s account about the Batinis is situated in 1114, twenty-five years earlier.
285. not like the generous host: A play on the man’s name, Jawad, which means ‘the generous’.
286. We mounted up… It’s a trick!: Hitti (Memoirs, p. 193) leaves out this sentence.
287. I used to take such relief… dying of thirst: This passage alludes to Usama’s nearness to, yet exile from, his home at Shayzar (by now demolished).
288. Called me to him: The rest of this purple passage is given up to praise of Saladin, founder of the Ayyubid dynasty and Usama’s last patron. He invited Usama to join him at his court in Damascus in 1174.
289. I prayed… I do answer: Apparently a poem of Usama’s own creation. The ‘two angels’ mentioned here are the two angels that record the deeds of men prior to Judgment.
290. God is enough for us, He is the best protector: Cf. Qur’an 3:173. These final lines may well be the work of the copyist, not of Usama himself.
PART III CURIOUS TALES: HOLY MEN AND HEALERS
1. Section: In the original manuscript, Usama inserts here the word fasl, ‘new section’, which is the only indication as to how the work was organized. This section and the one following it are best seen as appendices of anecdotes added to The Book of Contemplation after its completion.
2. Whatever good things you possess come from God: Qur’an 16:53.
3. preacher of the city of ls’ird: Siraj al-Din Abu Tahir Ibrahim ibn al-Husayn ibn Ibrahim is otherwise unknown. Is’ird (modern Siirt) lies today in eastern Turkey, about 100 km southwest of Bitlis. The ultimate source of the account, Abu al-Faraj al-Baghdadi, is better known as ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn al-Jawzi, a celebrated jurisconsult and historian (d. 1201).
4. Abu ‘Abdallah Muhammad al-Basri: Samarrai (p. 185) reads the man’s name as ‘al-Tabari’. In either case, he is unknown.
5. lawful: The text reads halal, lawful to consume according to Islamic law, evoking Qur’an 2:168.
6. A man from al-Kufa… descendant of the Prophet: Al-Kufa was one of the principal cities of Iraq, famed especially for its religious learning, located about 150 km south of Baghdad. Usama names the man as a descendant of the Prophet, in Arabic sharif.
7. Chief Judge al-Shami al-Hamawi: This is Qadi al-Qudat al-Shami, Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn al-Muzaffar ibn Bakr al-Hamawi al-Shafi’i (d. 1095), acclaimed ascetic and chief judge of the Shafi’ite school of law for Syria (see Siyar, 19:85–8).
8. Hisn Kayfa… Muhammad al-Samma’: Hisn Kayfa, situated on the right bank of the Tigris in Upper Mesopotamia, was Usama’s place of residence from 1164 to 1174. Al-Khidr, after whom the mosque is named, is a greatly revered saint-like figure in Islam, often likened to Elijah. Muhammad al-Samma’ is otherwise unknown.
9. He had his own prayer-room… one of the saints: Usama calls the prayer-room a zawiya, a term usually designating a complex devoted to a Sufi brotherhood, especially in North Africa, but in origin meaning simply a ‘corner’ or small cell. Usama calls the manmin al-awliya’, ‘a client/friend [of God]’; technically there are no saints in Islam, but such holy men approximate the mixture of piety, closeness, mortality and the miraculous associated with the cult of saints in Christianity.
10. Muhammad al-Busti: Abu ‘Abdallah Muhammad ibn Ibrahim al-Busti, a Sufi master (d. 1188). See Siyar, 20:283.
11. practise daily fasting: The daily fast (sawm al-dahr) was a non-canonical form of excessive fasting that was becoming increasingly popular among the pious in Usama’s day.
12. eating dead animals: That is, animals not killed in the ritually prescribed manner. The point is not that he actually took dead animals as his food, but that he is doing it as if it were the case, to make his fasting even more difficult (aj’alu ma akluhu ka’l-mayta).
13. Ma’arra: That is, the Syrian town of Ma’arrat al-Nu’man.
14. making the station: The text reads al-waqfa, one of the rituals of the pilgrimage to Mecca, involving standing in prayer at nearby Mount Arafat. The point of the tale is to highlight the miraculous nature of the news of the man’s death – a man who prayed over a dead man in Mecca could not possibly arrive in Syria the next day to tell the news, unless God was involved.
15. Shihab al-Din… ibn Sabuktakin: The name of Usama’s source deserves some comment. The man is, so far as I have been able to tell, unknown. But his ancestor, who bears the Turkish name Sabuktakin, was a freedman (mawla) of Mu’izz al-Dawla ibn Buwayh (d. 967), who was one of the princes of the Buwayhid (or Buyid) dynasty that controlled Iraq and parts of Iran. As his anecdote suggests, he is certainly a man of some station. Usama heard this story in the Upper Mesopotamian city of Mosul while he was based in Hisn Kayfa.
16. Commander of the Faithful… al-Anbar: Al-Muqtafi reigned as ‘Abbasid caliph in Baghdad from 1136 to 1160. Al-Anbar is more or less due west of Baghdad, on the east bank of the Euphrates; al-Sandudiya (or Sandawda’) lies on the west.
17. Commander of the Faithful ‘Ali: ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib (d. 661), cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet, fourth Sunni caliph, first Shi’ite imam and a figure of tremendous religious authority.
18. sword with an iron hilt: This suggests a sword of some antiquity, perhaps a relic or bit of caliphal regalia, as this style of sword had long since given way to swords with leather-covered wooden hilts.
19. our lord al-Mustazhir: ‘Abbasid caliph (r. 1094–1118).
20. Ask him something useful… into his mouth: It is not entirely clear where al-Muqtafi’s speech ends in the text, or if Usama is interpolating. I have assumed that this is all intended to be part of the caliph’s dialogue.
21. one of those who desire only the fleeting life: An allusion to Qur’an 17:18–19, which contrasts those who cling to this life with those who piously yearn for the afterlife.
22. the caliph said to me: That is, to the ultimate narrator of this complex tale, Shihab al-Din Abu al-Fath.
23. Official procedure… authorized for him: The point of this last paragraph is that the amount of the award was never specified in the document, so the caretaker was in possession of, as it were, a blank cheque from the caliph himself, had he only known.
24. Khawaja Buzurk: A Persian title (khwaja buzurg) meaning ‘Great Lord’, and borne by several prominent viziers of the Seljuks, in this case the mighty vizier Nizam al-Mulk, who effectively ran the sultanate until his death in 1092.
25. From a foreign land: The text might also be read ‘From Ghazna’, a city in Afghanistan.
26. Malikshah: That is, Khawaja Buzurk’s lord, the Seljuk sultan Malikshah (r. 1072–92).
27. sura of tabaraka: That is, the Qur’anic chapter (sura) that begins with the word tabaraka (‘blessed be’). This could be either sura 25 or 67.
28. Qur’an-master: (Arabic muqri’) a man who instructs Muslims in the art of reciting the text of the Qur’an.
29. Ibn Mujahid: Ahmad ibn Musa ibn Mujahid al-Muqri’ died in Baghdad in 935 (al-Jazari, Ghayat al-Nihaya fi Tabaqat al-Qurra’ (Cairo: Maktabat al-Khanji, 1932), 1:139).
30. My womenfolk asked me for a daniq… to rub her palate: A daniq is a trifling measure of weight also used to denote a fractional piece of currency, either a fraction in theory (e.g., one-sixth of a dinar, though this value varies), or in practice, i.e., a piece physically cut from a larger coin. The point is that the man didn’t even have the minuscule amount he needed, not two pennies to rub together, but was rewarded with a fortune. The palate-rubbing ritual (tahnik) was frequently performed on newborns, sometimes using dates rather than honey, and symbolized the entrance of the child into the new community.
31. ‘Ali ibn ‘Isa: Ali ibn ‘Isa, the so-called ‘Good Vizier’, held office twice for the ‘Abbasid caliph al-Muqtadir (913–17 and 927–8).
32. fuqqa’-vendor: Fuqqa’ was a beer-like beverage made of barley, whose name derives from the head of suds, faqaqi’, that appears on its surface.
33. As you can see: Presumably one can tell the man’s trade because he is carrying his wares with him.
34. Zayn al-Din ‘Ali Kujak: One of the atabeg Zangi’s commanders, named governor of Mosul upon the atabeg’s death. He himself died in 1167.
35. Abu al-Khattab al-’Ulaymi: Abu al-Khattab ‘Umar ibn Muhammad ibn ‘Abdallah ibn Ma’mar al-’Ulaymi, a merchant and well-travelled scholar of hadith (Prophetic Tradition), he died in 1178 (see Siyar, 21:49–50). His title of ‘hafiz’ indicates that he had memorized the Qur’an by heart.
36. al-Qadi Abu Bakr… known as Qadi al-Maristan: An accomplished judge and student of hadith who, as a prisoner of the Byzantines, learned to read and write Greek. Among his many students was the scholar and historian Ibn al-Jawzi. He died in 1140 (seeSiyar, 20:23–8). A maristan or bimaristan was an institution set aside for the housing and care of the mentally and physically disabled, a regular feature of the larger cities of the Islamic world.
37. During my pilgrimage… pilgrim-garment: By ‘pilgrimage’, the pilgrimage to Mecca is implied. This rite, incumbent upon all able Muslims, involved numerous rituals, most famously the circumambulation (tawwaf) of the Ka’ba, the large black cubical stone structure associated with Abraham (called here simply al-bayt, ‘the House’). Pilgrims were also obliged to dress in special simple unstitched garments signifying their new state of ritual purity. And unstitched garments, as this pilgrim realized, have no pockets.
38. in the Sacred Precinct: (Arabic haram) here meaning the sanctified zone surrounding the Ka’ba and other pilgrimage stations in Mecca. Entrance is forbidden to anyone not in a state of temporary consecration, established by a sequence of rituals including a statement of intention, ablution, ritual dress and abstaining from certain acts. Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem all possess such sacred precincts.
39. the bride was exhibited before me: This refers to a traditional wedding practice in which the bride, in all her finery, at the head of a procession is presented to her husband.
40. Lawful enjoyment has bent the nose of jealousy: Meaning, ‘You don’t have to be worried about my intentions when I ask you, since you are lawfully married to her.’
41. Yuhanna ibn Butlan… his clinic in Aleppo: Ibn Butlan was one of the most celebrated physicians of his day (d. 1063; see EI2, s.v. ‘Ibn Butlan’). Though it literally means ‘shop’, I translate dukkan as ‘clinic’ here as Ibn Butlan appears to be using the space to treat patients and instruct his students.
42. But doctor… with all its coldness: Usama addresses the physician as hakim. Oddly, he refers to the melon as a rumman, a pomegranate, for reasons which are unclear, perhaps as a way of depicting his dismissiveness at the time. When he says the melon is cold, he does not mean chilled, but rather that cold humours dominate in the fruit, and so will further imbalance his already imbalanced system. The miracle-melon described is apparently a variety of the luscious, thick-skinned musk melon or kharbuja, Cucumis melo.
43. On Sleep and Dreams: This book, unfortunately, no longer survives. See Cobb, pp. 51–6.
44. If We extend anyone’s life, We reverse his development: Qur’an 36:68.
PART IV EPISODES OF HUNTING
1. I put my trust in God, may He be exalted!: This section, commencing on a new folio with this invocation and the following introduction, is clearly another ‘appendix’ added to The Book of Contemplation, but separate from the appendix devoted to ‘Curious Tales’ of ‘Holy Men and Healers’ that precedes it.
2. To God belongs… idleness: These lines are presumably Usama’s own work but they do not appear in any of his other collected poems.
3. cast off: With the bird on the fist, pushing the bird in the direction of its quarry.
4. making a ‘desert run’: Reading uncertain (d-sh-t kh-y-z), though Hitti (Memoirs, p. 222) intrepidly translates it (without explanation) as ‘and had perched on an elevated place’. I agree with Miquel (p. 386, n. 5) that we are probably dealing with a Persian technical phrase here, and one certainly can see the Persian word dasht, ‘desert’.
5. I have observed… swiftness of flight: Hitti routinely mistranslates baz as ‘falcon’, when what is intended is any variety of hawk, in this case, the smaller, stubby-winged goshawk. As Smith (p. 241, n. 17) explains, the ‘mountain’ peregrines, shawahin kuhiya/jabaliya, are those nesting locally, as opposed to ‘overseas’ peregrines that have come from other regions. What is described here is the use of smaller goshawks in the more enclosed space of the river-banks, followed by a ‘mopping up’ by the swift, long-winged and swooping peregrine falcons in the open reaches of the adjacent desert.
6. sparrow-hawk: (Arabic bashiq) Accipiter nisus.
7. Nisibis: A town located in the upper basin of the Hirmas River, which is a tributary of the Khabur River in Upper Mesopotamia.
8. Sinjar: A city at the foot of Jabal Sinjar, about 110 km west of Mosul.
9. caracal: (Arabic washaq) Felis caracal; sometimes called a ‘desert-lynx’ or a ‘Persian lynx’, they are among the largest and fastest of the ‘small cats’ and, like cheetahs, were used as hunting-cats.
10. ‘overseas’ peregrines: Peregrines not raised locally (see Smith, p. 241).
11. intermewed goshawk with red irises: A bird that has moulted in its cage, or mews, and has been kept on for the next season. As Smith (p. 243, n. 30) notes, hawks have yellow irises. But they turn red as they grow old. The implication, then, is that this is a bird that has seen many seasons.
12. gorged: The text reads ashba’a. Gorging is the practice of rewarding a bird by letting it eat its fill. Captured game must first be slaughtered according to the niceties of Islamic ritual law before it can be eaten.
13. grey heron: (Arabic balshub or balshun) Ardea cinerea.
14. stoops: The act of a bird flying high, then, with wings folded back, dropping quickly on its quarry.
15. al-bujj… flamingo: The Arabic nuham is the generic term for the greater flamingo, Phoenicopterus ruber roseus, known throughout the Mediterranean.
16. cow of the Children of Israel: Cf. Qur’an 2:67–71.
17. They also have an animal… barley: Behind the fanciful details, one can still recognize here the hippopotamus, whose Greek name does indeed mean ‘river-horse’ (Arabic faras al-bahr).
18. tail-feathers: In fact, all birds of prey have twelve tail-feathers. The Genoese may have simply meant that finding a sprinting bird that can hunt the high-flying crane is a rarity. This account is of some importance as it shows clearly that birds and hounds were occasionally imported from Europe. This would then make the bitch a zaghari, a foreign hound.
19. see-sees: (Arabic zarkh) the manuscript glosses this in the margin with the phrase wa-huwwa al-tayhuj. The tayhuj or see-see partridge, Ammoperdix griseogularis, is a native of Syria and Iraq, among other regions.
20. Najm al-Din: This is the amir Najm al-Din Abu Talib ibn ‘Ali-Kurd. He was the son of ‘Alam al-Din ‘Ali-Kurd, lord of Hama, already mentioned in Part II.
21. He imped the wings: Imping is the grafting of feathers onto birds to increase their flying capacity.
22. Valley of Ibn al-Ahmar: As Usama goes on to show by naming its villages in the next sentence, the Valley of Ibn al-Ahmar was located in the Nusayri mountains due west of Shayzar. It was named after the Banu al-Ahmar, an Arab clan that dominated that region in the early eleventh century.
23. including passagers, haggards and tiercels: Hitti (Memoirs, p. 229) misses the nuances of the hawking terminology here: passagers (Arabic firakh) are young birds of prey caught on their first migration, the perfect age, while a haggard (muqarnasa) is a hawk caught after moulting and growing its adult plumage; a tiercel (zurraq) is simply a male goshawk, about a third smaller, and so much less useful, than his female counterpart.
24. seels its eyes: Seeling is the practice of sewing the bird’s eyelids shut with a single thread, in lieu of hooding, temporarily blinding it to make it more tractable.
25. saluki-hounds… zagharis: The ancient, graceful, greyhoundlike saluki (Arabic saluqi) is a common enough breed and perhaps needs no introduction; the zaghari, however, is more of a puzzle. A plausible theory is that it is a breed of hound introduced by the Franks or perhaps the Byzantines – the name may well be German, cf. the modern German word Zeiger, ‘pointer’. But Smith (p. 251, n. 57) rightly cautions against too easy an identification. Gibb (p. 1011), a voice from another age, points out that the houndsmen are technically ‘whippers-in’ as they are unmounted.
26. our joy… other game: Usama is alluding to religious scruples here: the pig, wild or otherwise (Arabic khanzir), is religiously unclean in Islam, not to mention just plain dangerous. They are not to be hunted, but simply killed.
27. sons of Rupen… the Passes: A reference to the Christian Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia or ‘Lesser Armenia’, which was ruled by the Rubenid (or Rupenid) dynasty in territories extending throughout the fertile coastal plain along the northeast corner of the Mediterranean. The dynasty included the two princes named here, Thoros I (Arabic Tarus, r. 1102–29) and Leon I (r. 1129–40). The cities named by Usama were all historically part of the Cilician Kingdom, though I read Usama’s Antartus (Tartus, a city on the Syrian coast) as a copyist’s error for Cilician Tarsus. By ‘the Passes’ (al-durub), Usama means the famous ‘Cilician Gates’ through the Taurus Mountains.
28. white-birds: This last bird species (Arabic baydaniyyat), despite the description of its habitat, has not yet been identified.
29. salamander goose: (Arabic al-wazz al-samand) exact identity unknown. No one seems to be able to identify this bird, though Smith (p. 252) does note that the behaviour described is an accurate depiction of general goose behaviour. A possible candidate might be the Eurasian coot, Fulica atra, known in Syria as salanda.
30. argala: The text reads harjal, which is unidentified. Miquel (p. 400, n. 35) discusses all the options. Sharing his despair, I simply follow Hitti (Memoirs, p. 235).
31. sword and mat: The text reads bi’l-sayf wa’l-nat’, that is, the customary symbols of the executioner – his sword and the leather mat which collected blood. Usama is here alluding to the hawk’s relentless ferocity on the hunt.
32. Tall Saqrun: Apparently a hill outside the old city of Hama, but its location is unknown.
33. ride out: Large animals with low stamina like cheetahs used in hunting were usually transported riding in a cart or even ‘riding pillion’ on horseback.
34. idmi: This refers to the gazelle’s colouring, which Smith (p. 248, n. 49) describes as ‘brown with black lines on the flanks, with black eyes’.
35. al-Ala… white gazelles: This is the Jabal al-’Ala region near Idlib in northern Syria. As for the gazelles, Smith (p. 248, n. 50) notes that these are probably the rim gazelles common to the Syrian desert.
36. Abu ‘Abdallah al-Tulaytuli: His name indicates he is from Toledo, though, as Usama goes on to explain, he was a refugee from Tripoli. It is possible he was also a refugee from Toledo, the city having been conquered by Christians in 1085.
37. the Sibawayh of his age: Sibawayh was considered the greatest Arab grammarian (d. 796).
38. House of Learning in Tripoli: A princely library founded by the lord of Tripoli, Fakhr al-Mulk ibn ‘Ammar. Tripoli was captured by the Franks on 12 July 1109.
39. Yanis, the copyist: Yanis later moved to Cairo to work in the Afdaliya library there, in 1112 (see al-Maqrizi, Itti’az al-hunafa’ bi-akhbar al-a’imma, ed. J. al-Shayyal (Cairo: Lajnat ihya’ al-turath al-islami, 1948), 3:51).
40. Ibn al-Bawwab: The sobriquet of Abu al-Hasan ‘Ali ibn Hilal, one of the most celebrated calligraphers of his day (d. 1022).
41. many books of grammar… Sentences: Sibawayh was the author of a central Arabic grammatical text known simply as al-Kitab, ‘The Book’; Abu al-Fath Ibn Jinni, author of The Peculiarities of Speech (al-Khasa’is) (d. 1002); Abu ‘Ali al-Hasan al-Fasawi al-Farisi, author of The Explanation (al-Idah) (d. 987); the Salient Features (al-Luma’) is probably the text by that name written by Ibn Jinni; and the Sentences (al-Jumal) is probably the work by al-Zajjaji (d. 950).
42. his feet covered in sores: The crucial word is illegible – Hitti (Memoirs, p. 238) assumes his feet are ‘covered in rags’. Following Miquel (p. 405), I think ‘sores’ makes more sense.
43. al-Amir: The Fatimid caliph in Cairo (r. 1101–31).
44. sharp-set: (Arabic afrah/farih) a bird in top physical and mental form.
45. al-Afdal: Fatimid vizier (d. 1121).
46. wood-pigeons: (Arabic dalam) Columba palumbus.
47. jesses: (Arabic sibaq) the straps attached to the legs of birds, by which they are held (normally) upright on one’s wrist.
48. This falconer… peregrines: This sentence clearly introduces the discussion of well-trained birds that follows, though Hitti (Memoirs, p. 240) attaches it to the previous paragraph. As such, I interpret the subject of most of the action (indicated by a vague pronoun in Arabic) as the falconer, not Usama’s father, as Hitti has it.
49. wait on: (Arabic adara) a technical term from falconry, translated also less technically above as ‘circle around’. On the significance of this, see Smith (p. 250).
50. Isfahan: One of Iran’s principal cities and erstwhile capital of the Seljuk sultans. It is likely that Usama’s father’s visit concerned the return of family lands in Syria that had been taken by the Seljuks.
51. weasel: The text reads ibn ‘irs, technically, a weasel (Mustela nivalis). Hitti (Memoirs, p. 242) translates this as ‘ferret’, which is indeed better attested as a hunting-animal.
52. bustard: (Arabic hubara) despite the Arabic name and the somewhat imprecise statement of Smith (pp. 252–3), this is not to be confused with the North African Houbara Bustard (Chlamydotis undulata), but rather to be identified with MacQueen’s Bustard of the Near East (Chlamydotis macqueenii), now hunted almost to extinction.
53. Tall Sikkin: ‘Knife Mound’, located to the southwest of Shayzar (Dussaud, p. 209).
54. Khurji’s horse: Khurji, it should be noted, means ‘maker of saddle-bags’.
55. he was his sheikh… studied Arabic: The parenthetical statement is Usama’s, i.e., the sheikh was the teacher of Usama’s father. Hitti reads the man’s name as ‘ibn Qatrmatar’.
56. Your eyes, your eyes: The text reads ‘aynak ‘aynak, translated by Hitti (Memoirs, p. 244)as ‘Look out! Look out!’ But the warning is more specifically to the threat that a hawk – trained to harry and blind its quarry – may present should it accidentally attack a human.
57. pike: The text reads al-bala – a long pointed blade, apparently from Turkish bala.
58. in the bed of a wadi: The reading is uncertain. Hitti (Memoirs, p. 245) and Miquel (p. 417) read it as a toponym fi ard al-Hubayba, ‘in the land of al-Hubaybah’; Rotter (p. 242) reads it as a topographical feature, fi ard al-junayna, ‘in the little garden’. I follow Samarrai (p. 223): fi ard al-khabiba, ‘in the earth at the deepest part of the wadi’.
59. footed: (Arabic asada) footing is when a bird grabs its quarry with its talons to subdue or kill it.
60. starling: (Arabic zarzur) Sturnus vulgaris.
61. mutes: ‘Muting’ (Arabic salaha) is the practice of projectile excretion as a means of defence, something bustards were famous for, even among pre-Islamic Arab poets, as Smith (p. 253) notes.
62. young hawk, still downy: (Arabic baz ghitraf farkh) Hitti (Memoirs, p. 246) confuses ghitraf with ghitrif, and so translates it as ‘excellent’. But in fact quite the opposite is meant: it is a technical term for a young bird just taken from its nest, still covered in down (and thus untried).
63. ‘ayma: This species remains unidentified, despite Usama’s close description. Given its size, it would appear to be some variety of stork.
64. Abu al-’Ala’ ibn Sulayman: The celebrated Syrian poet Abu al-’Ala’ al-Ma’arri (d. 1057). The mythical bird he mentions in his verse is the ‘anqa’, closer to the phoenix than a griffin – despite Hitti’s claim (Memoirs, p. 246) – and famous for being elusive (and taken by Sufis as a symbol of nothingness).
65. bells: (Arabic ajras) the little bells worn by birds of prey to make them easier to locate from afar.
66. the Ghab: The text reads al-Ghab: not simply ‘the forest’ as Hitti (Memoirs, p. 247) has it, but rather the marshy basin known by that name, stretching along the Orontes from Shayzar past Apamea.
67. javelin: The text reads al-khushut, from Persian khisht, ‘javelin’. Usama here seems to be referring to a specific variety of this weapon – this one would seem to be a light weapon.
68. luzzayq… kestrel: Smith (pp. 253–4) is probably right to avoid identifying the luzzayq (or luzayq, laziq) with any specific species of bird, given the sparse details. It does not appear to be the hobby (Falco subbuteo), one of Smith’s possible candidates, as that is commonly called kawanj. Given Usama’s description, another candidate, the red-footed falcon (Falco vespertinus), seems the best bet, but, as Smith notes, it would be remarkable indeed for such a small bird to down a crane. It appears to be unknown outside this text. But Smith is surely too cautious not to translate ‘awsaq as kestrel (Falco tinnunculus), as the name is clearly used in that sense in Syria today.
69. Wadi al-Qanatir… bandits: Wadi al-Qanatir, ‘Valley of the Bridges’ or ‘Arches’, remains unidentified, but it seems to be within the lands controlled from Shayzar. The bandits are described as ‘abid, ‘slaves’, a term sometimes (but not always) indicating slaves of African origin.
70. Fakhr al-Mulk ibn ‘Ammar: The independent ruler of Tripoli, on the Syrian coast, until it was captured by the Franks in 1109.
71. slapping one hand against the other… save in God: This exclamation of wonder or disaster, drawn from Qur’an 18:39, is invariably accompanied by this gesture, even today.
72. white hawk: The text reads zurraq, exact identity unknown. The medieval lexicographers describe it as between a goshawk and a sparrow-hawk.
73. first of Rajab, while we were fasting: Fasting outside the required fast of Ramadan was considered an act of special devotion; the month of Rajab was a popular month to do this for a variety of reasons. See EI2, s.v. ‘Radjab’.
74. liquorice-bushes: Liquorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), known in Arabic as sus, grows in low, thick bushes in Lebanon and northern Syria.
75. asphodel: (Arabic khinath) Asphodelus ramosus, King’s Spear, which grows in tall spikes bearing large white flowers. Its fruit, by the way, are said to be a favourite of the wild boar. Samarrai (p. 230) reads khabab, ‘plants, growth’, which also fits.
76. boar: Hitti (Memoirs, pp. 251–2) unaccountably thinks Usama has started chasing the bull at this point, a change of quarry that would be neither honourable nor cost-effective.
77. hunting with sakers has a system… horses: On the technique described here and this passage, see Smith (pp. 254–5). In his translation he renders al-kalba (‘bitch’) as ‘saluki bitch’. But it seems clear that this anecdote is about the well-trained dog that was just previously mentioned, the one that Usama’s father received as a gift. And, as this follows on the heels of an account about zaghariya-hounds and their tractability, I suspect the bitch in question is a zaghariya, not a saluki. This would be further evidence thatzaghariya-hounds were not pointers.
78. Injustice… some defect: Usama also cites this memorably cynical verse from the poet al-Mutanabbi in his Kitab al-Badi’, p. 381.
79. Praise be to God… in Him we trust: These final lines may not have been penned by Usama, but added by a copyist. The passage that follows clearly indicates that this manuscript is a copy of an earlier manuscript. The scene that it depicts in the history of that earlier manuscript is touching: in 1213, Usama’s (now elderly) son, ‘Adud al-Din Murhaf, instructed his own grandson faithfully to transmit Usama’s famous work.
1. From the Introduction: Samarrai (pp. 16–17), citing al-Dhahabi, Ta’rikh al-Islam (British Museum MS 739B, ff. 16a-19b). See also Vie (p. 619).
2. in the same year: Al-Dhahabi (Ta’rikh al-Islam MS, f. 16a) here goes on to describe the rest of the book as follows: ‘Then he sets out in detail the amazing experiences he has had during these battles, describing in it his courage and audacity, may God have mercy upon him.’
3. A Summary History of Shayzar: Samarrai (p. 15), citing the historian Abu al-Fida’ (d. 1331), al-Mukhtasar fi akhbar al-bashar (Cairo: al-Matba’a al-Husayniya, 1907), 3:33.
4. Bridge Fortress: Abu al-Fida’ (al-Mukhtasar, 3:33) adds: ‘The aforementioned bridge is known in our time as the Bridge of Ibn Munqidh, and the place where the fortress used to be is today a mound clear of any building. It is located to the west of Shayzar, just a short distance from it.’
5. Demetrios: The text reads Dimitri.
6. quntariya: Usama uses this term, the same name given for the spears favoured by certain warriors at Shayzar in Usama’s day. The word and the weapon are of Greek origin (kontarion), and would seem to indicate that these troops were some kind of elite infantry associated with this weapon.
7. So my grandfather handed over… earthquake: Nasr and Sultan are Usama’s paternal uncles, Muhammad his paternal cousin. Almost the entire family was destroyed in the earthquake that levelled Shayzar.
8. The Bravery of the Caliph al-Mustarshid: Samarrai (p. 19), citing Ibn Wasil, Mufarrij al-Kurub, ed. Jamal al-Din al-Shayyal (Cairo: Matba’at Jami’at Fu’ad al-Awwal, 1953–7), 1:50–51. This passage describes the disastrous battle between the atabeg Zangi and the ‘Abbasid caliph al-Mustarshid (r. 1118–35) near Baghdad.
9. ‘Aqarquf: A village about 30 km west of Baghdad.
10. Usama Gives Advice to a Friend in Peril: Samarrai (pp. 21–22), citing Abu Shama, Kitab al-Rawdatayn, ed. M. H. Muhammad (Cairo: Lajnat al-Ta’lif wa-al-Tarjama wa-al-Nashr, 1956–62), 1:138.
11. al-Mawsili: The man, whom Usama warns is spending too much of his prince’s money on charity, was vizier in Mosul.
12. Nineveh… training-grounds: Nineveh was a small medieval town that had developed in the ruins of the ancient Assyrian city, across the Tigris from Mosul. The training-grounds (Arabic maydan) lay outside Mosul, to the north of the city walls.
13. al-Sharifal-Radi: One of the greatest Shi’ite poets (d. 1016). See EI2, s.v.
14. Barmakids: The family of viziers and financial administrators that dominated the caliphate of the early ‘Abbasids. Their violent fall from grace under the caliph Harun al-Rashid (786–809) became paradigmatic of the fickleness of political position and the inscrutability of Fate.
15. the Hijaz: This is the Arabic name for the mountainous area of northwestern Arabia, where the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina are located.
16. Isma’ilis Capture Apamea: Samarrai (pp. 22–3), citing Ibn al-’Adim, Bughyat al-talab min ta’rikh halab, ed. Suhayl Zakkar (Damascus: 1991), 1:131. Apamea, located just north of Shayzar, was the base of Ibn Mula’ib, who features prominently in TheBook of Contemplation as a thorn in Shayzar’s side in Usama’s youth.
17. Malikshah: Seljuk sultan (r. 1072–92).
18. Abu Yusuf al-Qazwini: ‘Abd al-Salam ibn Muhammad ibn Yusuf ibn Bundar, Abu Yusuf al-Qazwini, Mu’tazilite sheikh and noted scholar (d. 1090).
19. al-Hakim: Fatimid caliph (r. 996–1021).
20. Latakia: Syrian coastal city, conquered by the Byzantines (whom Abu Yusuf calls ‘Romans’, following common practice) in 968.
21. Ibn al-Buwayn: Abu al-Hasan ‘Ali ibn Ja’far ibn al-Hasan ibn al-Buwayn, poet and scribe from Ma’arrat al-Nu’man (d. 1111 in Egypt). He was a scribe for Usama’s grandfather, Sadid al-Mulk ‘Ali, as Usama adds here as an aside.
22. he had left… grown man: If Murshid, born in 1068, was a ‘grown man’ when he made this trip, it would be after c. 1082 but before Abu Yusuf’s death in 1090. Probably, the journey was made after 1086 (and so a decade or more after Murshid and the old man had first met) when the Banu Munqidh were forced to cede some of their domains to the sultan in return for their continued possession of Shayzar. Significantly, these possessions were returned in 1091.
23. Khawaja Buzurk Nizam al-Din: That is, the sultan’s all-powerful vizier, Nizam al-Mulk (d. 1092).
24. They said… a seller of milk: A verse from a poem by a poet called al-’Usfuri, mocking the pretensions of a poetaster he met.
25. as when Jacob satisfied his soul’s desire: An allusion to Qur’an 12:68.
26. al-Bulayl: Or, possibly, al-Balil, which Yaqut, Mu’jam al-buldan, 5 vols. (Beirut: Dar Sadir, 1955–7), s.v., describes as ‘a quarter of Siffin’, Siffin being situated across the river from Qal’at Ja’bar.
27. House of the Chain: On the Dome of the Chain, and the traditions surrounding it, see (with references to the literature) Amikam Elad, Medieval Jerusalem and Islamic Worship (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1999), pp. 47–8.
28. stand beneath the chain: That is, the chain was suspended from the underside of the dome.
29. a visit to the sheikh Yasin: The text reads ziyarat al-shaykh yasin which connotes a visit made for the purpose of religious merit (as also in Usama’s ‘visit’ to Jerusalem, above).
30. Mambij: A Syrian town located near the Euphrates, northeast of Aleppo, about four days’ journey from Shayzar
31. Shihab al-Din Mahmud: Burid amir of Damascus (r. 1135–9).
32. supervisor: (Arabic na’ib) the supervisor of the waqf, or charitable endowment, set aside for the blind men.
33. Ibn al-Farrash: As Derenbourg notes (Vie, p. 176, n. 6), this is possibly the judge Shams al-Din Abu ‘Abdallah Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Musa, aka Ibn al-Farrash.
34. On the Utility of Deception in Battle: This passage was inspired by Usama’s reflections on al-’Asa, the steadfast horse of Jadhima al-Abrash, an ill-fated pre-Islamic Arab king, who was seduced and then murdered by the queen Zenobia. His kinsmen had their revenge on Zenobia by killing her after sneaking into her city, using a Trojan-horse-like ruse in which, as Usama’s exasperated comments indicate, the soldiers hid in sacks to appear like cargo.
35. At the Tomb of St John the Baptist near Nablus: This account has already appeared in an English translation in Francesco Gabrieli, Arab Historians of the Crusades (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969). But, as that translation is itself a translation from Gabrieli’s Italian, which is, in turn, based upon Derenbourg’s defective edition of Usama’s original, I have produced a new translation of it here, which, I think, also clears up some of the confusing parts of Derenbourg (Vie, pp. 189–90) and Gabrieli’s (pp. 83–4) readings.
36. Yahya ibn Zakariya… Sebaste: Yahya is the Arabic name for John the Baptist, known to Muslims as a prophet mentioned in the Qur’an. Sebaste was a city built by Herod on the site of biblical Samaria, and was associated with John the Baptist since pre-Islamic times.
37. like carded cotton: A favourite simile of Usama’s. Gabrieli (Arab Historians, p.84) glosses this as ‘as white as combed cotton’. But it seems to be the unkempt state of their hair, and not its whiteness, that is being described.
38. They propped themselves… recited to them: Gabrieli (Arab Historians, p. 84) renders this, following Derenbourg (Vie, p. 189, n. 4), as
They were facing the east, and wore (embroidered?) on their breasts staves ending in crossbars turned up like the rear of a saddle. They took their oath on this sign, and gave hospitality to those who needed it.
In the footnote, Derenbourg suggests it indicates that these are monks of the Chapter of St John (thus his reference to oaths and hospitality). More likely, they are monks leaning upon some kind of crutch-like piece of gear. This interpretation would fit better with the theme of the anthology (staves) and the point of the passage (that Usama is impressed by the strenuous devotions he sees these old men performing, despite their frailty).
39. al-Tawawis: The Khanqah al-Tawusiya, Damascus’s first Sufi meeting-space, located in the Suq Saruja neighbourhood, northwest of the city, but now no longer extant.
40. Ibn al-Sallar: The all-powerful vizier of the Fatimid caliphate (r. 1150–53), who features in many of Usama’s Egyptian anecdotes in The Book of Contemplation.
41. patriarch of Egypt… Ethiopia: Yoannis V was Coptic patriarch of Egypt from 1146 to 1166. By the twelfth century, the Coptic patriarch of Egypt usually appointed the Ethiopian patriarch himself. The Ethiopian patriarch alluded to in this account is Mika’el I.
42. The First Crusade and its Sequel in the North: This account collapses events stretching from 1096 to 1108, and is really a mere digression started by a similar tale involving the haggling over terms of ransom between Alexander and the emperor of China. Nevertheless, it is one of the only Muslim accounts describing what at least one Muslim took to be the goal of the First Crusade: not merely Jerusalem, but Baghdad and the East.
43. Jikirmish: Shams al-Dawla Jikirmish (also Chökürmish), Seljuk governor of Mosul (d. 1106).
44. in battle: Near Harran in 1104, see Claude Cahen, La Syrie du nord à l’époque des croisades et la principauté franque d’Anti-oche (Paris: Paul Geuthner, 1940), pp. 236–8.
45. King Baldwin the Prince and Joscelin: Baldwin of Le Bourcq was count of Edessa (1100–1118) and later King of Jerusalem as Baldwin II (r. 1118–31). Joscelin of Courtenay was Baldwin’s cousin and later count of Edessa after him (1119–31).
46. Bohemond… Jikirmish: Bohemond left for Europe in the autumn of 1104; after failing in a campaign against the Byzantines at Durazzo in 1107, he died in Apulia in Jikirmish died in 1106.
47. Jawali Saqawa: Also spelled ‘Chavli Saqaveh’ or ‘Saqao’, Seljuk governor of Mosul until 1108, appointed by the Seljuk sultan Muhammad ibn Malikshah.
48. lord of Antioch… ibn Tutush: Tancred was regent of Frankish-held Antioch while Bohemond was absent in Europe. Ridwan ibn Tutush was Seljuk lord of Aleppo (r. 1095–1113).
49. The blows of the swords… prisoner: A reference to the conflicts of 1108, involving tortuous alliances between Franks and Muslims, and ending in battle near Tall Bashir, about midway between Aleppo and Edessa. See Cahen, Syrie du nord, pp. 247–51.
50. the year 507 (1114): The text gives a date of 527 (1133), but this is a misreading for 507 (1114). This is the same Isma’ili attack on Shayzar which features in a number of anecdotes in The Book of Contemplation.
51. Ibn al-Munira: Born in Kafartab, he later settled in Shayzar, probably fleeing the Frankish capture of his town during the First Crusade. He was a respected grammarian and religious scholar (d. 1110).
52. spurs: (Arabic mahamiz) a valuable piece of any horseman’s gear, but never easy to steal.
53. woman’s get-up: A woman’s wrap is probably intended, a favourite disguise of bandits. Cf. the disguise of the bandit al-Zamarrakal in The Book of Contemplation, ‘Thief Stories’.
54. Ma’arrat: That is, Ma’arrat al-Nu’man, a town just to the northeast of Kafartab.
55. scarred: Reading ‘alabat for the edition’s ghalabat.