The Royal Asiatic Society, founded in 1823, was the main centre in Britain for scholarly work on Asia in the nineteenth century, and has been a publisher since 1829.
The Muslim World 1100–1700: Early Sources on Middle East History, Geography and Travel is the second collection of RAS Classics reissued by Routledge in association with the Society. The first, the five-volume Theology, Ethics and Metaphysics (978-0700-71670-8), was published in February 2003.
Joseph Ritter von Hammer: Narrative of Travels in Europe, Asia and Africa in the Seventeenth Century, by Evliya Efendi, translated from the Turkish (first published 1834, 1850, Oriental Translation Fund of the Royal Asiatic Society), 2 vols., 250pp.+ 250pp.
The travel narrative, the Seyahatname of Evliyya Celebi is the outstanding source on Ottoman social history in the seventeenth century. It is also a classic of world literature. Only the first two volumes (out of ten) have ever been translated, those on Istanbul and Anatolia, by Hammer, and these are reproduced here.
Volumes 2 and 3
M. Quatremere: Histoire des Sultans Mamlouks de l’Egypte, ecrite en Arabe par Taki-eddin-Ahmed-Makrizi, traduite en francais, et accompagnee de notes philologiques, historiques, geographiques (first published 1837, 1842, Oriental Translation Fund of the Royal Asiatic Society), 2 vols. in 2 parts: Vol. 1: 250+280pp., Vol. 2: 288+324pp.
Al-Maqrizi (766–845/1364–1442) was a professional historian who wrote on a wide variety of subjects from artists and bees to coinage and economic crises. The volumes produced by Quatremere cover the establishment of the Mamluk regime first in Egypt and then in Syria, the battles to defend Syria from Mongol invasions and the war against the Crusaders which culminated in the Mamluk capture of Acre in 1291. However, Quatremere’s frequent and lengthy annotations are what give this work its enduring value. He used the text as a pretext for the exploration of a vast range of medieval technical terms and turns of phrase, so turning his footnotes into a kind of lexical encyclopedia, and they are still regarded as essential for deciphering Mamluk administrative and military terminology.
Guy LeStrange: Description of the Province of Fars in Persia at the Beginning of the Fourteenth Century AD, from the MS in the British Museum (first published 1912, Asiatic Society Monographs of the Royal Asiatic Society).
This volume consists of LeStrange’s edited translation of part of the Farsnama of Ibn al-Balkhi, completed around the first decade of the twelfth century AD, which appears to be the earliest surviving Persian historical work from the Saljuq period and therefore of continuing importance. The geographical section has much that is original, including detailed information on the Kurdish tribes. The heyday of Fars had been in pre-Islamic times when it had been the seat of power of the Persian kings, but it was later governed from Iraq. Ibn Balkhi provides many useful details about the decline of many towns and villages prior to the Seljuq takeover in Iran, and much of that decline is blamed on the Shi’ite Buyids. This section also offers advice for good governance of the province in future.
William Henry Salmon: An Account of the Ottoman Conquest of Egypt in the Year AH 922 (AD 1516) (first published 1921, Oriental Translation Fund of the Royal Asiatic Society), 130pp.
A translation of part of the chronicle Bada’i al-zuhur fi waqa’i al-duhur of Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Iyas, who was born in 852/1448 and died c. 930/1523–4. Ibn Iyas was the last representative of a great tradition of history writing in Mamluk Egypt that began with Ibn Abd al-Zahir in the late thirteenth century. For the last period of Mamluk history Ibn Iyas is very nearly the only chronicle source; therefore his information and disinformation have been extremely influential in shaping the perception of modern historians of the final confrontation between the Mamluks and Ottomans in 1516–17.
E. Denison Ross: Ta’rikh-I Fakhru’d-Din Mubarakshah, Being the Introduction to the Book of Genealogies … (first published 1927, James G. Forlong Fund of the Royal Asiatic Society), 104pp.
Mubarak-Shah died in 602/1205–6. He was the descendant of one of the governors of Ghazna. The nominal subject of this work is the genealogies of the leading Muslim dynasties, but the most interesting portion has to do with the early history of the Turks, and contains a list of sixty-four Turkish tribes. In addition, there is a table giving the letters of the Soghdian alphabet with their Turkish equivalents which proved important in the understanding of this old Iranian language.
J. Stephenson: The Zoological Section of the Nuzhatu’l Qulub of Hamd Allah Mustaufi Qazwini (first published 1928, Oriental Translation Fund of the Royal Asiatic Society), 228pp.
Hamd Allah was born in 680/1282 and died around 740/1340. He was the first systematic geographer to write in Persian. The bizarre zoological classification system of the Nuzhat has, for example, a section devoted to animals that resemble man. 228 creatures are described, with their Persian, Turkish, or Mongol equivalents often supplied with the Arabic. The reader is introduced to the Kingdom of the Bees, the Jewish fish that observes the Sabbath, the snake that grows into a dragon, and the dragon that grows into something larger yet. Ham Dallah wrote that a drink of elephant’s earwax will keep a person awake for a whole week.
Vladimir Minorsky: Sharaf al-Zaman Tahir Marvazi on China, the Turks and India. Arabic Text (c. AD 1200) With English Commentary (first published 1942, James G. Forlong Fund of the Royal Asiatic Society), 222pp.
Little is known about Marvazi, who was born in Merv and died some time after 1120. His admiration for Chinese craftsmanship stands out; on the other hand he had a racist attitude to black people. The further from the heartlands of Islam, the stranger things became: hence he gives us accounts of Indian magic, as well as the man-eating queen, the clove mine and the hunters of the nas-nas. Some of what Marvazi found fascinating, Minorsky judged necessary to render into the decent obscurity of Latin. Much of the value of Marvazi’s work lies in his recycling of fragments of a lost ninth-century geographical work, the Kitab al-Masalik wa al-Mamalik by al-Jayhani, a wazir of the Samanids.