Benjamin of Tudela.

The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela online

. (page 1 of 11)
Online LibraryBenjamin of TudelaThe Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela → online text (page 1 of 11)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Produced by Ted Garvin and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.





_published by_
96 East Broadway
New York, N.Y.10002




Map showing Benjamin's route ... to face title page


I. Islam in the Middle Ages

II. The Object of Benjamin's Journey

III. Bibliography ... xiii


Translation of Hebrew Introduction


Saragossa, Barcelona, Narbonne

Beziers, Montpellier, Lunel

Posquières, Bourg de St. Gilles, Arles, Marseilles

Genoa, Pisa, Lucca


Naples, Sorrento, Salerno

Amalfi, Benevento, Melfi, Ascoli, Trani, Taranto, Brindisi

Corfu, Arta, Patras, Lepanto, Crissa, Corinth, Thebes

Wallachia, Armylo, Vissena, Salonica, Abydos.


Rhaedestus, Gallipoli, Chios, Samos, Rhodes


Cyprus, Curicus, Malmistras, Antioch

Antioch, Ladikiya, Gebela, the Hashishim

Kadmus, Tarabulus (Tripolis), Gubail (Byblus)

Beirut, Sidon, the Druses, Tyre

Acre, Haifa, Carmel.

Caesarea, Ludd, Samaria, Nablous.

The Samaritans


Bethlehem, Hebron

Beit Jibrin, Shiloh, Ramah

Gibeah, Nob, Ramleh, Jaffa

Askelon, Jezreel, Sepphoris, Tiberias

Meron, Kedesh Naphtali, Banias


Galid, Salchah

Baalbec, Tadmor, Emesa, Hatnath

Sheizar, Aleppo, Kalat Jabar, Rakka

Harr[=a]n, Ras-el-Ain, Geziret Ibn Omar


Rahbah, Karkisiya, El-Anbar

Hadara, Okbara


Gazigan, Babylon

Hillah, Tower of Babel, Kaphri

Sepulchre of Ezekiel

Kotsonath, Kefar Al-Keram, Kufa, Sura

Shafjathib, El-Anbar, Hillah

Kheibar, Teima, Tilmas and Tanai in Arabia

Basra, Khuzistan, Shushan

Sepulchre of Daniel

Rudbar, Nihawand, Mulahid

Amadia, History of David Alroy

Hamadan, Tabaristan

Ispahan, Shiraz, Ghaznah

Samarkand, Tibet, Naisabur

Expedition of Sinjar against the Ghuz

Khuzistan, Island of Kish

Katifa, Khulam (Quilon), India


China, Sea of Nikpa

Al-Gingaleh, Zebid, Aden


Abyssinia and Nubia, Egypt

Gana, Desert of Sahara, Fayum, Heluan



Damietta, Sunbat, Mount Sinai, Tur Sinai, Tanis


Island of Sicily, Messina, Palermo, Italy


Bohemia, Slavonia

Russia, France, Paris


* * * * *

HEBREW TEXT, with prefatory note ....... [Hebrew]
List of emendations of Text ........ [Hebrew]
HEBREW INDEX ........................... [Hebrew]

* * * * *



The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela throws a flashlight upon one of
the most interesting stages in the development of nations.

The history of the civilized world from the downfall of the Roman
Empire to the present day may be summarized as the struggle between
Cross and Crescent. This struggle is characterized by a persistent ebb
and flow. Mohammed in 622 A.D. transformed, as if by magic, a cluster
of Bedouin tribes into a warlike people. An Arabian Empire was formed,
which reached from the Ebro to the Indus. Its further advance was
stemmed in the year 732, just a hundred years after Mohammed's death,
by Charles Martel, in the seven days' battle of Tours.

The progress of the culture of the Arabs was as rapid as had been that
of their arms. Great cities such as Cairo and Bagdad were built.
Commerce and manufactures flourished. The Jews, who enjoyed protection
under the benign rule of the Caliphs, transmitted to the Arabs the
learning and science of the Greeks. Schools and universities arose in
all parts of the Empire. The dark age of Christendom proved to be the
golden age of literature for Jew and Arab.

By the eleventh century, however, the Arabs had lost much of their
martial spirit. Islam might have lost its ascendancy in the East had
not the warlike Seljuk Turks, coming from the highlands of Central
Asia, possessed themselves of the countries which, in days of old,
constituted the Persian Empire under Darius. The Seljuks became ready
converts to Islam, and upheld the failing strength of the Arabs.

It was the ill-treatment by the Seljuks of the Christian pilgrims to
Palestine which aroused Christian Europe and led to the First Crusade.
The feudal system adopted by the Seljuks caused endless dissension
among their petty sovereigns, called "Atabegs", all of whom were
nominally vassals of the Caliph at Bagdad. Thus it came about that
Islamism, divided against itself, offered but a poor resistance to the
advance of the Christians. The Crusaders had little difficulty in
making their way to Palestine. They captured Jerusalem, and
established the Latin kingdom there.

By the middle of the twelfth century Mohammedan power had shrunk to
smaller dimensions. Not only did the Franks hold Palestine and all the
important posts on the Syrian coast, but, by the capture of Lesser
Armenia, Antioch, and Edessa, they had driven a wedge into Syria, and
extended their conquests even beyond the Euphrates.

At length there came a pause in the decline of Islam. Zengi, a
powerful Seljuk Atabeg, in 1144 captured Edessa, the outpost of
Christendom, and the Second Crusade, led by the Emperor Conrad of
Germany and by King Louis VII of France, failed to effect the
recapture of the fortress. Nureddin, the far-sighted son and successor
of Zengi, and later on Saladin, a Kurd, trained at his court,
discovered how to restore the fallen might of Islam and expel the
Franks from Asia. A necessary preliminary step was to put an end to
the dissensions of the Atabeg rulers. Nureddin did this effectually by
himself annexing their dominions. His next step was to gain possession
of Egypt, and thereby isolate the Latin Kingdom. Genoa, Pisa, and
Venice, the three Italian republics who between them had command of
the sea, were too selfish and too intent upon their commercial
interests to interfere with the designs of the Saracens. The Latin
king Amalric had for some years sought to gain a foothold in Egypt. In
November, 1168, he led the Christian army as far as the Nile, and was
about to seize Fostat, the old unfortified Arab metropolis of Egypt.
The inhabitants, however, preferred to set fire to the city rather
than that it should fall into the hands of the Christians. To this
very day many traces may be seen in the neighbourhood of Cairo of this
conflagration. Nureddin's army, in which Saladin held a subordinate
command, by a timely arrival on the scene forced the Franks to
retreat, and the Saracens were acclaimed as deliverers.

The nominal ruler of Egypt at that time was El-Adid, the Fatimite
Caliph, and he made Saladin his Vizier, little thinking that that
modest officer would soon supplant him. So efficiently did Saladin
administer the country that in a few months it had regained its
prosperity, despite the five years' devastating war which had

At this juncture the traveller Rabbi Benjamin came to Egypt. Some
three years earlier he had left his native place - Tudela, on the Ebro
in the north of Spain. After passing through the prosperous towns
which lie on the Gulf of Lyons, he visited Rome and South Italy. From
Otranto he crossed over to Corfu, traversed Greece, and then came to
Constantinople, of which he gives an interesting account. Very
telling, for example, are the words: "They hire from amongst all
nations warriors called Barbarians to fight with the Sultan of the
Seljuks; for the natives are not warlike, but are as women who have no
strength to fight." After visiting the Islands of the Aegean, as well
as Rhodes and Cyprus, he passed on to Antioch, and followed the
well-known southern route skirting the Mediterranean, visiting the
important cities along the coast, all of which were then in the hands
of the Franks.

Having regard to the strained relations between the Christians and
Saracens, and to the fights and forays of the Latin knights, we can
understand that Benjamin had to follow a very circuitous way to enable
him to visit all the places of note in Palestine. From Damascus, which
was then the capital of Nureddin's empire, he travelled along with
safety until he reached Bagdad, the city of the Caliph, of whom he has
much to tell.

It is unlikely that he went far into Persia, which at that time was in
a chaotic state, and where the Jews were much oppressed. From Basra,
at the mouth of the Tigris, he probably visited the island of Kish in
the Persian Gulf, which in the Middle Ages was a great emporium of
commerce, and thence proceeded to Egypt by way of Aden and Assuan.

Benjamin gives us a vivid sketch of the Egypt of his day. Peace and
plenty seemed to prevail in the country. This happy state of things
was entirely due to the wise measures taken by Saladin, who, however,
kept himself so studiously in the background, that not even his name
is mentioned in the Itinerary. The deposition of the Fatimite Caliph
on Friday, September 10, 1171, and his subsequent death, caused little
stir. Saladin continued to govern Egypt as Nureddin's lieutenant. In
due course he made himself master of Barca and Tripoli; then he
conquered Arabia Felix and the Soudan, and after Nureddin's death he
had no difficulty in annexing his old master's dominions. The
Christian nations viewed his rapidly growing power with natural alarm.

About that time news had reached Europe that a powerful Christian king
named Prester John, who reigned over a people coming from Central
Asia, had invaded Western Asia and inflicted a crushing defeat upon a
Moslem army. Pope Alexander III conceived the hope that a useful ally
could be found in this priest-king, who would support and uphold the
Christian dominion in Asia. He accordingly dispatched his physician
Philip on a mission to this mysterious potentate to secure his help
against the Mohammedans. The envoy never returned.

Benjamin is one of the very few writers of the Middle Ages who gives
us an account of these subjects of Prester John. They were no other
than the infidels, the sons of Ghuz, or Kofar-al-Turak, the wild
flat-nosed Mongol hordes from the Tartary Steppes, who, in Benjamin's
quaint language, "worship the wind and live in the wilderness, who eat
no bread and drink no wine, but feed on uncooked meat. They have no
noses - in lieu thereof they have two small holes through which they

These were not men likely to help the Christians. On the contrary, as
is so fully described in Benjamin's Itinerary, they broke the power of
Sultan Sinjar, the mighty Shah of Persia, who, had he been spared by
the men of Ghuz, would have proved a serious menace to Saladin.

It took Saladin some years to consolidate his empire.

In 1187 he felt himself in a position to engage the Franks in a
decisive conflict. At the battle of Tiberias, Guy, the Latin king, was
defeated and taken prisoner. The Knights-Templars and Hospitalers, of
whose doings at Jerusalem Benjamin gives us particulars, either shared
the fate of the king or were slain in action. Jerusalem fell soon
afterwards. Pope Alexander III roused the conscience of Europe, and
induced the pick of chivalry to embark upon the Third Crusade in 1189.
But the prowess of the Emperor Frederic Barbarossa, the gallantry of
Richard I of England, the astuteness of Philip Augustus of France,
were of no avail. The Fourth and Fifth Crusades were equally
unsuccessful, and the tide of Islam's success rose high.

After Saladin's death his empire gradually crumbled to pieces, and
under Ghenghis Khan an invasion took place of hordes of Mongols and
Tartars, of whom the Ghuz had been merely the precursors. They overran
China and Russia, Persia, and parts of Western Asia. The effete
Caliphate at Bagdad was overthrown, but to Islam itself fresh life was
imparted. The rapid decline of the Mongol power at the end of the
thirteenth century gave free scope to the rise of the Ottoman Turks,
who had been driven from their haunts east of the Caspian Sea. Like
their kinsmen the Seljuks they settled in Asia Minor, and embraced the
Mohammedan faith, an example which many Mongols followed. The converts
proved trusty warriors to fight the cause of Islam, which gradually
attained the zenith of success. On May 29, 1453, Constantinople was
captured by the Turks, and an end was made of the Byzantine Empire.
Eastern Europe was subsequently overrun by them, and it was not until
John Sobieski defeated the Turks under the walls of Vienna in 1683
that their victorious career was checked.

Then at last the tide of Islam turned, and its fortunes have been
ebbing ever since. At the present day little territory remains to them
in Europe. India and Egypt are now subject to England; Russia has
annexed Central Asia; France rules Algiers and Tunis. One wonders
whether there will be a pause in this steady decline of Islam, and
whether the prophetic words of Scripture will continue to hold good:
"He will be a wild man, his hand will be against every man, and every
man's hand against him, and he shall dwell in the presence of all his

This brief consideration of the struggle between Cross and Crescent
may serve to indicate the importance of the revival of Islam, which
took place between the Second and Third Crusades, at the time when
Benjamin wrote his Itinerary.


We may ask what induced Benjamin to undertake his travels? What object
or mission was he carrying out?

It must be explained that the Jew in the Middle Ages was much given to
travel. He was the Wandering Jew, who kept up communications between
one country and another. He had a natural aptitude for trade and
travel. His people were scattered to the four corners of the earth. As
we can see from Benjamin's Itinerary, there was scarcely a city of
importance where Jews could not be found. In the sacred tongue they
possessed a common language, and wherever they went they could rely
upon a hospitable reception from their co-religionists. Travelling
was, therefore, to them comparatively easy, and the bond of common
interest always supplied a motive. Like Joseph, the traveller would be
dispatched with the injunction: "I pray thee see whether it be well
with thy brethren, and bring me word again."

If this was the case in times when toleration and protection were
extended to the Jews, how much stronger must have grown the desire for
intercommunication at the time of the Crusades. The most prosperous
communities in Germany and the Jewish congregations that lay along the
route to Palestine had been exterminated or dispersed, and even in
Spain, where the Jews had enjoyed complete security for centuries,
they were being pitilessly persecuted in the Moorish kingdom of

It is not unlikely, therefore, that Benjamin may have undertaken his
journey with the object of finding out where his expatriated brethren
might find an asylum. It will be noted that Benjamin seems to use
every effort to trace and to afford particulars of independent
communities of Jews, who had chiefs of their own, and owed no
allegiance to the foreigner.

He may have had trade and mercantile operations in view. He certainly
dwells on matters of commercial interest with considerable detail.
Probably he was actuated by both motives, coupled with the pious wish
of making a pilgrimage to the land of his fathers.

Whatever his intentions may have been, we owe Benjamin no small debt
of gratitude for handing to posterity records that form a unique
contribution to our knowledge of geography and ethnology in the Middle


"The Itinerary of Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela," prepared and published by
A. Asher, is the best edition of the diary of that traveller. The
first volume appeared in 1840, and contained a carefully compiled
Hebrew text with vowel points, together with an English translation
and a bibliographical account. A second volume appeared in 1841
containing elaborate notes by Asher himself and by such eminent
scholars as Zunz and Rapoport, together with a valuable essay by the
former on the Geographical Literature of the Jews and on the Geography
of Palestine, also an Essay by Lebrecht on the Caliphate of Bagdad.

In addition to twenty-three several reprints and translations
enumerated by Asher, various others have since appeared from time to
time, but all of them are based upon the two editions of the text from
which he compiled his work. These were the Editio Princeps, printed by
Eliezer ben Gershon at Constantinople, 1543, and the Ferrara Edition
of 1556, printed by Abraham Usque, the editor of the famous "Jews"
Bible in Spanish.

Asher himself more than once deplores the fact that he had not a
single MS. to resort to when confronted by doubtful or divergent
readings in the texts before him.

I have, however, been fortunate enough to be able to trace and examine
three complete MSS. of Benjamin's Travels, as well as large fragments
belonging to two other MSS., and these I have embodied in my present
collation. The following is a brief description of the MSS.: -

I. BM, a MS. in the British Museum (No. 27,089). It is bound up with
some of Maimonides' works, several Midrashic tracts, a commentary on
the Hagadah by Joseph Gikatilia, and an extract from Abarbanel's
commentary on Isaiah; it forms part of the Almanzi collection, which
curiously enough was purchased by the British Museum from Asher & Co.
in October, 1865, some twenty years after Asher's death.

Photographs of three pages of this MS. will be found with the Hebrew
text. With regard to the date of the MS., some competent judges who
have seen it assign it to the thirteenth century, and this view has
some support from Professor S.D. Luzzatto, who, in Steinschneider's
_Hammazkir_ (vol. V, fo. 105, xvii) makes the following comment upon
it: -

[HEBREW: Masaot R. Binyamin y''g dafim k'tivah ashkenazit k'domah

This MS. is the groundwork of the text I have adopted.

2. R, or the Roman MS., in the Casanatense library at Rome, and
numbered No. 216 in the Catalogue Sacerdote. This MS. occupies the
first twenty-seven leaves of Codex 3097, which contains fifteen other
treatises, among them a text of Eldad Hadani, all written by the same
scribe, Isaac of Pisa, in 5189 A.M., which corresponds with 1429-1430
(see Colophon at the end of the Hebrew text, page [HEBREW: ayn-nun]).
Under my direction Dr. Grünhut, of Jerusalem, proceeded to Rome, and
made a copy. Subsequently I obtained a collation of it made by the
late Dr. Neubauer; both have been used in preparing the notes to the
text. Later on, after the Hebrew text had already been printed, I
visited Rome, and on examining the MS. I found that a few variants had
been overlooked. I had facsimiles made of several pages, which will be
found with the Hebrew text.

3. E, a MS. now in the possession of Herr Epstein of Vienna, who
acquired it from Halberstamm's collection. The only reliable clue as
to the date of this MS. is the license of the censor: "visto per me
fra Luigi da Bologna Juglio 1599." Herr Epstein considers it to have
been written at the end of the fifteenth or beginning of the sixteenth
century. The MS. is on paper and in "Italian" handwriting. It contains
seventy-four quarto pages of from 19-20 lines each. Speaking generally
it is analogous to the edition of Ferrara, 1556, which was used by
Ashor as the groundwork of his text (Asher, p. 3), but the spelling of
persons and places in E often differs from that in the text of Asher.

4. O, in the Oppenheim collection of the Bodleian Library (MS. Opp.
add. 8° 36; ff. 58-63; Neubauer 2425), is a fragment. Its first three
leaves are continuous, beginning at p. 61 of Asher's edition and
ending at p. 73. After this there is a _lacuna_ of four leaves, and
the fragment, which recommences at p. 98 of Asher's edition, is then
continuous to the end of the book. The volume in which it is bound
contains various other treatises written by the same scribe, and
includes a fragment on Maimonides, whose death is mentioned as
occurring in 1202, and also part of a controversy of Nachmanides which
took place in 1263.

The MS. is in Spanish Rabbinic characters, and would appear to have
been written in the fourteenth or fifteenth century. For the collation
of this and the following fragment I am indebted to the kindness of my
friend Mr. A. Cowley, of Oxford. Photographs of pages of both MSS.
will be found with the Hebrew text.

5. B, also in the Oppenheim collection of the Bodleian Library (MS.
Opp. add. 8°, 58; fol. 57; Neubauer 2580). This fragment begins at p.
50 of Asher's edition. The date of this fragment is probably much
later than that of O, and may well be as late as the eighteenth
century. It appears to be written in an oriental hand.

In addition to the critical text, I give a translation of the British
Museum MS., and add brief notes thereto. I have purposely confined the
latter to small dimensions in view of the fact that Asher's notes, the
Jewish Encyclopaedia, and the works of such writers as Graetz and
others, will enable the reader to acquire further information on the
various incidents, personages, and places referred to by Benjamin. I
would, however, especially mention a work by Mr. C. Raymond Beazley
entitled "The Dawn of Modern Geography," particularly his second
volume, published in 1901. The frank and friendly manner in which the
writer does justice to the merits of the Jewish traveller contrasts
favourably with the petty and malignant comments of certain non-Jewish
commentators, of which Asher repeatedly complains.

It is not out of place to mention that soon after the publication in
1841 of the work on Benjamin by A. Asher, there appeared a review
thereof in consecutive numbers of the Jewish periodical _Der Orient_.
The articles bore the signature _Sider_, but the author proved to be
Dr. Steinschneider. They were among the first literary contributions
by which he became known. Although written sixty-five years ago his
review has a freshness and a value which renders it well worth reading
at the present day. The ninetieth birthday of the Nestor of Semitic
literature was celebrated on March 30 of last year, and it afforded no
little gratification to the writer that Dr. Steinschneider on that
occasion accepted the dedication to him of this the latest
contribution to the "Benjamin Literature." The savant passed away on
the 23rd of January last, and I humbly dedicate my modest work to his

I have the pleasure of expressing my thanks to the editors of the
_Jewish Quarterly Review_, who have permitted me to reprint my
articles; also to Dr. Berlin and other friends for their co-operation;
and to the Delegates of the Oxford University Press for allowing me to
make use of the map of Western Asia in the twelfth century, which was
designed by Professor S. Lane-Poole.

Marcus N. Adler. _May 27, 1907._

* * * * *



This is the book of travels, which was compiled by Rabbi Benjamin, the
son of Jonah, of the land of Navarre - his repose be in Paradise.

The said Rabbi Benjamin set forth from Tudela, his native city, and
passed through many remote countries, as is related in his book. In
every place which he entered, he made a record of all that he saw, or
was told of by trustworthy persons - matters not previously heard of in
the land of Sepharad[1]. Also he mentions some of the sages and
illustrious men residing in each place. He brought this book with him
on his return to the country of Castile, in the year 4933 (C.E.
1173)[2]. The said Rabbi Benjamin is a wise and understanding man,
learned in the Law and the Halacha, and wherever we have tested his
statements we have found them accurate, true to fact and consistent;
for he is a trustworthy man.


His book commences as follows: - I journeyed first from my native town
to the city of Saragossa[3], and thence by way of the River Ebro to
Tortosa. From there I went a journey of two days to the ancient city

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

Online LibraryBenjamin of TudelaThe Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela → online text (page 1 of 11)