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The Manuscript of Ibn Fadlan,

Michael Crichton

Eaters of the Dead



The Manuscript of Ibn Fadlan,

Relating His Experiences

With the Northmen in A.D. 922

To William Howells


“Praise not the day until evening has come; a woman until she is burnt; a sword until it is tried; a maiden until she is married; ice until it has been crossed; beer until it has been drunk.”




“Evil is of old date.”





THE IBN FADLAN MANUSCRIPT REPRESENTS THE earliest known eyewitness account of Viking life and society. It is an extraordinary document, describing in vivid detail events which occurred more than a thousand years ago. The manuscript has not, of course, survived intact over that enormous span of time. It has a peculiar history of its own, and one no less remarkable than the text itself.



In June, A.D. 921, the Caliph of Bagdad sent a member of his court, Ahmad Ibn Fadlan, as ambassador to the King of the Bulgars. Ibn Fadlan was gone three years on his journey and never actually accomplished his mission, for along the way he encountered a company of Norsemen and had many adventures among them.

When he finally returned to Bagdad, Ibn Fadlan recorded his experiences in the form of an official report to the court. That original manuscript has long since disappeared, and to reconstruct it we must rely on partial fragments preserved in later sources.

The best-known of these is an Arabic geographical lexicon written by Yakut ibn-Abdallah sometime in the thirteenth century. Yakut includes a dozen verbatim passages from Ibn Fadlan’s account, which was then three hundred years old. One must presume Yakut worked from a copy of the original. Nevertheless these few paragraphs have been endlessly translated and retranslated by later scholars.

Another fragment was discovered in Russia in 1817 and was published in German by the St. Petersburg Academy in 1823. This material includes certain passages previously published by J. L. Rasmussen in 1814. Rasmussen worked from a manuscript he found in Copenhagen, since lost, and of dubious origins. There were also Swedish, French, and English translations at this time, but they are all notoriously inaccurate and apparently do not include any new material.

In 1878, two new manuscripts were discovered in the private antiquities collection of Sir John Emerson, the British Ambassador in Constantinople. Sir John was apparently one of those avid collectors whose zeal for acquisition exceeded his interest in the particular item acquired. The manuscripts were found after his death; no one knows where he obtained them, or when.

One is a geography in Arabic by Ahmad Tusi, reliably dated at A.D. 1047. This makes the Tusi manuscript chronologically closer than any other to the original of Ibn Fadlan, which was presumably written around A.D. 924-926. Yet scholars regard the Tusi manuscript as the least trustworthy of all the sources; the text is full of obvious errors and internal inconsistencies, and although it quotes at length from one “Ibn Faqih” who visited the North country, many authorities hesitate to accept this material.

The second manuscript is that of Amin Razi, dating roughly from A.D. 1585-1595. It is written in Latin and according to its author is translated directly from the Arabic text of Ibn Fadlan. The Razi manuscript contains some material about the Oguz Turks, and several passages concerning battles with the mist monsters, not found in other sources.

In 1934, a final text in Medieval Latin was found in the monastery of Xymos, near Thessalonika in northeastern Greece. The Xymos manuscript contains further commentary on Ibn Fadlan’s relations with the Caliph, and his experiences with the creatures of the North country. The author and date of the Xymos manuscript are both uncertain.

The task of collating these many versions and translations, ranging over more than a thousand years, appearing in Arabic, Latin, German, French, Danish, Swedish, and English, is an undertaking of formidable proportions. Only a person of great erudition and energy would attempt it, and in 1951 such a person did. Per Fraus-Dolos, Professor emeritus of Comparative literature at the University of Oslo, Norway, compiled all the known sources and began the massive task of translation which occupied him until his death in 1957. Portions of his new translation were published in the Proceedings of the National Museum of Oslo: 1959-1960 , but they did not arouse much scholarly interest, perhaps because the journal has a limited circulation.

The Fraus-Dolos translation was absolutely literal; in his own introduction to the material, Fraus-Dolos remarked that “it is in the nature of languages that a pretty translation is not accurate, and an accurate translation finds its own beauty without help.”

In preparing this full and annotated version of the Fraus-Dolos translation, I have made few alterations. I deleted some repetitive passages; these are indicated in the text. I changed paragraph structure, starting each directly quoted speaker with a new paragraph, according to modern convention. I have omitted the diacritical marks on Arabic names. Finally, I have occasionally altered the original syntax, usually by transposing subordinate clauses so that the meaning is more readily grasped.



Ibn Fadlan’s portrait of the Vikings differs markedly from the traditional European view of these people. The first European descriptions of the Vikings were recorded by the clergy; they were the only observers of the time who could write, and they viewed the pagan Northmen with special horror. Here is a typically hyperbolic passage, cited by D. M. Wilson, from a twelfth-century Irish writer:

In a word, although there were an hundred hard-steeled iron heads on one neck, and an hundred sharp, ready, cool, never rusting, brazen tongues in each head, and an hundred garrulous, loud, unceasing voices from each tongue, they could not recount or narrate, enumerate or tell, what all the Irish suffered in common, both men and women, laity and clergy, old and young, noble and ignoble, of the hardships and of injuring and of oppression, in every house, from those valiant, wrathful, purely pagan people.

Modern scholars recognize that such bloodcurdling accounts of Viking raids are vastly exaggerated. Yet European writers still tend to dismiss the Scandinavians as bloody barbarians, irrelevant to the main flow of Western culture and ideas. Often this has been done at the expense of a certain logic. For example, David Talbot Rice writes:

From the eighth to the eleventh centuries indeed the role of the Vikings was perhaps more influential than that of any other single ethnic group in Western Europe… The Vikings were thus great travellers and they performed outstanding feats of navigation; their cities were great centres of trade; their art was original, creative and influential; they boasted a fine literature and a developed culture. Was it truly a civilization? It must, I think, be admitted that it was not… The touch of humanism which is the hallmark of civilization was absent.

This same attitude is reflected in the opinion of Lord Clark:

When one considers the Icelandic sagas, which are among the great books of the world, one must admit that the Norsemen produced a culture. But was it civilization?… Civilization means something more than energy and will and creative power: something the early Norsemen hadn’t got, but which, even in their time, was beginning to reappear in Western Europe. How can I define it.? Well, very shortly, a sense of permanence. The wanderers and invaders were in a continual state of flux. They didn’t feel the need to look forward beyond the next March or the next voyage or the next battle. And for that reason it didn’t occur to them to build stone houses, or to write books.

The more carefully one reads these views, the more illogical they appear. Indeed, one must wonder why highly educated and intelligent European scholars feel so free to dismiss the Vikings with no more than a passing nod. And why the preoccupation with the semantic question of whether the Vikings had a “civilization”? The situation is explicable only if one recognizes a long-standing European bias, springing from traditional views of European prehistory.

Every Western schoolchild is dutifully taught that the Near East is “the cradle of civilization,” and that the first civilizations arose in Egypt and Mesopotamia, nourished by the Nile and the Tigris-Euphrates river basins. From here civilization spread to Crete and Greece, and then to Rome, and eventually to the barbarians of northern Europe.

What these barbarians were doing while they waited for the arrival of civilization was not known; nor was the question often raised. The emphasis lay on the process of dissemination, which the late Gordon Childe summarized as “the irradiation of European barbarism by Oriental civilization.” Modern scholars held this view, as did Roman and Greek scholars before them. Geoffrey Bibby says: “The history of northern and eastern Europe is viewed from the West and South, with all the preconceptions of men who considered themselves civilized looking upon men whom they considered barbarians.”

From this standpoint, the Scandinavians are obviously the farthest from the source of civilization, and logically the last to acquire it; and therefore they are properly regarded as the last of the barbarians, a nagging thorn in the side of those other European areas trying to absorb the wisdom and civilization of the East.

The trouble is that this traditional view of European prehistory has been largely destroyed in the last fifteen years. The development of accurate carbon-dating techniques has made a mess of the old chronology, which supported the old views of diffusion. It now appears indisputable that Europeans were erecting huge megalithic tombs before the Egyptians built the pyramids; Stonehenge is older than the civilization of Mycenaean Greece; metallurgy in Europe may well precede the development of metalworking skills in Greece and Troy.

The meaning of these discoveries has not yet been sorted out, but it is certainly now impossible to regard the prehistoric Europeans as savages idly awaiting the blessings of Eastern civilization. On the contrary, the Europeans seem to have had organizational skills considerable enough to work massive stones, and they seem also to have had impressive astronomical knowledge to build Stonehenge, the first observatory in the world.

Thus, the European bias toward the civilized East must be called into question, and indeed the very concept of “European barbarism” requires a fresh look. With this in mind, those barbaric remnants, the Vikings, take on a new significance, and we can reexamine what is known of the Scandinavians of the tenth century.

First we should recognize that “the Vikings were never a clearly unified group. What the Europeans saw were scattered and individual parties of seafarers who came from a vast geographical area-Scandinavia is larger than Portugal, Spain, and France combined-and who sailed from their individual feudal states for the purpose of trade or piracy or both; the Vikings made little distinction. But that is a tendency shared by many seafarers from the Greeks to the Elizabethans.

In fact, for a people who lacked civilization, who “didn’t feel the need to look… beyond the next battle,” the Vikings demonstrate remarkably sustained and purposeful behavior. As proof of widespread trading, Arabic coins appear in Scandinavia as early as A.D. 692. During the next four hundred years, the Viking trader-pirates expanded as far west as Newfoundland, as far south as Sicily and Greece (where they left carvings on the lions of Delos), and as far east as the Ural Mountains of Russia, where their traders linked up with caravans arriving from the silk route to China. The Vikings were not empire builders, and it is popular to say that their influence across this vast area was impermanent. Yet it was sufficiently permanent to lend placenames to many localities in England, while to Russia they gave the very name of the nation itself, from the Norse tribe Rus. As for the more subtle influence of their pagan vigor, relentless energy, and system of values, the manuscript of Ibn Fadlan shows us how many typically Norse attitudes have been retained. to the present day. Indeed, there is something strikingly familiar to the modern sensibility about the Viking way of life, and something profoundly appealing.



A word should be said about Ibn Fadlan, the man who speaks to us with such a distinctive voice despite the passage of more than a thousand years and the filter of transcribers and translators from a dozen linguistic and cultural traditions.

We know almost nothing of him personally. Apparently he was educated and, from his exploits, he could not have been very old. He states explicitly that he was a familiar of the Caliph, whom he did not particularly admire. (In this he was not alone, for the Caliph al-Muqtadir was twice deposed and finally slain by one of his own officers.)

Of his society, we know more. In the tenth century, Bagdad, the City of Peace, was the most civilized city on earth. More than a million inhabitants lived within its famous circular walls. Bagdad was the focus of intellectual and commercial excitement, within an environment of extraordinary grace, elegance, and splendor. There were perfumed gardens, cool shady arbors, and the accumulated riches of a vast empire.

The Arabs of Bagdad were Muslim and fiercely dedicated to that religion. But they were also exposed to peoples who looked, acted, and believed differently from them. The Arabs were, in fact, the least provincial people in the world of that time, and this made them superb observers of foreign cultures.

Ibn Fadlan himself is clearly an intelligent and observant man. He is interested in both the everyday details of life and the beliefs of the people he meets. Much that he witnessed struck him as vulgar, obscene, and barbaric, but he wastes little time in indignation; once he expresses his disapproval, he goes right back to his unblinking observations. And he reports what he sees with remarkably little condescension.

His manner of reporting may seem eccentric to Western sensibilities; he does not tell a story as we are accustomed to hearing one. We tend to forget that our own sense of drama originates in an oral tradition-a live performance by a bard before an audience that must often have been restless and impatient, or else sleepy after a heavy meal. Our oldest stories, the Iliad , Beowulf , the Song of Roland , were all intended to be sung by singers whose chief function and first obligation was entertainment.

But Ibn Fadlan was a writer, and his principal aim was not entertainment. Nor was it to glorify some listening patron, or to reinforce the myths of the society in which he lived. On the contrary, he was an ambassador delivering a report; his tone is that of a tax auditor, not a bard; an anthropologist, not a dramatist. Indeed, he often slights the most exciting elements of his narrative rather than let them interfere with his clear and level-headed account.

At times this dispassion is so irritating we fail to recognize how extraordinary a spectator he really is. For hundreds of years after Ibn Fadlan, the tradition among travelers was to write wildly speculative, fanciful chronicles of foreign marvels-talking animals, feathered men who flew, encounters with behemoths and unicorns. As recently as two hundred years ago, otherwise sober Europeans were filling their journals with nonsense about African baboons that waged war with farmers, and so on.

Ibn Fadlan never speculates. Every word rings true; and whenever he reports by hearsay, he is careful to say so. He is equally careful to specify when he is an eyewitness: that is why he uses the phrase “I saw with my own eyes” over and over.

In the end, it is this quality of absolute truthfulness which makes his tale so horrifying. For his encounter with the monsters of the mist, the “eaters of the dead,” is told with the same attention to detail, the same careful skepticism, that marks the other portions of the manuscript.

In any case, the reader may judge for himself.




THE OGUZ ARE NOMADS AND HAVE HOUSES OF felt. They stay for a time in one place and then travel on. Their dwellings are placed here and there according to nomadic custom. Although they lead a hard existence, they are like asses gone astray. They have no religious bonds with God. They never pray, but instead call their headmen Lords. When one of them takes counsel with his chief about something, he says, “O Lord, what shall I do in this or that matter?”

Their undertakings are based upon counsel solely among themselves. I have heard them say, “There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is the prophet of Allah,” but they speak thus so as to get close to any Muslims, and not because they believe it.

The ruler of the Oguz Turks is called Yabgu. That is the name of the ruler and everyone who rules over this tribe bears the name. His subordinate is always called Kudarkin and so each subordinate to a chieftain is called Kudarkin.

The Oguz do not wash themselves after either defecation or urination, nor do they bathe after ejaculation, or on other occasions. They have nothing whatever to do with water, especially in winter. No merchants or other Muhammadans may perform ablution in their presence except in the night when the Turks do not see it, for they get angry and say, “This man wishes to put a spell on us, for he is immersing himself in water,” and they compel him to pay a fine.

None of the Muhammadans can enter Turkish country until one of the Oguz agrees to become his host, with whom he stays and for whom he brings garments from the land of Islam, and for his wife some pepper, millet, raisins, and nuts. When the Muslim comes to his host, the latter pitches a tent for him and brings him sheep, so that the Muslim may himself slaughter the sheep. The Turks never slaughter; they beat the sheep on the head until it is dead.

Oguz women never veil themselves in the presence of their own men or others. Nor does the woman cover any of her bodily parts in the presence of any person. One day we stopped off with a Turk and were seated in his tent. The man’s wife was present. As we conversed, the woman uncovered her pudendum and scratched it, and we saw her doing so. We veiled our faces and said, “I beg God’s pardon.” At this her husband laughed and said to the interpreter, “Tell them we uncover it in your presence so that you may see it and be abashed, but it is not to be attained. This is better than when you cover it up and yet it is attainable.”

Adultery is unknown among them. Whomsoever they find to be an adulterer, they tear him in two. This comes about so: they bring together the branches of two trees, tie him to the branches, and then let both trees go so the man who was tied to the trees is torn in two.

The custom of pederasty is counted by the Turks a terrible sin. There once came a merchant to stay with the clan of the Kudarkin. This merchant stayed with his host for a time to buy sheep. Now, the host had a beardless son, and the guest sought unceasingly to lead him astray until he got the boy to consent to his will. In the meantime, the Turkish host entered and caught them in flagrante  delicto .

The Turks wished to kill the merchant and also the son for this offense. But after much pleading the merchant was permitted to ransom himself. He paid his host with four hundred sheep for what he had done to his son, and then the merchant hastily departed from the land of the Turks.

All the Turks pluck their beards with the exception of their mustaches.

Their marriage customs are as follows: one of them asks for the hand of a female member of another’s family, against such and such a marriage price. The marriage price often consists of camels, pack animals, and other things. No one can take a wife until he has fulfilled the obligation, on which he has come to an understanding with the men of the family. If, however, he has met it, then he comes without any ado, enters the abode where she is, takes her in the presence of her father, mother, and brothers, and they do not prevent him.

If a man dies who has a wife and children, then the eldest of his sons takes her to wife if she is not his mother.

If one of the Turks becomes sick and has slaves, they look after him and no one of his family comes near him. A tent is pitched for him apart from the houses and he does not depart from it until he dies or gets well. If, however, he is a slave or a poor man, they leave him in the desert and go on their way.

When one of their prominent men dies, they dig for him a great pit in the form of a house and they go to him, dress him in a qurtaq with his belt and bow, and put a drinking cup of wood with intoxicating drink in his hand. They take his entire possessions and put them in this house. Then they set him down in it also. Then they build another house over him and make a kind of cupola out of mud.

Then they kill his horses. They kill one or two hundred, as many as he has, at the site of the grave. Then they eat the flesh down to the head, the hooves, the hide, and the tail, for they hang these up on wooden poles and say, “These are his steeds on which he rides to Paradise.”

If he has been a hero and slain enemies, they carve wooden statues in the number of those whom he has slain, place them upon his grave, and say, “These are his pages who serve him in Paradise.”

Sometimes they delay killing the horses for a day or two, and then an old man from among their elderly ones stirs them up by saying, “I have seen the dead man in my sleep and he said to me: ‘Here thou seest me. My comrades have overtaken me and my feet were too weak to follow them. I cannot overtake them and so have remained alone.’ ” In this case, the people slaughter his steeds and hang them up on his grave. After a day or two, the same elder comes to them and says, “I have seen the dead man in a dream and he said: ‘Inform my family that I have recovered from my plight.’ ”

In this way the old man preserves the ways of the Oguz, for there might otherwise be a desire for the living to retain the horses of the dead. [2]

At length we traveled on in the Turkish kingdom. One morning one of the Turks met us. He was ugly in figure, dirty in appearance, despicable in manner, and base in nature. He said: “Halt.” The whole caravan halted in obedience to his command. Then he said, “No single one of you may proceed.” We said to him, “We are friends of the Kudarkin.” He began to laugh and said, “Who is the Kudarkin? I defecate on his beard.”

No man among us knew what to do at these words, but then the Turk said, “Bekend ”; that is, “bread” in the language of Chwarezm. I gave him a few sheets of bread. He took them and said, “You may go further. I take pity upon you.”

We came to the district of the army commander whose name was Etrek ibn-al-Qatagan. He pitched Turkish tents for us and had us stay in them. He himself had a large establishment, servants and large dwellings. He drove in sheep for us that we might slaughter them, and put horses at our disposal for riding. The Turks speak of him as their best horseman, and in truth I saw one day, when he raced with us on his horse and as a goose flew over us, he strung his bow and then, guiding his horse under it, shot at the goose and brought it down.

I presented to him a suit from Merv, a pair of boots of red leather, a coat of brocade, and five coats of silk. He accepted these with glowing words of praise. He removed the brocade coat that he wore in order to don the garments of honor I had just given him. Then I saw that the qurtaq which he had underneath was fraying apart and filthy, but it is their custom that no one shall remove the garment that he wears next to his body until it disintegrates. Verily also he plucked out his entire beard and even his mustache, so that he looked like a eunuch. And yet, as I have observed, he was their best horseman.

I believed that these fine gifts should win his friendship to us, but such was not to be. He was a treacherous man.

One day he sent for the leaders close to him; that is, Tarhan, Yanal, and Glyz. Tarhan was the most influential among them; he was crippled and blind and had a maimed hand. Then he said to them: “These are the messengers of the King of the Arabs to the chief of the Bulgars, and I should not let them pass without taking counsel with you.”

Then Tarhan spoke: “This is a matter that we have never yet seen. Never has the ambassador of the Sultan traveled through our country since we and our ancestors have been here. My feeling is that the Sultan is playing us a trick. These men he really sent to the Hazars to stir them up against us. The best is to hew these ambassadors in twain and we shall take all they have.”

Another counselor said: “No, we should rather take what they have and leave them naked so that they may return thither whence they came.”

And another said: “No, we have captives with the King of the Hazars, so we ought to send these men to ransom them.”

They kept discussing these matters among themselves for seven days, while we were in a situation similar to death, until they agreed to open the road and let us pass. We gave to Tarhan as a garment of honor two caftans from Merv and also pepper, millet, and some sheets of bread.

And we traveled forth until we came to the river Bagindi. There we took our skin boats which had been made from camel hides, spread them out, and loaded the goods from the Turkish camels. When each boat was full, a group of five, six, or four men sat in them. They took birchwood branches in their hands and used them like oars and kept on rowing while the water carried the boat down and spun it around. Finally we got across. With regard to the horses and camels, they came swimming across.

It is absolutely necessary when crossing a river that first of all a group of warriors with weapons should be transported across before any of the caravan, in order that a vanguard be established to prevent attack by Baskirs while the main body is crossing the river.

Thus we crossed the river Bagindi, and then the river called Gam, in the same way. Then the Odil, then the Adrn, then the Wars, then the Ahti, then the Wbna. All these are big rivers.

Then we arrived at the Pecenegs. These had encamped by a still lake like the sea. They are dark brown, powerful people and the men shave their beards. They are poor in contrast to the Oguz, for I saw men among the Oguz who possessed 10,000 horses and 100,000 sheep. But the Pecenegs are poor, and we remained only a day with them.

Then we started out and came to the river Gayih. This is the largest, widest, swiftest that we saw. Verily I saw how a skin boat overturned in it, and those on it were drowned. Many of the company perished and a number of the camels and horses were drowned. We crossed the river with difficulty. Then we went a few days farther on and crossed the river Gaha, then the river Azhn, then the Bagag, then the Smur, then the Knal, then the Sub, and then the river Kiglu. At length we arrived in the land of the Baskirs.

The Yakut manuscript contains a short description of Ibn Fadlan’s stay among the Baskirs; many scholars question the authenticity of these passages. The actual descriptions are unusually vague and tedious, consisting chiefly of lists of the chiefs and nobles encountered. Ibn Fadlan himself suggests the Baskirs are not worth bothering with, an uncharacteristic statement from this relentlessly curious traveler.

At length we left the land of the Baskirs, and crossed the river Germsan, the river Urn, the river Urm, then the river Wtig, the river Nbasnh, then the river Gawsin. Between the rivers that we mention, the distance is a journey of two, three, or four days in each case.

Then we came to the land of the Bulgars, which begins at the shore of the river Volga.




FOR THE SPACE OF TWO DAYS WE SAILED ALONG A FLAT coast among many islands that are called the land of Dans, coming finally to a region of marsh with a crisscross of narrow rivers that pour onto the sea. These rivers have no names themselves but are each one called “wyk,” and the peoples of the narrow rivers are called “wykings,” which means the Northmen warriors who sail their ships up the rivers and attack settlements in such fashion. [13]

Now in this marshy region we stopped at a place they called Trelburg, which was a wonder to me. Here is no town, but rather a military camp, and its people are warriors, with few women or children among them. The defenses of this camp of Trelburg are constructed with great care and skill of workmanship in the Roman fashion.

Trelburg lies at the joining point of two wyks, which then run to the sea. The main part of the town is encircled by a round earthwork wall, as tall as five men standing one atop the other. Above this earthen ring there stands a wooden fence for greater protection. Outside the earthen ring there is a ditch filled with water, the depth I do not know.

These earthworks are excellently made, of a symmetry and quality to rival anything we know. And there is this further: on the landward side of the town, a second semicircle of high wall, and a second ditch beyond.

The town itself lies within the inner ring, which is broken by four gates, facing the four corners of the earth. Each gate is barred by strong oaken doors with heavy fittings of iron, and many guards. Many guards also walk the ramparts, keeping watch day and night.

Inside the town stand sixteen wooden dwellings, all the same: they are long houses, for so the Northmen call them, with walls that curve so that they resemble overturned boats with the ends cut flat front and back. In length they are thirty paces, and wider in the middle portion than either end. They are arranged thus: four long houses precisely set, so as to form a square. Four squares are arranged to make sixteen houses in all. [14]

Every long house has but one entrance, and no house has its entrance within sight of another. I inquired why this was so, and Herger said thus: “If the camp is attacked, the men. must run to defense, and the doorways are such that the men can hasten without mingling and confusion, but on the contrary each man can proceed freely to the task of defense.”

Thus it is within the square that one house has a north door, the next house an east door, the next house a south door, the next house a west door; so also each of the four squares.

Then also I saw that while the Northmen are gigantic, these doorways were so low that even I must bend in two to enter one of the houses. I inquired of Herger, who said: “If we are attacked, a single warrior may remain inside the house, and with his sword cut off the heads of all who enter. The door is low so that heads will be bent for cutting.”

Verily, I saw that in all respects the Trelburg town was constructed for warfare and for defense. No trading is conducted here at all, as I have said. Inside the long houses, there are three sections or rooms, each with a door. The center room is the largest, and it also has a pit for rubbish.

Now I saw that the Trelburg people were not as the Northmen along the Volga. These were clean people for their race. They washed in the river, and relieved their waste out of doors, and were in all ways much superior to what I had known. Yet they are not truly clean, except in comparison.

The society of Trelburg is mostly men, and the women are all slaves. There are no wives among the women, and all women are taken freely as the men desire. The people of Trelburg live on fish, and some little bread; they do no agriculture or farming, although the marshlands surrounding the town contain areas suitable for growing. I asked of Herger why there was no agriculture, and he said to me, “These are warriors. They do not till the soil.”

Buliwyf and his company were graciously received by the chiefs of Trelburg, who are several, foremost among them one who is called Sagard. Sagard is a strong and fierce man, almost as huge as Buliwyf himself.

During the night banquet, Sagard inquired of Buliwyf his mission and the reasons for his travels, and Buliwyf reported of the supplication of Wulfgar. Herger translated all for me, although in truth I had spent sufficient time among these heathens to learn a word or two in their tongue. Here is the meaning of the conversation of Sagard and Buliwyf.

Sagard spoke thus: “It is sensible for Wulfgar to carry out the errand of a messenger, though he is the son of the King Rothgar, for the several sons of Rothgar have set upon one another.”

Buliwyf said that he did not know of this, or words to that meaning. But I perceived that he was not greatly surprised. Yet it is true that Buliwyf was seldom surprised by any thing. Such was his role as leader of the warriors and hero to them.

Sagard spoke again: “Indeed, Rothgar had five sons, and three are dead at the hand of one of them, Wiglif, a cunning man, [15] whose conspirator in this affair is the herald of the old King. Only Wulfgar remains faithful, and he has departed.”

Buliwyf said to Sagard that he was glad to know of this news, and would hold it in his mind, and there the conversation ended. Never did Buliwyf or any of his warriors show surprise at the words of Sagard, and from this I took that it is ordinary for the sons of a king to dispose of one another to gain the throne.

Also it is true that from time to time a son may murder his father the king to gain the throne, and this is likewise counted nothing remarkable, for the Northmen see it the same as any drunken brawl among warriors. The Northmen have a proverb which is “Look to your back,” and they believe that a man must always be prepared to defend himself, even a father against his own son.

Upon our departure, I inquired of Herger why there should be another fortification on the landward side of Trelburg, and yet no such additional fortification on the seaward side. These Northmen are seafaring men who attack from the sea, and yet Herger said, “It is the land that is dangerous.”

I asked of him, “Why is the land dangerous?” And he replied, “Because of the mists.

Upon our departure from Trelburg, the warriors assembled there beat their staves upon their shields, raising a loud noise for our ship which set sail. This, I was told, was to draw the attention of Odin, one of the number of their gods, so that this Odin would look with favor upon the journey of Buliwyf and his twelve men.

Also, this I learned: that the number thirteen is significant to the Norsemen, because the moon grows and dies thirteen times in the passage of one year, by their reckoning. For this reason, all important accountings must include the number thirteen. Thus Herger said to me that the number of dwellings in Trelburg was thirteen and also three more, instead of sixteen, as I have expressed it.

Further, I learned that these Northmen have some notion that the year does not fit with exactitude into thirteen passages of the moon, and thus the number thirteen is not stable and fixed in their minds. The thirteenth passage is called magical and foreign, and Herger says, “Thus for the thirteenth man you were chosen as foreign.”

Verily these Northmen are superstitious, with no recourse to sense or reason or law. They seemed to my eyes to be fierce children, and yet I was among them, and so held my tongue. Soon enough I was glad for my discretion, for these events followed:

We were sailing some time from Trelburg when I recalled that never previously had the inhabitants of a town made a departure ceremony with beating of shields to call up Odin. I spoke as much to Herger.

“It is true,” he responded. “There is a special reason for the call to Odin, for we are now upon the sea of monsters.”

This seemed to me proof of their superstition. I inquired if any of the warriors had ever seen such monsters. “Indeed, we have all seen them,” Herger said. “Why else should we know of them?” By the tone of his voice, I could recognize that he thought me a fool for my disbelief.

Some further time passed, when there was a shout, and all the warriors of Buliwyf stood pointing to the sea, watching, shouting amongst themselves. I asked Herger what had happened. “We are among the monsters now,” he said, pointing.

Now the ocean in this region is most turbulent. The wind blows with fierce force, turning the curls of the sea white with foam, spitting water into the face of a sailor, and playing tricks with his sight. I watched the sea for many minutes and had no view of this sea monster, and I had no reason to believe what they said.

Then one of their number shouted to Odin, a scream of prayer, repeating the name many times in supplication, and then I also saw with my own eyes the sea monster. It was in the shape of a giant snake that never raised its head above the surface, yet I saw its body curl and twist over, and it was very long, and wider than the Northmen’s boat, and black in color. The sea monster spat water into the air, like a fountain, and then plunged down, raising a tail that was cleft in two, like the forked tongue of a snake. Yet it was enormous, each section of the tail being broader than the largest palm frond.

Now I saw another monster, and another, and another after that; there appeared to be four and perhaps six or seven. Each behaved as his fellows, curving through the water, spitting a fountain, and raising a giant tail split in two. At the sight, the Northmen shouted to Odin for aid, and not a few of their number fell to their knees on the deck trembling.

Verily I saw with my own eyes the sea monsters all about us in the ocean, and then, after some time had passed, they were gone and we did not see them again. The warriors of Buliwyf resumed their sailing efforts, and no man spoke of the monsters, but I was much afraid long afterward, and Herger told me that my face was white as the face of a North person, and he laughed. “What does Allah say to this?” he asked of me, and to that I had no answer. [16]

In the evening, we beached and made a fire, and I inquired of Herger if the sea monsters ever attacked a ship on the sea, and if so, what was the manner of it, for I had seen the heads of none of these monsters.

Herger answered by calling Ecthgow, one of the nobles and the lieutenant of Buliwyf. Ecthgow was a solemn warrior who was not merry except when drunk. Herger said that he had been on a ship that was attacked. Ecthgow said this to me: that the sea monsters are larger than anything on the surface of the land, and larger than any ship on the sea, and when they attack they ride under a ship and lift it in the air, and toss it aside like a bit of wood, and crush it with their forked tongue. Ecthgow said that there had been thirty men on his ship, and only he and two others beside had survived, by the graciousness of the gods. Ecthgow spoke in an ordinary manner of talking, which for him was very serious, and I believed him to be speaking the truth.

Also Ecthgow told me that the Northmen know that the monsters attack ships because they desire to mate with the ship, mistaking it for one of their own. For this reason, the Northmen do not build their ships over-large.

Herger said to me that Ecthgow is a great warrior renowned in battle, and that he is to be believed in all things.

For the next two days, we sailed among the islands of the Dan country, and then on the third day we crossed a passage of open water. Here I was afraid to see more of the sea monsters, but we did not, and eventually arrived at the territory called Venden. These lands of Venden are mountainous and forbidding, and the men of Buliwyf in his boat approached with some trepidation and the killing of a hen, which was thrown into the ocean thus: the head was thrown from the bow of the ship, and the body of the hen was thrown from the stern, near the helmsman.

We did not beach directly on this new land of Venden, but sailed along the coast, coming at last to the kingdom of Rothgar. I first saw it thus. High upon a cliff, commanding a view of the raging gray sea, was a huge great hall of wood, strong and imposing. I said to Herger it was a magnificent sight, but Herger and all his company, led by Buliwyf, were groaning and shaking their heads. I inquired of Herger why this was so. He said, “Rothgar is called Rothgar the Vain, and his great hall is the mark of a vain man.”

I said, “Why do you speak thus? Because of its size and splendor?” For verily, as we came closer, I saw that the hall was richly ornamented with carvings and silver chasing, which sparkled from a distance.

“No,” said Herger. “I say that Rothgar is vain because of the way he has placed his settlement. He dares the gods to strike him down, and he pretends he is more than a man, and so he is punished.”

Never have I seen a more impregnable great hall, and I said to Herger, “This hall cannot be attacked; how can Rothgar be struck down?”

Herger laughed at me, and said thus: “You Arabs are stupid beyond counting, and know nothing of the ways of the world. Rothgar deserves the misfortune that has come to him, and it is only we who shall save him, and perhaps not even so.”

These words puzzled me further. I looked at Ecthgow, the lieutenant of Buliwyf, and saw that he stood in the boat and made a brave face, and yet his knees trembled, and it was not the stiffness of the wind that made them tremble so. He was afraid; they were all afraid; and I did not know why.




BULIWYF CALLED FOR SEVEN STURDY HORSES, AND IN the early part of the day we rode from the great hall of Rothgar out into the flat plain, and thence toward the hills beyond. With us also were four hounds of pure white color, great animals which I should count nearer to wolves than dogs, so fierce was their demeanor. This made the totality of our attacking forces, and I believed it a weak gesture against so formidable an opponent, yet the Northmen place great faith upon surprise and a sly attack. Also, by their own reckoning they are each man the equal of three or four of any other.

I was not disposed to embark upon another venture of warfare, and was much amazed that the Northmen did not reflect such a view, springing as it did from the fatigue of my body. Herger said of this: “It is always thus, now and in Valhalla,” which is their idea of heaven. In this heaven, which is to them a great hall, warriors battle from dawn to dusk; then those who are dead are revived, and all share a feast in the night, with endless food and drink; and then upon the day they battle again; and those who die are revived, and there is a feast; and this is the nature of their heaven through all eternity. [32] Thus they never count it strange to do battle day upon day while on the earth.

Our direction of travel was determined by the trail of blood the retreating horsemen had left from the night. The hounds led, racing along this red dripping trail. We paused but once upon the flat plain, to retrieve a weapon dropped by the departing demons. Here is the nature of the weapon: it was a hand axe with a haft of some wood, and a blade of chipped stone bound to the haft with hide thongs. The edge of this axe was exceedingly sharp, and the blade fashioned with skill, as much as if this stone were some gemstone to be chiseled to delight a rich lady’s vanity. Such was the degree of workmanship, and the weapon was formidable for the sharpness of its edge. Never have I seen such an object before on the face of all the earth. Herger told me that the wendol made all their tools and weapons of this stone, or so the Northmen believe.

Yet we traveled onward with good speed, led by the barking dogs, and their barking cheered me. At length we came to the hills. We rode into the hills without hesitation or ceremony, each of the warriors of Buliwyf intent upon his purpose, a silent and grim-faced company of men. They held the marks of fear upon their faces, and yet no man paused or faltered, but pressed onward.

Now it was cold in the hills, in the forests of dark green trees, and a chill wind blew at our clothing, and we saw the hissing breath of the steeds, and white plumes of breath from the running dogs, and we pressed onward still. After some travel until the middle period of the day, we arrived at a new landscape. Here was a brackish tarn, no moor, or heath-a desolate land, most resembling a desert, yet not sandy and dry, but damp and soggy, and over this land lay the faintest wisps of mist. The Northmen call this place the desert of dread. [33]

Now I saw with my own eyes that this mist lay upon the land in small pockets or clusterings, like tiny clouds seated upon the earth. In one area, the air is clear; then in another place there are small mists that hang near the ground, rising to the height of a horse’s knees, and in such a place we would lose sight of the dogs, who were enveloped in these mists. Then, a moment later, the mist would clear, and we would be in another open space again. Such was the landscape of the heath.

I found this sight remarkable, but the Northmen took it to be nothing special; they said the land in this region has many brackish pools and bubbling hot springs, which rise from rents in the ground; in these places, a small fog collects, and remains there all the day and night. They call this the place of steaming lakes.

The land is difficult for horses, and we made slower progress. The dogs also ventured more slowly, and I noted that they barked less vigorously. Soon our company had changed wholly: from a gallop, with yelping dogs in the forefront, to a slow walk, with silent dogs hardly willing to lead the way, and instead falling back until they were underfoot the horses, thus causing some occasional difficulty. It was still very cold, indeed colder than before, and I saw here and there a small patch of snow upon the ground, though this was, by my best reckoning, the summer period.

At a slow pace, we proceeded for a goodly distance, and I had wonder that we should be lost, and never find our way back through this heath. Now at a place the dogs halted. There was no difference in the terrain, or any mark or object upon the ground; yet the dogs stopped as if they had arrived upon some fence or palpable obstruction. Our party halted at this place, and looked about in this direction and that. There was no wind, and no sounds were here; not the sound of birds or of any living animal, but only silence.

Buliwyf said, “Here begins the land of the wendol,” and the warriors patted their steeds upon the necks to comfort them, for the horses were skittish and nervous in this region. So also were the riders. Buliwyf kept his lips tight; Ecthgow’s hands trembled as he held the reins of his horse; Herger was gone quite pale, and his eyes darted to this way and that; so also the others in their way.

The Northmen say, “Fear has a white mouth,” and now I saw that this is true, for they were all pale around the lips and mouth. No man spoke of his fear.

Now we left the dogs behind, and rode onward into more snow, which was thin and crunching underfoot, and into thicker mists. No man spoke, save to the horses. At each step these beasts were more difficult to prod onward; the warriors were obliged to urge them with soft words and sharp kicks. Soon we saw shadowy forms in the mist ahead of us, which we approached with caution. Now I saw with my own eyes this: on either side of the path, mounted high on stout poles, were the skulls of enormous beasts, their jaws opened in a posture of attack. We continued, and I saw these were the skulls of giant bears, which the wendol worship. Herger said to me that the bear skulls protect the borders of the land of the wendol.

Now we sighted another obstacle, gray and distant and large. Here was a giant rock, as high as a horse’s saddle, and it was carved in the shape of a pregnant woman, with bulging belly and breasts, and no head or arms or legs. This rock was spattered with the blood of some sacrifices; verily it dripped with streaks of red, and was gruesome to look upon.

No man spoke of what was observed. We rode on apace. The warriors drew out their swords and held them in readiness. Now here is a quality to the Northmen: that previously they showed fear, but having entered into the land of the wendol, close to the source of the fear, their own apprehensions disappeared. Thus do they seem to do all things backward, and in perplexing manner, for verily they now appeared at ease. It was only the horses that were ever more difficult to prod onward.

I smelled, now, the rotting-carcass odor that I had smelled before in the great hall of Rothgar; and as it reached my nostrils anew, I was faint of heart. Herger rode alongside me and said in a soft voice, “How do you fare?”

Not being capable of concealing my emotions, I said to him, “I am afraid.”

Herger replied to me: “That is because you think upon what is to come, and imagine fearsome things that would stop the blood of any man. Do not think ahead, and be cheerful by knowing that no man lives forever.”

I saw the truth of his words. “In my society,” I said, “we have a saying which is: ‘Thank Allah, for in his wisdom he put death at the end of life, and not at the beginning.’ ”

Herger smiled at this, and laughed briefly. “In fear, even Arabs speak the truth,” he said, and then rode forward to tell my words to Buliwyf, who also laughed. The warriors of Buliwyf were glad for a joke at that time.

Now we came to a hill and, reaching the crest, paused and looked down upon the encampment of the wendol. Here is how it lay before us, as I saw with my own eyes: there was a valley, and in the valley a circle of rude huts of mud and straw, of poor construction as a child might erect; and in the center of the circle a large fire, now smoldering. Yet there were no horses, no animals, no movement, no sign of life of any kind; and this we saw through the shifting gauze of the mist.

Buliwyf dismounted his steed, and the warriors did likewise, myself among them. In truth, my heart pounded and I was short of breath as I looked down at the savage encampment of the demons. We spoke in whispers. “Why is there no activity?” I inquired.

“The wendol are creatures of the night even as owls or bats, Herger replied, “and they sleep during the hours of the day. So are they sleeping now, and we shall descend into their company, and fall upon them, and slay them in their dreams.”

“We are so few,” I said, for there were many huts below which I perceived.

“We are enough,” Herger said, and then he gave me a draught of mead, which I drank gratefully, with praise to Allah that it is not forbidden, or even disapproved of. [34] In truth, I was finding my tongue hospitable to this very substance I once thought vile; thus do strange things cease to be strange upon repetition. In like fashion, I no longer attended the hideous stench of the wendol, for I had been smelling it a goodly time and I no longer was aware of the odor.

The North people are most peculiar in the matter of smelling. They are not clean, as I have said; and they eat all manner of evil food and drink; and yet it is true that they value the nose above all parts of the body. In battle, the loss of an ear is no great matter; the loss of a finger or toe or a hand little more; and such scars and injuries they bear indifferently. But the loss of a nose they count equal to death itself, and this even to the loss of a piece of the fleshy tip, which other people would say is a most minor injury.

The breaking of the bones of the nose, through battle and blows, is no matter; many of them have crooked noses for that cause. I do not know the reason for this fear of cutting the nose. [35]

Fortified, the warriors of Buliwyf and I among them left our steeds upon the hill, but these animals could not go unattended, so affrighted were they. One of our party was to remain with them, and I had hopes to be selected to this task; yet it was Haltaf, he being already injured and of least use. Thus we others warily descended the hill among the sickly scrub and dying bushes down the slope to the encampment of the wendol. We moved in stealth, and no alarm was raised, and soon we were in the very heart of the village of the demons.

Buliwyf never spoke, but gave all directions and orders with his hands. And from him I took the meaning that we were to go in groups of two warriors, each pair in a different direction. Herger and I were to attack the nearest of the mud huts, and the others were to attack others. All waited until the groups were stationed outside the huts, and then, with a howl, Buliwyf raised his great sword Runding and led the attack.

I dashed with Herger into one of the huts, blood pounding in my head, my sword light as a feather in my hands. Verily I was ready for the mightiest battle of my life. I saw nothing inside; the but was deserted and barren as well, save for rude beds of straw, so clumsy in their appearance they seemed more to resemble nests of some animal.

We dashed outside, and attacked the next of these mud huts. Again we found it empty. Verily, all the huts were empty, and the warriors of Buliwyf were sorely vexed and stared one to the next with expression of surprise and astonishment.

Then Ecthgow called to us, and we gathered at one of these huts, larger than any of the others. And here I saw that it was deserted as they were all deserted, but the interior was not barren. Rather, the floor of the hut was littered with fragile bones, which crunched underfoot like the bones of birds, delicate and frail. I was much surprised at this, and stooped to see the nature of these bones. With a shock, I saw the curved line of an eye socket here, and a few teeth there. Verily we stood upon a carpet of the bones of human faces, and for further proofs of this ghastly truth, piled high upon one wall of the hut were the head portions of the human skulls, stacked inverted like so many pottery bowls, but glistening white. I was sick, and departed the hut to purge myself. Herger said to me that the wendol eat the brains of their victims, as a human person might eat eggs or cheese. This is their custom; vile as it is to contemplate such a matter, yet it is true.

Now another of the warriors called to us, and we entered another hut. Here I saw this: the but was bare, except for a large throne-like chair, carved of a single piece of enormous wood. This chair had a high fanning back, carved into the shape of snakes and demons. At the foot of the chair were littered bones of skulls, and upon the arms of the chair, where its owner might rest his hands there was blood and remnants of whitish cheesy substance, which was human brain material. The odor of this room was ghastly.

Placed all around this chair there were small pregnant stone carvings, such as I have described before; these carvings formed a circle or perimeter about the chair.

Herger said, “This is where she rules,” and his voice was low and awed.

I was not able to comprehend his meaning, and was sick in heart and stomach. I emptied my stomach upon the soil. Herger and Buliwyf and the others were also distressed, though no man purged himself, but rather they took glowing embers from the fire and set the huts aflame. They burned slowly, for they were damp.

And thus we climbed up the hill, mounted our horses, and left the region of the wendol, and departed the desert of dread. And all the warriors of Buliwyf were now sad of aspect, for the wendol had surpassed them in cunning and cleverness, abandoning their lair in anticipation of the attack, and they would count the burning of their dwellings no great loss.




WE RETURNED AS WE HAD COME, BUT RODE WITH greater speed, for the horses now were eager, and eventually came down from the hills and saw the flat plain and, in the distance, at the ocean’s edge, the settlement and the great hall of Rothgar.

Now Buliwyf veered away and led us in another direction, toward high rocky crags swept by the ocean winds. I rode alongside Herger and inquired the reason for this, and he said we were to seek out the dwarves of the region.

At this I was much surprised, for the men of the North have no dwarves among their society; they are never seen in the streets, nor do any sit at the feet of kings, nor are any to be found counting money or keeping records or any of the things that we know of dwarves. [36] Never had any Northman mentioned dwarves to me, and I had presumed that so giant a people [37] would never produce dwarves.

Now we came to a region of caves, hollowed and windswept, and Buliwyf dismounted from his horse, and all the warriors of Buliwyf did likewise, and proceeded by foot. I heard a hissing sound, and verily I saw puffs of steam issue from one and another of these several caves. We entered one cave and there found dwarves.

They were in appearance thus: of the ordinary size of dwarf, but distinguished by hands of great size, and bearing features that appeared exceedingly aged. There were both male and female dwarves and all had the appearance of great age. The males were bearded and solemn; the women also had some hair upon the face, so they appeared manlike. Each dwarf wore a garment of fur or sable; each also wore a thin belt of hide decorated with bits of hammered gold.

The dwarves greeted our arrival politely, with no sign of fear. Herger said these creatures have magic powers and need fear no man on earth; however, they are apprehensive of horses, and for this reason we had left the mounts behind us. Herger said also that the powers of a dwarf reside in his thin belt, and that a dwarf will do anything to retrieve his belt if it is lost.

Herger said this also: that the appearance of great age among the dwarves was a true thing, and that a dwarf lived beyond the span of any ordinary man. Also he said to me that these dwarves are virile from their earliest youth; that even as infants they have hair at the groin, and members of uncommon size. Indeed, it is in this way that the parents first come to know that their infant child is a dwarf, and a creature of magic, who must be taken to the hills to live with others of his kind. This done, the parents give thanks to the gods and sacrifice some animal or other, for to give birth to a dwarf is accounted high good fortune.

This is the belief of the North people, as Herger spoke it, and I do not know the truth of the matter, and report only what was told to me.

Now I saw that the hissing and steam issued from great cauldrons, into which hammered-steel blades were plunged to temper the metal, for the dwarves make weapons that are highly prized by the Northmen. Indeed, I saw the warriors of Buliwyf looking about the caves eagerly, as any woman in a bazaar shop selling precious silks.

Buliwyf made inquiries of these creatures, and was directed to the topmost of the caves, wherein sat a single dwarf, older than all the others, with a beard and hair of purest white, and a creased and wrinkled face. This dwarf was called “tengol,” which means a judge of good and evil, and also a soothsayer.

This tengol must have had the magical powers that all said he did, for he immediately greeted Buliwyf by his name, and bade him sit with him. Buliwyf sat, and we gathered a short distance away, standing.

Now Buliwyf did not present the tengol with gifts; the Northmen make no obeisance to the little people; they believe that the favors of the dwarves must be freely given, and it is wrong to encourage the favors of a dwarf with gifts. Thus Buliwyf sat, and the tengol looked at him, and then closed his eyes and began to speak, rocking back and forth as he sat. The tengol spoke in a high voice as a child, and Herger told me the meaning was thus:

“O Buliwyf, you are a great warrior but you have met your match in the monsters of the mist, the eaters of the dead. This shall be a struggle to the death, and you shall need all your strength and wisdom to overcome the challenge.” And he went on in this manner for some good time, rocking back and forth. The import was that Buliwyf faced a difficult adversary, which I already knew well enough and so did Buliwyf himself. Yet Buliwyf was patient.

Also I saw that Buliwyf took no offense when the dwarf laughed at him, which frequently he did. The dwarf spoke: “You have come to me because you attacked the monsters in the brackish marsh and tarn, and this availed you nothing. Therefore you come to me for advice and admonishment, as a child to his father, saying what shall I do now, for all my plans have failed me.” The tengol laughed long at this speech. Then his old face turned solemn.

“O Buliwyf,” he said, “I see the future, but I can tell you no more than you already know. You and all your brave warriors gathered your skill and your courage to make an attack upon the monsters in the desert of dread. In this you cheated yourself, for such was not a true hero’s enterprise.”

I heard these words with astonishment, for it had seemed heroic work enough for me.

“No, no, noble Buliwyf,” the tengol said. “You set out upon a false mission, and deep in your hero’s heart you knew it was unworthy. So, too, was your battle against the glowworm dragon Korgon unworthy, and it cost you many fine warriors. To what end are all your plans?”

Still Buliwyf did not answer. He sat with the dwarf and waited.

“A hero’s great challenge,” the dwarf said, “is in the heart, and not in the adversary. What matter if you had come upon the wendol in their lair and had killed many of their number as they slept? You could kill many, yet this would not end the struggle, any more than cutting off the fingers will kill the man. To kill the man, you must pierce the head or the heart, and thus it is with the wendol. All this you know, and need not my counsel to know it.”

Thus the dwarf, rocking back and forth, chastised Buliwyf. And thus Buliwyf accepted his rebuke, for he did not reply, but only lowered his head.

“You have done the work of a mere man,” the tengol continued, “and not a proper hero. A hero does what no man dares to undertake. To kill the wendol, you must strike at the head and the heart: you must overcome their very mother, in the thunder caves.”

I did not understand the meaning of these words.

“You know of this, for it has always been true, through all the ages of man. Shall your brave warriors die, one by one? Or shall you strike at the mother in the caves? Here is no prophecy, only the choice of a man or a hero.”

Now Buliwyf made some response, but it was low, and lost to me in the howl of the wind that raked the entrance to the cave. Whatever the words, the dwarf spoke further:

“That is the hero’s answer, Buliwyf, and I would expect none other from you. Thus shall I help your quest.” Then a number of his kind came forward into the light from the dark recesses of the cave. And they bore many objects.

“Here,” said the tengol, “are lengths of rope, made from the skins of seals caught at the first melting of the ice. These ropes will help you to attain the ocean entrance to the thunder caves.”

“I thank you,” Buliwyf said.

“And here also,” the tengol said, “are seven daggers, forged with steam and magic, for you and your warriors. Great swords will be of no avail in the thunder caves. Carry these new weapons bravely, and you shall accomplish all you desire.”

Buliwyf took the daggers, and thanked the dwarf. He stood. “When shall we do this thing?” he asked.

“Yesterday is better than today,” the tengol replied, “and tomorrow is better than the day which follows that. So make haste, and carry out your intentions with a firm heart and a strong arm.”

“And what follows if we succeed?” Buliwyf asked.

“Then the wendol shall be mortally wounded, and thrash in its death throes a final time, and after this last agony the land shall have peace and sunlight forevermore. And your name shall be sung glorious in all the halls of the Northlands, forevermore.”

“The deeds of dead men are so sung,” Buliwyf said.

“That is true,” the dwarf said, and laughed again, the giggle of a child or a young girl. “And also the deeds of heroes who live, but never are sung the deeds of ordinary men. All this you know.”

Now Buliwyf departed from the cave, and gave to each of us the dagger of the dwarves, and we descended from the rocky windswept crags, and returned to the kingdom and the great hall of Rothgar as night was falling.

All these things took place, and I saw them with my own eyes.




BEFORE THE FIRST PINK STREAKS OF DAWN LIGHTED the sky, Buliwyf and his warriors, myself among them, rode out from the kingdom of Rothgar and followed the cliff edge above the sea. On this day I did not feel fit, for my head ached; also was my stomach sour from the celebration of the previous night. Surely all the warriors of Buliwyf were in like condition, yet no man gave signal of these discomforts. We rode briskly, skirting the border of the cliffs which on all this coast are high and forbidding, and sheer; in a sheet of gray stone they drop to the foaming and turbulent sea below. In some places along this coastline there are rocky beaches, but often the land and the sea meet directly, and the waves crash like thunder upon the rocks; and this was the circumstance for the most part.

I saw Herger, who carried upon his horse the sealskin ropes of the dwarves, and I rode up to travel alongside him. I inquired what was our purpose on this day. In truth, I did not care greatly, so badly did my head ache and my stomach burn.

Herger said to me, “On this morning, we attack the mother of the wendol in the thunder caves. This we shall do by attacking from the sea, as I have told you yesterday.”

While I rode, I looked from my horse down at the sea, which smashed upon the rock cliffs. “Do we attack by boat?” I inquired of Herger.

“No,” Herger said, and slapped his hand upon the sealskin ropes.

Then I took his meaning to be that we should climb down the cliffs on the ropes, and thereby in some fashion make an entrance into the caves. I was much frightened at this prospect, for never have I liked to be exposed upon high places; even high buildings in the City of Peace have I avoided. I said as much.

Herger said to me, “Be thankful, for you are fortunate.”

I inquired the source of my fortune. Herger said in reply, “If you have the fear of high places, then this day you shall overcome it; and so you shall have faced a great challenge; and so you shall be adjudged a hero.”

I said to him, “I do not want to be a hero.”

At this he laughed and said that I expressed such an opinion only because I was an Arab. Then also he said that I had a stiff head, by which the Northmen mean the aftermath of drinking. This was true, as I have already told.

Also it is true that I was much aggrieved at the prospect of climbing down the cliff. Verily I felt in this manner: that I should rather do any action upon the face of the earth, whether to lie with a woman in menses, to drink from a gold cup, to eat the excrement of a pig, to put out my eyes, even to die itself-any or all of these things should I prefer to the climbing of that accursed cliff. Also I was in ill temper. To Herger I said, “You and Buliwyf and all your company may be heroes as suits your temper, but I have no part in this affair, and shall not number as one of you.”

At this speech, Herger laughed. Then he called to Buliwyf, and spoke a rapid speech; Buliwyf answered him back, over his shoulder. Then Herger spoke to me: “Buliwyf says that you will do as we do.”

In truth, now I sank into despairing, and said to Herger, “I cannot do this thing. If you force me to do it, I shall surely die.”

Herger said, “How shall you die?”

I said to him, “I shall lose my grip from the ropes.”

This answer made Herger laugh heartily yet again, and he repeated my words to all the Northmen, and they all laughed at what I had said. Then Buliwyf spoke a few words.

Herger said to me: “Buliwyf says that you shall lose your grip only if you release the ropes from your hands, and only a fool would do such a thing. Buliwyf says you are an Arab, but no fool.”

Now, here is a true aspect of the nature of men: that in his fashion Buliwyf said that I could climb the ropes; and that for his speech, I believed it as much as he, and was cheered in my heart to a slight degree. This Herger saw, and he spoke these words: “Each person bears a fear which is special to him. One man fears a close space and another man fears drowning; each laughs at the other and calls him stupid. Thus fear is only a preference, to be counted the same as the preference for one woman or another, or mutton for pig, or cabbage for onion. We say, fear is fear.”

I was not in a mood for his philosophies; this I expressed to him, for in truth I was growing closer to anger than to fear. Now Herger laughed at my face and spoke these words: “Praise Allah, for he put death at the end of life, and not at the beginning.”

Curtly, I said in reply that I saw no benefit in hastening the end. “Indeed, no man does,” Herger responded to me, and then he said, “Look to Buliwyf. See how he sits straight. See how he rides forward, though he knows he shall soon die.”

I answered, “I do not know he shall die.”

“Yes,” Herger said, “but Buliwyf knows.” Then Herger spoke nothing further to me, and we rode onward for a goodly period of time, until the sun was high and bright in the sky. Then at last Buliwyf gave the signal to halt, and all the horsemen dismounted, and prepared to enter the thunder caves.

Now, well I knew that these Northmen are brave to a fault, but as I looked at the precipice of the cliff below us, my heart twisted over inside my chest, and I thought I should be purging myself at any instant. Verily, the cliff was absolutely sheer, lacking the least grip for hand or feet, and it descended for the distance of perhaps four hundred paces. Verily, the crashing waves were so far beneath us that they appeared as miniature waves, tiny as the most delicate drawing of an artist. Yet I knew them to be large as any waves on earth, once one descended to that level far below.

To me, the climbing down of these cliffs was madness beyond the madness of a foaming dog. But the Northmen proceeded in normal fashion. Buliwyf directed the pounding of stout wooden stakes into the earth; around these the sealskin ropes were bound, and the trailing ends flung over the sides of the cliffs.

Verily, the ropes were not long enough for so distant a descent, and thus had to be hauled up again, and two ropes fastened together to make a single length to reach the waves at the bottom.

In due time, we had two such ropes that reached down the side of the cliff face. Then Buliwyf spoke to his gathering: “First I shall proceed, so that when I reach the bottom all shall know that the ropes are stout and the journey can be accomplished. I await you at the bottom, on the narrow ledge you see below.”

I looked to this narrow ledge. To call it narrow is to call a camel kind. It was, in truth, the barest strip of flat rock, continually washed and pounded by the surf.

“When all have reached the bottom,” Buliwyf said, “we can attack the mother of the wendol in the thunder caves.” Thus he spoke, in a voice as ordinary as that which he would command a slave in the preparation of some ordinary stew or any other household chore. And without further speech, he went over the side of the cliff.

Now, here is the manner of his descent, which I found remarkable, but the Northmen account it no particular thing. Herger told me they use this method for gathering of sea-bird eggs at certain times of the year, when the sea birds build their nests on the cliff face. It is done in this fashion: a sling is placed around the waist of the descending man, and all the fellows strain to lower him down the cliff. Meanwhile, this same man grips, for support, on to the second rope, which dangles on the cliff face. Further, the descending man carries a stout staff of oaken wood, fitted at one end with a leather thong, or strap, about his wrist; this staff he employs for a prod to push himself hither and yon as he moves down the rocky surface. [41]

As Buliwyf went down, becoming ever smaller to my eyes, I saw that he maneuvered with the sling, the rope, and the stick very agilely; but I was not deceived into thinking this some trivial matter, for I saw it to be difficult and requiring practice.

At length, he safely reached the bottom and stood on the narrow ledge with the surf crashing over him. In truth, he was so diminished we could hardly see him wave his hand, in signal that he was safe. Now the sling was hauled up; and also with it, the oaken staff. Herger turned tome, speaking: “You shall go next.”

I said that I was feeling poorly. Also I said I wished to see another man descend, in order better to study the manner of the descent.

Herger said, “it is more difficult with each descent, because there are fewer here above to lower a man down. The last man must descend without the sling at all, and that shall be Ecthgow, for his arms are iron. It is a mark of our favor which allows you to be the second man to descend. Go now.”

I saw in his eyes that there was no hope of delay, and so I was myself fitted into the sling, and I gripped the stout staff in my hands, which were slippery with sweat; and my whole body likewise was slippery with sweat; and I shivered in the wind as I went over the side of the cliff, and for the last time saw the five Northmen straining at the rope, and then they were lost from view. I made my descent.

I had in my mind to make many prayers to Allah, and also to record in the eye of my mind, in the memory of my soul, the many experiences that a man must undergo as he dangles from ropes down such a wind-torn rocky cliff. Once out of sight of my Northmen friends above, I forgot all my intentions, and whispered, “Allah be praised,” over and over, like a mindless person, or one so old his brain no longer functions, or a child, or a fool.

In truth, I remember little from all that transpired. Only this: that the wind blows a person back and forth across the rock at such speed the eye cannot focus on the surface, which is a gray blur; and that many times I struck the rock, jarring my bones, splitting my skin; and once I banged my head and saw brilliant white spots like stars before my eyes, and I thought I would be faint, but I was not. And in due time, which in truth seemed as the whole duration of my life, and more, I reached the bottom, and Buliwyf clapped me on the shoulder and said I had done well.

Now the sling was raised up; and the waves crashed over me and over Buliwyf at my side. Now I fought to hold my balance upon this slippery ledge, and this so occupied my attention I did not watch the others coming down the cliff. My only desire was this: to keep from being swept away into the sea. Verily I saw with my own eyes that the waves were taller than three men standing one atop another, and when each wave struck, I was for a moment senseless in a swirl of chilled water and spinning force. Many times was I knocked from my feet by these waves; I was drenched over my whole body, and shivering so badly that my teeth clattered like a galloping horse. I could not speak words for the clacking of my teeth.

Now all the warriors of Buliwyf made their descent; and all were safe, Ecthgow being the last to come down, by brute force of his arms, and when at last he stood, his legs quivered without control as a man shudders with a death throe; we waited some moments until he was himself again.

Then Buliwyf spoke: “We shall descend into the water and swim into the cave. I shall be first. Carry your dagger in your teeth, so your arms shall be free to battle the currents.”

These words of new madness came upon me at a time when I could endure nothing further. To my eyes, the plan of Buliwyf was folly beyond folly. I saw the waves crash in, bursting upon the jagged rocks; I saw the waves pull away again with the tug of a giant’s strength, only to recover their power and crash forward anew. Verily, I watched and I believed that no man could swim in that water, but rather he would be dashed to bony splinters in an instant.

But I made no protest, for I was past any comprehension. To my way of thinking, I was close enough to death that it did not matter if I came closer still. Thus I took my dagger, which I jammed into my belt, for my teeth rattled too severely to grip it in my mouth. Of the other Northmen, they gave no sign of coldness or fatigue, but rather greeted each wave as a fresh invigoration; also they smiled with the happy anticipation of the coming battle, and for this last I hated them.

Buliwyf watched the movement of the waves, choosing his time, and then he leapt into the surf. I hesitated, and someone-I have always believed it to be Herger-pushed me. I fell deep in the swirling sea of numbing coldness; verily I was spun head over feet and sideward also; I could see nothing but green water. Then I perceived Buliwyf kicking down in the depths of the sea; and I followed after him, and he swam into a kind of passage in the rocks. In all things, I did as he. This was the fashion:

Upon one moment, the surf would tug after him, trying to pluck him into the wide ocean, and me also. At these moments, Buliwyf gripped onto a rock with his hands to hold against the current; this also I did. Mightily I held to the rocks, with my lungs bursting. Then in an instant the surge ran opposite, and I was propelled with frightful speed forward, bouncing off rocks and obstructions. And then again, the surge changed, and tugged backward as it had done previously; and I was obliged to follow the example of Buliwyf and cling to rocks. Now it is true that my lungs burned as if afire, and I knew in my heart that I could not continue much longer in this icy sea. Then the surge ran forward, and I was flung headlong, knocked here and there, and then suddenly I was up and breathing air.

Verily, this transpired with such swiftness that I was so surprised I did not think to feel relief, which was a proper feeling; nor did I think to praise Allah for my good fortune in surviving. I gasped air, and all about me the warriors of Buliwyf set their heads above the surface and gasped likewise.

Now, here is what I saw: we were in a kind of pond or lake, inside a cave with a smooth rocky dome and a seaward entrance through which we had just traversed. Directly ahead was a flat rocky space. I saw three or four dark shapes squatted about a fire; these creatures chanted in high voices. Now also I understood why this was called the cave of thunder, for with each crash of the surf the sound in the cave reverberated with such power that the ears ached and the very air seemed to shake and press.

In this place, this cave, Buliwyf and his warriors made their attack, and I joined in with them, and with our short daggers we killed the four demons in the cave. I saw them clearly for the first time, in the flickering light of the fire, whose flames leapt madly with each pounding of the thundering surf. The aspect of these demons was thus: they appeared to be manlike in every respect, but not as any man upon the face of the earth. They were short creatures, and broad and squat, and hairy on all parts of their bodies save their palms, the soles of their feet, and their faces. Their faces were very large, with mouth and jaws large and prominent, and of an ugly aspect; also their heads were larger. than the heads of normal men. Their eyes were sunk deep in their heads; the brows were large, and not by virtue of hairy brows, but of bone; also their teeth were large and sharp, although it is true the teeth of many were ground down and flattened.

In other respects of their bodily features and as to the organs of sex and the several orifices, they were also as men. [42] One of the creatures was slow to die, and with its tongue formed some sounds, which had to my ear a quality of speech; but I cannot know if this was so, and I tell it again with no conviction of the matter.

Now Buliwyf surveyed these four dead creatures, with their thick matted fur; then we heard a ghostly, echoing chant, a sound rising and falling in time to the thunder pounding of the surf, and this sound came from the recesses of the cave. Buliwyf led us into the depths.

There we came upon three of the creatures, prostrate upon the ground, faces pressed to the earth and their hands raised in supplication to an old creature lurking in the shadows. These suppliants were chanting, and did not perceive our arrival. But the creature saw us, and screamed hideously at our approach. This creature I took to be the mother of the wendol, but if she was female, I saw no sign, for she was old to the point of being sexless.

Buliwyf alone fell upon the suppliants and killed them all, while the mother-creature moved back into the shadows and screamed horribly. I could not see her well, but this much is true: that she was surrounded by serpents, which coiled at her feet, and upon her hands, and around her neck. These serpents hissed and flicked their tongues; and as they were all about her, upon her body and also on the ground, none of the warriors of Buliwyf dared make an approach.

Then Buliwyf attacked her, and she gave a fearful scream as he plunged his dagger deep into her breast, for he was heedless of the snakes. Many times he struck the mother of the wendol with his dagger. Never did this woman collapse, but always did she stand, though the blood poured from her as if from a fountain, and from the several wounds Buliwyf inflicted upon her. And all the time she screamed a most frightful sound.

Then at the last she toppled, and lay dead, and Buliwyf turned to face his warriors. Now we saw that this woman, the mother of the eaters of the dead, had wounded him. A silver pin, such as a pin for hair, was buried in his stomach; this same pin trembled with each heartbeat. Buliwyf plucked it forth, and there was a gush of blood. Yet he did not sink to his knees mortally wounded, but rather he stood and gave the order to leave the cave.

This we did, by the second and landward entrance; this entrance had been guarded, but all the wendol guards had fled before the screams of their dying mother. We departed without harassment. Buliwyf led us from the caves, and back to our horses, and then did he collapse upon the ground.

Ecthgow, with a face of sadness most uncommon among the Northmen, directed the fashioning of a stretcher [43] and with this we carried Buliwyf back across the fields to the kingdom of Rothgar. And all the while Buliwyf was of good cheer, and merry; many of the things he spoke I did not comprehend, but one time I heard him say: “Rothgar will not be happy to see us, for he must set out yet another banquet, and by now he is a most depleted host.” The warriors laughed at this and other words of Buliwyf. I saw their laughter was honest.

Now we came to the kingdom of Rothgar, where we were greeted with cheers and happiness, and no sadness, although Buliwyf was direly injured, and his flesh turned gray, and his body shook, and his eyes were lit by the gleam of a sick and fevered soul. These signs did I know full well, and so, too, did the North people.

A bowl of onion broth was brought for him, and he refused it, saying, “I have the soup illness; do not trouble yourselves on my account.” Then he called for a celebration, and insisted that he preside over it, sitting propped up on a stone couch at the side of King Rothgar, and he drank mead and he was merry. I was near to him when he said to King Rothgar, in the midst of the festivities, “I have no slaves.”

“All of my slaves are your slaves,” Rothgar said.

Then Buliwyf said, “I have no horses.”

“All of my horses are yours,” Rothgar answered. “Think no more on these matters.”

And Buliwyf, his wounds bound, was happy, and he smiled, and the color returned to his cheeks that evening, and indeed he seemed to grow stronger with each passing minute of the night. And although I would not have thought it possible, he ravished a slave girl, and afterward he said to me, as a joke, “A dead man is no use to anyone.”

And then Buliwyf fell into a sleep, and his color became more pale and his breathing more shallow; I feared he should never awake from this sleep. He may also have thought this, for as he slept he held his sword gripped tight in his hand.




AS WILLIAM HOWELLS HAS EMPHASIZED, IT IS A rather rare event that causes any living animal to die in such a way that he will be preserved as a fossil for centuries to come. This is especially true of a small, fragile, ground-living animal such as man, and the fossil record of early men is remarkably scanty.

Textbook diagrams of “the tree of man” imply a certainty of knowledge that is misleading; the tree is pruned and revised every few years. One of the most controversial and troublesome branches of that tree is the one usually labeled “Neanderthal Man.”

He takes his name from the valley in Germany where the first remains of his type were discovered in 1856, three years before the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species . The Victorian world was displeased with the skeletal remains, and emphasized the crude and brutish aspects of Neanderthal man; until now the very word is, in the popular imagination, synonymous with all that is dumb and bestial in human nature.

It was with a kind of relief that early scholars decided that Neanderthal man had “disappeared” about 35,000 years ago, to be replaced by Cro-Magnon man, whose skeletal remains were presumed to show as much delicacy, sensitivity, and intelligence as the Neanderthal skull showed monstrous brutishness. The general presumption was that the superior, modern Cro-Magnon man killed off the Neanderthals.

Now the truth of the matter is that we have very few good examples of Neanderthal man in our skeletal material-of more than eighty known fragments, only about a dozen are complete enough, or dated carefully enough, to warrant serious study. We cannot really say with any certainty how widespread a form he was, or what happened to him. And recent examination of the skeletal evidence has disputed the Victorian belief in his monstrous, semihuman appearance.

In their 1957 review, Straus and Cave wrote: “If he could be reincarnated and placed in a New York subway-provided he were bathed, shaved, and dressed in modern clothing-it is doubtful whether he would attract any more attention than some of its other denizens.”

Another anthropologist has put it more plainly: “You might think he was tough-looking, but you wouldn’t object to your sister marrying him.”

From here, it is only a short step to what some anthropologists already believe: that Neanderthal man, as an anatomical variant of modern man, has never disappeared at all, but is still with us.

A reinterpretation of the cultural remains associated with Neanderthal man also supports a benign view of the fellow. Past anthropologists were highly impressed with the beauty and profusion of the cave drawings that first appear with the arrival of Cro-Magnon man; as much as any skeletal evidence, these drawings tended to reinforce the notion of a wonderful new sensibility replacing the quintessence of “brute benightedness.”

But Neanderthal man was remarkable in his own right. His culture, called Mousterian-again, after a site, Le Moustier in France-is characterized by stoneworking of quite a high order, much superior to any earlier cultural level. And it is now recognized that Neanderthal man had bone tools as well.

Most impressive of all, Neanderthal man was the first of our ancestors to bury his dead ritually. At Le Moustier, a teenage boy was placed in a trench, in a sleeping position; he was provided with a supply of flint tools, a stone axe, and roasted meat. That these materials were for the use of the deceased in some afterlife is undisputed by most anthropologists.

There is other evidence of religious feeling: in Switzerland there is a shrine to the cave bear, a creature worshiped, respected, and also eaten. And at Shanidar Cave in Iraq, a Neanderthal was buried with flowers in the grave.

All this points to an attitude toward life and death, a self-conscious view of the world, which lies at the core of what we believe distinguishes thinking man from the rest of the animal world. On existing evidence, we must conclude this attitude was first displayed by Neanderthal man.

The general reassessment of Neanderthal man coincides with the rediscovery of Ibn Fadlan’s contact with the “mist monsters”; his description of these creatures is suggestive of Neanderthal anatomy, and raises the question of whether the Neanderthal form did, in fact, disappear from the earth thousands of years ago, or whether these early men persisted into historic times.

Arguments based on analogies cut both ways. There are historical examples of a handful of people with technologically superior culture wiping out a more primitive society in a matter of years; that is largely the story of the European contact with the New World. But there are also examples of primitive societies existing in isolated areas, unknown to more advanced, civilized peoples nearby. Such a tribe was recently discovered in the Philippines.

The academic debate on Ibn Fadlan’s creatures can be neatly summarized by the viewpoints of Geoffrey Wrightwood, of Oxford University, and E. D. Goodrich, of the University of Philadelphia. Wrightwood says [1971]: “The account of Ibn Fadlan provides us with a perfectly serviceable description of Neanderthal men, coinciding with the fossil record and our suppositions about the cultural level of these early men. We should accept it immediately, had we not already decided these men vanished without a trace some 30-40,000 years previously. We should remember that we only believe this disappearance because we have found no fossils of a later date, and the absence of such fossils does not mean that they do not, in fact, exist.

“Objectively, there is no a priori  reason to deny that a group of Neanderthals might have survived very late in an isolated region of Scandinavia. In any case this assumption best fits the description of the Arabic text.”

Goodrich, a paleontologist well known for his skepticism, takes the contrasting view [1972]: “The general accuracy of Ibn Fadlan’s reporting may tempt us to overlook certain excesses in his manuscript. These are several, and they arise either from cultural preconditioning, or from a storyteller’s desire to impress. He calls the Vikings giants when they most certainly were not; he emphasizes the dirty, drunken aspects of his hosts, which less fastidious observers did not find striking. In his report of the so-called ‘wendol,’ he places great importance on their hairiness and brutish appearance when, in fact, they may not have been so hairy, or so brutish. They may simply have been a tribe of Homo sapiens , living in isolation and without the level of cultural attainment manifested by the Scandinavians.

“There is internal evidence, within the body of the Ibn Fadlan manuscript, to support the notion that the ‘wendol’ are actually Homo sapiens . The pregnant female figurines described by the Arab are highly suggestive of the prehistoric carvings and figurines to be found at the Aurignacian industry sites in France and of the Gravettian finds in Willendorf, Austria, Level 9. Both Aurignacian and Gravettian cultural levels are associated with essentially modern man, and not Neanderthal Man.

“We must never forget that to untrained observers, cultural differences are often interpreted as physical differences, and one need not be particularly naive to make this mistake. Thus, as late as the 1880s it was possible for educated Europeans to wonder aloud whether Negroes in primitive African societies could be considered human beings after all, or whether they represented some bizarre mating of men and apes. Nor should we overlook the degree to which societies with vastly differing degrees of cultural attainment may exist side by side: such contrasts appear today, for example, in Australia, where the stone age and the jet age can be found in close proximity. Thus in interpreting the descriptions of Ibn Fadlan we need not postulate a Neanderthal remnant, unless we are fancifully inclined to do so.”

In the end, the arguments stumble over a well-known limitation to the scientific method itself. The physicist Gerhard Robbins observes that “strictly speaking, no hypothesis or theory can ever be proven. It can only be disproven. When we say we believe a theory, what we really mean is that we are unable to show that the theory is wrong-not that we are able to show, beyond doubt, that the theory is right.

“A scientific theory may stand for years, even centuries, and it may accumulate hundreds of bits of corroborating evidence to support it. Yet a theory is always vulnerable, and a single conflicting finding is all that is required to throw the hypothesis into disarray, and call for a new theory. One can never know when such conflicting evidence will arise. Perhaps it will happen tomorrow, perhaps never. But the history of science is strewn with the ruins of mighty edifices toppled by an accident, or a triviality.”

This is what Geoffrey Wrightwood meant when he said at the Seventh International Symposium on Human Paleontology in Geneva in 1972: “All I need is one skull, or a fragment of a skull, or a bit of jaw. In fact, all I need is one good tooth, and the debate is concluded.”

Until that skeletal evidence is found, speculation will continue, and one may adopt whatever stance satisfies an inner sense of the fitness of things.






Yakut ibn-Abdallah MS, a geographical lexicon,?A.D. 1400. Nos. 1403A-1589A, Archives University Library, Oslo, Norway.


Blake, Robert, and Frye, Richard; in Byzantina -Metabyzantina: A Journal of Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies , New York, 1947.

Cook, Albert S.; New York, 1947.

Fraus-Dolus, Per; Oslo, 1959-1960.

Jorgensen, Olaf, 1971, unpublished

Nasir, Seyed Hossein; 1971, unpublished.

St. Petersburg MS, a local history, published by the Academy of St. Petersburg, 1823. Nos. 233M-278M, Archives University Library, Oslo, Norway.


Fraus-Dolus, Per; Oslo, 1959-1960.

Stenuit, Roger; 1971, unpublished.

Soletsky, V. K.; 1971, unpublished.

Ahmad Tusi MS, a geography, A.D. 1047, papers of J. H. Emerson. Nos. LV 01-114, Archives University Library, Oslo, Norway.


Fraus-Dolus, Per; Oslo, 1959-1960.

Nasir, Seyed Hossein; 1971, unpublished.

Hitti, A. M.; 1971, unpublished.

Amin Razi MS, a history of warfare, A.D. 1585-1595, papers of J. H. Emerson. Nos. LV 207-244, Archives University Library, Oslo, Norway.


Fraus-Dolus, Per; Oslo, 1959-1960.

Bendixon, Robert; 1971, unpublished.

Porteus, Eleanor; 1971, unpublished.

Xymos MS, a fragmentary geography,? date, bequest estate A. G. Gavras. Nos. 2308T-2348T, Archives University Library, Oslo, Norway.


Fraus-Dolus, Per; Oslo, 1959-1960.

Bendixon, Robert; 1971, unpublished.

Porteus, Eleanor; 1971, unpublished.




Berndt, E., and Berndt, R. H. “An Annotated Bibliography of References to the Manuscript of Ibn Fadlan from 1794 to 1970,” Acta  Archaeologica , VI: 334-389, 1971.

This remarkable compilation will refer the interested reader to all secondary sources concerning the manuscript, which have appeared in English, Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, Russian, French, Spanish, and Arabic for the dates cited. The total number of sources listed is 1,042.



The following are suitable for the general reader with no particular archaeological or historical background. Only works in English are cited.

Wilson, D. M. The Vikings , London, 1970.

Brondsted, J. The Vikings , London, 1960, 1965.

Arbman, H. The Vikings , London, 1961.

Jones, G. A History of the Vikings , Oxford, 1968.

Sawyer, P. The Age of the Vikings , London, 1962.

Foote, P. G., and Wilson, D. M. The Viking Achievement , London, 1970.

Kendrick, T. D. A History of the Vikings , London, 1930.

Azhared, Abdul. Necronomicon [ed. H. P. Lovecraft], Providence, Rhode Island, 1934.


About the Author


Michael Crichton  was born in Chicago in 1942. His novels include The Andromeda Strain, The Great Train Robbery, Congo, Jurassic Park, Rising Sun, Disclosure, The Lost World , and Airframe . He is also the creator of the television series ER.




_ftnref1NOTE: The unprintable Arabic script found in the footnotes of the original paper version has been rendered as “(…)” in this e-text version. -Russell

[1] Throughout the manuscript, Ibn Fadlan is inexact about the size and composition of his party. Whether this apparent carelessness reflects his assumption that the reader knows the composition of the caravan, or whether it is a consequence of lost passages of the text, one cannot be sure. Social conventions may also be a factor, for Ibn Fadlan never states that his party is greater than a few individuals, when in fact it probably numbered a hundred people or more, and twice as many horses and camels. But Ibn Fadlan does not count-literally-slaves, servants, and lesser members of the caravan.

[2] Farzan, an unabashed admirer of Ibn Fadlan, believes that this paragraph reveals “the sensibility of a modern anthropologist, recording not only the customs of a people, but the mechanisms which act to enforce those customs. The economic meaning of killing a nomad leader’s horses is the approximate equivalent of modern death-taxes; that is, it tends to retard the accumulation of inherited wealth in a family. Although demanded by religion, this could not have been a popular practice, any more than it is during the present day. Ibn Fadlan most astutely demonstrates the way it is imposed upon the reluctant.”

[3] Actually, Ibn Fadlan’s word for them here was “Rus,” the name of this particular tribe of Northmen. In the text, he sometimes calls the Scandinavians by their particular tribal name, and sometimes he calls them “Varangians” as a generic term. Historians now reserve the term Varangian for the Scandinavian mercenaries employed by the Byzantine Empire. To avoid confusion, in this translation the terms “Northmen” and “Norsemen” are everywhere employed.

[4] Arabs have always been uneasy about translating the Koran. The earliest sheiks held that the holy book could not be translated, an injunction apparently based on religious considerations. But everyone who has attempted a translation agrees for the most secular reasons: Arabic is by nature a succinct language, and the Koran is composed as poetry and therefore even more concentrated. The difficulties of conveying literal meaning-to say nothing of the grace and elegance of the original Arabic-have led translators to preface their work with prolonged and abject apologies.

At the same time, Islam is an active, expansive way of thought, and the tenth century was one of its peak periods of dissemination. This expansion inevitably necessitated translations for the use of new converts, and translations were made, but never happily from the standpoint of the Arabs.

[5] This alone was startling to an Arab observer from a warm climate. Muslim practice called for quick burial, often the same day as the death, after a short ceremony of ritual washing and prayer.

[6] Or, possibly, “crazed.” The Latin manuscripts read cerritus , but the Arabic of Yakut says (…), “dazed” or “dazzled.”

[7] Interestingly, in both Arabic and Latin, literally “disease.”

[8] The perils of translation are demonstrated in this sentence. The original Arabic of Yakut reads (…) and means literally “There is no name I can speak.” The Xymos manuscript employs the Latin verb dare , with the meaning “I cannot give it a name,” implying that the interpreter does not know the correct word in a non-Norse tongue. The Razi manuscript, which also contains the interpreter’s speeches in fuller detail, uses the word edere , with the meaning “There is no name that I can make known [to you].” This is the more correct translation. The Northman is literally afraid to say the word, lest it call up demons. In Latin, edere has the sense of “giving birth to” and “calling up,” as well as its literal meaning, “to put forth.” Later paragraphs confirm this sense of the meaning.

[9] Wulfgar was left behind. Jensen states the Northmen commonly held a messenger as hostage, and this is why “appropriate messengers were the sons of kings, or high nobles, or other persons who had some value to their own community, thus making them fitting hostages.” Olaf Jorgensen argues that Wulfgar remained behind because he was afraid to go back.

[10] Some early authors apparently thought this meant that the sail was hemmed in rope; there are eighteenth-century drawings that show the Viking sails with rope borderings. There is no evidence that this was the case; Ibn Fadlan meant that the sails were trimmed in the nautical sense; i.e., angled to best catch the wind, by the use of sealskin ropes as halyards.

[11] This is a typically Muslim sentiment. Unlike Christianity, a religion which in many ways it resembles, Islam does not emphasize a concept of original sin arising from the fall of man. Sin for a Muslim is forgetfulness in carrying out the prescribed daily rituals of the religion. As a corollary, it is a more serious offense to forget the ritual entirely than to remember the ritual and yet fail to carry it out either through extenuating circumstances or personal inadequacy. Thus Ibn Fadlan is saying, in effect, that he is mindful of proper conduct even though he is not acting according to it; this is better than nothing.

[12] Other eyewitness accounts disagree with Ibn Fadlan’s description of the treatment of slaves and adultery, and therefore some authorities question his reliability as a social observer. In fact there was probably substantial local variation, from tribe to tribe, in the accepted treatment of slaves and unfaithful wives.

[13] There is some dispute among modern scholars about the origin of the term “Viking,” but most agree with Ibn Fadlan, that it derives from “vik,” meaning a creek or narrow river.

[14] The accuracy of Ibn Fadlan’s reporting is confirmed here by direct archaeological evidence. In 1948 the military site of Trelleborg, in western Zealand in Denmark, was excavated. The site corresponds exactly to Ibn Fadlan’s description of the size, nature, and structure of the settlement.

[15] Literally, “a two-handed man.” As will be clear later, the Northmen were ambidextrous in fighting, and to shift weapons from one hand to another was considered an admirable trick. Thus a two-handed man is cunning. A related meaning was once attached to the word “shifty,” which now means deceitful and evasive, but formerly had a more positive sense of “resourceful, full of maneuvers.”

[16] This account of what is obviously a sighting of whales is disputed by many scholars. It appears in the manuscript of Razi as it is here, but in Sjogren’s translation it is much briefer, and in it the Northmen are shown as playing an elaborate joke upon the Arab. The Northmen knew about whales and distinguished them from sea monsters, according to Sjogren. Other scholars, including Hassan, doubt that Ibn Fadlan could be unaware of the existence of whales, as he appears to be here.

[17] Popular representations of the Scandinavians always show them wearing helmets with horns. This is an anachronism; at the time of Ibn Fadlan’s visit, such helmets had not been worn for more than a thousand years, since the Early Bronze Age.

[18] The described figurine corresponds closely to several carvings discovered by archaeologists in France and Austria.

[19] Ducere spiritu : literally, “to inhale.”

[20] This is not the same “angel of death” who was with the Northmen on the banks of the Volga. Apparently each tribe had an old woman who performed shamanistic functions and was referred to as “the angel of death.” It is thus a generic term.

[21] The Scandinavians were apparently more impressed by the stealth and viciousness of the creatures than the fact of their cannibalism. Jensen suggests that cannibalism might be abhorrent to the Norsemen because it made entry into Valhalla more difficult; there is no evidence for this view.

However, for Ibn Fadlan, with his extensive erudition, the notion of cannibalism may have implied some difficulties in the afterlife. The Eater of the Dead is a well-known creature of Egyptian mythology, a fearsome beast with the head of a crocodile, the trunk of a lion, and the back of a hippopotamus. This Eater of the Dead devours the wicked after their Judgment.

It is worth remembering that for most of man’s history, ritual cannibalism, in one form or another, for one reason or another, was neither rare nor remarkable. Peking man and Neanderthal man were both apparently cannibals; so were, at various times, the Scythians, the Chinese, the Irish, the Peruvians, the Mayoruna, the Jagas, the Egyptians, the Australian aborigines, the Maoris, the Greeks, the Hurons, the Iroquois, the Pawnees, and the Ashanti.

During the time Ibn Fadlan was in Scandinavia, other Arab traders were in China, where they recorded that human flesh-referred to as “two-legged mutton”-was openly and legally sold in markets.

Martinson suggests that the Northmen found the wendol cannibalism repellent because they believed that the flesh of warriors was fed to women, particularly the mother of the wendol. There is no evidence for this view, either, but it would certainly make a Norse warrior’s death more shameful.

[22] An Arab would be especially inclined to think so, for Islamic religious art tends to be nonrepresentational, and in quality similar to much Scandinavian art, which often seems to favor pure design. However, the Norsemen had no injunction against representing gods, and often did so.

[23] (…): literally, “veins.” The Arabic phrase has led to some scholarly errors; E. D. Graham has written, for example, that “the Vikings foretold the future by a ritual of cutting the veins of animals and spreading them on the ground.” This is almost certainty wrong; the Arabic phrase for cleaning an animal is “cutting the veins,” and Ibn Fadlan was here referring to the widespread practice of divination by examination of entrails. Linguists, who deal with such vernacular phrases all the time, are fond of discrepancies in meaning; a favorite example of Halstead’s is the English warning “Look out!” which usually means that one should do exactly the opposite and dive for cover.

[24] Circumcision.

[25] Ibn Fadlan does not describe a basilisk, apparently assuming that his readers are familiar with the mythological creature, which appears in the early beliefs of nearly all Western cultures. Also known as a cockatrice, the basilisk is generally a variety of cock with a serpent’s tail and eight legs, and sometimes bearing scales instead of feathers. What is always true of the basilisk is that his stare is deadly, like the stare of a Gorgon; and the venom of the basilisk is particularly lethal. According to some accounts, a person who stabs a basilisk will watch the venom travel up the sword and onto his hand. The man will then be obliged to cut off his own hand to save his body.

It is probably this sense of the danger of the basilisk that prompts its mention here. The old noble is telling Ibn Fadlan that a direct confrontation with the troublemakers will not solve the problem. Interestingly, one way to dispatch a basilisk was to let it see its reflected image in a mirror; it would then be killed by its own stare.

[26] (…) in Arabic, and in the Latin texts, verbera . Both words meaning “flogging” or “whipping,” and not “flinging,” as this passage is ordinarily translated. It is usually assumed that Ibn Fadlan used the metaphor of “whipping” with dirt to emphasize the ferocity of the insult, which is clear enough in any case. However, he may have consciously or unconsciously transmitted a distinctly Scandinavian attitude toward insults.

Another Arab reporter, al-Tartushi, visited the town of Hedeby in A.D. 950, and said this about the Scandinavians: “They are most peculiar in the matter of punishment. They have only three penalties for wrongdoing. The first of these and the most feared is banishment from the tribe. The second is to be sold into slavery and the third is death. Women who do wrong are sold as slaves. Men always prefer death. Flogging is unknown to the Northmen.”

This view is not precisely shared by Adam of Bremen, a German ecclesiastical historian, who wrote in 1075: “If women have been found unchaste, they are sold off at once, but if men are found guilty of treason or any other crime, they prefer to be beheaded than flogged. No form of punishment other than the axe or slavery is known to them.”

The historian Sjogren places great importance on Adam’s statement that men would prefer to be beheaded rather than flogged. This would seem to suggest that flogging was known among the Northmen; and he argues further that it was most likely a punishment for slaves. “Slaves are property, and it is economically unwise to kill them for minor offenses; surely whipping was an accepted form of punishment to a slave. Thus it may be that warriors viewed whipping as a degraded penalty because it was reserved for slaves.” Sjogren also argues that “all we know of Viking life points to a society founded upon the idea of shame, not guilt, as the negative behavioral pole. Vikings never felt guilt about anything, but they defended their honor fiercely, and would avoid a shameful act at any cost. Passively submitting to the whip must have been adjudged shameful in the extreme, and far worse than death itself.”

These speculations carry us back to Ibn Fadlan’s manuscript, and his choice of the words “whipping with dirt.” Since the Arab is so fastidious, one might wonder whether his words reflect an Islamic attitude. In this regard, we should remember that while Ibn Fadlan’s world was certainly divided into clean and dirty things and acts, soil itself was not necessarily dirty. On the contrary, tayammum , ablution with dust or sand, is carried out whenever ablution with water is not possible. Thus Ibn Fadlan had no particular abhorrence of soil on one’s person; he would have been much more upset if he were asked to drink from a gold cup, which was strictly forbidden.

[27] This passage is apparently the source of the 1869 comment by the scholarly Rev. Noel Harleigh that “among the barbaric Vikings, morality was so perversely inverted that their sense of alms was the dues paid to weapons-makers.” Harleigh’s Victorian assurance exceeded his linguistic knowledge. The Norse word alm means elm, the resilient wood from which the Scandinavians made bows and arrows. It is only by chance that this word also has an English meaning. (The English “alms” meaning charitable donations is usually thought to derive from the Greek eleos , to pity.)

[28] Linea adeps : literally, “fat line.” Although the anatomical wisdom of the passage has never been questioned by soldiers in the thousand years since-for the midline of the body is where the most vital nerves and vessels are all found-the precise derivation of the term has been mysterious. In this regard, it is interesting to note that one of the Icelandic sagas mentions a wounded warrior in 1030 who pulls an arrow from his chest and sees bits of flesh attached to the point; he then says that he still has fat around his heart. Most scholars agree that this is an ironic comment from a warrior who knows that he has been mortally wounded, and this makes good anatomical sense.

In 1847, the American historian Robert Miller referred to this passage of Ibn Fadlan when he said, “Although ferocious warriors, the Vikings had a poor knowledge of physiognomy. Their men were instructed to seek out the vertical midline of the opponent’s body, but in doing so, of course, they would miss the heart, positioned as it is in the left chest.”

The poor knowledge must be attributed to Miller, and not the Vikings. For the last several hundred years, ordinary Western men had believed the heart to be located in the left chest; Americans put their hands over their hearts when they pledge allegiance to the flag; we have a strong folk tradition of soldiers being saved from death by a Bible carried in the breast pocket that stops the fatal bullet, and so on. In fact, the heart is a midline structure that extends to varying degrees into the left chest; but a midline wound in the chest will always pierce the heart.

[29] According to divine law, Muslims believe that “the Messenger of God has forbidden cruelty to animals.” This extends to such mundane details as the commandment to unload pack animals promptly, so that they will not be unnecessarily burdened. Furthermore, the Arabs have always taken a special delight in breeding and training horses. The Scandinavians had no special feeling toward animals; nearly all Arab observers commented on their lack of affection for horses.

[30] Most early translators of Ibn Fadlan’s manuscript were Christians with no knowledge of Arabic culture, and their interpretation of this passage reflects that ignorance. In a very free translation, the Italian Lacalla (1847) says: “In the morning I arose from my drunken stupor like a common dog, and was much ashamed for my condition.” And Skovmand, in his 1919 commentary, brusquely concludes that “one cannot place credence in Ibn Fadlan’s stories, for he was drunk during the battles, and admits as much.” More charitably, Du Chatellier, a confirmed Vikingophile, said in 1908: “The Arab soon acquired the intoxication of the battle that is the very essence of the Norse heroic spirit.”

I am indebted to Massud Farzan, the Sufi scholar, for explaining the allusion that Ibn Fadlan is making here. Actually, he is comparing himself to a character in a very old Arabic joke:

A drunken man falls into a puddle of his own vomit by the roadside. A dog comes along and begins licking his face. The drunk assumes a kind person is cleaning his face, and says gratefully, “May Allah make your children obedient.” Then the dog raises his leg and urinates on the drunkard, who responds, “And may God bless you, brother, for having brought warm water to wash my face.”

In Arabic, the joke carries the usual injunction against drunkenness, and the subtle reminder that liquor is khmer , or filth, as is urine.

Ibn Fadlan probably expected his reader to think, not that he was ever drunk, but rather that he luckily avoided being urinated upon by the dog, as he earlier escaped death in battle: it is a reference, in other words, to another near miss.

[31] Urine is a source of ammonia, an excellent cleaning compound.

[32] Some authorities on mythology argue that the Scandinavians did not originate this idea of an eternal battle, but rather that this is a Celtic concept. Whatever the truth, it is perfectly reasonable that Ibn Fadlan’s companions should have adopted the concept, for the Scandinavians had been in contact with Celts for over a hundred and fifty years at this time.

[33] (…) literally, “desert of dread.” In a paper in 1927, J. G. Tomlinson pointed out that precisely the same phrase appears in the Volsunga Saga , and therefore argued at length that it represented a generic term for taboo lands. Tomlinson was apparently unaware that the Volsunga Saga  says nothing of the sort; the nineteenth-century translation of William Morris indeed contains the line “There is a desert of dread in the uttermost part of the world,” but this line was Morris’s own invention, appearing in one of the many passages where he expanded upon the original Germanic saga.

[34] The Islamic injunction against alcohol is literally an injunction against the fermented fruit of the grape; i.e., wine. Fermented drinks of honey are specifically permitted to Muslims.

[35] The usual psychiatric explanation for such fears of loss of body parts is that they represent castration anxiety. In a 1937 review, Deformations of Body Image in Primitive Societies , Engelhardt observes that many cultures are explicit about this belief. For example, the Nanamani of Brazil punish sexual offenders by cutting off the left ear; this is thought to reduce sexual potency. Other societies attach significance to the loss of fingers, toes, or, in the case of the Northmen, the nose. It is a common superstition in many societies that the size of a man’s nose reflects the size of his penis.

Emerson argues that the importance accorded the nose by primitive societies reflects a vestigial attitude from the days when men were hunters and relied heavily upon a sense of smell to find game and avoid enemies; in such a life, the loss of smell was a serious injury indeed.

[36] In the Mediterranean, from Egyptian times, dwarves were thought especially intelligent and trustworthy, and tasks of bookkeeping and money-handling were reserved to them.

[37] Of approximately ninety skeletons that can be confidently ascribed to the Viking period in Scandinavia, the average height appears to be about 170 centimeters (5’7”).

[38] Dahlmann (1924) writes that “for ceremonial occasions the ram was eaten to increase potency, since the horned male animal was judged superior to the female.” In fact, during this period both rams and ewes had horns.

[39] Joseph Cantrell observes that “there is a strain in Germanic and Norse mythology which holds that women have special powers, qualities of magic, and should be feared and mistrusted by men. The principal gods are all men, but the Valkyries, which means literally ‘choosers of the slain,’ are women who transport dead warriors to Paradise. It was believed that there were three Valkyries, as there were three Norns, or Fates, which were present at the birth of every man, and determined the outcome of his life. The Norns were named Urth, the past; Verthandi, the present; and Skuld, the future. The Norns ‘wove’ a man’s fate, and weaving was a woman’s work; in popular representations they were shown as young maidens. Wyrd, an Anglo-Saxon deity which ruled fate, was also a goddess. Presumably the association of women with man’s fate was a permutation of earlier concepts of women as fertility symbols; the goddesses of fertility controlled the growing and flowering of crops and living things on the earth.”

Cantrell also notes that “in practice, we know that divination, spellcasting, and other shamanistic functions were reserved to elderly women in Norse society. Furthermore, popular ideas of women contained a heavy element of suspicion. According to the Harvamal , ‘No one should trust the words of a girl or a married woman, for their hearts have been shaped on a turning wheel and they are inconstant by nature.’ ”

Bendixon says, “Among the early Scandinavians there was a kind of division of power according to sex. Men ruled physical affairs; women, psychological matters.”

[40] This is a paraphrase of a sentiment among the Northmen, expressed fully as: “Praise not the day until evening has come; a woman until she is burnt; a sword until it is tried; a maiden until she is married; ice until it has been crossed; beer until it has been drunk.” This prudent, realistic, and somewhat cynical view of human nature and the world was something the Scandinavians and the Arabs shared. And like the Scandinavians, the Arabs often express it in mundane or satiric terms. There is a Sufi story about a man who asked a sage: “Suppose I am traveling in the countryside and must make ablutions in the stream. Which direction do I face while performing the ritual?” To this the sage replies: “In the direction of your clothes, so they won’t be stolen.”

[41] In the Faeroe Islands of Denmark, a similar method of scaling cliffs is still practiced to gather bird eggs, an important source of food to the islanders.

[42] This description of the physical features of the wendol has sparked a predictable debate. See Appendix .

[43] Lectulus .

[44] Fenestra porcus : literally, “pig window.” The Norsemen used stretched membranes instead of glass to cover narrow windows; these membranes were translucent. One could not see much through them, but light would be admitted into houses.

[45] This section of the manuscript is pieced together from the manuscript of Razi, whose chief interest was military techniques. Whether or not Ibn Fadlan knew, or recorded, the significance of Buliwyf’s reappearance is unknown. Certainly Razi did not include it, although the significance is obvious enough. In Norse mythology, Odin is popularly represented as bearing a raven on each shoulder. These birds bring him all the news of the world. Odin was the principal deity of the Norse pantheon and was considered the Universal Father. He ruled especially in matters of warfare; it was believed that from time to time he would appear among men, although rarely in his godlike form, preferring to assume the appearance of a simple traveler. It was said that an enemy would be scared away simply by his presence.

Interestingly, there is a story about Odin in which he is killed and resurrected after nine days; most authorities believe this idea antedates any Christian influence. In any case, the resurrected Odin was still mortal, and it was believed that he would someday finally die.

[46] The classic popular account of Evans and Schliemann is C. W. Ceram (Kurt W. Marek), Gods, Graves, and Scholars , Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1967.

[47] M. I. Finley, The World of Odysseus , Viking Press, New York, 1965.

[48] Lionel Casson, The Ancient Mariners, Sea Farers and Sea Fighters of the Mediterranean in Ancient Times , Macmillan, New York, 1959.

[49] Among the many discussions of Viking society for the general reader, see: D. M. Wilson, The Vikings , London, 1970; J. Brondsted, The Vikings , London, 1965; P. Sawyer, The Age of the Vikings , London, 1962; P. G. Foote and D. M. Wilson, The Viking Achievement , London, 1970. Some of these references quote passages from Ibn Fadlan’s manuscript.

[50] To my knowledge there are still only two principal sources in English. The first is the text fragments I read as an undergraduate: Robert Blake and Richard Frye, “The Vikings Abroad and at Home,” in Carleton S. Coon, A Reader in General Anthropology , Henry Holt and Co., New York, 1952, pp. 410-416. The second source is Robert P. Blake and Richard N. Frye, “Notes on the Risala of Ibn-Fadlan,” Byzantina Metabyzantina , 1949, v.1 part 2, New York, pp. 7-37. I am grateful to Professor Frye for his assistance during the first publication of this book, and this recent revision.

[51] For trends in post-modern academic thought, see, for example, Pauline Marie Rosenau, Post-Modernism and the Social Sciences: Insights, Inroads, and Intrusions , Princeton, New Jersey, 1992; and H. Aram Veser, ed., The New Historicism , Routledge, New York, 1989.



Michael Crichton

Eaters of the Dead



The Manuscript of Ibn Fadlan,

Relating His Experiences

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