Mission to the Volga

Mission to the Volga

108 Pages

April 2017

ISBN: 9781479899890




Aḥmad ibn Faḍlān was a member of a diplomatic mission sent by the Abbasid caliph al-Muqtadir in 309-310/921-922 to the king of the Volga Bulghars. His is the only existing record of that mission.

James E. Montgomery is Sir Thomas Adams’s Professor of Arabic at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of Trinity Hall. His latest publications are Fate the Hunter: Early Arabic Hunting Poems, and Kalīlah and Dimnah: Fables of Virtue and Vice, with Michael Fishbein.

Tim Severin is a British explorer, film-maker, and lecturer. He received the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award for his 1982 non-fiction book The Sindbad Voyage and is noted for his Viking historical fiction series (2005).

The earliest surviving instance of sustained first-person travel narrative in Arabic

Mission to the Volga is a pioneering text of peerless historical and literary value. In its pages, we move north on a diplomatic mission from Baghdad to the upper reaches of the Volga River in what is now central Russia.

In this colorful documentary from the tenth century, the enigmatic Ibn Fadlan relates his experiences as part of an embassy sent by Caliph al-Muqtadir to deliver political and religious instruction to the recently-converted King of the Bulghars. During eleven months of grueling travel, Ibn Fadlan records the marvels he witnesses on his journey, including an aurora borealis and the white nights of the North. Crucially, he offers a description of the Viking Rus, including their customs, clothing, body painting, and a striking account of a ship funeral. Together, these anecdotes illuminate a vibrant world of diversity during the heyday of the Abbasid Empire, narrated with as much curiosity and zeal as they were perceived by its observant beholder.

An English-only edition.


  • "Montgomery's edition...is itself the product of many years' research, travel, and discussion and should become definitive."


  • "A compelling account which is, among other things, the earliest first-hand description of travel from the Muslim world."

    Times Literary Supplement