Abraham ben Jacob – “The 13th Warrior”

We mentioned the “13th Warrior” movie before. The story is a fantasy of it’s authors, but some parts of it are echoes of the past. Like the Arab among the people of the North part…

Abraham ben Jacob, better known under his Arabic name of Ibrâhîm ibn Ya`qûb (al-Tartushi [often like this instead of ‘al-Ṭurṭûshî’]) was a 10th century Hispano-Arabic, Sephardi Jewish written and oral history,  traveller, probably a merchant, whose brief may have included diplomacy and espionage. His family hailed from Moorish-ruled Ṭurṭūšah close to the mouth of the Ebro: he himself may also have lived in Cordova. In 961–62 he travelled in Western and Central Europe and in Italy at least as far as Rome, where he was received in audience by the Holy Roman Emperor Otto I during the first week of February; nothing is known about his return to ‘al-Andalus’ (the Muslim-ruled part of the Iberian Peninsula), nor of any other travel. His work is widely known as the first reliable description of the Polish state under Mieszko I, the first historical ruler of Poland. He is also noted for his description of the Vikings living in Hedeby, of the Nakonid fortification at “Dorf Mecklenburg” and of what was, in all likelihood, the nucleus of the later ducal castle and palace at Schwerin. Ibrahim ibn Yaqub has a unique place in the Czech history as the first person to mention the city of Prague in writing.

As for the Polans and what would become the Polish Kingdom in few next decades – Ibrahim’s own work had dissapeared and we know it only thanks to manuscripts by Abu Abdullah al-Bakri’s Book of Highways and of Kingdoms (XIc) and AL-Qazwini and Ibn-Said (XIIIc) as well as Al-Himjari (XVc). The memoirs and commentaries of his journey, were possibly first presented to the Cordovan caliph Al-Hakam II (961–76).

Parts of Ibrahim relation:

Polish: „Królowie ich są w tej chwili czterej: król Bułgarów i Bojeslaw, król Fraga, Bojma i Krako i Meszko, król Północy i Nakon na krańcu zachodu”

English: “Their Kings [Slavonic  – XCentury note] are four: king of Bulgars and Bojeslaus , king of Fraga , Bojma and Krako* and Meszko, King of The North and Nakon on the edge of the west ”

*Kraków was under Bohemian rule at the time

He also says:

Polish: „państwo w krainach Słowian nad morzem wśród gęstych lasów, przez które wojskom trudno się przedzierać…”.

English: “the state in the lands of the Slavs by the sea, amongst the dense woods, though which it is hard for troops to maneuver”

He was amazed by the quality of the drużyna książeca:

Polish: „A to co się tyczy kraju Meszko, (…) to obfituje on w żywność, mięso, miód i rolę orną. Pobierane przez niego opłaty stanowią odważniki handlowe (tj. monety lub kruszec). Idą one na żołd jego mężów. Co miesiąc przypada każdemu z nich oznaczona ilość z nich. Ma on 3000 pancernych (zbrojnych) podzielonych na oddziały, a setka ich znaczy tyle co dziesięć secin innych wojowników. Daje on tym mężom odzież, konie, broń i wszystko, czego tylko potrzebują”.

English: “As for the Meszko’s state, (…) it is opulent of food, meat, honey [or mead -XCentury note] and arable land. Fees he receives are trade weights [coins or gold/silver ore, received from the subordinate people – XCentury note]. They go for the wages for his men. Every month everyone of them receives a specified amount. He has 3000 armoured men, divided into squadrons, and a hundred of those is as much as ten of hundreds of other warriors. He gives clothing, horses, weapons and whatever they need, to this men”.

As you can see it was both an honor and a good business to be Mieszko’s drużynnik (druzhina warrior). There’s a great probability  it consited of both Slavonic warriors and Norse mercenaries. Not every Norse went on a viking,  some became duke’s warriors and bodyguards.