The Earliest States of Eastern Europe
DG-2013, 259-280

Al-Mas‘udi as the historian (on the example of “The book of prevention and revision”)

T. M. Kalinina

The article is dedicated to the problem of historiography in the Book of
Prevention and Revision (Kitab al-tanbih wa-l-isсhraf) of Abu-l-Hasan Ibn al-
Hussein al-Mas‘udi, an Arabic writer of the fi rst half of the tenth century. Arab
historiography included many literary genres of the pre-Islamic era, which
were preserved and developed after the adoption of Islam: genealogical legends
of the Arab tribes — akhbar; lists of generations — ansab; biographies —
siyar, which included, after accepting Islam, stories of the life of Muhammad;
stories of the conquest, military campaigns — magazi, which later became
the stories of the wars of Muhammad; ranges-generations — tabaqat; stories
of the prophets — kisas al-anbiya’; stories of the wars of the Arab tribes —
Ayyam al-‘Arab. The legends about the prophet Muhammad (hadis) were
confi rmed by references (isnad) to information transmitted orally and became
the most important additional element of the written Islamic historiography.
The genre of fada’il — the «virtue» was devoted to the virtues of Muhammad
and his followers, of some religious, political, professional and social groups,
as well as of the perfectness of countries, peoples, or cities. ’Aǧaib, i.e.
stories of miracles, were also included into the geographical works of the
Arabs. The Arabic scholars multiplied their geographical information as the
280
Caliphate expanded its borders. There were the works connecting different
genres, leaning on data of previous authors and introducing new information
on peoples, territories, and events. All these genres which connected poetry
and prose, gradually entered into the general chronicles (tavarikh). The word
at-ta’rikh — ‘history’ — initially meant dating and chronology. At-ta’rikh
as a literary genre dedicated to chronologically built account of the past
arose in the tenth century.
Al-Mas‘udi became a successor of these tendencies. He used literary
and oral sources. From many books written by him only two remained:
Producers of gold and placer gems and the Book of Prevention and Revision.
A number of orientalists ascribed his books to ’adab, i.e. to the popular genre
of literature combining educational, instructive and entertaining purposes,
however much place in Al-Mas‘udi’s works is given to the history of the
different peopes. Scholars adhere that he was a historian though his books
are written in a fi ctionalized form.
In the present paper it is shown that the author of the Book of Prevention
and Revision intended to write history of the peoples of the world, to present
their shape and customs depending on the provision of the Sun, the Moon,
and the stars, to state the theory of climates and position of the population
in them, to give an idea of the world chronology and different ways of
time reckoning, of calendars. Al-Mas‘udi told the story of the Persians and
their ruling dynasties from the creation of the fi rst man until the fall of the
Sassanid dynasty. He created a chronicle of the life and deeds of Greek
kings, Roman and Byzantine emperors, including events and legends from
the history of Christianity. Finally, the biggest part of the work is dedicated to
the Arabs before Islam and to the history of Islamic dynasties and rulers.
The work of al-Mas‘udi included the above mentioned genres of Arabic
narrative and geographical literature, and he is considered to be one of the
foremost historians of his time.

Keywords:
Arabs, literature, genres, historiography, historical writing, geography, al-Mas‘udi
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