Ariella Elema did me the great favor of notifying me of the arrival of this book.http://www.amazon.com/Ibn-Fadlan-Land-D ... 663&sr=8-1
Most people have heard of Ibn Fadlan, the Arab traveler who famously witnessed the funeral of a Rus chieftain during a Diplomatic visit to the Bulgars. This short but evocative (and provocative) account was repeated in Michael Crichtons rather silly novel "Eaters of the Dead", and then again (in more fanciful form) in the even sillier film 13th Warrior.
Some are also familiar with some other fragments, such as a more sympathetic account of some Vikings in the trading town of Hedeby. Well, it turns out there are quite a few of these little fragments, almost all of which are collected in this book "Ibn Fadlan and the Land of Darkness", along with other equally interesting accounts of travels by Muslim merchants and diplomats in Northern Europe and Western Central-Asia, among such interesting characters as the Slavs, the mysterious and evocative Khazars (the Worlds only ever Empire of Jewish Turks), the Bulgars, the Magyars, Norsemen and Saxons.
Among other things I found interesting it includes the first ever (early 10th Century) account of Prague at a time when I thnk it was still pagan, (described as a prosperous stone city with very cheap provisions and good quality trade goods) a 10th Century description of Mainz (in which they mention the markets included cloves and ginger from the East Indies) and a first hand account of the then Danish town of Schleswig in which the locals are described as wearing eye-makeup, as well as trips into the far north (the land of darkness) and descriptions of ice skating and dog sleds and other exotica.
Maybe the most gripping part was a short but by far the most epic account of a (Rus) Viking raid that I've ever read. A very vivid and evocative description of a large 'Rus' invasion and their capture and subsequent abandonment of a large Muslim town in the coast of the Caspian Sea, which virtually demands to be made into a movie.
Most of the accounts are from the 9th-10th Centuries, and almost all from Arab, Moorish (in one case Moorish-Jewish), Turkish or Persian authors, with a couple of short excerpts from the Russian Primary Chronicle and Marco Polo thrown in for variety.
If you have any interest in the Vikings or in this early period of Medieval history, this is a must-read in my opinion.
"In the case of an ailing social order, the absence of an adequate diagnosis... is a crucial, perhaps decisive part of the disease." -Zygmunt Bauman
"With any luck we'll be in Stalingrad by winter. " - Anyonymous German soldier