Volume 1, Chapter 5 -- Travels of Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela, through Europe, Asia, and Africa, from Spain to China, between A.D. 1160 and 1173.[1]

This Spanish Jew was the son of Rabbi Jonas, of Tudela, a small town in Navarre. According to the testimony of Rabbi Abraham Zuka, a celebrated professor of astronomy at Salamanca, it is supposed that Rabbi Benjamin travelled from 1160 to 1173. Young Barratier, a prodigy of early literary genius, asserts that Benjamin never made the journey at all, but patched up the whole work from contemporary writers. There is no doubt that his work is full of incredible tales, yet many of the anomalies it contains, may have proceeded from mistakes of copyists; exaggeration was the taste of the times, and other travellers who are believed actually to have travelled, are not behind him in the marvellous. These often relate the miracles of pretended Christian saints, while he details the wonders performed by Jewish Rabbis. He contains however, many curious pieces of information, not to be found anywhere else, and it seems necessary and proper to give a full abstract of his travels in this place.

Travelling by land to Marseilles, Benjamin embarked for Genoa, and proceeded to Rome, from whence he went through the kingdom of Naples to Otranto, where he crossed over to Corfu and Butrinto, and journeyed by land through Greece to Constantinople, having previously visited the country of Wallachia. All this takes up the four first chapters, which are omitted in Harris. In the fifth, he gives an account of the city and Court of Constantinople, as follows: Constantinople is an exceedingly great city, the capital of the Javanites,[2] or the nation called Greeks, and the principal seat of the emperor Emanuel,[3] whose commands are obeyed by twelve kings, for every one of whom there are several palaces in Constantinople, and they have fortresses and governments in other places of the empire, and to them the whole land is subject. The principal of these is the Apripus, Praepositus, or prime minister; the second, Mega Dumastukitz, [Greek: Mezas Domestichos], or great chamberlain; the third Dominot, Dominos, or lord: but his peculiar office or department does not appear; the fourth Mackducus, [Greek: Mezas Dochas], great duke or high Admiral; the fifth Iknomus Megli, [Greek: Oichonomos mezas], or lord high steward of the household; and the rest have names like unto these.[4] Constantinople is eighteen miles in circuit, half of it being on the sea, and the other half towards the continent; it stands on two arms of the sea, into one of which the sea flows from Russia, and into the other from Spain; and its port is frequented by many traders, from the countries and provinces of Babylon, Senaar, Media, Persia, Egypt, Canaan, Russia, Hungary, Psianki,[5] Buria, Lombardy, and Spain.

The city is extremely populous, and hath none to compare with it, except Bagdat, the mighty city of the Ismaelites.[6] In it is the magnificent temple of St. Sophia, where dwells the patriarch of the Greeks, who do not agree in doctrine with the pope of Rome. This temple contains as many altars as there are days in the year, and it has a revenue beyond all estimation great, from the offerings and riches brought continually from divers countries, islands, forts, castles, and places, so that the wealth of no other temple on earth can be compared to the riches which it contains. In the middle of this temple there are pillars of gold and silver, huge candlesticks, lanterns, lamps, and other ornaments of these precious metals, more than can be reckoned. Close to this temple there is a place set apart for the diversion of the emperor, called the Hippodrome, where great spectacles are represented yearly, on the birth-day of Jesus of Nazareth, in which men in the habits of all the various people of the earth, appear before the emperor and empress, with lions, bears, leopards, and wild asses, which are made to fight together; and in no country on earth are such princely sports to be seen.

Besides the palace left him by his ancestors, Manuel has built one for himself, called Bilbernae,[7] the pillars and walls of which are overlaid with beaten gold and silver, on which all the wars of his ancestors are represented. In this palace there is a throne of gold and precious stones, over which a golden crown, enriched with precious stones and pearls, is suspended on high, the value of which is beyond computation, and its lustre so great, that it shines, and may be seen in the night. There are other things in this palace of such value and profusion as are quite incredible, and immense tributes are brought yearly into it, by which the towers are filled with scarlet and purple garments and gold, so that the like example of sumptuous buildings, and enormous riches, can nowhere else be found in the world.

It is affirmed, that the revenue of the city only, from its markets, harbour, and tribute of merchants, amount to 20,000 crowns daily. The Greek inhabitants of this city and country are exceedingly rich in gold and jewels, and are sumptuously dressed in crimson garments, intermingled with gold, or splendidly embroidered, and are all carried on horses, as if they were the children of kings. The country itself is very extensive, and abounds with all sorts of fruits, and has great plenty of corn, wine, and cattle of all kinds, and a finer country is nowhere to be found. The people are learned also, and skilful in the philosophy of the Greeks: but giving themselves up entirely to luxury, they eat and drink every man under his own vine, and under his own fig-tree. They have mercenary soldiers, hired from all nations, whom they call Barbarians, to fight against the soldan, king of the children of Togorma, who are commonly called Turks; for the Grecians themselves, through sloth and luxury, have become quite effeminate and unfit for wars, and entirely devoted to pleasure.

No Jews are permitted to dwell in the city, but are obliged to reside in Pera, on the other side of the sea of Sophia, and are not even allowed to come to the city, except in boats, for the sake of commerce. In Pera there are about 2000 Jewish Rabbinists, disciples of the wise men; among whom are Abtalion the Great, Rabbi Abdias, Aaron Cuspus, Joseph Starginus, and Eliakim the governor, who have the chief authority. Besides these, there are 500 Karaites,[8] who are separated from the Rabbinists by a wall. Among the Jews there are some manufacturers of silken garments, and many very rich merchants. No Jew is permitted to ride on horseback, except Solomon, the Egyptian, who is physician to the Emperor, and through whose interest the Jews are comforted and eased in their captivity, which is very grievous; for they are much hated by the Grecians, who make no distinction between the good and the evil among them, and insult and beat them in the streets. They are worst used by the tanners, who pour out the filthy water in which they have dressed their skins into the streets before their doors. Yet, among the Jews there are some very rich men, as I have said before; good and merciful men, who observe the commandments, and who patiently endure the miseries of the captivity.

From Constantinople, Benjamin continued his journey to Tyre, Jerusalem, and the Holy Land, and thence to Damascus, Balbeck, and Palmyra, which he calls Tadmor, and in which, he says, there then were 2000 Jews. He next gives an account of Bagdat, the court of the caliph, and the condition of the Jews there. He afterwards gives an account of a country which he calls Thema, where he places a whole nation of Jews, which some have deemed an entire forgery.[9] He next proceeds to Botzra, Balsora or Bassora, on the Tigris, and thence to Persia, of which he gives the following account.

The river Samoura[10] is esteemed the limits of the kingdom of Persia, and near it stands the city of the same name, in which there are 1500 Jews. Here is the sepulchre of Esdras, the scribe and priest, who died in this place on his return from Jerusalem to the court of Artaxerxes. Our people have built a great synagogue beside his tomb, and the Ismaelites, Arabians, or Mahometans, have built a mosque close by, as they have a great respect for Esdras and the Jews.  It is four miles from hence to Chuzestan, which is the same with the ancient city of Elam, now almost ruined and uninhabited. At one end, surrounded by ruins, is the castle of Susa, formerly the palace of Ahasuerus, of which there are still some remains. In this place there are 7000 Jews and fourteen synagogues, before one of which stands the tomb of Daniel. The river Tigris[11] runs through this city, over which there is a bridge.  All the Jews on one side of the river are very rich, having well filled shops, and carry on great trade, while those on the other side are very poor, having neither market, shops, gardens, or orchards. This caused them once to make an insurrection, from a notion that the glory and riches of those on the other side of the river was occasioned by their having the sepulchre of the prophet Daniel on their side. The insurgents, therefore, demanded to have his tomb transferred to their side, which was vehemently opposed by the others, and war ensued between them: But both parties growing weary of the war, it was agreed that the coffin of Daniel should remain one year on one side of the river, and next year on the other. This treaty was observed for some time, but was cancelled in the sequel by Sanigar-Shah, son to the great shah of Persia, who rules over forty-five princes. This great king is called in Arabic Sultan Phars Al-Chabir. His empire extends from the river Samoura to Samarcand, the river Gozan, the province of Gisbor, including the cities of the Medes, the mountains of Haphton, and to the province of Thibet, in the forests of which country are found the animals which produce musk; and the empire is four months and four days journey in length.

Sangiar being at Elam, saw the elders of the people transporting the coffin of Daniel from one side of the river to the other, attended by an immense crowd of Jews and Ismaelites; and, being informed of the cause, gave orders that the coffin should be suspended in a glass case, by chains of iron, from the middle of the bridge, and that a spacious synagogue should be erected in the same place, open to all, whether Jews or Gentiles, who might incline to pray there; and he commanded, from reverence for Daniel, that no fish should be taken in the river for a mile above or below the bridge.

From Elam to Robat-bar are three days journey, where dwell 20,000 Israelites, among whom are many disciples of the wise men, some of them being very rich; but they live under the authority of a strange prince. In two days journey more is the river Vanth, near which dwell 4000 Jews. Four days journey farther is the country of Molhat, full of strong mountains, the inhabitants of which obey an elder who resides in the country of Alchesisin, and they do not believe the doctrine of Mahomet. Among this people there are four colleges of Jews, who go forth to war with the inhabitants, invading the neighbouring countries, and drive away great spoil; for they are not under the dominion of the king of Persia. The Jews in this country are disciples of the wise men, and obey the head of the captivity of Babylon. In five days journey you reach Omaria, where are 25,000 Israelites, and here begin the synagogues of the mountains of Haphton, which exceed one hundred in number, and in this place the country of Media begins. These Jews are of the first captivity, carried away by Salmanazar; but they speak the Chaldean language, and among them are the disciples of the wise men. The chief city is Omaria, and all this country is under the dominion of Persia, to which the inhabitants pay tribute. The tribute for males above fifteen years old, in all the country of the Ismaelites, is one gold amir, or half-a-crown of our money.

About twelve years ago there arose, in the city of Omaria, a man named David Elroi, who was the disciple of Chafdai, the head of the captivity, and of Jacob the chief of the Levites at Bagdat. David was very learned in the law of Moses, and in the books of doctrine, and in all wisdom, even in the languages of the Ismaelites, and in the books of the Magi and the enchanters; and he took it into his head to gather together the Jews who dwelt in the mountains of Haphton, and to make war against the king of Persia, and to go to Jerusalem and win it by assault. For this purpose he endeavoured to draw the Jews to his party by many deceitful signs, affirming that he was sent from God to free them from the yoke of the nations, and to restore them to the holy city; and he succeeded in persuading many that he was the Messiah.[12]

Hearing of this insurrection, the king of Persia sent for David, who went to him without fear, and even avowed himself to be king of the Jews, on which he was thrown into prison in the city of Dabrestan, near the great river Gozan. After this the king held a great council of his princes and ministers, to consult how to put an end to this insurrection of the Jews, and David made his appearance there, unseen of any but the king. The king asked, "Who hath delivered thee from prison and brought thee here?" To whom David answered, "Mine own wisdom, for I fear not thee or any of thy servants." Then the king commanded his servants to seize him; but they said the voice was heard by all, but they saw not David. Then David cried out with a loud voice, "Lo! I go my way." And he walked out, and the king followed him, and all his servants followed the king, but they saw no one. Coming to the bank of the river, David spread his handkerchief on the waters, and he passed over dry, and then he was seen of all who were present; and they endeavoured to pursue him in boats, but all in vain; and every one marvelled, and said that no enchanter could be compared to this man.

David during that day travelled a ten days journey, and, coming to Omaria, related all that had befallen him; and when the people were amazed, he attributed all that had befallen him to his knowledge of the ineffable name of Jehovah.[13] The king sent messengers to inform the caliph of Bagdat of what had happened, requesting that he would get David restrained from his seditious practices, by order from the head of the captivity, and the chief rulers of the assembly of the Jews; otherwise threatening total destruction to all the Jews in his dominions. All the synagogues in Persia, being in great fear, wrote to the head of the captivity, and the assembly of elders at Bagdat, to the same purpose; and they wrote to David, commanding him to desist from his enterprize, under pain of being excommunicated and cut off from among the people of Israel. But all was in vain, for David persisted in his wicked course; till at length Zinaldin, a king of the Togarmim, or Turks, in subjection to the king of Persia, persuaded the father-in-law of David, by a bribe of ten thousand pieces of gold, to kill him privately, and he thrust David through with a sword in his bed, while asleep. Yet was not the anger of the king of Persia pacified towards the Jews of the mountains, until the head of the captivity went and appeased him with mild and wise speeches, and by the gift of an hundred talents of gold; since which time there has been peace and quiet in the land.

From these mountains it is twelve days journey to Hamadan, the chief city of Media, in which there are 50,000 Jews, and near one of their synagogues are the sepulchres of Mordecai and Esther. Dabrestan, near the river Gozan, is four days journey from Hamadan, and 4000 Jews dwell there. From thence it is seven days journey to Ispahan, which is a very great city and the capital of the whole country, being twelve miles in circumference. In this city there are about 12,000 Jews, over whom, and all the rest of our nation who dwell in the kingdom of Persia, Shallum is appointed to rule by the head of the captivity. Four days journey from Ispahan is Siaphaz,[14] the most ancient city of this country, formerly Persidis, whence the whole province is named, in which there are almost 10,000 Jews. From Siaphaz you come, in seven days journey, to the city of Ginah, near the river Gozan, where there are about 8000 Jews, and to this place merchants resort of all nations and languages. Five days journey from Ginah is the famous Samarcand, the farthest city of this kingdom, where there are 50,000 Israelites, many of whom are wise and rich men, and over whom Obedias is ruler. Four days journey from thence is the city of Thibet,[15] the capital of the province of that name, in the forests of which the animals are found that produce musk.

The mountains of Nisbor, which are situated near the river Gozan, are about twenty-eight days journey from Thibet; and some of the Jews in Persia affirm, that the four tribes of Israel, carried away in the first captivity by Salmanazar, still inhabit the cities of Nisbor. Their country extends twenty days journey in length, all full of mountains, and having the river Gozan running on one side, with many inhabited cities, towns, and castles; and the inhabitants are entirely free, being governed by Joseph Amrael, a Levite, and among them are many disciples of the wise men. They sow and reap, and are at war with the children of Chus, who dwell in the deserts.[16] These Jews are in league with the Copheral Turks, a people who dwell in the deserts, and eat no bread, neither do they drink any wine, but feed on the raw or dried flesh of beasts, clean or unclean, devouring them newly killed, while yet trembling with the warm life-blood, and uncooked; yea, even feed on the limbs torn from beasts yet alive. This last people seem to want noses, having only as it were two holes in their faces through which they breathe.[17]

These Copheral Turks invaded Persia about fifteen years ago, about 1145, with a great army, and destroyed the metropolitan city of Rei,[18] and carried off vast spoil into the desert. Enraged at this insult, the king of Persia endeavoured to pursue them with a powerful army, that he might extirpate these destroyers from the earth, and procured a guide who undertook to conduct him to their dwellings, and recommended to him to take bread and water for fifteen days along with the army, as it would occupy that time to pass the deserts. After marching these fifteen days, the army was without subsistence for man and beast, and no signs could be perceived of any habitation of mankind. On being interrogated, the guide pretended to have lost his way, and was put to death as a traitor. After marching for thirteen days more, in prodigious distress, during which they had to eat up all the beasts that carried their baggage, they arrived at the mountains of Nisbor, inhabited by the Jews, and incamped among gardens and orchards, watered by canals drawn from the river Gozan; and being then the season of ripe fruits, they eat what they pleased, no one appearing to oppose them. At a distance among the mountains, they observed some hamlets and forts, and two scouts were sent to discover what manner of people inhabited the mountains. After proceeding a short way, they found a well built bridge, with a strong barrier, and a very large city at the farther end of the bridge. They here learned, by an interpreter, that the city belonged to an independent nation of Jews, who had a prince of their own, and were in alliance with the Copheral Turks.

The scouts returned to the camp with this intelligence, and the Jews, having collected their forces, offered battle on the day following to the Persians. The king declined this, declaring that his only object was against the Copheral Turks, and that if the Jews attacked him he would revenge himself by putting all their brethren in Persia to the sword; but he demanded free passage for his army, and to be supplied with provisions for ready money. Out of regard for their brethren in Persia, the Jews agreed to this proposal, and the Persian army remained fifteen days in the country of the Jews, where they were honourably entertained. In the mean time the Jews sent intelligence of the situation of the Persians to their confederates, and the Turks, gathering their forces, assailed the Persians at certain passes in the  mountains, and gave them a terrible overthrow; so that the king escaped with great difficulty into Persia, with a small remnant of his host. On this occasion, one of the Persian horsemen seduced a Jew, named Moses, to accompany him into Persia, and then made him a slave. On a public exhibition of archery in the king's presence, this man appeared to be the most expert archer in all Persia, and being called before the king, declared how he had been trepanned and made a slave. The king restored him to liberty; clothed him in purple and silken garments, and enriched him with liberal gifts; offering him great riches, and the government of the royal household, if he would embrace the religion of the country; and when he courteously declined this, he was placed by the king with Rabbi Shallum, the prince of the synagogue at Ispahan, whose daughter he afterwards married; and this Moses related to me the whole story I have here related.

Departing from these countries, I returned to Khosistan, through which the Tigris runs into Hodu, the Indian sea, or Persian Gulf, and in its passage encompasses the island of Nekrokis[19] near its mouth, which is six days journey in extent. There is only one canal of fresh water in this island, and they have no other water to drink but what is gathered during rain, and preserved, in cisterns, for which reason the land is not cultivated. Yet it is famous for commerce with India, and the islands of the Indian sea; and merchants from Sennar, Arabia, and Persia, bring thither all sorts of silk and purple manufactures, hemp, cotton, flax, and Indian cloth, with plenty of wheat, barley, millet, and rice. The Indian merchants bring also great quantities of spices, and the natives act as factors and interpreters, by which they make great gains; but in that place there are not above 500 Jews. Sailing thence with a favourable wind, I arrived, in ten days, at Kathipha,[20] where are 5000 Jews.

In these places pearls are found, made by a wonderful artifice of nature; for on the 24th of the month Nisan[21] a certain dew falls into the waters, which being sucked in by the oysters, they sink immediately to the bottom of the sea, and afterwards, about the middle of the month Tisri, men dive to the bottom, and bring up great quantities of the oysters by means of cords, from which they take out the pearls.

In seven days journey from thence I came to Oulam,[22] which is the entrance of the kingdom of these people, who worship the sun, and are prone to astrology, being of the children of Chus. They are men of a dark complexion, sincere and faithful in all their dealings. When any strangers arrive in their haven, their names are all set down by three secretaries, who carry their lists to the king; afterwards they introduce the merchants to him, and he receives all their goods under his protection, causing them to be landed at a place where they may remain in safety, even without a watch. There is a particular magistrate to whom all things that happen to be lost, or casually removed, are brought, and who returns them to the owners, on giving the marks or description of their property; and this strict fidelity and honest dealing is universal over all this kingdom. In this country, from the passover to the beginning of the succeeding year, the sun shines with such insufferable heat, that the people remain shut up in their houses from the third hour of the day until evening; and then lamps are lighted up in all the streets and markets, and the people labour at their respective callings all night. In this country pepper grows on trees, planted in the fields belonging to every city, all the inhabitants having their proper gardens particularly assigned and known. The shrub is small, and produces a white seed or berry, which, after being gathered, is first steeped in hot water, and then dried in the sun, when it becomes black. Cinnamon and ginger are likewise found here, and many other kinds of spices.

In this country the bodies of the dead are embalmed with divers drugs and spices, and set up in niches in regular order, covered over with nets; they there dry up completely without corruption, and every one knows his ancestors for many generations back. They worship the sun, said have many large altars erected along the coast, about half a mile without the city, to pay their devotions. On these altars there are consecrated spheres, made by magic art, resembling the circle of the sun; and when the sun rises, these orbs seem to be inflamed, and whirl round with a great noise.[23] In their orisons, every person carries a censer, in which he burns incense in honour of the sun. But among these people there are about a thousand families of Jews, as black as the rest of the natives, yet good honest men, and strict observers of the law of Moses, and not entirely ignorant of the doctrines of the Talmud.

From this country I sailed, in twenty-two days, to the islands of Cinrog, the inhabitants of which are called Dogbiim, and are worshippers of fire, among whom 23,000 Jews are settled. The Dogbiim have many priests to officiate in their temples, who are the most skilful sorcerers and enchanters in the world. Before every temple there is a large pit, in which a great fire is kindled every day, called Alhuta, through which their children are made to pass as a purification; into it likewise they cast the bodies of their dead, and even some of their nobles occasionally are so superstitious as to devote themselves to be consumed alive in honour of the deity, in which they are encouraged by their relations, as ensuring their eternal welfare. On the day appointed for the performance of this vow, the devoted person first gives an entertainment, and is then carried to the appointed spot; if rich, on horseback, but on foot if poor, accompanied by a multitude of his friends and others, and immediately leaps into the midst of the burning pit, all his friends and kindred celebrating the festival with music and dancing, until he is entirely consumed. Three days afterwards two of the priests go to the house of the devoted person, and command his family to prepare for a visit from the deceased on the same day. The priests then take certain persons along with them, as witness of the transaction, and carry with them, to the house, a figure resembling the deceased, which they affirm to be himself. The widow and children, as instructed by the priests, then demand how it fares with him in the other world: to which he answers, "I came to my companions, who will not receive me until I have discharged my duty to my friends and kindred." He then makes a distribution of his effects among his children, orders all his debts to be paid, and whatever is owing to him to be demanded. The witnesses set down all this in writing, and then he vanishes. By these arts of juggling and collusion, the priests govern every thing as they please.

In the space of forty days, one may travel to the frontiers of Tzin, which is the very extremity of the east. Some hold that this country is washed by the Nikpha, or coagulated sea, which is liable to prodigious storms; by which, when mariners are surprised, they are reduced to such extremity, that, not being able to get out, they are miserably starved to death, after expending all their provisions.[24]

From Cinrog, it is three days journey to Gingala, where there are above a thousand Jews. From thence, in seven days, one may sail to Coulan, where there are none of our nation. It is twelve days journey to Zabid, where there are some Jews; and in eight days more, you get to the opposite coast, where there are very high mountains, inhabited by multitudes of Israelites, who are not under the yoke of the Gentiles, but have great cities and strong fortresses of their own.

They descend from thence in parties into the flat countries of Abyssinia, whence they return with their plunder into the mountains, where they are secure against pursuit. Many of these Jews travel for the purposes of trade into Persia and Egypt.[25]

From thence, it is twenty days journey to Asvan,[26] through the deserts of Saba, on the Phison, which river comes from the country of Chus, in the dominions of Shah-Abasch, or the king of Abyssinia. Part of the inhabitants of this country live like beasts, going entirely naked, and feeding only on the grass and herbs that grow by the river side, and propagate with their sisters and nearest relations, without shame or scruple. When the people of Asvan make expeditions into these parts for the sake of plunder, they constantly take with them bread, rice, raisins, and figs, which they throw among the half-famished negroes, and while they scramble for the provisions, like a parcel of dogs, the Asvanians seize them, and carry them as prisoners into Egypt, where they are sold as slaves. It is twelve days journey from Asvan to Chelvan, in which there are about three hundred Jews. From Chelvan they go, in fifty days journey, through the desert Al Tsachra, or Zara, to Zuila or Havilah, in the land of Gana.[27] In these deserts, there are vast mountains of sand, which, being sometimes carried by the force of violent winds, overwhelm whole caravans. The merchants who escape this perilous journey, bring with them from that country, iron, copper, salt, and all sorts of fruits and pulse, and likewise gold and precious stones. This country is part of the land of Chus, and is to the west of Abyssinia.

It is thirteen days journey from Chelvan to the city of Kous, which is the first in the land of Egypt, and where 30,000 Jews are settled. At the distance of five days journey is Phium, anciently Pithom, in the neighbourhood of which city the ruins of the structures built by our ancestors, during their captivity in Egypt, are still to be seen.[28]

Four days journey from thence is the great city of Misraim,[29] on the banks of the Nile, in which above 2000 Jews are settled. These have two fair synagogues, one of which belongs to the Jews of Palestine and Syria, and the other to those of Babylon; the only difference between which sects is in the way of dividing the law into portions. The Babylonians, every week, read one Parascha, after the manner usual in Spain, so as to go through the whole law once in every year; but the others divide each parascha into three sedarim, or smaller sections, so that they read over the whole law only once in three years. Yet both of these join in their solemn prayers twice every year. Over the whole Nathaniel presides, being head of the Sanhedrim, and ruler of all the synagogues in Egypt, to which he appoints masters and elders. He is likewise minister of the great king, who resides in the palace of Zoan, a city in Egypt, where Ali, the son of Abitaleb, was once commander of the faithful, and whose subjects are considered as rebels by the other Arabs, because they refuse obedience to the Abassidian khaliff of Bagdat.

The royal city is surrounded with walls, but Misraim is entirely open, having the river Nile on one side. This is a very large city, having many large markets and public buildings, and contains many rich Jews. The country is never troubled with rain, ice, or snow, but is often afflicted with insufferable heat. It is watered by the Nile, which begins to swell every year in the month Elul, and continues swelling during that month and Tisri,[30] making the earth fruitful. The old Egyptians erected a fine marble pillar of excellent workmanship in an island at this place, rising twelve cubits above the ordinary surface of the river; and when the water overflows that column, the inhabitants are satisfied that their whole country is overspread for fifteen days journey. If the water rise only half the height of the pillar, they then conclude that only half the country is overflowed. A person is stationed by the pillar, who proclaims the height of the water every day at noon. When the water rises to a sufficient height, it indicates a year of fertility and plenty in Egypt; but when it does not overflow, nothing is sown, and sterility and famine are the consequences. The people of the country have trenches dug in their grounds, in which great numbers of fish are caught when the river recedes, which they either use in their families, or salt them for sale. These fish are very fat, and supply oil for lamps. It is an old question, on which there is great diversity of opinion, as to the cause of the overflow of the Nile; but the Egyptians suppose, that it proceeds from the falling of heavy rains in the land of Habash, which we call Havilah or Abyssinia. The fields are usually sowed in the month of September, as the Nile has then retired into its channel. Barley is reaped in February, and wheat in March; and in that month, grapes, cherries, and almonds are ripe; and encumbers, gourds, pease, beans, and lentils; and various pot-herbs, as purslain, asparagus, lettuce, corianders, succory, coleworts, &c. The gardens and orchards are watered by means of trenches filled from the Nile.

After passing Cairo, this great river divides into four branches, one of which runs by Damietta, sometimes called Caphtor. The second runs near the city of Rosir or Rosetta, not far from Alexandria. The third passes by Asmon, a very large city on the eastern borders of Egypt. Near these great branches, there are many cities, castles, and towns, to which people travel partly by land, and partly by water. No country in the world can be compared to this for the multitude of inhabitants; and the whole land is plain, fruitful, and stored with good things. Old Misraim is two league distant from New Misraim, or Cairo; but the old city is now desolate, having many ruins of walls and houses, and not a few remains of the granaries and storehouses, built by Joseph, are still to be seen. In the same place, there is an artificial pillar, built by art of magic, the like of which is not in all the land. On the outside of the city, there are the remains of an ancient synagogue, which bears the name of our teacher Moses, and to preserve its ruins, an old minister of the disciples of the wise men,[31] is maintained at this place, who is styled Schech Albounetzar, or father of the watch. The ruins of Old Misraim extend about four miles.

The land of Goshen is eight leagues from Old Misraim, and in it is Bolsir-salbis, a great city, in which there are 3000 Jews. From hence you travel, in half a day's journey, to Iskaal-Lein-Al-sames, anciently called Rameses, now in ruins;  where are to be seen  many works of our fathers, and among these certain huge edifices like towers, bulk of bricks. From thence, in one day's journey, you come to Al-Bugg, where are 200 Jews; and in another half days journey, to Manziptha, where there are 200 Jews; Ramira  is four leagues distant, having 700 Jews;  and thence, in five days journey, you come to Lamkhala, where there are 500 Jews. In two days journey more, you arrive at Alexandria, which was  sumptuously built, and strongly fortified, at the command of Alexander the Macedonian. On the outside of the city, there is still to be seen a great and beautiful edifice, which is said to have been the college of Aristotle, the tutor of Alexander, wherein were twenty schools, frequented in former times by the learned men of the whole world, who assembled to learn the philosophy of Aristotle, and this academy was adorned with stately marble porticos.

The city itself is excellently built, and well paved, having many vaults and arches underneath, some of which are a whole mile in length, leading from the gate of Rosetta to the gate leading to the sea. The haven extends a whole mile in length, and at this place, a very high tower was built, called Hemegarah by the inhabitants, and Magar-Iscander by the Arabs, which signifies the Pharos of Alexander. It is reported that Alexander fixed a curious mirror on the top of this tower, by means of which, all warlike ships sailing from Greece, or out of the west into Egypt, might be seen at the distance of five hundred leagues. But a Greek captain, who had great knowledge of the sciences, came thither with his ship, and ingratiated himself in the favour of the king, by presents of gold and silver and rich silks. He likewise took great pains to acquire the friendship of the officer who had charge of the mirror and watch-tower, by frequently entertaining him in his ship, and at length was permitted to go into, and stay in the tower, as often, and as long as he pleased. One day, he gave a magnificent entertainment to the keeper of the tower and his men, and dosed them so plentifully with wine, that they all fell fast asleep; on which he broke the mirror to pieces, and then sailed away in the night. Since then, the Christians have infested the coasts of Egypt with their ships of war, and have taken the two large islands of Crete and Cyprus, which remain at this day under the power of the Greeks. The Pharos is still used as a beacon for the service of ships bound to Alexandria, and can be discerned by day or night, from the distance of an hundred miles, as a vast fire is kept burning there all night for the purpose.

Egypt enjoys a large share of trade, and is frequented by almost all nations; and the port of Alexandria swarms with vessels from every part of Christendom, as from Valencia, Tuscany, Lombardy, Apulia, Malfi, and Sicily. Others come from the most northern parts of Europe, and even from inland places; as from Cracow, Cordova, Spain, Russia, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, England, Flanders, Artois, Normandy,  France,  Poitou, Angiers, Gascony,  Arragon, and Navarre. There come many also from the western empire of the Ishmaelites or Arabs, as from Andalusia, Algarve, Africa, and even Arabia, besides what come by the Indian ocean from Havilah or Abyssinia, and the rest of Ethiopia, not omitting the Greeks and Turks. To this, country likewise are brought the richest merchandizes of the Indies, and all sorts of perfumes and spices, which are bought by the Christian merchants. The city is extremely populous, on account of its extensive commerce; and for the greater conveniency in the carrying on of their dealings, every nation has its separate factory. There is, near the sea side, a marble tomb, on which are engraven the figures of all sorts of birds and beasts, with an inscription in such old characters, that no one can now read them; whence it is believed that it had belonged to some king who governed that country before the deluge. The length of this sepulchre is fifteen spans, and it is six spans broad.[32] To conclude, there are about 3000 Jews in Alexandria.

Leaving Egypt, Benjamin made an expedition from Damietta to Mount Sinai, and returned to Damietta, whence he sailed to Messina in Sicily, and travelled to Palermo. Crossing into Italy, he went by land to Rome and Lucca. He afterwards crossed the Alps, and passed through a great part of Germany, mentioning, in his remarks, the great multitudes of Jews who were settled in the numerous cities of that extensive empire, insisting at large on their wealth, and generosity, and hospitality to their distressed brethren, and gives a particular detail of the manner in which they were received. He informs us, that at the entertainments of the Jews they encourage each other to persist in hoping for the coming of their Messiah, when the tribes of Israel shall be gathered under his command, and conducted back into their own country. Until this long expected event shall arrive, they hold it their duty to persevere in their obedience to the law of Moses, to lament with tears the destruction of Jerusalem and Zion, and to beseech the Almighty to pity them in their affliction, and restore them at his appointed time. He asserts that his countrymen are not only settled in all the provinces and cities of the German empire, but through all the countries of the north, to the very extremities of Russia; and describes that country as so cold in winter that the inhabitants could not stir out of doors. He tells us that France, which the Rabbins call Tzorphat, is full of the disciples of the wise men, who study the law day and night, and are extremely charitable to their distressed brethren; and concludes with an earnest prayer to God, to remember his promise to the children of Israel, to return unto them, and to reassemble them from among all the nations, through which, in his wrath, he has dispersed them.

Towards the end of his travels,[33] Benjamin mentions that Prague in Bohemia is the beginning of Sclavonia. In speaking of the Russian empire, he says it extends from the gates of Prague to the gates of [Hebrew] Phin, a large town at the beginning of the kingdom. In that country the animals called [Hebrew] Wairegres, and [Hebrew] Neblinatz are found. Interpreters disagree about the meaning of these words. But it clearly appears that Phin is no other than Kiow, then the capital of the Russian empire; and we should therefore read [Hebrew:] Chiw: and indeed the interpreters might easily have supposed that the word was wrong written, from its wanting the final nun. Russia has always been famous for its gray foxes or gray squirrels, which, in the Russian language, are called [Hebrew] Waiwerges; in the Hebrew text, therefore, of Benjamin, we should read [Hebrew] Waiwerges, which as nearly resembles the Russian word, as a Spanish Jew could possibly write it. The name of the other animal should be written [Hebrew] Zeblinatz, by which are meant Sables. Jordanis had before this called these skins Sapphilinias pelles.--Forst.

[1] Harris, I. 545. Forster, 91.
[2] So named as descended from Javan: the Jewish writers affecting to employ scripture names for modern countries and nations.--E.
[3] Manuel Comnenes, who reigned from 1143 to 1180.--E.
[4] These names are corrupt orthographies of the Greek titles in the Hebrew. Manuel being an emperor, Benjamin names all his great officers kings.--E.
[5] Psianki may, perhaps, be Poland, and Buria Bavaria.--E.
[6] The Arabs, so called from their supposed ancestor, Ismael.--E.
[7] Perhaps Blachernae.--E.
[8] The Karaites were a sect among the Jews, who confined their observances and religious belief to the precepts of Moses, while the Rabbinists followed all the wild fancies of the Talmud. An excellent account of these sects is to be found in the Lettres Juives, or Jewish Spy, by the Marquis d'Argens.--E.
[9] Perhaps only an exaggerated account of some Jewish independent tribe in Arabia, of which there were once a considerable number, as particularly mentioned in the History of Mahomet.--E.
[10] Probably the Ahwaz, as he seems to have gone from Bassora.--E.
[11] This must be an error in the author, as the Tigris does not come near that city.--E.
[12] This story is told by other Jewish writers, but with some unimportant variations; and there have been many such pretended Messiahs, who persuaded the Jews of the east into revolts, for which consult Basnage, Histoire des Juifs.--Harris.
[13] The whole secret of this miracle may be easily explained. David escaped from prison, and told all the rest of the story to the ignorant and credulous Jews of Omaria, from whom the fable has been handed down to Benjamin and other believing relaters.--E.
[14] Shiraz, about forty miles from which are the ruins of Persepolis.--E.
[15] The distance here is extremely corrupt, and perhaps four months are meant.--E.
[16] The ridiculous impressing of ancient scriptural names for the geographical features of the country, and the nations which inhabited it in his time, and his rambling itinerary, by days journeys, without pointing out the precise direction of the routs, render it next to impossible to investigate the real objects of his observations with any decent chance of success.--E.
[17] This description suits the Calmuks.--E.
[18] Once a great city in the N.W. of Irac-agemi, not far from Cashbin. See Chardin's Travels in Persia, to be found afterwards in this collection.--E.
[19] This island has much puzzled commentators, some of whom have wandered to Ormus in quest of its situation. It is probably the flat country of Assyria, between the Tigris and Euphrates, below Bagdat, which he may have mistaken for an island; or it may refer to the Delta of the Tigris and Ahwas. The extent mentioned in the text does not say whether it is to be understood as the length or circumference of the island.--E.
[20] This must be at or near Bahrein, in the Persian Gulf, famous for its pearl-fishery.--E.
[21] Nisan, the first month of the Jewish year, contains the latter half of our March and former half of April; Tisri is equivalent to half of September and half of October.--E.
[22] From the circumstance of pepper being plenty in this place it is probable that some part of Malabar is meant, where he may have found a colony of Parsees. Astronomy is often called astrology by old writers.--E.
[23] This must have been some secret mechanical contrivance, all wonders unknown to the ignorant being attributed by them to magic art.--E.
[24] Tzin is obviously China. By the Nikpha, or coagulated sea, the sea of Tartar may be intended; concerning which, some ill-told stories may have reached Benjamin, of mariners having been frozen up. The situation of Cinrog it is impossible to ascertain; but it must have been some part of India, where voluntarily burning alive is still practised, but only by the widows of the higher casts.--E.
[25] Benjamin here obviously speaks of the Jews in the mountains of Abyssinia, still known there under the name of Falassa. It would appear, that the previously indicated courses led across the peninsula of Arabia and the Red Sea; but his names of places are unintelligible.--E.
[26] Perhaps Asowan in upper Egypt, which is rendered probable by the journey through the desert.--E.
[27] Harris considered Gana to mean Guinea; but it is probably Nigritia, or the inland country of Africa, on the Niger or Joliba.--E.
[28] Perhaps Memphis, as he evidently alludes to the pyramids.--E.
[29] Kahira, or Cairo, called also Messir.--E.
[30] Elul contains from the middle of August to the middle of September and Tisri from that to the middle of October. But the Nile begins to rise in the middle of June, and returns to its usual level in October.--E.
[31] Of the Rabbinists or Talmudists.--E.
[32] This may possibly have been the Sarcophagus brought lately from Alexandria, and deposited in the British museum, under the strange idea of having been the tomb of Alexander. Benjamin seems to have known nothing about the hieroglyphics, with which his tomb was obviously covered.--E.
[33] This short commentary upon three words in that part of the travels of Benjamin, which has been omitted in Harris, is extracted from Forster, Hist of Voy. and Disc. in the North, p. 92, and shews the extreme difficulty of any attempt to give an accurate edition of the whole work, if that should be thought of, as it would require critical skill not only in Hebrew, but in the languages of the different countries to which the travels refer.--E.


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