Ibn Wahab was an Arab merchant from Basra (Iraq) who sailed to China via the Indian Ocean around 872 CE. His travel account includes a description of his interview with the Chinese emperor. Wahab's visit at the height of the T'ang dynasty (618-907 CE), with its flourishing trade and efficient civil service, provides a first-hand account of China when its influence extended throughout all of Eurasia.
Fitzgerald, C.P. China: A Short Cultural History (London: Cresse Press, 1930), pp. 339-340.
Agatharcides of Cnidus
The societies and trade networks that flourished along the Red Sea (or “Erythraean Sea” as the Greeks called it) in antiquity were well documented by writers of many different cultures. Gold was one of the most sought after trade items. In the second century BCE, a Greek historian named Agatharchides of Cnidus vividly described the dangerous circumstances under which gold was mined in Nubia.
Agatharchides of Cnidus, “The Gold Mines of Lower Nubia,” from Ancient African Civilizations: Kush and Axum, Stanley Burstein, ed. (New Jersey: Markus Wiener Publishers, 1997); pp. 49-52.
Tang Taizong (d. 649), a founder of the Tang dynasty, was determined to create an empire that expanded upon the consolidation achieved under the Sui dynasty. The result was a large empire of people diverse in language, religion, and culture; it was also economically diverse: the south was more productive and more prosperous than the north. Taizong recognized that these were all challenges to his dynasty, and that the Sui had faced similar problems and failed. Determined to be more effective, Taizong identifies what he sees as the weaknesses of the Sui and how he planned to prevent those some weaknesses from hampering his dynasty.
Translated by J. Dun Li, 1925
With the possible exception of the Qur’an itself, no other work of Arab–Muslim culture is as widely known in the west as is the Arabian Nights. The story presented here, “The Story of Ali Cogia, a Merchant of Bagdad,” is included to represent the culture of the Arab Muslim world before 1000 CE. This era is one of the golden ages of the Arab Islamic zone, a time when a sophisticated, vibrant, and cohesive culture permeated much of the Muslim world, the dar al-Islam. Within a hundred years of the death of Muhammad in 632 CE, the region from Persia across North Africa to Spain was under the control of Muslim rulers. Most of the former Persian and Byzantine empires were Islamic in faith and governance, and Islamic thinkers absorbed the Persian and Greek intellectual and cultural legacies. Its dynamic economy included some of the richest and most productive portions of the Persian and Mediterranean worlds, and the Islamic world enjoyed high levels of both urbanization and literacy. The region was far in advance of Western Europe. Caliph Harun al-Rashid, who figures prominently in many of the stories in the Arabian Nights and who is famous for a magnificent and enlightened reign in the late 700s and early 800s, is emblematic of the brilliant, culturally synthetic intellectual life of medieval Islam.
The history of the text of the Arabian Nights is a long, complex story in itself. By 1000 CE a version of the Arabian Nights existed, though we do not know what its exact contents were. The current version consists of stories that were versions of older, pre-Islamic tales and some that were added after the year 1000 and even from other collections. As a result, it has been called a “book without authors,” and we cannot assert with any certainty either the individual author or in many cases even the origin of many stories in the Arabian Nights.
Arabian Nights’ Entertainment, ed. Robert L. Mack. Oxford University Press (1995): 787–96. Copyright © 1995 Oxford University Press, Inc.