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Chapter 1 - Scholars en Route
One made the journey from North Africa to Amsterdam by ship. From the Middle East it was possible to travel by land by way of Ukraine and Poland or the Balkan countries, but war and bands of thieving mercenaries made the land route dangerous. It was also possible to cross the Mediterranean Sea by ship, but that itinerary was exposed to pirates and buccaneers. Many travellers, including Muslims, ended up as galley slaves.
Pieter J.C. van Dijk, model of a chebec
For centuries, the chebec was the predominant type of ship in the Mediterranean Sea, used by both European and Ottoman ship-owners and pirates. With an average size of 35 x 7 metres, it held 120 oarsmen and 200 passengers.
Franciscus Raphelengius, Lexicon Arabicum, Leiden 1613
A relatively small dictionary, useful for those travelling to the Middle East and North Africa. Previous Arabic dictionaries used the Hebrew alphabetic order. This one, however, follows the present-day arrangement of letters. The notes are by Dionysius Vossius (1612–1633), son of the better-known Gerard Vossius (1577–1649).
University Libraries, Amsterdam
God willing, I will come
Letter by Niqulaus ibn Butrus to his father, Leiden, 7 July 1646
On account of the Thirty Years’ War, the overland route to the Middle East was dangerous. The journey by sea was quicker and cheaper, but exposed the traveller to other dangers. John Rylands Library, University of Manchester [Persian ms 913, 112]
Father, you do not know what is happening in the world with the wars between Christians, one against the other. Ask some of the merchants, who will tell you about the present situation. A foreigner cannot travel between countries with different languages and dialects if he does not carry an authenticated document of certification and attestation, and [even] if he possesses the document of certification, when war has broken out between the nations, it is no help, because the soldiers do not know or do not look at it, but speak roughly […] All these wars are caused by differences of religion. They all say: ‘I have the Truth’. […] God willing, I will come to you this summer, without fail, because we have heard that the Venetians have made peace with the Turks, and if that is so, travel by sea will be possible, which costs less, but is still a great hazard.
Translation: Hilary Kilpatrick and Gerald J. Toomer, 'Niqulawus al-Halabi (c.1611-c.1661): a Greek Orthodox Syrian copyist and his letters to Pococke and Golius', Lias. Journal of Early Modern Intellectual Culture and Its Sources, vol. 43 no. 1, 2016.
Privateering and kidnapping
‘Zee en Landt Reyse van Jan Soomer na de Levante’ [Jan Soomer’s journey by sea and land to the Levant], in Oost en Westindische Voyagien [East and West Indies Voyages], Amsterdam 1649
One evening during his journey to the Holy Land in 1590, when the ship lay at anchor off Cyprus, Soomer heard ‘a great commotion of hacking with naked cutlasses on the ship […] when I came outside, there were two Turks with naked sabres […]’ The passengers and crew were forced to row another ship to Alexandria, where some were sold as slaves.
University Libraries, Amsterdam.