Ibn Fadlan: Begravelser

Dette indlæg falder uden for bloggens generelle temaer, dog med den undtagelse, at jeg på det seneste i min snak om Fading Suns-kampagnen og i min snak om monstre i Fimbulfrost har været godt inde på forskellige historiske emner. Dette indlæg har desuden ligget blandt mine kladder det sidste 1½ år, så nu må det altså udgives.

For længe siden havde jeg en snak med lærde fagfæller om en særlig tekst om en muslimsk opdagelsesrejsende, Ahmad ibn Fadlan, der undervejs på sin færd i 900-tallet ser en vikingebegravelse på Volgafloden, som han beskriver detaljeret. Det er den bedste beskrivelse, vi har af, hvorledes nordboere foretog deres begravelser, og den citeres i et væk i tekster om nordisk middelalder og vikingetid. Lyder det bekendt, er det muligvis, fordi du har set Den 13. kriger, hvis hovedperson er Ibn Fadlan, der i filmen efterfølgende rejser en tur ind i Beowulf-historien.

Der er naturligvis en række helt almindelige metodiske problemer ved teksten – tekstens forfatter er udenforstående, og han kan ikke nordboernes sprog, manuskriptoverleveringen er uklar og oversættelsen til moderne dansk eller engelsk er muligvis ikke for pålidelig, og han ser naturligvis begravelsen ud fra sin egen kultur og verdensforståelse, og han har sikkert haft en agenda dermed osv. osv. Vi kan opremse alskens forbehold over for teksten, men der er særligt et problem, jeg har haft med teksten, og det begravelsens tilstedeværelse i rejseskildringen. Det er heldigt, at han på sin færd  netop er på rette sted til at overvære en sådan begravelse. Hvad er chancerne for at overvære en fyrstebegravelse? Hvad er chancerne for, at han overværer mere end en?

(følgende citater er hentet fra Richard Frye: Ibn Fadlan’s Journet to Russia. Princeton 2006, hvor også sidetallene refererer)

Ibn Fadlan om tyrkerne

He [Ibn Fadlan] says: If any [of the Turks] becomes sick and has female and male slaves, these look after him and no one of his family comes near him. They pitch a tent for him apart from the houses, and he does not depart from it until he dies or gets well. If, however, he is a slave or poor man, they leave him in the desert and go on their way.

When one of ther [prominent] men dies, they dig for him a large pit in the form of a house, and they go to him, dress him in a robe with his belt and bow, put a drinking cup of wood in his hand with a intoxicating drink in it, and place in front of him a wooden vessel of mead. They come with his entire possessions and put them with him in this house. Then they set him down in it. They then build a structure over him and make a kind of cupola out of mud. Then they go at his horses, and in accordance with their number they slaughter one to two hundred at the grave down to the last one. Then they eat their flesh down to the head, the hooves, the hide, and the tail, for they hang these upon wooden poles and say: “These are his steeds on which he rides to paradise.” If he has killed any one and has been a hero, then they carve statues out of wood in the number of those he has slain, place them on his grave and say: “These are his pages that serve him in paradise.” Sometimes they delay slaughtering the animals for a day or two, and then an old man from among their great ones stirs them up and says: I have seen N.N., that is, the dead man, in my sleep and he said to me: ‘Here thou seest me. My comrades have overtaken me and my feet were to weak to follow them. I cannot overtake them and so have remained alone.'” In this case the people go at his steeds, kill them, hang them up on his grave. After a day or two the same elder comes to them and says: “I have seen N.N. [in a dream] and he said, ‘Inform my family and my comrades that I have overtaken those who have gone before me, and I have recovered from my toil.'”


Ibn Fadlan om Saqaliba [Volga bulgarer(?)]

I did not see among them a man with a ruddy complexion; rather most of them were ailing. It is often the case that most of die from colic, so that it afflicts even the nursing infant among them. When a Muslim dies in their country, or when the husband of a woman from Khwarazm dies, they wash him in the manner of Muslims. Then they place hom on a cart, which carries him along, while a standard goes in front of him, until they take him to the place in which they bury him. When his body reaches the [burial] place, they remove him fron the cart and place him on the ground. They then dig his grave within the aforemented line, which they make his resting place, wherein he is buried. That is what they do with the dead.

The women do not cry over the dead man, rather it is the men among them who weep over him. They come on the day in which he dies and stand at the door of his tent. They then give vent to the most disgusting and uncanny wailing. These are the freeborn men. When their crying is done, slaves arrive carrying braided strands of leather. They do not cease to cry and to beat their sides and the uncovered parts of their bodies with those things until there appears on their bodies something similar to welts caused by whip strokes. They inevitably raise a standard at the door of the dead man’s tent. They bring his weapons and place them around his grave. They do not stop crying for two years. When two years have passed, they haul down the standard and cut their hair. The relatives of the dead man issue an invitation to a meal, which is a sign indicating that they are coming out of mourning, and if he happens to have had a wife, she remarries. This is so if he happens to be one of their chiefs. As regards the common people, they perform only some of these rites for their dead.


Sammenlign med denne passage fra Jordanes’ Getica (49:255)

Then, as is the custom of that race, they plucked out the hair of their heads and made their faces hideous with deep wounds, that the renowned warrior might be mourned, not by effeminate wailings and tears, but by the blood of men.

Ibn Fadlan om Rus

If one of them falls ill, they erect a tent for him at a distance from themselves, and leave him there. They put beside him a little bread and water, do not approach him, and do not speak to him. Indeed what us still more, they do not visit him at all during all day of his illness, especially if he is weak of if he is a slave. When he has recovered and gets up, he comes back to them. If, however, he dies, they cremate him. If he is a slave they let him be, and then the dogs and carrion fowl devour him.

If they catch a thief or a robber, they lead him to a thick tree, throw a trusty rope around his neck and hang him to the tree, and he remains hanging until with the wind and the rain he falls to pieces.

They told me that they carry out many ceremonies when their chiefs die, the least where of is the cremation, and it interested me to find out more about it. Finally the news was brought to me that a prominent man among them had died. […]


Thereupon an old woman came, whom they call the angel of death, and spread the draperies mentioned over the couch. She had held the oversight over the sewing of the garments of the deceased and their completion. This old woman kills the girl. I saw that she was an old giantess, fat and grim to behold.


On Friday in the afternoon they brought the maiden [slavepigen, der siden henrettes] to a structure, which they had erected like a doorframe. She put both her feet on the palms of the men, and was lifted up onto this doorframe, and said her piece. Then they let her down again. Thereupon they put her up a second time. She repeated what she had done the first time, and they let her down, and let her go up a third time. Again she did as she had done in the first of two occasions. Then they gave her a hen. She cut off its head and cast it away. They took the hen and laid it in the boat. Thereupon I asked the interpreter what her actions meant. He said: “When they raised her up the first time, she said: ‘Behold, I see my father and mother’; the second time she said: ‘There I see all my deceased relatives sitting’; the third time she said: ‘There I behold my lord sitting in paradise, and paradise is fair and green, and around him are men and servants. He calls me; bring me to him.’ ”


Etc. etc. – dette er den klassiske tekst, som alle gengiver, men uden resten af rejseskildringen.

I passagen med den gamle kvinde, “dødens engel”, og den unge slavinde, der skuer ind i dødens rige, er der nogle interessante tematiske ligheder med tyrkernes begravelse (ovenfor), hvor en gammel mand gennem drømme har set afdøde og modtaget dennes besked, og rus’ernes.

Ibn Fadlan om Kharzarer

It is a custom that when the great king dies a large house is built for him, in which are excavated rooms, in each of which a sepulcher is dug. And stone is carved such that it is shaped like firmament, and placed in the [house], and stones are crushed until they become like powder and spread on it [the floor?]. Below the building is a large river flowing, and they channel the river over that tomb so, as they say, that the devil cannot reach it, nor any person, nor any worms or serpents. When he is buried the company that buried him are beheaded, so it is not known where his grave is in those rooms. They call his grave heaven, and they say, verily has he entered heaven. And each of the rooms is covered with brocade with gold weave.


Begravet under en flod

Hvis denne sidste begravelse fra khazarerne synes bekendt, så er det, fordi den minder meget om denne:

Alaric, having penetrated the city, marched southwards into Calabria. He desired to invade Africa, which, thanks to its grain, had become the key to holding Italy. But a storm battered his ships into pieces and many of his soldiers drowned. Alaric died soon after in Cosenza, probably of fever, at the age of about forty (assuming again, a birth around 370 AD), and his body was, according to legend, buried under the riverbed of the Busento. The stream was temporarily turned aside from its course while the grave was dug wherein the Gothic chief and some of his most precious spoils were interred. When the work was finished, the river was turned back into its usual channel and the captives by whose hands the labor had been accomplished were put to death that none might learn their secret.

(Wikipedia om Alarics begravelse)

Kilden til begravelsen skal sandsynligvis findes i Getica (30:158)

His people mourned for him with the utmost affection. Then turning from its course the river Busentus near the city of Consentia — for this stream flows with its wholesome waters from the foot of a mountain near that city — they led a band of captives into the midst of its bed to dig out a place for his grave. In the depths of this pit they buried Alaric, together with many treasures, and then turned the waters back into their channel. And that none might ever know the place, they put to death all the diggers. They bestowed the kingdom of the Visigoths on Athavulf his kinsman, a man of imposing beauty and great spirit; for though not tall of stature, he was distinguished for beauty of face and form.

Men ikke kun gotere begraves således. Det gælder også for hunnerne. Her er Attilas begravelse:

Then they celebrated a strava (lamentation) over his burial place with great feasting. Legend says that he was laid to rest in a triple coffin made of gold, silver, and iron, along with some of the spoils of his conquests. His men diverted a section of the river, buried the coffin under the riverbed, and then were killed to keep the exact location a secret.

(Wikipedia om Attila og hans død)

Imidlertid kan jeg ikke finde kilden til historien om begravelsen af Attila skjult under en flod, som andre steder identificeres som Tisza. I Jordanes beskrives gravens placering kun som hemmelig – og jeg er derfor fristet af muligheden af, at man senere har smeltet Geticas omtale af Alarics og Attilas begravelser sammen, således at Attila også er begravet under en flod:

When they had mourned him with such lamentations, a strava, as they call it, was celebrated over his tomb with great revelling. They gave way in turn to the extremes of feeling and displayed funeral grief alternating with joy. Then in the secrecy of night they buried his body in the earth. They bound his coffins, the first with gold, the second with silver and the third with the strength of iron, showing by such means that these three things suited the mightiest of kings; iron because he subdued the nations, gold and silver because he received the honors of both empires. They also added the arms of foemen won in the fight, trappings of rare worth, sparkling with various gems, and ornaments of all sorts whereby princely state is maintained. And that so great riches might be kept from human curiosity, they slew those appointed to the work — a dreadful pay for their labor; and thus sudden death was the lot of those who buried him as well as of him who was buried.

(Jordanes: Getica, 49: 258)

Samme tradition gentager sig i beskrivelsen af Gengis Khans død:

[…] According to legend, the funeral escort killed anyone and anything across their path to conceal where he was finally buried. […]

[…] Folklore says that a river was diverted over his grave to make it impossible to find (the same manner of burial as the Sumerian King Gilgamesh of Uruk and Atilla the Hun). Other tales state that his grave was stampeded over by many horses, and that trees were then planted over the site, and the permafrost also did its part in hiding the burial site. […]

(Wikipedia om Genghis Khan og hans begravelse)


For den, der gerne vil studere vikingers kultur, og derfor inddrager Ibn Fadlans beskrivelse af Rus’ begravelsesskik, er der et bonusproblem, nemlig at der ikke er en men adskillelige (fyrste)begravelser i rejseskildringen, og mindst en af den trækker materiale med ind, som ellers kun synes at optræde i legendariske sammenhænge (at man divergerer en flod, begraver fyrsten, leder floden tilbage og myrder vidnerne – gad vide, om den er at finde andre steder end ovennævnte?). Det tyder på, at Ibn Fadlan opstiller sine etnografiske skildringer, så de kan sammenlignes, og der er således en intern struktur i rejseskildringen, som former dens beskrivelser, hvilket er et metodisk problem, der bør inddrages i analysen af begravelsen ved Volgafloden: I hvilket omfang er begravelsesskildringen påvirket af, at der er tre andre begravelsesskildringer i teksten?

Offentliggjort af Morten Greis

Historiker, etnolog, brygger, fægter, rollespiller, science fiction entusiast History and Ethnology, brewer and fencer, roleplayer and science fiction enthusiast

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