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The famous Moroccan traveller Muḥammad b. Baṭṭūṭa, who left Tangier in 1325, claims to have made a journey that took him across most of the then Islamicate world. The country in which he recounts having stayed the longest was India, where he says he remained from 1333 to 1341/1342, mostly in the Islamic Sultanate of Delhi. A long section of his Riḥla is dedicated to the sub-continent and modern historians of this region ascribe to it an important documentary value, although it has been argued that Ibn Baṭṭūṭa may have borrowed – not to imply copied – information from other sources in other parts of the work. As concerns India, Ibn Baṭṭūṭa speaks of two epidemics and one deadly disease that occurred in 1334–5 and 1344. Some scholars have referred to them as cholera, while others have suggested it was the plague – thus supporting the hypothesis that the medieval plague pandemic had struck India before reaching the Middle East. How did this confusion arise? What exactly does Ibn Baṭṭūṭa's Riḥla relate? Do Indo-Persian sources confirm these epidemics? Do they and/or Ibn Baṭṭūṭa's Riḥla allow us to discount the presence of the Medieval Plague in India, or rather do they assert it?
In order to answer these questions, this paper analyses the information on the Indian epidemics in Ibn Baṭṭūṭa's Riḥla and compares the text with its translations in the principal European languages and with Indo-Persian chronicles. These analyses reveal something of a lexical muddle which, in my opinion, has contributed to some errors and misunderstandings regarding the diseases in question. But another question arises: is it possible to read the information provided by Ibn Baṭṭūṭa and the Indian chronicles in a consilient way, that is, taking into account not only the analysis of written documents, but also the recent and current findings in genetics of plague, and in particular on the Black Death? Finally, an attempt is made to answer a question that has to be asked, particularly in light of the criticism often levelled at Ibn Baṭṭūṭa. Considering that in one of these events he claims to have witnessed the epidemic, is there any reason to suppose that he did not? Regarding the other two events that he did not claim to witness firsthand, is there any cause to doubt his claims?
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