The first printed eyewitness account of any place in today's UAE: an excellent, entirely complete copy with fine provenance

(Varthema, Lodovico di. The Navigation and v[o]yages of Lewes Vertomannus, Gentelman of the citie of Rome, to the regions of Arabia, Egypte, Persia, Syria, Ethiopia, and East India, both within and without the ryver of Ganges, etc. In the yeere of our Lorde 1503. Conteynyng many notable and straunge thinges, both hystoricall and naturall. Translated out of Latine into Engylshe, by Richarde Eden).

London, Richard Jugge, 1577.

4to. (10), 466, (6) ff. With historiated woodcut initials. Splendid modern full navy blue morocco, bands on spine with title showing faded gilt, covers double-ruled gilt.


The first English edition of Ludovico di Varthema's famous travels to Arabia, Persia, and India: the highly important and adventurous narrative containing the first printed eyewitness account of any place in today's United Arab Emirates. On his return journey from Mecca (which he was the first Westerner to describe), Varthema visited Ras al-Khaimah ("Giulfar") and portrayed the city as "most excellent and abounding in everything", with "a good seaport", and whose inhabitants are "all Muslims". While Montalboddo's famous anthology of discoveries, printed in 1507, contained the first printed reference to the Arabian Gulf region, it was Varthema's work, published only three years later, that offered the first actual report from the region by a Western traveller who had visited the coast. All early editions of Varthema’s "Itinerario" are exceedingly rare (even the 2013 Hajj exhibition at the MIA, Doha, only featured the 1654 reprint; cf. below).

Varthema, a gentleman adventurer and soldier from Bologna, left Venice at the end of 1502. In 1503 he reached Alexandria and ascended the Nile to Cairo, continuing to Beirut, Tripoli, Aleppo and Damascus, where, adopting Islam and taking the name of Yunas, he joined a Mameluke escort of a Hajj caravan and began the pilgrimage to Mecca. Varthema was amazed by what he observed: "Truly I never saw so many people collected in one spot as during the twenty days I remained there", he begins, and arriving at the Great Mosque, continues, "it would not be possible to describe the sweetness and the fragrances which are smelt within this temple." Thanks to his knowledge of Arabic and Islam, Varthema was able to appreciate the local culture of the places he visited. Impressed and fascinated, he describes not only rites and rituals, but also social, geographical, and day-to-day details. "I determined, personally, and with my own eyes", he declares in the prefatory dedication, "to ascertain the situation of places, the qualities of peoples [...] of Egypt, Syria, Arabia Deserta and Felix, Persia, India, and Ethiopia, remembering well that the testimony of one eye-witness is worth more than ten hear-says." His good fortune did not continue unabated, however: after embarking at Jeddah and sailing to Aden, he was denounced as a Christian spy and imprisoned. He secured his release and proceeded on an extensive tour of southwest Arabia. Stopping in Sanaa and Zebid as well as a number of smaller cities, he describes the people, the markets and trade, the kind of fruits and animals that are plentiful in the vicinity, and any historical or cultural information deemed noteworthy. Returning to Aden, and after a brief stop in Ethiopia, he set sail for India. In addition to visiting Persia, Varthema explored the coasts of Malabar and Coromandel, including a stay at Calicut at the beginning of 1505. He also purports to have made extensive travels around the Malay peninsula and the Moluccas. Returning to Calicut in August 1505, he took employment with the Portuguese at Cochin and, in 1508, made his way back to Europe via the Cape of Good Hope.

First published in 1510, Varthema's account became an immediate bestseller. In addition to his fascinating account of Egypt, Syria, the Arabian Peninsula, and the holy Muslim cities, "Varthema brought into European literature an appreciation of the areas east of India [...] which it had previously not received from the sea-travelers and which confirmed by firsthand observations many of the statements made earlier by Marco Polo and the writers of antiquity" (Lach, I. i. 166). "Varthema was a real traveller. His reports on the social and political conditions of the various lands he visited are reliable as being gathered from personal contact with places and peoples. His account of the overland trade is of great value in that we are made to see it before it had begun to give way to the all-seas route. He even heard of a southern continent and of a region of intense cold and very short days, being the first European probably after Marco Polo to bring back the rumor of Terra Australis" (Cox I, 260).

Published as an extensive part of "The History of Travayle in the West and East Indies" - one of the first English versions of the significant collection edited by Pietro Martire d'Anghiera (Peter Martyr, 1457-1526). The first independently published English translation would not appear until 1863: Varthema's travelogue was included for the first time in the present translated edition of Martyr's "History". The translation, with some omissions, is that of Decades I-III of "De Orbe Novo" by Martyr, with additions from other sources, edited by Richard Eden and Richard Willes. Willes was a member of the Jesuits from 1565 to 1572 and was familiar with Maffei, the Jesuit chronicler whose account he drew on for this work. Under the benefaction of the Earl of Bedford, Willes expanded Eden's translation to include, apart from Varthema's travels, four Decades and an abridgement of Decades V-VIII; Frobisher's voyage for a Northwest Passage, Sebastian Cabot's voyages to the Arctic for the Moscovy Company, Cortez's conquest of Mexico, Pereira's description of China, 1565, Acosta and Maffei's notices of Japan, 1573, and the first two English voyages to West Africa. Also, this is the first account in English of Magellan's circumnavigation, as well as the first printed work to advocate a British colony in North America.

Sympathetically washed but not pressed; some minor repairs to title not affecting printed surface. Some remaining toning and staining in small areas of a few leaves. Generally a wide-margined and appealing copy.

Provenance: acquired from Quaritch in 1975 by Gregory S. Javitch (1898-1980), a Russian-born, Canadian leader in the land reclamation sector in Ontario. Javitch formed an important collection of 2,500 items entitled "Peoples of the New World", encompassing both North and South America, which was acquired by the Bruce Peel Special Collections at the University of Alberta. It was considered the finest such private collection in Canada at the time and formed the cornerstone of the library’s Special collections. The present volume remained in Javitch's private collection was acquired directly from his heirs.


Howgego M65. Brunet I, 294. OCLC 5296745. LCCN 02-7743. Alden, European Americana 577/2. Church 119. Streeter Sale 24. Arents 23. Borba de Moraes, p. 33. Hill 533. BM-STC 649. Sabin 1562. Cordier, Japonica 71. Field 485. Cf. exhibition cat. “Hajj - The Journey Through Art” (Doha, 2013), p. 90 (1655 Dutch ed. only). Macro, Bibliography of the Arabian Peninsula, 2239f. (other editions only). Not in the Atabey or Blackmer collections.