Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Inside of a building with graceful arches - Ibn Khaldun may have seen it

Palace of the Hafsids in Tunis (now the Bardo Museum) – where the economist Ibn Khaldun spent time

Ibn Khaldun’s childhood

The economist Ibn Khaldun was born in Tunis, in North Africa, in 1332 AD, not long after the birth of Ibn Battuta. Like Ibn Battuta, Ibn Khaldun was from a rich Muslim family. Ibn Khaldun’s family was originally from Spain, but like many others they had fled the Christian conquest of Spain and moved to Tunis a short while before Ibn Khaldun was born.

Hafsid Kingdom in Tunis
Christian conquest of Spain
All our Islamic Empire articles

In Tunis, Ibn Khaldun went to the best schools. He memorized the entire Quran and studied the works of ibn Rushd (Averroes), al Ghazali, and ibn Sina (Avicenna).

Who was ibn Rushd?
And al Ghazali?
The work of ibn Sina
Who was Aristotle?
Plato the philosopher

He knew the works of Aristotle and Plato, too. But in 1348, when Ibn Khaldun was only 17, both of his parents and some of his teachers died in the Black Death.

What’s the Black Death?

Ibn Khaldun’s travels

As an adult, Ibn Khaldun had many adventures and traveled all over the place. Like ibn Battuta, he made the hajj to Mecca. He also visited Morocco and Spain. Ibn Khaldun lived in Egypt for a long time, where he lost his wife and children in a shipwreck. As a representative of the Egyptian army, Ibn Khaldun met the invader Timur, and got to know all about the Mongols.

What is the hajj?
Mamluks in Egypt
Who was Timur?

History of the World

When Ibn Khaldun was middle-aged, about 1375-1400 AD, he put together all this knowledge to write a History of the World. Ibn Khaldun was the first historian to introduce the ideas of scientific method to history and economics. He used this method to explain the differences in world-view between nomads and farmers.

What is scientific method?
Nomads and farmers

He also pointed out that empires like the Roman Empire or the Abbasid Empire rise and fall in a cycle. Ibn Khaldun also was the first historian to describe business cycles where the growth of the economy feeds more growth.

What are empires?

Scholars living in the Ottoman Empire were very much interested in Ibn Khaldun’s ideas about the rise and fall of empires. They hoped to find practical messages for the Ottoman rulers. Ibn Khaldun’s work was not well known in Europe until the 1800s. But then it became important to the development of modern sociology and historical thinking.

Karl Marx
Ibn Battuta

Bibliography and further reading about the economist Ibn Khaldun:

Ibn Battuta
African languages and literature
Islamic literature
Ancient Africa home