CULTURE AND CIVILIZATION OF THE UMAYYADS 
PRINCE KHALID IBN YAZID
this essay we shall discuss the culture and the translation
activities in the Umayyad period. Orientalists adopted the thesis
that Arabic science started only with the translation movement that
took place with the reign of the Abbasid Caliph al-Ma'mun in the
ninth century CE. Therefore some historians in the West considered
the work of Khalid ibn Yazid as legendary or fabricated. This
essay sheds new light on the civilization and culture of the
Umayyads and on the historic personality of Prince Khalid ibn Yazid.
THE EMERGENCE OF UMAYYAD SCHOLARSHIP
Umayyad Arab-Islamic Empire
Islamic science arose in South-West Asia and Egypt. According to
Toynbee, this area remained the heart of the whole world, the Oikoumene,
for about four thousand years before Islam. With the rise of Islam,
and under the Umayyad and the Abbasid caliphates, the area
consolidated its position and remained the heart of the civilized
world. With the conquest of Iraq, Iran, Syria and Egypt, the Islamic
empire inherited the Sassanian and the Byzantine Empires and with
them all the ancient civilizations.
Prophet started the message of Islam in Mecca and Medina, and the
call for Islam triumphed during his lifetime in Arabia. Abu Bakr was
elected as the first caliph in 11/632. `Umar succeeded him from
13/634 until 23/644. Within a few years during Abu Bakr's and `Umar's
caliphates, the Muslim Arabs conquered Syria, Iraq, Iran and Egypt.
During Abu Bakr's time the Arabs defeated the Byzantines at the
battle of Ajnadin in Palestine in 13/634. In 13/635, Damascus opened
its gates for the victorious Arab army. The decisive victory over
the Byzantines in Syria was achieved at the battle of al-Yarmuk in
15/636. Jerusalem surrendered in 17/638 and Caesarea in Palestine,
the last fortified post, fell in 19/640.
Iraq the Arab conquest was progressing in a parallel path. The major
victory of the Arabs over the Persians took place at al-Qadisiyya in
16/637. The Arabs took over the capital al-Mada'in (Ctesiphon) and
drove the Persian army outside the frontiers of Iraq. The fate of
Persia was decided at the battle of Nahawand in 21/642 after which
all Persian lands surrendered.
soon as Syria came under Arab rule, the Arab armies were directed to
Egypt. The main Byzantine army was defeated at Heliopolis in 20/640.
The conquest of Egypt was achieved without much difficulty.
Alexandria, the capital, surrendered in 22/642.
conquest of Syria, Egypt, Iraq and the Persian territories was
achieved during 'Umar's caliphate and he can thus be considered the
real founder of the Arab-Islamic Empire.
the rise of the Umayyad caliphate the Arab-Islamic conquests entered
their second phase. Within twenty years between 73/692 and 94/712
the Umayyads added North Africa, Spain, Sind and Transoxania to the
Arab-Islamic Empire. They, in effect, doubled the size of the
Empire, and before the end of their period a major portion of the
world, as known then, became part of the Arab-Islamic caliphate.
Historians tried to give various reasons for this spectacular
victory which was achieved by the Arab armies. Among these are the
exhausting and weakening effects of the wars between the Sassanian
and the Byzantine empires. But
whatever military or economic factors are cited, the main factor
indeed was Islam itself and the deep faith and zeal of its followers
to spread its message to the world at large. This desire to carry
the message of Islam created an international empire and resulted in
confirming Islam as an international religion, and in ultimately
creating an international culture which had a deep influence on the
course of human civilization.
Pre-Islamic roots of civilization
first phase of the conquests united the lands of the ancient
civilizations, the valleys of the Nile, Tigris and Euphrates along
with the other countries in the area. Here the first civilizations
in history arose and developed, and in this same area Islamic
civilization arose, flourished and reached its Golden Age. In the
new Arab-Islamic Empire the various elements of the Syriac,
Hellenistic and Persian civilizations were blended together and
formed a fertile compost out of which Islamic civilization grew and
blossomed. The old fire was not yet extinguished in its original
hearth when the Arabs conquered South-West Asia and Egypt; and with
the rise of the Arab-Islamic Empire the fire started to kindle again
with vigour at the hands of the Arabs, the new Muslim converts and
the Arabized population of the region .
is not accidental that Islamic science arose and flourished in Iraq,
Persia, Syria and Egypt. The first beginnings of science and
technology in history took place in this area and from thence were
diffused east and west. The Sumero-Akkadian civilization is
estimated to have started about the fifth millennium BCE, and the
Egyptian in the fourth.
irrigation systems in Mesopotamia and in the Nile Valley were the
mainstay of all pre-Islamic civilizations; and the industrial and
technical skills in the cities in such products as textiles,
leather, glass, metalworking items and armaments were unmatched.
Here the trades and crafts were developed and were handed over from
one generation to the other, and so the inherent skills were deeply
rooted in the urban societies.
same can be said about science and culture in general. Science
started to develop with the onset of the ancient civilizations of
Mesopotamia and Egypt. This tradition continued uninterrupted.
Hellenistic civilization was principally a Near Eastern one which
flourished in this same area; and until the eve of the Arab
conquests, Iraq had been the power-house of the Sassanian empire,
and Syria and Egypt of the Roman empire and then of Byzantium.
Because Islamic civilization had Islam as its motive force and
Arabic as its language, some historians considered this civilization
to be based on the pre-Islamic civilization of Arabia only. This led
them to consider the Syriac, Hellenistic and Persian cultural
elements as `foreign' elements in Islamic civilization. Islamic
civilization is however the civilization of all the peoples who
became part of the new society. It had its roots in all the
pre-Islamic civilizations of the same area. Besides Islam and
Arabic, Syriac, Persian and Greek cultural elements, formed the
ancestral traditions of most of the Muslim population. Thus the
history of pre-Islam includes that of Arabia and of the lands
extending from the western Mediterranean to the Oxus or wherever
Islam was established.
Arab rulers did not disrupt daily life in the conquered areas. The
civil administration was maintained, the crafts, trades, industries
and agriculture continued as before. Even the original cultural and
religious institutions maintained their activities without
interruption. The conversion to Islam and to Arabic developed with
the passage of time and took a natural course. This policy helped
Islamic civilization to have its roots deeply embedded in a fertile
Non-Muslim centres of learning during Umayyad Caliphate
lands which were incorporated into the Umayyad Caliphate during the
first century of Islam possessed ancient centers of learning. By the
time the Arabs established their rule, these centers of learning had
already moved from Athens to Alexandria and, from thence to Antioch,
Edessa and Nisibis. It is also important to know that some esoteric
aspects of the Graeco-Alexandrian heritage had also found fertile
soil in the cult of the Sabaens of Harran who had developed their
metaphysics on the foundation of the Hermetic-Pythagorean ideas of
Alexandria and on the Babylonian and Chaldean traditions.
the time the Arabs arrived in Syria, the Syriac-speaking Christian
community had developed characteristic features of its own. In
contrast to the Hellenized Christianity of the coastal areas, which
used Greek Scriptures, the indigenous Semitic population used Syriac
for divine worship. Moreover, Syriac Christianity was more
monastic in its general practices than the Hellenized church.
In 363 CE the provinces of the Roman Empire east of the Tigris fell
to Sassanians and the Syriac Christian community to the east was cut
off from the Byzantine Empire and hence from the influences of
Antioch or Constantinople.
addition to Alexandrian Hellenism, the intellectual heritage of
Persians and Indians became simultaneously available to the Arabs.
During the Sassanid period, the Persian king Shapur I had
established a school at Jundishapur where Persian and Indian
scholars were active. By the seventh century, this school had
integrated the Greek, Persian and Indian sciences and was perhaps
unsurpassed in medicine and astronomy.
Muslim centres of learning during the era of the first four caliphs
and the Umayyad Caliphate
Arabic and Islamic sciences started to form with the appearance of
Islam and the completion of the Qur'an. We can consider the period
of the first four caliphs, `the Well-Guided Caliphs' (al-Khulafa'
al-Rashidun) (11-41 /632-661), and of the Umayyad caliphate
(41-133/661-750), to be the periods in which the foundations of
Islamic sciences were laid. During these two periods the message of
Islam was successfully launched and the Islamic Empire reached its
final frontiers. These are the periods which witnessed the formation
of the new Islamic society and the conversion of the peoples of the
old empires to Islam and to Arabic.
Medina was the seat of government during most of the period of the
first four caliphs. Here most of the Companions of the Prophet (al-Sahaba)
lived, and here Islamic sciences were initiated. Here also most
scholars of that period completed their studies in Hadith
(Tradition), fiqh (jurisprudence), tafsir (commentary on the
Qur'an), and history. Another school arose in Mecca, second in
importance to that of Medina.
After the conquests, a number of the Companions of the Prophet left
Medina for the new Islamic lands and they formed the nucleus of the
new schools which were established in these lands. Basra was the
oldest school to be established outside Arabia, and Kufa followed
shortly after. Both Basra and Kufa were newly built Arab cities
which gained prominence in the history of early Islamic culture.
Basra can be considered the crucible where all the elements of
Islamic culture were fused. It was established during 'Umar b. al
Khattab's caliphate between 14/635 and 17/638 in a strategic
location where sea and land communications meet. It was on the edges
of Arabia, Persia and Iraq. It started as a camp for Arab armies for
the eastern conquests and developed later into an administrative
capital for Khurasan and some eastern provinces. During the eighth
and early ninth centuries Basra became a great city with an
estimated population of between 200,000 and 600,000. In that period
it became an international centre for finance, commerce and culture.
Basra therefore possessed all the factors favourable for the rise
and the flourishing of culture. It was located in the heart of the
most populated and the richest parts of the Islamic Empire. It was a
meeting place for all ethnic elements of the empire. A fusion of
these elements in Basra was the starting point for the rise of
Islamic sciences and culture.
was established one or two years after Basra on `Umar's orders. `Ali
chose it as his capital. It was also of great importance because of
its geographical position in Iraq, the richness of which was noted
above. Kufa became an important centre for a cultural movement and
was the rival of Basra in this respect. When the seat of the
caliphate moved to Damascus during the Umayyads, the new capital
also became an important cultural centre, in addition to Medina,
Mecca, Basra and Kufa.
During this first period, the philosophical and rational sciences
were still active, to a certain extent, in their original sites in
Alexandria, Jundishâpûr, and in the schools of northern Syria.
this first period the new society in the above cultural centres was
in the formative stage, and the foundations of Arabic, religious,
philosophical and rational sciences were being laid.
beginnings of Arabic and religious sciences
Immediately after the death of the Prophet in 12/633, Abu Bakr asked
Zayd b. Thâbit to collect the Qur'ân and to record it, and in
30/650-651, on the orders of `Uthman, Zayd completed the final
edition which has remained in use ever since. The recording of the
Qur'an was an event of great historical significance because it
heralded into human culture a new language which was destined to
remain the international language of science for several centuries.
importance which the new language assumed due to the spread of
Islamization and Arabization among non-Arabs led to the appearance
of Arabic grammar. It is reported that Abu al-Aswad al-Du'ali (fl.
89/688) was the first to lay the foundations of this science in
b. Yusuf al-Thaqafi (d. 96/714) was instrumental in developing the
school of Basra and he is said to have introduced into Arabic the
consonantal points and vowel marks.
b. Ahmad (d. 170/786), another scholar from Basra, compiled al-'Ayn,
which was the first dictionary in the Arabic language. He also
developed Arabic prosody. His pupil Sibawayh (d. 179/795), who was
of Persian origin, wrote the first systematic presentation of Arabic
grammar in al-Kitab (literally:
The Book). Sibawayh was a typical scholar from the new
Arabic-Islamic generation which replaced the pre-Islamic
Muslim scholars started at an early date the study of the Qur'an and
thus the sciences of readings and interpretation developed. In
addition to the Qur'an, scholars paid great attention to the sayings
of the Prophet and thus began the science of Hadith (Tradition). The
Qur'an and Hadith formed the basis on which fiqh (jurisprudence),
and Usul al-din (Fundamentals of Islam) were developed. All these
new religious sciences were studied in the schools of Medina, Mecca,
Basra, Kufa and Damascus.
this early period appeared Abu Hanifa al-Nu'man, who was born in
Kufa in 81/700 and died in Medina in 151/768. He is the founder of
the Hanifite School of jurisprudence, which is the oldest and the
most widespread of the four Islamic Orthodox fiqh schools. It is of
interest to know that Abu Hanifa's grandfather was a Persian, which
is an indication that the new Islamic society had already started to
rise of sects and cultural movements during the Umayyad's Caliphate
was natural to see the appearance of some sects and cultural
movements within Islam. These sects and movements were often caused
by political factions, and in some cases they were purely
intellectual. Besides the followers of Orthodox Islam (Sunna), the .Shi'a
was the next Islamic party in importance and in numbers. The
Khawarij were among the oldest religious groups and from this
movement there remained the Ibàdis, who are followers of `Abdallâh
b. Ibad who lived in Basra around 61/680.
Among the religious and philosophical movements of intellectual
origin was the Qadariyya, which adopted the concept of freedom of
will. This movement appeared in Damascus. The Qadariyya was opposed
ro the Jabriyya or al-murji'a, the Determinist movement.
important intellectual movement, the Mu'tazila, appeared in Basra.
It is said sometimes that it was influenced by the Qadariyya, and
some maintain that the Mu'tazila was a continuation of it. One of
its founders was Wasil ibn
'Ata' (d. 131/748). The Mu`tazila played a prominent role in Islamic
thought, and the movement reached its zenith during the reign of al-Ma'mun,
Among the religious-political movements was al-Murji'a. It is
generally maintained that this movement accepted the rule of the
Umayyads, contrary to the Shi'a and al-Khawarij. The attitude of
al-Al-Murji'a was that of tolerance: and in this atmosphere of
tolerance lived Abu Hanifa, and this had some influence on his
seems that the appearance of al-Qadariyya, al-Jabriyya and al-Murji'a
in Damascus took place at a time when Christian religious schools
were flourishing. The Umayyad caliphs were tolerant towards
Christians and the followers of other religions, which encouraged
the dialogues between Christianity and Islam in Damascus. Christian
clerics were experienced in the art of dialectic, and Muslim
scholars were obliged in the dialogue with them to learn the same
philosophical reasoning and use the same dogmatic subtleties. In
this period appeared Yahya al-Dimashqi (John of Damascus) (d.
132/749) and Theodore Abu Qurra (Abucara). In his youth John was a
companion to Yazid, who became the second Umayyad Caliph, and later,
a high government official in the Umayyad court. He adopted the
profession of his father and grandfather. John left dialectic essays
in which he compared Islam with Christianity; his essays reflect
those dialogues, which took place in Damascus between the scholars
of both religions.
Within the Christian Church itself there was a debate about fate and
free will, and about hell and the eternity of punishment. Similar
debate on these same subjects took place in Islamic theological
circles, which led to the appearance of the intellectual movements
just mentioned 
ARCHITECTURE AND TECHNOLOGY OF THE UMAYYADS
Arabization of the diwans, as we shall see later and the translation
of elementary scientific texts that are required for the kuttab of
the diwan is closely related to some aspects of Umayyad technology.
Unlike the theoretical sciences, architecture and technology do not
need a long period before they can flourish. Here
things were different. Hence the achievements of the Umayyad caliphs
in architecture and technology were prominent.
have pointed out that the new Islamic regions were the most advanced
in their civilization. In these regions arose the first and the most
important civilizations in history. Syria, Egypt, Iraq and Persia
were rich in their industries and agriculture. There were skilled
craftsmen, farmers and engineers. After the conquests, industrial
and agricultural production continued uninterrupted. The process of
conversion to Arabic and to Islam within the ranks of craftsmen and
farmers was taking place gradually without having any adverse effect
on their daily economic activities. On the contrary, the new
religion and the new state infused a new life into all aspects of
the economy and into all trades and crafts.
There was a large public sector under the direct control of the
state and large projects were undertaken.
Early Islamic Cities and Umayyad Architecture
unique feature of Islamic civilization was its creation of new
cities right from the early period. 'Umar ibn al-Khattab built the
cities of Basra in 16/637 and Kufa in 17/638 as city camps for the
Islamic armies. These developed and grew until they became great
cities which influenced profoundly the political and cultural
history of Islam. 'Umar also built in Egypt the city of Fustat in
21/641-642. During the time of the Umayyads, `Uqba ibn Nafi' built
al-Qayrawan in North Africa in 50/670 during Mu'awiya's caliphate.
Sulayman ibn 'Abd al-Malik (97-100/715-718), built al-Ramla in
Palestine, and al-Hajjàj built Wasit in Iraq. The Umayyads also
developed and increased the size of several older cities.
building of new cities and the development of the old ones was
accompanied by the construction of an appreciable number of mosques
and palaces. The most famous of these buildings were the Dome of the
Rock and the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, the Great Mosque in Damascus
and a series of palaces on the edges of the desert which were built
for the Umayyad caliphs or their sons.
construction of the Dome of the Rock was started by 'Abd al-Malik in
68/687 and was completed in 72/691. 'Abd al-Malik also constructed
the Aqsa Mosque which was rebuilt several times after that. The
construction of the Great Mosque in Damascus was started in 87/705
by al-Walid and it was completed in 97/715. These three
great mosques are still in existence and they retain till now their
Among the Umayyad palaces whose remains are in existence is
aI-Mashatta Palace south of Amman. It is one of the important
Umayyad palaces and was probably built by al-Walid II around
126/743. Another important palace is Qusayr 'Amra east of Amman. It
was built according to some historians during the caliphate of al-Walid
1 between 94/712 and 97/715 but other historians believe it was
built by Hisham ibn 'Abd al-Malik (106-126/ 724-743). It is famous
for its magnificent wall illustrations. The Khirbat al-Mafjar in
Jericho is considered the largest and the most beautiful among the
Umayyad palaces, and it was probably built by Yazid Ill in 127/744.
There are two great palaces which are also attributed to Hisham ibn
'Abd al-Malik; these are Qasr al-Hayr al-Sharqi and Qasr al-Hayr al-Gharbi.
They lie near the city of Palmyra (Tadmur). The Eastern Palace (al-Sharqi)
was built in 111/729 and the Western (al-Gharbi) in 110/728.
studying these early Islamic masterpieces of architecture one must
remember that the new Islamic lands were rich in craftsmen of all
trades. These craftsmen inherited the skills of the civilizations of
the Near East generation after generation, and they became an
important part of the new Islamic society. They however adapted
their skills to conform with the spirit of Islam and thus there
developed an Arabic or Islamic art and architecture.
same thing happened in all the other Islamic lands. And so different
schools of Islamic art arose in the various Islamic lands, which
were influenced by the inherited arts of the different regions.
About this early period we can say that Islamic architecture started
during the Umayyad period. The Umayyads left glorious architectural
monuments each with a unique Islamic style, and this Umayyad
architecture was a remarkable starting point from which later
Islamic architecture has developed 
Irrigation works and water distribution were very prominent among
the state's achievements. The Islamic religion considered these
among the chief duties of the state. When Basra was established
during 'Umar's period, he started simultaneously building some
canals for conveying drinking water and for irrigation. Al-Tabari
reports that 'Utba ibn Ghazwan built the first canal from the Tigris
River to the site of Basra when it was in the planning stage. After
the city was built, 'Umar appointed Abu Musa al-Ash'ari as the first
governor. Al-Ash'ari governed during the period 17-29/638-650. He
began building two important canals linking Basra with the Tigris
River. These were al-Ubulla River and the Ma'qil River. The canals
were completed under the later governors and thus Basra obtained the
necessary drinking water, and the two canals were the basis for the
agricultural development for the whole Basra region. 'Umar also
devised the policy of cultivating barren lands by assigning such
lands to those who undertook to cultivate them. This policy
continued during the Umayyad period and it resulted in the
cultivation of large areas of barren lands through the construction
of irrigation canals by the state and by individuals. Al-Baladhuri
gives the names of several canals which were constructed during this
period to cultivate barren lands.
various governors who were appointed by the Umayyads constructed
several works to prevent the formation of new swamps and to dry old
swamps, through the building of dams which regulated the flow of
find in the original Arabic sources much detail about the irrigation
works which were constructed in Iraq in the regions of Basra, Kufa,
Wasit, al-Raqqa and several other areas. Al-Hajjaj was particularly
active in constructing irrigation works and the later governors
followed his policy.
of the Umayyad caliphs, Yazid ibn Mu'awiya, was so interested in
irrigation projects that he was called al-Muhandis, `the Engineer'.
In addition to his interest in the irrigation works in Iraq he
improved the water distribution canals of the Barada River in
Damascus. One of these canals, Nahr Yazid or the Yazid River, still
carries the name of that Umayyad caliph in commemoration of his
caliphs and the governors utilized in these irrigation works the
hereditary skills of the people of Iraq. The Nabataeans for instance
were skilled in agriculture and in irrigation works, and among the
great engineers who worked under al-Hajjâj to drain the swamps in
southern Iraq was Hasan al-Nabati (the Nabataean).
Norias (al-nawa'ir), or the large water-wheels which were driven by
the flow of water and raised water to a greater height, were used on
large scale on the Tigris and the Euphrates. They were used also on
the Orontes (al-'Asi River) and on al-Khabur River which is a
tributary of the Euphrates River. The saqiya, or the animal-driven
pot wheel, was also used extensively.
power purposes the water mill was also well established. The first
mention of the windmill in the Islamic period occurs during 'Umar's
caliphate, when Abu Lu'lu'a told 'Umar that he could build an
Numerous trades and crafts of the Umayyads are of the industrial
chemistry type. We shall mention some of them only.
The metallurgy of gold and silver –the
al-Malik ibn Marwan decided to mint the Arabic dinar and to liberate
the economy from dependence on the Byzantine dinar and on the
Persian one. This took place in 76/695 following the Arabization of
government records. This financial reform had far-reaching
consequences and it is considered one of the major achievements of
the Umayyads. The Islamic gold dinar abolished the Byzantines'
monopoly of golden currency. The economy of the Islamic countries
was thus liberated and a new era of Islamic financial supremacy on
the international scene was established. The appearance of the
Islamic gold dinar and the silver dirham implied the adoption of
elaborate measures in the mining of gold and silver and in strict
and effective controls of the mint and of the circulation of coins.
mint of the Arabic dinar required that part of the duties of the
administrator of the public treasury (bayt al-mal) was to see
to it that the right proportion of gold is cast in the minted
dinars, together with what all that implies by way of managing
alloys, composition of metals, and exacting weights and measures.
Such functions included some alchemy which was then called 'ilm
al-san'a , that was
being sought by Khalid ibn Yazid.
We are told by Abu Hilâl al-'Askari (c. 1000) in his kitab
al-Malik ibn Marwan started to write surat
112) and the mention of
the prophet on the dinars and dirhams, when
the king of Byzantium wrote to him the
following message: 'You have introduced in your official documents (tawamir) something
referring to your prophet. Abandon it, otherwise you shall see on
our dinars the
mention of things you detest.' That angered Abd al-Malik, so he sent
ibn Yazid ibn Mu'awiya, who was greatly learned and wise, in order
to consult with
him upon this matter. Khalid then told him, 'have no fear o
commander of the faithful!
Prohibit their dinars and
strike for the people new mint with the mention of
God on them, as well as the mention of the Prophet, may prayers and
peace be upon him, and do not absolve them of what they hate in the
official documents. And so he did!"
The metallurgy of iron and steel
iron and steel industry existed in Damascus before the Arabs had
arrived, and Damascenes
swords were renowned throughout the Roman Empire.
composition of steel was first described by Jabir ibn Hayyan, and at
later dates by al-Kindi and al-Biruni. The dus,
a component of steel, was a main material in alchemical treatises
such as in the works of al-Razi.
gave a quotation from a book written by a Damascene ironsmith called
Mazyad ibn 'Ali. Mazyad gave a description for making crucible
steel. Al-Biruni says that Mazyad's book gives details of swords
that were described in al-Kindi's treatise on swords. We understand
from al-Biruni's statement that Mazyad ibn 'Ali lived in Damascus
before the time of al-Kindi. And since al-Kindi flourished in the
ninth century in Baghdad, it is reasonable to assume that Mazyad ibn
'Ali lived during the time of the Umayyad Caliphate in Damascus. 
Recipes for lustre glass
Lustre-painting, which is characteristic of Islamic glass and
pottery, is a metallic sheen applied on the surfaces of glass or
pottery objects. Its origin has been the subject of discussion
amongst historians, the suggested centres being, Syria, Iraq, Egypt
According to the latest reported archaeological finds, the earliest
existing examples of lustre glass were of Syrian origin during the
Umayyad glass lustre fragments have been found at Qasr al-Hayr al-Sharqi that
was built in (728–9) by the Umayyad Caliph Hisham ibn Abd
al-Malik, who ruled between 723 and 742. In addition, the glass
found at the ancient site of Pella in
Jordan included Umayyad lustre-painted and gilded fragments.
Since lustre glass was used in Qasr al-Hayr al-Sharqi, it is
reasonable to assume that the technique of lustre painting was
developed in Syria at an earlier date in the same century or even
before. This assumption seems reasonable because Jabir, who was
writing in the second half of that century, gave a large number of
recipes for this art, some of which may have been formulated by him
and some may have been compiled from previous practice. The
accumulation of such a large number of mature recipes requires
several decades of industrial experience.
Apart from these early fragments of Umayyad lustre glass, an extant
lustre painted glass cup from Fustat is dated 163/779 and another
cup from Damascus is dated 170/786.
Books on gemstones
mentions in al-Jamahir that
he had acquired a book written in Damascus during the caliphate of
Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan. The book deals with the qualities of
gemstones and their values. Al-Biruni says that according to this
book the red ruby and the good quality pearls were of equal value at
Industrial recipes in general
reports are of utmost importance. They confirm that there were books
from the Umayyad period about iron and steel and about gemstones.
Most of these Umayyad books were lost but we find also in al-Fihrist of
ibn al-Nadim the titles of several books whose authors are not
Jabir's recipes were either inherited or developed. For recipes that
were not developed by him, he alluded sometimes to their sources,
and that he collected some of them. He says for example that he took
a waterproofing recipe from Al-Fadl ibn Yahya ibn Barmak who also
took it from a manuscript of unknown author, since the first pages
and the last ones were missing. Moreover, when Jabir describes the
manufacture of the adrak gemstone,
he says that he took it from a valuable manuscript. 
The recipes of Jabir that he gave in Kitab
al-durra al-maknuna and
in Kitab al-khawass
al-kabir and in other
practical works, are taken from earlier books of recipes. And
since Jabir flourished in the eighth century, his sources must
belong to the Umayyad period.
During the early Arab conquests the weapons of war consisted of
light weapons which comprised mainly the sword, the lance and the
bow and arrow. These weapons were made in Arabia, and the different
kinds of swords, lances and bows carried the names of the places
where they were made. After the conquests of Syria, Iraq, Egypt and
Persia the technical skills of these countries in the manufacture of
weapons had enhanced greatly the capabilities of the Islamic weapons
industry. Damascus for instance was famous before Islam in the
manufacture of weapons and of steel blades and this fame had
increased greatly after Islam.
`Umar's time, the state undertook to provide the regular soldiers,
who were unable to secure their own weapons, with the necessary
equipment. Such weapons which were supplied by the government were
specially marked. 'Ali established the armouries or weapons
warehouses (khaza'in al-silah), and he marked the government's
weapons with special signs.
Besides light weapons, the Islamic armies used siege equipment,
especially the manjaniqs (catapults). It is reported that the
Prophet used the manjaniq in his siege of al-Ta'if. It is reported
also that some Companions of the Prophet received in Jerash some
training in the construction of manjaniqs and other siege engines.
The use of these machines by the Islamic armies increased during the
conquests of Iraq, Syria and other countries.
construction, operation and maintenance of siege engines was the
government's responsibility from early Islamic times. It is reported
that 'Amr b. al-'As constructed manjaniqs upon his arrival in Egypt
and he used them in Egypt's conquest. The use of these siege engines
increased during the Umayyad period. Marwan b. Muhammad
(127-32/744-49), the last of the Umayyad caliphs, in his siege of
Homs in 127/744. used more than eighty manjaniqs according to Ibn
use of military fires was known to the Umayyads. In 64/683 al-Ka'ba
was bombarded by stones, naft and other combustible burning fires.
Military fires were used also by the Islamic fleets in the
Mediterranean during the Umayyad campaigns.
use of naft by the Umayyads was a natural development. It should be
remembered that chemical technology had reached an advanced stage in
the area in pre-Islamic times. Even the Greek fire which was used by
the Byzantines was brought to them by the Syrian engineer,
Kallinicus, who fled from Baalbek in Syria to Constantinople in
59/678 during the Umayyad period. Kallinicus was brought up in Syria
during the Islamic era where he received his training in chemical
al-Sina'a and the Islamic fleets
of the major achievements of 'Uthman b. 'Affan was the creation of
the first Islamic naval power. But a great deal of credit should go
to Mu'awiya, who pursued this objective when he was governor of
Syria during 'Uthman's caliphate and after he became caliph himself.
Mu'awiya realized that Arab-Islamic rule in Syria and the other new
Islamic Mediterranean countries could not be consolidated without an
Islamic naval power which could repulse the Byzantine naval attacks.
The policy of Mu`awiya was followed by his successors, and Islamic
naval power enabled the Umayyads to continue their conquests until
all of North Africa and Spain came under Islamic rule.
During 'Umar's caliphate, Mu`awiya established the ribat system. The
ribats were fortresses built near the coastal cities in which
military forces were kept to defend these cities against the
Byzantine attacks. They served also as shelters for people during
These fortresses contained rooms and lodgings for the soldiers,
armouries, storage for food and observation towers. Later on, the
ribat developed into bases for undertaking naval campaigns.
During 'Uthman's caliphate the governor of Egypt, 'Abdallah b. Abi
Sarh, started the building of naval ships in Egypt, utilizing the
skills of Egyptian craftsmen. The close cooperation between Mu`awiya
and Ibn Abi Sarh enabled the Muslims to occupy Cyprus in 28/649, and
Rhodes in 33/654. In 34/655 the combined Islamic fleet of Syria and
Egypt defeated the Byzantine
fleet near the coast of Lycia in the Battle of the Masts (Dhat al-Sawari).
This battle was a fatal blow to Byzantine naval power and it
heralded the beginning of Islamic supremacy in the Eastern
Mu`awiya became caliph in 41/661. In 49/669 he chose `Akka (Acre) as
a site for the first dar al-sina'a (arsenal or shipyard) in Syria.
He recruited for this purpose craftsmen and carpenters from various
places in Syria. During Mu'awiya's caliphate the Islamic fleet
besieged Constantinople twice, in 49/ 668 and during the seven
years' war between 54/674 and 60/680.
strongest siege of Constantinople took place in 98/716 during the
caliphate of Sulayman ibn 'Abd al-Malik. The Islamic fleets from
Syria, Egypt and North Africa participated in this siege and the
Arabs used military fires and some types of artillery.
Umayyads adopted the same policy in North Africa. Hassan aI-Nu`man
was appointed in 76/695 as governor by 'Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan and
he established a naval base in Tunis with a shipyard. He was
succeeded in 79/707 by Musa b. Nusayr, who continued the policy of
his predecessor in the building of naval ships. During Nusayr's
period as governor, Spain was conquered and the Islamic fleet played
a major role in that historic campaign: 
High-quality textiles were manufactured in state factories known as
textiles were woven for caliphs and high officials and were
presented to important persons. Textiles included the linen fabrics
of Egypt and the silk and brocade cloths of Damascus. The caliphs
established the tiraz factories in their palaces which were managed
by the sahib al-tiraz who was in charge of spinners and weavers,
paying their wages and controlling the quality of their work.
factories acquired great importance under the Umayyads and they
continued in importance during the Abbasid period. `Abd al-Malik
changed the inscriptions on the borders of the tiraz textiles into
Arabic-Islamic writings. Before that the tiraz inscriptions followed
Byzantine, Sassanian or Coptic traditions.
were used for writing. They were manufactured in Egypt out of
papyrus. This industry was also under state control. 'Abd al-Malik
replaced the Coptic signs on the qaratis by Islamic writings. The
use of the qaratis continued until paper factories were established
during the Abbasid period
mail service (al-barid)
al-Malik also established a mail service, al-barid, connecting the
far regions of the vast empire with each other. This system was
utilized by al-Walid and the other succeeding caliphs in undertaking
and organizing several important projects. Al-barid continued to
increase in importance during the Abbasid caliphate.
ARABIZATION OF THE ADMINISTRATION AND THE START OF TRANSLATION
Arabization of the diwans
Without the arabization of the administration by Abd al-Malik ibn
Marwan the translation movements that followed, including that of
Bayt al-Hikma in Baghdat in the ninth century, could not have taken
place. This Arabization of the administration by the Umayyads was a
crucial step towards making Arabic the language of culture
throughout the whole empire.
translation of the diwans from Greek into Arabic in Syria took place
during the reign of the Caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan under his
personal supervision. They were translated from Persian to Arabic in
Iraq and beyond by al-Hajjaj the governor of Abd al-Malik. In Egypt,
the diwans were translated from Coptic into Arabic by Abd al-Aziz
ibn Abd al-Malik the governor of Egypt.
historic arabization reform of Abd al-Malik took place at the same
time when Khalid ibn Yazid undertook the translation of scientific
works from Greek into Arabic. Khalid
was greatly respected and esteemed by the Caliph Abd al-Malik ibn
Marwan, and he advised the caliph on the mint of the Arabic dinar
and the arabization of the administration.
diwan operations dealt with accounting procedures which required
handling arithmetical operations carried over fractions and the
the diwan that needed translation into Arabic was the diwan in which
such complicated operations were performed. Therefore, the diwan
that was translated into Arabic was the diwan of revenues, and
revenues were the backbone of any government then, as now
Since procedures dealing with revenues required arithmetical
operations for such functions as the surveying of real estates, a
diwan officer, as a revenue collector should have the qualifications
to carry out those procedures.
Furthermore, the computation of time in solar years, when taxes
should be paid, is not always easy to calculate without some
elementary astronomical knowledge. That too must have forced the
diwan officer to learn some astronomy. Elementary operations
involved also the re-allocation of payments, especially after the
distribution of inheritance, the digging of canals, etc., all of
which necessitated that the said officer acquire such computational
skills. for which Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi had to compose a
complete book on Algebra just for that same purpose.
operations which a diwan officer was supposed to perform were not
easy, and there must have been some elementary texts or manuals that
were used to train those who worked in the diwan.
do find in the work of Ibn Qutayba (d. 879) who himself was a
contemporary of the last period of translation that followed the
translation of the diwan, a short synopsis of the qualification of
those who sought employment in the diwan, or those who were then
called kuttab. Those kuttab were undoubtedly the heirs of the diwan
his book Adab al-katib,
Ibn Qutayba stresses that the katib must seek the following
sciences, if he were to be worthy of the name katib, and not be
among those who are after the office of katib in name only:
must-in addition to our books, investigate matters relating to land
surveying, so that he would know the right angled triangle, the
acute, and the obtuse angled triangle; the vertical plumb lines (masaqit
al-ahjar), the various squares (sic), the arcs and the curves, and
the vertical lines. His knowledge should be tested on the land and
not in books, for the one who reports is not like the eyewitness.
And the non-Arabs ('ajam) used to say: 'whoever was not an expert in
matters relating to water distribution (ijra' al-miyah), the digging
of trenches for drinking water, the covering of ditches, and the
succession of days in terms of length increase and decrease, the
revolution of the sun, the rising of the stars, the conditions of
the moon when it becomes a crescent as well as its other conditions,
and the control of weights, and the surface measurement of the
triangle, the square, and the polygons, the erection of arches and
bridges as well as water lifting devices and the norias by water
side, and the conditions of the artisans and the details of
calculations, he would be defective in his crafts"
Working in the diwans, as far as Ibn Qutayba could ascertain, should
include a mastery of all those sciences that were just listed by
him. This must mean that the diwans that were translated must have
included the elementary texts of those sciences. For it was quite
unlikely that Ibn Qutayba would call on the kuttab of his time to
acquire these sciences if there were not any texts through which
they could be acquired.
Another confirmation of the sciences needed for the kuttab of the
diwan comes from another scientist who was also interested in the
education of the kuttab and government bureaucrats. Several of his
books have reached us from about the middle of the tenth century.
The author in question was the famous scientist, Abu al-Wafà' al-Buzjani
(d. 998), whose name was very closely associated with the Greek
mathematical and astronomical works that were translated into
Arabic. It was this Abu al-Wafa' who had left us two books which
directly address the geometric and arithmetical needs of the
artisans and workers (obviously including government employees),
that were called: What
the Artisans need by way of Geometry, and What
the workers and kuttâb need by way of Arithmetic .
In both of these texts, Abu al-Wafa' takes up elementary
mathematical problems, of the types that were obviously discussed in
the diwans of his time, or among those who were employed in those
government departments who were then learning how to carry out the
new functions that required those new sciences.
These examples are intended to confirm the meaning of the diwan that
was arabized by Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan. We conclude that the
translations of the Persian and Greek diwans into Arabic must have
included a group of elementary scientific texts. To embark on such
an ambitious arabization program, the Umayyad government of Abd al-Malik
must have provided manuals for such elementary sciences for its
employees in order for them to function in an efficient manner.
RATIONAL SCIENCES OF THE UMAYYADS
we contemplate the history of any civilization from its beginning,
to its climax and then to its decline, we shall realize that nations
were interested only in those sciences that are required for their
daily needs, and they gave attention
to advanced theoretical sciences after a long time only. In Islamic
civilization attention was directed first of all to medicine,
astrology and alchemy.
have discussed the appearance of the Islamic intellectual movements
and the debates which took place among Muslim scholars themselves
and between them and Christian scholars in Damascus under the
Umayyad caliphs. To acquire the necessary tools for these debates
Muslim scholars turned eagerly to study the philosophical and
logical tools which were employed by their opponents. Logic as a
tool in discussions and arguments was especially important. Our
knowledge about the philosophical books that were translated into
Arabic during the Umayyad period is limited. But we learn from Ibn
al-Nadim that Thawon may have translated Categories: from Syriac
into Arabic. Istfan is also mentioned as a translator for Khalid ibn
Yazid and he may have translated Categories.
Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik paid great attention to translation. Ibn al-Nadim
mentions that Salim Abu al-'Ala' the katib or secretary of Hisham
translated for him the episles of Aristotle to Alexander. Al-Mas'udi
reports also that Kitab
siyasat al-furs (Policies
of the Persians) was translated for Hisham. This is a great book
which contains many of the Persian sciences, the tales of their
kings, their buildings and their policies. 
Beside these translations of the caliphs there were individuals who
sponsored some translations for their own personal use.
b. Ahmad al-Andalusi says in his book Tabaqat
of Nations) that `the Arabs at the dawn of Islam paid attention only
to their language and to the aspects of Islamic law, with the
exception of medicine which was practiced by some individuals and
was appreciated by common people because everybody was in need of
Prophet spoke about medicine, health, illness, protection against
infection and the merits of physicians. There are about one hundred
sayings of the Prophet discussing these topics which were collected
and are referred to as al
tibb al-nabawi (the
medicine of the Prophet). The Prophet also encouraged people to
consult the physicians.
most prominent Arab physician during the Prophet's period and during
Abu Bakr's caliphate was al-Harith b. Kalada, who was called the
Physician of the Arabs. It is reported that he died in
11-13/632-634. It seems that al-Harith studied medicine in
Jundishapur and he was familiar with medical books either in Greek
or Syriac or both. Some reports claim that al-Nadar b. al-Harith b.
Kalada succeeded his father as a physician.
Damascus became the seat of the Umayvad caliphs they relied on the
physicians of the new Islamic countries who studied medicine at
Alexandria, Antioch and Jundishapur, which were the cultural centres
for the study of the rational sciences, especially medicine. At that
early period most physicians were Christians because the conversion
movement to Islam was in its early stage. We see here however the
first beginnings of translation of medical works into Arabic.
Among the physicians of the Umayyads were Ibn Athal, Mu`awiya's
physician, and Abu al- Hakam al-Dimashqi who served under Mu`awiya
and several later caliphs. One of the prominent physicians of this
period was Tayadhuq, who was the physician of al-Hajjaj. Tayadhuq
wrote three or four medical books which have not come down to us.
Another prominent physician from Basra was Masarjawayh, who was a
Jew from Persia. He translated from Syriac into Arabic a medical
book written originally in Greek by Ahron (or Ahren). It is possible
that this was the earliest translation into Arabic of a medical work
that had a Greek origin. The
Arabic title is al-Kunnashwhich
means in Syriac '
a medical summary'. This book contained thirty chapters. The author
Ahren lived in Alexandria during the reign of Hiraql (Heraclius) in
the period 610-641. It was translated into Syriac and was popular
among the Syrians.
The Kunnash was
translated during the reign of Marwan ibn al-Hakam, 64/784 – 65/685.
Ibn Abi Usaybi'a mentions in 'Uyun
al-anba' fi tabaqat al-atibba' that
the Caliph 'Umar ibn 'Abd al-Aziz found this book in the libraries
of Damascus and he ordered that it should be made public and be
accessed easily by the general public.
Among the physicians of this period also was `Abd al-Malik ibn Abjar
al-Kinani, who was teaching medicine in Alexandria, and was a
physician to `Umar ibn `Abd al-`Aziz when the latter was governor of
Egypt. When `Umar became caliph, he invited him to move to Syria,
and thus the teaching of medicine moved to Antioch.
first hospitals in Islam
is important to mention in this brief survey that the Umayyads
established the first hospitals in Islam. The first proper hospital
was established by al-Walid ibn 'Abd al-Malik (d. 96/715). In this
hospital patients affected with leprosy were isolated in special
quarters and received special care.
Astronomy and astrology
Important astronomical activities were still going on in Syriac
during this period. Syriac scholars were still active in writing in
Syriac and in translating from Greek into Syriac. Among these
scholars was Severus Sebokht, who was born in Nisibin and lived in
Qenneshrin (Qinnisrin) near Aleppo. Sebokht flourished in the middle
of the seventh century and wrote a treatise on the astrolabe and
wrote on other astronomical subjects. Another scholar was George,
bishop of the Arabs (d. 106/724) who lived in upper Mesopotamia and
was bishop of the Arab tribes. He composed a poem on the calendar.
first effect of Islam on astronomy was the adoption of the lunar
calendar for Islamic history which starts on 15 July 622. In more
than one verse, the Qur'an urges Muslims to study astronomy. For
practical purposes also Islam had a great influence on the
development of this science when astronomers worked actively in
compiling astronomical tables and in determining the direction of
al-qibla from various geographical locations.
There are reports on translations of astrological and astronomical
works into Arabic in this period. Khalid
ibn Yazid ordered the translation of some works on astrology.
The Umayyads showed clearly an interest in Greek astrology and
astronomy. The little Umayyad audience hall and bath of Qasr 'Amra, located
in present-day eastern Jordan around
A.D. 711, contains on the inside of the dome, a painted
representation of the zodiac made on a stereographic projection.
book on astrology that was translated from Greek unto Arabic was Kitab
'ard miftah al-nujum which
is attributed to Hermes. A copy of it is found in Milano at the Ambrosian
Library. At the end of the manuscript it is written that the
translation was made in Dhi al-Qi'da in 125/743.
were arguments by Muslim astrologists in support of the practice of
astrology including the use of court astrologers by the Umayyad
caliphs. The Islamic ruling on horoscopes is that they are
spite of this the Umayyad Caliphs and the governors of the realms
used to consult astrologers. It
is reported by al-Mas'udi that Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan (the
contemporary of Khalid ibn Yazid) was fond of astrology and that he
used to have in his company some astrologers during his campaigns.
Similarly Al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf al-Thaqafi consulted astrologers and
he had his own astrologer. There are some historic stories about al-Hajjaj and
story is about the astrologer of al-Hajjaj. Al-Hajjaj placed in his
hand some pebbles of known number. He asked the astrologer, tell me:
how many pebbles do I have in my hand? The astrologer made some
calculations and he gave the correct answer. Then al-Hajjaj, without
letting the astrologer notice him, took
in his hand a quantity of pebbles which he did not count. The
astrologer made some calculations and he gave the wrong answer. He
repeated his calculations but the answer was still wrong. Then the
astrologer said: O prince, I think that you do not know how much is
in your hand. Al-Hajjaj said, no. but what is the difference? The
astrologer answered; the first pebbles were counted by you and they
were outside the realm of the un-known, The second pebbles were not
counted and they remained in the realm of the un-known. And only God
knows what is in the realm of the un-known.
Umayyad scholars and scientists who continued during the early
early Abbasid caliphs relied on physicians, astrologers, alchemists
and other scholars of the Umayyad period who were already
Islamic scientific community had already entered the formative
stage. Syriac scholars became versed in Arabic as a result of Abd
al-Malik ibn Marwan's arabization of the administration and of
adopting Arabic as the language of culture and science. Persian
secretaries and employees of the diwans were obliged to use Arabic
academic community in Jundishapur adopted Arabic also beside the
other languages of Persian, Syriac and Greek.
There were workshops established in Iraq and Persia to train
secretaries in working with Arabic. Apart
from secretaries, it seems that there were avenues by which
astrologers were given a thorough training either through individual
tutoring or by receiving their training in groups.
of the scholars who lived most of his life under the Umayyads was
Abd allah ibn al-Muqaffa' who was born in 720 in Jur in Fars and
died in 756 at the age of 36 in al-Basra.
al-Muqaffa's father was one of Umayyad secretaries in Iraq and ibn
al-Muqaffa', the son, was
trained as a secretary also, and served under the Umayyads.
al-Muqaffa' was one of the Persian aristocratic class of secretaries
and he was involved in politics. Most of his literary work was
written during the Umayyad period. And during the Abbasid period he
was involved in the struggle for the caliphate between the
contenders. This led to his execution by Abu Ja'far al-Mansur.
al Muqaffa's translation of Kalīla
wa Dimna from Middle
Persian is considered the first masterpiece of Arabic literary
prose. The translation was done while he was still an Umayyad
During his years in Fars and Kerman as an Umayyad official, Ibn al-Muqaffa'
had time for his remarkable intellectual activity, and may well have
organised a translation workshop. Whether
or not there were schools of translation in Damascus during the
Umayyads' rule, is open to question
Beside Kalila and
Dimna, an important book of maxims on government known as the
Covenent of Ardashir was translated by an unknown translator, while
Ibn al-Muqaffa' had translated the Letter
of Tansar. These
translations were made for the benefit of the Umayyad caliphs.
al-Muqaffa; was a zindiq, namely a follower of the Manichaean
religion and he wrote treatises on this religion. He converted to
Islam in the last years of his life during the Abbasid period on the
request of 'Isa ibn 'Ali for whom he served as his secretary.
the caliph al-Mansur wished to build the city of Baghdad, in 762 CE,
he selected three astrologers and charged them with casting the
horoscope for the future city.  The
horoscope itself is preserved in the Chronology of
Biruni and in several other sources. Most sources agree that the
astrologers who were assigned that task included Nawbakht the
Persian (679-777) who
became the ancestor of the Nawbakht family of astrologers, which
served caliphs for a whole century, Ibrahim al-Fazari
(d. 777), and Masha'allah al-Farisi. Ibrahim al-Fazari was obviously
an Arab from the tribe of Fazara Al-Biruni
states explicitly that it was al-Nawbakht who determined the day for
the foundation of the city to coincide with the propitious 23rd of
July of that year.
may ask: where did these three astrologers acquire the kind of
advanced astronomical knowledge that they would have needed for
casting such a horoscope at that early time of Abbasid in power?
Another scientist was Ya'qub ibn Tariq who was a collaborator of al-Fazari,
and we may also ask where did ibn Tariq learn his own astronomy so
that he could produce, together with Fazari, a translation of the
Sanskrit Sidhanta (al-Sindhind),
which was completed during the caliphate of al-Mansur (754–775 CE).
Later sources always joined those two names together, so it is
sometimes difficult to determine who did what.
these astrologers may have learned their craft in Persia during the
Umayyad caliphate. But the sources are silent on that, and we do not
know much about the Persian astronomy of the time beyond the
existence of the Shariyar
zıj. Furthermore, the
historical sources report that al-Fazari and/or Ibn Tariq wrote a
theoretical astronomical work called Tarkib
al-aflak, which seems
to have been lost. The same Fazari is also credited with the
authorship of his own zij, in
which he used the “Arab years” ('ala sinıy
a theoretical astronomical text, transferring a zıj to
a different calendar, and producing astronomical instruments such as
astrolabes -as we are also told about these men - could not have
been done by amateur astronomers. Who educated al-Fazari and Ibn
Tariq in all these fields of astronomy? And even if we believe that
the three astrologers also used the Persian Zıj-i
Shahriyar for the
purposes of the horoscope, we should also ask about another Arab,
_'Ali ibn Ziyad al-Tamimi, from the tribe of Tamim, who was supposed
to have translated this zij into
Arabic. Who taught al-Tamimi how to translate a zij, and
when he did so did he also transfer it into Arab years (as we are
told that al-Fazari had done)?
this evidence indicates that there was a class of people, who were
already in place by the time the Abbasids took over from the Umayyad
dynasty, who were competent enough to use sophisticated astronomical
instruments, to cast horoscopes, to translate difficult astronomical
texts, and to transfer their basic calenderical parameters, as well
as to compose theoretical astronomical texts such as Tarkib
activities could not have been accomplished by people who were just
learning how to translate under the earliest Abbasids, as the
classical narrative claims.
may mention here Jurjis,
the father of Bukhtishu II and grandfather of Jibril ibn Bukhtishu,
who was a scientific writer and was the director of the hospital in
Jundishapur, which supplied physicians to courts in Iraq, Syria, and
to his medical renown, he was called to Baghdad in 765 CE to treat
al-Mansur. After successfully curing the caliph, he was
asked to remain in attendance in Baghdad, which he did until he fell
ill in 769 CE. Members
of the Bkhtishu' family served the Abbasid caliphs during the ninth
and tenth centuries.
Masawayh, also a physician in Jundishapur, during the 8th century,
became the personal physician of Harun al-Rashid.
Theophilus al-Rahawi was the most eminent scholar among the
Maronites. He was active under the Umayyads and was later the chief
astronomer of the Abbasid Caliph, Al-Mahdi until his death in 783.
Al-Bitriq lived during the caliphate of al-Mansur (754-775), who
commissioned him to translate numerous ancient medical and
astrological works. One of his translated works is the Quadripartus
of Ptolemeus, Kitab al-maqalat al-arba'a in astrology.
ALCHEMY AND PRINCE KHALID IBN YAZID
Alchemy, like medicine and astrology, was one of the sciences which
received attention at an early date. According to Ibn al-Nadim, the
Umayyad prince Khalid b. Yazid (d. 85 or 90/704 or 708) started the
first translation movement in Islam. He ordered the translation of
books on alchemy, medicine and astrology from Greek and Coptic into
Arabic. The importance of Khalid, however, is due to his alchemical
achievements. There are several alchemical treatises that are
attributed to him.
to the doubts that were cast on Khalid and his work by Ruska and
others, we shall investigate his identity in some detail.
Alchemy and its public image
popularity of alchemy as a means of transmuting base metals into
gold continued after the rise of Islam. Adepts
of alchemy were already active at the time of the Prophet and under
the Umayyad dynasty (661–750). We shall see presently that
transmutation in alchemy had intrigued not only ordinary people but
also Umayyad princes such as Khalid ibn Yazid and Abbasid caliphs
such as Abu Ja'far al-Mansur. This
enchantment with alchemy continued until the eighteenth century in
background, education and culture of Khalid ibn Yazid
Mu'awiya ibn Abi Sufyan was appointed a ruler of Syria in 640 CE. He
became caliph from 661 until 683. This means that he was a ruler in
Damascus during 43 years. The civil administration in Damascus
during this period was in Christian hands and there were naturally
close relations between Muslims and Christians in the caliphate
Sufian, Mu'awiya's father was one of the leaders of Quraysh. Mecca
was a trading city in close relations with Byzantine Syria and its
inhabitants were notbedouins.
Being raised in a family of merchants, and having spent most of his
life in Damascus as a governor and later as a caliph, Mu'awiya was a
man of culture. He was fond of history. It is reported that after he
had awakened, he sat up and had archives brought to him with the
lives of kings, their history, their wars, and their schemes.
Special pages, who were entrusted with the keeping and reading of
these records, used to read to him. So Mu'awiyah listened every
night to several passages of history, of biography, of annals, and
of political fragments.
These archives and records were kept in the caliphate palace and
constituted a real library, which became a flourishing one along
Yusuf al-'Ishsh maintains that the first Bait al-Hikma was founded
by Mu'awiya. 
Yazid I, Mu'awiya's son, was educated under eminent Muslim scholars.
One of these was 'Ubayd ibn Sharya al-Jurhami (d 67/686) author of Kitab
scholar was Daghfal ibn Hanzala al-Sandusi al-Shibani (d. 65/684)
who was an expert in genealogy and had written Kitab
this subject. He was also versed in Arabic literature and in
seems that Mu'awiya saw in Daghfal's scholarship what is required
for the education of Yazid, his son. He
asked Daghfal to go and teach Yazid genealogy, astronomy and Arabic
literature. The scholarship of these two men was reflected on Yazid
so that he was considered one of the noted Arab orators and of their
learned men. He
was a man of culture and a noted poet who left beautiful verses that
are still remembered and cited. He was also an engineer.
Yazid had led the first campaign against the Byzantines in 52/672 in
which several companions of the prophet including Abu Ayyub al-Ansari,
Controversy surrounds the biography of Yazid because he was involved
in the tragic wars against al-Husain ibn 'Ali ibn Abi Talib, and Abd
allah ibn al-Zubair. Both of these men claimed the right to become
caliphs after Mu'awiya I, and refused to acknowledge Yazid as a
caliph. The tragic defeat and murder of al-Husain resulted in
deepening the rift between Shi'i and Sunni Islam, and the biography
of Yazid I had been affected as a result. Yazid had no choice in
waging these wars since both contenders wanted to depose him from
his position as a caliph.
was first married to Umm Hisham bint Utba bin Rabiya in 660 and had two
and Khalid, by her. He loved Khalid more,
and was called Abu Khalid, but he made Muawiya,
the elder of the two, his successor.
Mu'awiya II was born on the 28th March 661, on the day when Mu'awiya
I became a caliph. Khalid
must have been born two or three years later.
Mu'awiya II was the first prince of the Ummayyads to grow up
entirely at the court of the Caliph.. He was given private scholars
and teachers. Khalid grew up with his brother and had received the
Mu'awiya II the brother of Khalid ibn Yazid died at about 22 years
of age, Khalid was about 20 years. Mu'awiya II did not nominate a
personality of Khalid ibn Yazid according to Arab historians
Historic and other Arabic sources give accounts full of praise and
appreciation for Khalid. Due to limitation of space we shall give
only the account of Yaqut al-Hamawi in Kitab
mu'jam al-udaba', (Dictionary
of Men of Letters) . Al-Hamawi
"Khalid ibn Yazid ibn Mu'awiya ibn abi Sufian; the Prince Abu Hashim
was one the men of Quraysh who were distinguished by eloquence,
kindness and courage. He was a great scientist, expert in medicine
and alchemy, as well as a poet.
ibn Mus'ab had said: Khalid ibn Yazid ibn Mu'awiya was known as a
scientist, a sage and a poet.
Abi Hatim said: that Khalid was one of second generation of the
Syrian followers of the Prophet (al-tabi'un). He learned the
Prophet's Hadith from his father and from Dahya ibn Khalifa al-Kalbi
, may God be pleased with him.
Several later scholars quoted Khalid on the Hadith (the sayings of
the Prophet). These
include al-Zuhri, al-Bayhaqi, al-Khatib al-Baghdadi, al-'Askari and
al-al-Hafiz ibn 'Asakir. Khalid
was pious and
he used to fast three days in the week, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
He used to say that he devoted his attention to books. H
was charitable and he was greatly praised.
was brave and daring, and there were debates between him and between
'Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan.
Khalid ibn Yazid died in 90 H, some say that he died in 85 H. He was
attended on his death by Al-Walid ibn 'Abd al-Malik who said in his
eulogy: let the Umayyads shed garments on Khalid, because they will
never mourn any one like him."
Khalid ibn Yazid and his translation activity according to early
first translation of Greek science into Arabic was initiated by the
Umayyad prince Khalid ibn Yazid. This is reported by
dependable Arabic sources that were close in time to Khalid. One
should have faith in the authenticity and reliability of the Arabic
original sources instead of accepting the assumptions and
conjectures of historian of the twentieth century about Khalid,
especially since we have disproved such assumptions on concrete
Arab authorities assume that the failure of Khalid to become a
caliph was behind his devotion to science and to the translation of
scientific works unto Arabic. About this Ibn al-Nadim says:
"Khalid ibn Yazid ibn Mu'awiyah was called the 'Wise Man of the
Family of Marwan'. He was inherently virtuous, with an interest in
and fondness for the sciences. As the Art [alchemy] attracted his
attention, he ordered a group of Greek philosophers who were living
in Egypt to come to him. Because he was concerned with literary
Arabic, he commanded them to translate books about the Art from the
Greek and Coptic languages into Arabic. This was the first
translation in Islam from one language into another." 
that time the ruler of Egypt was 'Abd
al-Aziz ibn Marwan ,the brother of the Caliph Abd al-Malik. Abd
al-Aziz governed Egypt from 685 to 704, and
he possibly enabled Khalid to achieve his purpose.
Jabir Ibn Hayyan
reported in Kitab al-rahib how
Khalid summoned Maryanus to teach him 'ilm al-san'a.
Al-Jahiz (c. 776–868)
reported in Kitab al-bayan
wa al-tabyin that
Khalid Ibn Yazid was an orator and poet, eloquent, comprehensive, of
sound judgment and extremely well-mannered, and the first (in Islam)
to order the translation of works on astrology, medicine and
(d. 279/892) reported also about the involvement of Khalid in 'ilm
al-Isbahānī (897-967) mentioned in Kitāb
Khalid wasted his time in the pursuit of alchemy. In
al-Aghani we find also an important testimony about Khalid given by
al-Mada’ini (d. 830) who
attributed it to one of Khalid's contemporaries.
(d. 345/956) mentioned in Kitab
muruj al-dhahab that
Khalid occupied himself with alchemy and he quoted three verses from
a poem of Khalid on alchemy.
Khallikan (d. 1282 A.D.) praises Khalid's scientific skill and
knowledge, which are exemplified by the quality of his writings.
This author also tells us that Khalid studied alchemy with a Greek
monk named Marianos. 
Khalid occupies a
high standing among Arabic scientists and alchemists. Al-Biruni
(d, 440/1048) described Khalid as the first Muslim philosopher.
Arabic works on alchemy give citations from his writings and poems
on ‘ilm al san’a (the
Yazid and the Caliph Abu Ja'far al-Mansur- similar addiction to
Khalid was an
Umayyad prince and a grandson of Mu'awiya the founder of the
dynasty. When his brother Mu'awiya II died
in 683 CE he was not elected to be a caliph because of his young
age. Having been relieved from the concerns of the caliphate, he
turned his attention to the pursuit of high culture. Alchemy and
astrology were pursued by rulers and dignitaries throughout history.
In Europe the fascination of rulers and the upper classes with these
pursuits lasted until the eighteenth century. At Khalid's time
alchemy and astrology, beside medicine, had the same importance. Ibn
al-Nadim gave the motives of Khalid in pursuing alchemy as follows: "He
was a generous man, for when someone said to him, 'You have
expended most of your energy in seeking the Art,' Khalid replied,
'In so doing I have sought only to enrich my friends and brothers.
I coveted the caliphate, but was unsuccessful.' Now I have
no alternative other than attaining the culmination of this Art, so
that anyone who one day has known me, or whom I have known, will
not be obliged to stand at the gate of the sultan, petitioning or afraid."
About one century after Khalid, the Caliph al-Mansur pursued alchemy
for the same motives. He was also seeking wealth for the benefit of
Because of Khalid's obsession with alchemy, he initiated the
translation movement in the sciences during the Umayyad Caliphate.,
and he left some important works. However, al-Mansur may have
ordered some translations in alchemy also, but during his time there
were already some Arabic translations available. Khalid sought to
master the "Art" himself because he had all the time needed, and
during his search for adepts who can teach him the "Art" he
encountered several charlatans. However, al-Mansur as a caliph
sought the help of all the available alchemists, who proved, no
doubt, to be charlatans also.
Modern historians, who were influenced by their own ideology,
accepted what is reported about al-Mansur's interest in alchemy
despite the scanty evidence, but they considered the interest of
Khalid in alchemy as legendary or fabricated, despite the
overwhelming historical evidence that support his scientific
have purposely compared Khalid with al-Mansur because Khalid had all
the qualifications needed in a patron of science and in becoming a
scientist, while al-Mansur was a caliph fully occupied in caliphate
affairs and alchemy for him was a temporary activity which had soon
Stories of charlatans in alchemy at the time of Khalid and the
Imposters in alchemy were active since the elixir and transmutation
became common knowledge. We have few stories that were reported by
first story took place during the life time of Khalid. The
Caliph 'Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan (r. +685 to +705) appointed his
brother Bishr ibn Marwan as Governor of Basra, with Musa ibn Nusair
as his principal
adviser. Now Bishr was fond of pleasure and handed over the conduct
of all affairs
to Musa. While thus withdrawn from business: "One
of the men of Iraq
came before him, and said: 'In
God's name, is it your wish that I give you
a drink which will cause you never to grow old, subject to certain
conditions which I
shall lay upon you?' What
are these conditions? asked Bishr. 'That you do not allow yourself
to be angry, do not mount a horse, and
have no dealings with women, nor yet take any
bath, for forty (days and) nights.' Bishr accepted these conditions,
and drank what was given to him, shutting himself up from all men,
near and far, and remaining secluded in his palace.
And so, he continued till news suddenly reached him that he had been
given the Governorship
of Kufa, as well as of Basra. At this, his joy and
delight could not be contained. He
called for a horse to go to Kufa, but the same man appeared and
urged him not to set forth,
and not to stir by the least movement from his place. But Bishr
would not listen to him. When
the man saw his determination, he said: 'Bear me witness against
yourself that you have
disobeyed me!' And Bishr did so, testifying that the man was free of
he rode out to Kufa, but he had not gone many miles when, having
placed his hand upon
his beard, lo! it fell away in his hand Seeing this he turned back
to Basra, but remained
there not many days until he died." 
second story relates to how al-Mansur became attached to alchemy. In
a report preserved in Ibn al-Faqih al-Hamadani's Akhbar
al-Buldan, a work on cultural geography compiled in Baghdad
around 200/903, 'Umara ibn Hamza , al-Mansur's secretary, is said to
have returned to Baghdad after a lengthy stay in Constantinople at
the court of Constantine V
(r. 741-75) and to have
reported to the caliph how the Byzantine Emperor had transmuted by
means of a dry powder (elixir) lead and copper into silver and gold
in his presence. Umara concluded his report with the words: "This
was the reason that induced him (al-Mansur) to become interested in
alchemy". . Al-Mansur must have become quickly disillusioned with
the potential of alchemy to provide funds for the state treasury.
But he may have unwittingly provided royal precedent for
preoccupation with this "art".
third story involved the Caliph al-Mansur also and is reported in
Syriac religious literature.  The
patriarch Joannes died. " And then Abu Ja`far, also called 'Abd
Allah, the caliph, gave orders to the bishops and compelled them to
institute as patriarch Isaac, bishop of Karrhai
Isaac had become a friend of the caliph owing to the following
cause. It is said that, when he was living on the hills of Edessa in
a monastery, a certain monk came to him and lodged with him and was
entertained by Isaac. And, when he wished to go, the stranger told
Isaac to bring him a piece of lead; and, having melted it, he took
from his mantle a little wallet, which contained an elixir, and he
poured some of it on to the lead, and it changed its colour and
became gold. And, when Isaac saw it, he was obsessed with longing to
know the Art, and he earnestly begged him to teach it to him. And
the monk kept saying that he did not know anything about this, but
the elixir had been given him by someone else. And when he started
to go on his way, Isaac went, with him to escort him: and, as they
were going along, he struck him and threw him into one of the old
wells, and cast a great stone after him and killed him. And this he
did because he thought that he had a large quantity of the elixir
with him. And upon searching his mantle he found nothing in it
except the wallet. And owing to this elixir he gained the favour of
Abu Ja`far the caliph; and for this reason after the death of
Ioannes the caliph assembled the bishops and forced them to make him
patriarch under compulsion; and they instituted him in Rhesaina (Ra's
al-'ain). Isaac promised the king that he would go out and
collect roots useful for the Art and teach it to him. And after a
short time the king sent after him and discussed it with him and
discovered that he was a liar and did not know it and was
deliberately deceiving him, so he gave orders and they strangled him
and threw his body into the Euphrates.
treatises of pre-Islamic pseudo authors
We find in the
writings of early Arabic alchemists many quotations attributed to
pre-Islamic persons and there are several Arabic alchemical
treatises attributed to them. These works were the subject of
research by historians of science who concluded that most of these
works were attributed to pseudo authors. These pseudo authors
included Hermes, Iflatun (Plato), Aristo (Aristotle), Pythagoras,
Agathodaimon, Ostanes, Hiraql (Heraklius, Byzantine emperor,
610–41), Cleopatra, Mary, Zosimos, Isis, Krates, Markos, Jamasp,
Furfuriyus and many others. They came from Egypt, Syria,
Mesopotamia, Persia, Greece and Asia Minor. Sezgin gave a list of
the Arabic treatises attributed to each of these pseudo authors. The
diversity and scope of these works leave no doubt that they were
written before Islam and were translated into Arabic from Greek or
and others are of this opinion. Other historians are of the opinion
that these works were written by pseudo-Arabic authors after Islam  This
assumption seems flawed because it is extremely improbable that such
comprehensive and vast collection of authors and intricate
alchemical ideas could have been invented by early pseudo-Arabic
of the Greek writings on alchemy were written in Alexandria, but
were subsequently lost or destroyed, and the surviving writings that
have come down through the years were preserved in Arabic
crucial question is where and when the Arabic translations were
made. There are different explanations. One of them says that much
of the literature and learning of Alexandria was preserved by Syrian
scholars who took refuge in Persia and there translated into Syriac
a number of Greek works on alchemy. Some of these works were
translated again into Arabic.
other explanation says that there are Syriac works preserved by the
Chriatian Syriac schools of northern Syria, either translated from
Greek or authored by Syriac scholars. Some of these works were on
alchemy, astrology, the interpretation of dreams and various forms
of the Syriac alchemical treatises are now in the libraries of
Europe. They are nearly all earlier than the 7th century, and most
appear to belong to the 3rd and 4th centuries; some are the work of
authentic authors like Zosimus and Synesius, while for others, such
as profess to be written by Moses, Democritus, Ostanes, &c., the
authorship is clearly fictitious. Some of the same names and the
same works can be identified in the lists of the Kitab-al-
Fihrist. Examples of such translations are preserved in MSS. at
the British Museum, partly written in Syriac, partly in Arabic with
Syriac characters. The Syriac portions represent a compilation of
receipts and processes. They include the earlier translations made
by Sergius of Resaena in the 6th century. They contain, under the
title Doctrine of Democritus, a fairly methodical treatise in ten
books comprising the Argyropoeia and Chrysopoeia of the
pseudo-Democritus, with many receipts for colouring metals and
making artificial precious stones. They give illustrations of the
apparatus employed, and their close relationship to the Greek is
attested by the frequent occurrence of Greek words and the fact that
the signs and symbols of the Greek alchemists appear almost
unchanged. Another Syriac MS., in the library of Cambridge
University, contains a translation of a work by Zosimus which is so
far unknown in the original Greek. Berthelot gives reproductions of
the British Museum MSS. in vol. ii. of La
Chimie au Moyen Age.
After Arabic became the official language of the Empire and the
universal language of culture, Syriac scholars started translating
some of these works into Arabic.
third source of alchemical treatises is from Harran. Some scholars
(Stapleton) have suggested that Arabic alchemy descended from Harran
in Syria. This city seems to have been a fountainhead of alchemical
notions. And it is possible that the distillation ideology and its
spokeswoman, Maria as well as Agathodaimon, represented the alchemy
of Harran, which presumably migrated to Alexandria and was
incorporated into the alchemy of Zosimos.
the 8th and 9th century Harran was a centre for translating works of
astronomy, philosophy, alchemy, astrology and medicine from Greek to Syriac and
thence to Arabic,
bringing the knowledge of the classical
world to the
emerging Arabic-speaking civilization in the south.
fourth translation movement from Greek directly is the historic
achievement of Khalid ibn Yazid in Damascus, as we have mentioned
above. Some of the works that were translated for Khalid are known
but the majority are still unknown.
Several alchemistical treatises, written in Arabic, exist in
manuscripts in the National Library at Paris and in the library of
the University of Leiden, and have been reproduced by Berthelot,
with translations, in vol. iii. of La
Chimie au moyen age. Some
are largely composed of compilations from Greek sources. The most
interesting and possibly the oldest is the Book of Crates; it is
remarkable for containing some of the signs used for the metals by
the Greek alchemists, and for giving figures of four pieces of
apparatus which closely resemble those depicted in Greek MSS. Its
concluding words suggest that its translation was due to "Khalid ibn
fifth possible translation activity in alchemy is that al-Mansur who
became fascinated with alchemy. He may had arranged for alchemical
texts to be translated for him. However,
at al-Mansur's time there existed already numerous alchemical texts
in Arabic which manifestly date from pre-Abbasid times.
the above mentioned avenues and centres of translation of alchemical
works explain the existence of the numerous alchemical works in
Arabic by pre-Islamic pseudo-authors.
cultural history of the Umayyads is not sufficiently researched. Sometimes
it is deformed. One factor, according to some scholars, is the
tendency of the Abbasids to suppress the true history of the
scholars say that all Arabic histories appeared in the Abbasid era
and were written by historians that were in the service of the
Abbasids. We know that the Abbasids did all in their power to blot
out the memory of the Umayyads, and when that failed, to falsify
their memory. Accordingly, writers of that period, seldom attribute
any virtue to the members of the previous dynasty. Others attribute
the injustice to the Umayyads to be due to the schism between Shi'i
and Sunni Islam, especially after the martyrdom of al-Husain.
essay shows that the cultural achievements of the Umayyads were
phenomenal. They established the Arab-Muslim Empire. They started
the sciences of the Arabic language and the sciences of the Muslim
religion. They arabized the administration and established Arabic as
an international language. They arabized the gold dinar and the
silver dirham. They initiated the translation movement from other
languages into Arabic. They pioneered Islamic architecture and city
planning, and their achievements in technology were without equal.
Khalid ibn Yazid ibn Mu'awiya was given an education of a prince fit
for a caliph. He was a sage, pious, virtuous, brave and generous. He
devoted his life to science after the caliphate had escaped him, and
he initiated the translation movement in Islam.