History of Science and Technology in Islam






In 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.[2] This essay sheds new light on the civilization and culture of the Umayyads and on the historic personality of Prince Khalid ibn Yazid.



The 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.[3]


The 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.


In 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.


As 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.


The 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.


With 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.[4]


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.[5] 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

The 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 .[6]


It 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.


The 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.


The 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.


The 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.[7]


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.[8] 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.


The 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 soil.


Non-Muslim centres of learning during Umayyad Caliphate

The 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.

By 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.

In 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.


Kufa 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.


In 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.


The 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.


The 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 Basra.


Al-Hajjaj 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.


Al-Khalil 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 communities.


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.


In 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 bear fruit.


The rise of sects and cultural movements during the Umayyad's Caliphate

It 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.


An 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, in Baghdad.


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 teachings.[9]


It 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, John  became 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 [10]



The 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.


We 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.[12]


Early Islamic Cities and Umayyad Architecture

A 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.


The 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.


The 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 original splendour.


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.


In 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.


The 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 [13]



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.


The 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 water.


We 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.


One 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 great service.


The 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.


For 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 air-driven mill.[14]


Industrial chemistry

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 mint

Abd 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.[15]


The 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 a!-awa'il  that:

"Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan started to write surat al-ikhlas (Qur'an, 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 for Khalid 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!"[16]


The metallurgy of iron and steel

The iron and steel industry existed in Damascus before the Arabs had arrived, and Damascenes swords were renowned throughout the Roman Empire.

The 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.

Al-Biruni 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. [17]

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 or Iran.


According to the latest reported archaeological finds, the earliest existing examples of lustre glass were of Syrian origin during the Umayyad period.(660750).[18]Numerous Umayyad glass lustre fragments have been found at Qasr al-Hayr al-Sharqi[19] 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[20] in Jordan included Umayyad lustre-painted and gilded fragments.[21]


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.[22]


Books on gemstones

Al-Biruni 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 that time.[23]


Industrial recipes in general

Al-Biruni's 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 known.


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. [24]

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.
[25] And since Jabir flourished in the eighth century, his sources must belong to the Umayyad period.


The weapons industry

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.


From `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.


The 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 al-Athir.


Military fires

The 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.


The 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 technology.[26]


Dar al-Sina'a and the Islamic fleets

One 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 such raids.


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 .Mediterranean.


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.


The 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.


The 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: [27]



High-quality textiles were manufactured in state factories known as tiraz.  Such 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.


Al-tiraz 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.


Papyrus (al-qaratis)

Al-qaratis 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 


The mail service (al-barid)

`Abd 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 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.


The 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.

The 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.


The diwan operations dealt with accounting procedures which required handling arithmetical operations carried over fractions and the like.[28] Therefore 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.


The 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.


We 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 employees.


In 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:


"He 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 [29]. 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.



If 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.[30]



We 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. [31]


Beside these translations of the caliphs there were individuals who sponsored some translations for their own personal use.



Said b. Ahmad al-Andalusi says in his book Tabaqat al-umam (Classification 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 it.' [32]


The 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.


The 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.


When 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.[33]

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.


The first hospitals in Islam

It 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.[34]


The 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.

A 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.

There 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 forbidden.

In 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.[35]

Similarly Al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf al-Thaqafi consulted astrologers and he had his own astrologer. There are some historic stories about al-Hajjaj  and astrologers.


One 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 Abbasid period

The early Abbasid caliphs relied on physicians, astrologers, alchemists and other scholars of the Umayyad period who were already accomplished.


The 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 only.  The 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.[36] Apart from secretaries, it seems that there were avenues by which astronomers  and astrologers were given a thorough training either through individual tutoring or by receiving their training in groups.

One 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.

Ibn 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.  

Ibn 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. 

Ibn 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 official.

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. [37]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.


Ibn 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.

When 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. [38] 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.

We 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.

All 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 al-'Arab).  Writing 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)?

All 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 al-aflak. Such activities could not have been accomplished by people who were just learning how to translate under the earliest Abbasids, as the classical narrative claims.[39]

We 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 Persia.  Due to his medical renown, he was called to Baghdad in 765 CE to treat the Caliph 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.[40]  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, 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[41].


Due 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


The 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 Europe.


The 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 court.


Abu 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 Alexandrian lines. Yusuf al-'Ishsh maintains that the first Bait al-Hikma was founded by Mu'awiya. [42]


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 al-amthal andKitab al-muluk. Another scholar was Daghfal ibn Hanzala al-Sandusi al-Shibani (d. 65/684) who was an expert in genealogy and had written Kitab al-tashjir on this subject. He was also versed in Arabic literature and in astronomy.


It 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.[43]


Yazid had led the first campaign against the Byzantines in 52/672 in which several companions of the prophet including Abu Ayyub al-Ansari, had participated.


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.


Yazid, was first married to Umm Hisham bint Utba bin Rabiya in 660 and had two sons, Muawiya 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 same education.

When 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 successor.

The 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) [44].  Al-Hamawi writes:

"Khalid ibn Yazid ibn Mu'awiya ibn abi Sufian; the Prince Abu Hashim al-Umawi:

He 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.

Al-Zubayr ibn Mus'ab had said: Khalid ibn Yazid ibn Mu'awiya was known as a scientist, a sage and a poet.

Ibn 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.

He 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 Arab historians

The 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 evidence.[45]


Some 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." [46]


At 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. 776868) 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 alchemy. [47]


Al-Baladhuri (d. 279/892) reported also about the involvement of Khalid in 'ilm al-san'a. [48]


Abu-l-Faraj al-Isbahānī (897-967) mentioned in Kitāb al-aghānī that Khalid wasted his time in the pursuit of alchemy.[49] In al-Aghani we find also an important testimony about Khalid given by al-Abu’l-Hasan al-Mada’ini (d. 830) who attributed it to one of Khalid's contemporaries.[50]


Al-Mas'udi (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.


Ibn 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. [51]


Khalid occupies a high standing among Arabic scientists and alchemists. Al-Biruni (d, 440/1048) described Khalid as the first Muslim philosopher.[52]

 Most Arabic works on alchemy give citations from his writings and poems on ‘ilm al san’a (the Art).


Khalid ibn Yazid and the Caliph Abu Ja'far al-Mansur- similar addiction to alchemy


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 the caliphate


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 activity.


We 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 exhausted itself.


Stories of charlatans in alchemy at the time of Khalid and the Caliph al-Mansur

Imposters in alchemy were active since the elixir and transmutation became common knowledge. We have few stories that were reported by historians.


The 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 blame.


Then 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." [53]


The 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".[54]


The third story involved the Caliph al-Mansur also and is reported in Syriac religious literature. [55] 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.[56]

Arabic alchemical 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 Syriac,[57] Sezgin and others are of this opinion. Other historians are of the opinion that these works were written by pseudo-Arabic authors after Islam [58] 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 authors.

Most 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 translations only.

The 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.[59]

The 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 divination.[60]

Some 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.

The 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.

During 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.

A 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 Yazid".

A 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.[61] However, at al-Mansur's time there existed already numerous alchemical texts in Arabic which manifestly date from pre-Abbasid times.

All 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.




The 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 Umayyads.[62] These 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.

This 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.



[1] In this essay I shall utilize original Arabic sources in preference to relying on the differing assumptions of orientalists and modern historians of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This safe approach was adopted to a large extent also by recent scholars who wrote modern works on Arabic and Islamic science. See Fuat Sezgin and George Saliba. I also utilized only original Arabic sources in my recent monograph Studies in Al-Kimya' ; Sezgin, Fuat,Geschichte des arabischen Schrifftums, vol. iv, Brill, 1996.; Saliba, George., Islamic Science and the Making of the European Renaissance, MIT, 2007.; Al-Hassan, Studies in Al-Kimya'. Olms, 2009.

[2] Especially Julius Ruska, followed by Ullman  and others.  Ruska, Julius, Arabische Alchemisten. Vol I., on Khalid ibn Yazid,  Heildelberg, 1924.

[3] Toynbee, Arnod, A Study of History, Oxford, 1961, pp. 466, 473.

[4] There are several good histories giving account of the conquests, such as al-Baladhuri, Kitab futuh al-buldan, Cairo, 1910; Ihn al-Athir, al-kamil fi al-tarikh Beirut, 1967. One of the shortest general histories is C. Brockelman,History of the Islamic Peoples, trans. by I. Carmichael and M. Perlman, London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1949.

[5] See A. Toynbee, op. cit., p.469 where he gives various other reasons.

[6] Ibid., p.473

[7] The pre-Islamic civilizations of the Near East are discussed by several historians. See A. Toynbee, op. cit; Sarton, George, Introduction to the History of Science, vol I, Carnegie Institution of Washington, Williams and Wilkins, 1927.

[8] Arabic original sources never referred to the rational sciences as 'foreign'. This was an error in translating the word 'ajam which was repeated without any checking by several generations of authors.

[9] See Ibn al-Nadim, Al-Fihrist, Cairo, n.d.; English translation: Bayard Dodge, The Fihrist of al-Nadim, Columbia University Press, 1970.. A rich literature exists where writers from each group wrote refutations of the theories of the other group. An interesting later Ibadi work discusses all other Islamic movements and refutes them one by one from an Ibadi point of view; see al-Qalahati, al fïraq a/-islamiyya min khilal al-kashf wa al-bayan, ed. M. Bin 'Abd al-Jalil Tunis, 1984.

[10]  Sec Philip Hitti, History of Syria, Arabic edition, Beirut, 1959, II, pp. 114-120.

[11] This part of this essay is partly adapted from: Al-Hassan, Ahmad Y., Aspects of Islamic Cullture vol iv, part 1.

[12] Cahen, Claude, History of the Arabs and Islamic Peoples, Arabic edition, Beirut, 1977, p.205. See also the same author's article in The Cambridge History of Islam, 1977, p. 527.

[13] The founding of new Islamic cities like Basra and Kufa and the building of mosques are described in such medieval Arabic sources as al-Baladhuri's Futuh al-buldan, and in the later sources written by Arab geographers. Many recent articles discuss the construction of mosques and palaces. See G. Fehervari, 'Art and Architecture', in the Cambridge History of Islam, 2B, Cambridge, 1970, pp.705-707; D.T. Rice, Islamic Art, London, 1975, pp. 9-28. For useful information about Umayyad mosques and palaces, see P. Hitti, History of Syria, op. cit, I, pp.281, 286.

[14] Several papers and works deal with irrigation development. Sec I. Lapidus, 'Arab Settlement and Economic Development of Iraq and Iran in the Age of the Umayyad and Early Abbasid Caliphs', in: A. L. Udovich (ed.), The Islamic Middle East, 700-1900, Princeton, 1981, pp.177-208; R. M. Adams, Land Behind Baghdad, Chicago,1965; G. Le Strange, The Lands of the Eastern Caliphate, Cambridge, 1965, pp. 26-30. Several original Arabic sources deal with irrigation works such as al-Baladhuri's Futuh al-buldan, and ibn Rusta's al-A'laq al nafisa.

[15] A. Ehrenkreutz, 'Monetary Aspects of Medieval Near Eastern Economic History', in .Studies in the Economic History of the Middle East , edited by M. A. Cook, Routledge, 2004, pp. 37-50.

[16]  Abu Hilal al-'Askari. Kitab al-awa'il. Beirut, 1997, p. 185 f. quoted by Saliba.

[17] See Al-Hassan, Studies in Al-Kimya'. Chapter 10. Olms, 2009.

[18] Ashmolian, Abbasid Ceramics, Revolution or Evolution? The Development of a True Islamic Style in Ceramics. A Web-Based Teaching Course on Islamic Ceramics.

[19] Genequand, D., with contribution by M. O’Hea, ‘Qasr al-Hayr al-Sharqi: une ville neuve des débuts de l’Islam dans la steppe syrienne’, Archéologie Suisse, 29.2006.3: 22–9.

[20] Pella is set in a fold of the hills that rise from the Jordan Valley 78 km north of Amman, It is known in Arabic as Tabaqat Fahl; and is one of the most ancient sites in Jordan and a favourite of archaeologists being exceptionally rich in antiquities. After the 7th century Arab conquest, Pella continued as an Umayyad city for just over 100 years, and some superb pottery remains have been found here. But like so many places in Jordan, the city was destroyed by the terrible earthquake of ad 747. The site continued to be occupied during the Abbasid and Mamluk periods, but it was now a much smaller and more rural community.

[21] Margaret O'Hea: ‘Umayyad to Fatimid Glass: finds at Pella’, Historians of Islamic Art Newsletter ; Volume XIII, Spring 2003.

[22] Scanlon, George T. and Ralph Pinder-Wilson, Fustat Glass of the Early Islamic Period, London, 2001, p. 210.

[23] Al- Biruni, Al-Jamahir fi ma'rifat al-jawahir, ed. Krenkow, Osmaniyya, Hyderabad, India 1936, reprinted,  Beirut, n.d. ,  pp. 50-51

[24] Studies in Al-Kimya',op. cit.,  chapter 5.

[25] Studies in Al-Kimya', op. cit.m chapter 6.

[26]  A. A. `Awn, al-fann al-harbi fi sadr al-Islam (Military Art in Early Islam), Cairo, 1961. For an account of the siege of Mecca 64/683, see in particular al-Mas`udi, Kitab muruj al-dhahab, ed. Yusuf Daghir, Beirut, 1965. III, p.71, and for the second siege by al-Hajjaj 73/692, see Ibn Kathir, al-Bidaya wa al-nihaya, Beirut, 1981, VIII, p.329.

[27] Among the original Arabic sources describing the Umayyad achievements are al-Baladhuri, op. cit., and al-Tabari, Tarikh al-umam  wa al-muluk, Cairo, 1325. These descriptions have been incorporated in recent studies. See I. al-`Adawi, al-.asatil al-'arabiyya fi al-bahr al-abyad al-mutawassit (Arab Fleets in the Mediterranean), Cairo, 1957; M. al-Hamawi, Tarikh al-ustul al-'arabi (History of the Arab Fleet), Damascus, 1945. See also P. Hitti, op. cit, II, pp 89, 103.

[28] This part about the functions of the diwan , is adapted  from Saliba, op. cit.

[29] Abu al-Wafa' al-Buzjani, Ma yahtaj ilaih al-sunna' min 'ilm al-handasa, Baghdad 1979;  Abu al-Wafa' al-Buzjani, Ma yahtaj ilaih al-kuttab wa al-'ummal wa ghairihim min 'ilm al-hisab, in A.S. Saidan,  Abu al-Wafa' al-Buzjani: ilm al-hisab al-'arabi, Amman, 1971. Cited by Saliba, op. cit.

[30] We should note however, that these three disciplines remained of great importance in Islamic and in European civilizations throughout the centuries.

[31] Carlo Nallino, llm al-falak: ta'rïkhuhu 'ind al-'Arab fí al-qurun al-wusta, Rome, 1911-12.

[32] Sa'id  ibn. Ahmad al-Andalusi, Tabaqat aI-umam, ed. Cheikho, Beirut, 1912.

[33]  Ibn Abi Usaybi'a, 'Uyun al-anba' fi tabaqat al-atibba', Beirut, n.d. , p. 232

[34]  Sec G. Sarton, op. cit., p.493

[35] Al-Mas'udi, Muruj al dhahab, op.cit., Beirut, III, p.106.

[36] Arjomand, Said Amir, 'Abd Allah ibn al-Muqaffa' and the abbasid Revolution, Iranian Studies, Vol. 27, Numbers 1-4, 1994

[37] Arjomand, op. cit. p. 18

[38] The following text about the astronomers and astrologers of the early Abbasid period is adapted from George Saliba, op. cit.

[39] End of citation from Saliba.

[40] Andras Hamori, “A Sampling of Pleasant Civilities,” Studia Islamica, no. 95 (2002): 9.

[41] Ibn al•Nadim, op. cit. p.511.

[42]  Reported by Mackensen, Ruth Stellborn, "Arabic Books and Libraries in the Umayyad Period," The American Hournal of Semetic Languages and Literature, vol 3, no. 4, July 1937. 

[43] Yazid  undertook some irrigation projects in Iraq. He also constructed a tributary of Barada River in Damascus which still bears his name, Nahr Yazid ( Yazid's River).

[44] Yaqut al-Hamawi, Mu'jam al-udaba', ed. Ihsan Abbas, Beirut: Dar al-Gharb al-Islami, 1993.

[45] Al-Hassan, Studies in Al-Kimya'. Julius Ruska raised doubts about Khalid’s work in alchemy, and Fuat Sezgin refuted Ruska’s assumptions based on original Arabic sources. Our recent discovery of the Arabic original of Liber de compositione alchimiae had proved conclusively that Ruska’s speculations were groundless.

[46]  Dodge, op. cit. p. 581

[47] Al-Jahiz, Kitab al-bayan wa al-tabyin, ed. A.S. Harun, Cairo, 1975, vol. 1, p. 328

[48] Al-Baladhuri, Kitab ansab al-ashraf, vol. I, edited by Muhammad Hamid Allah, Cairo, 1959, p.65.

[49] Kitab al-aghani, vol. 16, Bulaq's edition, p. 88.

[50] Op.cit. p. 5

[51]  Ibn Khallikan, Wafayat al-a'yan, vol 2, Cairo, n.d., p. 224

[52] Al-Biruni, Kitab al-athar al-baqiya, Beirut, 2000,  p. 302.

[53]  This text is from Joseph Needham, Science and Civilization in China, vol 5, part IV, Cambridge, 1980. p. 475.. Needham took it from Kitab al-imara wa al-siyasa  of Ibn Qutayba.

[54] Reported by Dimitri Gutas, Greek Thought, Arabic Culture, Routledge, 1998, p. 115.

[55] E. W. Brooks, A Syriac fragment: Chronicle 754-813 AD, Zeitschrift für deutschen morgenlandischen Gesellschaft 54 (date) pp.195.f.

[56]  There is also a report about him in the Chronicles of Zugnin, The Chronicle of Zuqnīn, parts III and IV: A.D. 488-775 : translated from Syriac, by Amir Harrak, Toronto, 1999, ,p. 192.

[57] Stapleton, H.E. The antiquity of alchemy. Ambix 5 (1-2) Oct 1953, p. 1-43.

[58] Sezgin, vol. iv, op. cit.

[59] Thompson, C.W., Alchemy and Alchemists, Dover, 1932,  p. 54

[60] Brock, Sebastian P. An Introduction to Syriac Studies. Gorgias Press, 2006.

[61] Gutas, op. cit.

[62] Mackensen, Ruth Stellborn,, op. cit.


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