The Info List - House Of Wisdom

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The House of Wisdom
House of Wisdom
(Arabic: بيت الحكمة‎; Bayt al-Hikma) was a major intellectual center during the Islamic Golden Age. The House of Wisdom
House of Wisdom
was founded as a library for private use by the Abbasid
Harun al-Rashid
Harun al-Rashid
(reigned 786–809)[1][2] and culminated in prominence under his son al-Ma'mun (reigned 813–833) who is credited with its formal institution. Al-Ma'mun
is also credited with bringing many well-known scholars to share information, ideas, and culture in the House of Wisdom. The library was based in Baghdad, and from the 9th to 13th centuries Muslim
scholars, as well as people of Jewish or Christian
background[3] were allowed to study there. Besides translating books into Arabic
and preserving them, scholars associated with the House of Wisdom
House of Wisdom
also made many remarkable original contributions to diverse fields.[4][5] During the reign of al-Ma'mun, astronomical observatories were set up, and the House was an unrivalled center for the study of humanities and for science in medieval Islam, including mathematics, astronomy, medicine, alchemy and chemistry, zoology, and geography and cartography. Drawing primarily on Greek, but also Syriac, Indian and Persian texts, the scholars accumulated a great collection of world knowledge, and built on it through their own discoveries. By the middle of the ninth century, the House of Wisdom
House of Wisdom
had the largest selection of books in the world.[5] It was destroyed in the sack of the city following the Mongol Siege of Baghdad, in 1258.


1 History

1.1 Foundation and origins 1.2 Under Al-Ma'mun 1.3 Decline under Al-Mutawakkil 1.4 Destruction by the Mongols

2 Main activities

2.1 Translation 2.2 Original contributions 2.3 Observatories

3 Notable people 4 Other houses of wisdom 5 See also 6 Notes 7 References

History[edit] Foundation and origins[edit]

The earliest scientific manuscripts originated in the Abbasid

Throughout the 4th to 7th centuries, scholarly work in the Greek and Syriac languages was either newly initiated, or carried on from the Hellenistic period. Centers of learning and of transmission of classical wisdom included colleges such as the School of Nisibis and later the School of Edessa, and the renowned hospital and medical academy of Jundishapur; libraries included the Library of Alexandria and the Imperial Library of Constantinople; and other centers of translation and learning functioned at Merv, Salonika, Nishapur
and Ctesiphon
situated just south of what was later to become Baghdad.[6][7] Through the Umayyad
era, founded by Caliph
Muawiyah I, he starts to gather a collection of books in Damascus. He then formed a library that were referred by the name of "Bayt al-Hikma".[5] Books written in Greek, Latin, and Persian in the fields of medicine, alchemy, physics, mathematics, astrology and other disciplines were also collected and translated by Muslim
scholars at that time.[8] Remarkably, the Umayyads also appropriated paper-making techniques from the Chinese and joined many ancient intellectual centers under their rule, and employed Christian
and Persian scholars to both translate works into Arabic, and to develop new knowledge.[9] These were fundamental elements that contributed directly to the flourishing of scholarship in the Arab world.[8] In 750, the Abbasid
dynasty replaced the Umayyad
as the ruling dynasty of the Islamic Empire, and, in 762, the caliph al-Mansur (r. 754 – 775) built Baghdad
and made it his capital, instead of Damascus. Baghdad's location and cosmopolitan population made the perfect location for a stable commercial and intellectual center.[8] The Abbasid
dynasty had a strong Persian bent,[10] and adopted many practices from the Sassanian Empire
Sassanian Empire
– among those, that of translating foreign works, except that now texts were translated into Arabic. For this purpose, al-Mansur founded a palace library, modeled after the Sassanian Imperial Library, and provided economic and political support to the intellectuals working there. He also invited delegations of scholars from India and other places to share their knowledge of mathematics and astronomy with the young Abbasid court.[8] In the Abbasid
Empire, many foreign works were translated into Arabic from Greek, Chinese, Sanskrit, Persian and Syriac. The Translation Movement gained great momentum during the reign of caliph al-Rashid, who, like his predecessor, was personally interested in scholarship and poetry.[5] Originally the texts concerned mainly medicine, mathematics and astronomy; but, other disciplines, especially philosophy, soon followed. Al-Rashid's library, direct predecessor to the House of Wisdom, was also known as Bayt al-Hikma or, as the historian Al-Qifti called it, Khizanat Kutub al-Hikma ( Arabic
for "Storehouse of the Books of Wisdom").[5] Under Al-Ma'mun[edit]

learning a complex surgical method.

Under the sponsorship of caliph al-Ma'mun (r. 813 – 833), economic support of the House of Wisdom
House of Wisdom
and scholarship in general was greatly increased. Moreover, Abbasid
society itself came to understand and appreciate the value of knowledge, and support also came from merchants and the military.[8] It was easy for scholars and translators to make a living and an academic life was a symbol of status.[5] Wisdom was so valuable that books and ancient texts were sometimes preferred as war booty instead of other riches.[5] Indeed, Ptolemy's Almagest
was claimed as a condition for peace after a war between the Abbasids and the Byzantine Empire.[11] The House of Wisdom
House of Wisdom
was much more than an academic center removed from the broader society. Its experts served several functions in Baghdad. Scholars from the Bayt al-Hikma usually doubled as engineers and architects in major construction projects. They kept accurate official calendars and were public servants. They were also frequently medics and consultants.[5][8] Al-Ma'mun
was personally involved in the daily life of the House of Wisdom, regularly visiting its scholars and inquiring about their activities. He would also participate in and arbitrate academic debates.[8] Furthermore, he would often organize groups of sages from the Bayt al-Hikma into major research projects to satisfy his own intellectual needs. For example, he commissioned the mapping of the world, the confirmation of data from the Almagest
and the deduction of the real size of the Earth (see section on the main activities of the House). He also promoted Egyptology and participated himself in excavations of the pyramids of Giza.[5]

Al Ma'mun sends an envoy to the Byzantine Emperor Theophilos.

Following his predecessors, al-Ma'mun would send expeditions of scholars from the House of Wisdom
House of Wisdom
to collect texts from foreign lands. In fact, one of the directors of the House was sent to Constantinople with this purpose. During this time, Sahl ibn Harun, a Persian poet and astrologer, was the chief librarian of the Bayt al-Hikma. Hunayn ibn Ishaq (809–873) an Arab Nestorian
physician and scientist, was the most productive translator producing 116 works for the Arabs. As "Sheikh of the translators" he was placed in charge of the translation work by the caliph. The Sabian Thābit ibn Qurra (826–901) also translated great works by Apollonius, Archimedes, Euclid
and Ptolemy. Translations of this era were superior to earlier ones, since the new Abbasid
scientific tradition required better and better translations, and the emphasis was many times put in incorporating new ideas to the ancient works being translated.[8] By the second half of the ninth century al-Ma'mun's Bayt al-Hikma was the greatest repository of books in the world and had become one of the greatest hubs of intellectual activity in the Middle Ages, attracting the most brilliant Arab and Persian minds.[5] The House of Wisdom eventually acquired a reputation as a center of learning, although universities as we know them did not yet exist at this time — knowledge was transmitted directly from teacher to student, without any institutional surrounding. Maktabs soon began to develop in the city from the 9th century on, and in the 11th century, Nizam al-Mulk founded the Al-Nizamiyya of Baghdad, one of the first institutions of higher education in Iraq. Decline under Al-Mutawakkil[edit] The House of Wisdom
House of Wisdom
flourished under al-Ma'mun's successors al-Mu'tasim (r. 833–842) and his son al-Wathiq (r. 842 – 847), but considerably declined under the reign of al-Mutawakkil (r. 847–861).[12] Although al-Ma'mun, al-Mu'tasim, and al-Wathiq followed the sect of Mu'tazili, which supported mind-broadness and scientific inquiry, al-Mutawakkil endorsed a more literal interpretation of the Qur'an
and Hadith.[12] The caliph was not interested in science and moved away from rationalism, seeing the spread of Greek philosophy as anti-Islamic.[12] Destruction by the Mongols[edit]

Hulagu Khan's siege of Baghdad

The Mongol siege of 1258 AD began in mid-January and lasted for two weeks. On February 13, the Mongols entered the city of the caliphs, starting a full week of pillage and destruction.

With all other libraries in Baghdad, the House of Wisdom
House of Wisdom
was destroyed by the army of Hulagu during the Siege of Baghdad.[13] The books from Baghdad’s libraries were thrown into the Tigris River in such quantities that the river ran black with the ink from the books.[14] Nasir al-Din al-Tusi
Nasir al-Din al-Tusi
rescued about 400,000 manuscripts which he took to Maragheh before the siege.[15]

Main activities[edit] The House of Wisdom
House of Wisdom
included a society of scientists and academics, a translation department and a library that preserved the knowledge acquired by the Abbasids over the centuries.[8] Furthermore, linked to it were also astronomical observatories and other major experimental endeavors.[5] Indeed, the House of Wisdom
House of Wisdom
was much more than a library, and a considerable amount of original scientific and philosophical work was produced by scholars and intellectuals related to it.[5]

13th-century Arabic
translation of Materia Medica.

Translation[edit] Over a century and a half, primarily Middle Eastern Oriental Syriac Christian
scholars translated all scientific and philosophic Greek texts to Arabic language
Arabic language
in the House of Wisdom.[16][17] The translation movement at the House of Wisdom
House of Wisdom
was inaugurated with the translation of Aristotle's Topics. By the time of al-Ma'mun, translators had moved beyond Greek astrological texts, and Greek works were already in their third translations.[5] Authors translated include: Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, Hippocrates, Euclid, Plotinus, Galen, Sushruta, Charaka, Aryabhata
and Brahmagupta. Furthermore, new discoveries motivated revised translations and commentary correcting or adding to the work of ancient authors.[8] In many cases names and terminology were changed; a prime example of this is the title of Ptolemy's Almagest, which is an Arabic
modification of the original name of the work: Megale Syntaxis.[8] Original contributions[edit]

A page from al-Khwarizmi's Kitab al-Jabr.

Drawing of Self trimming lamp in Ahmad ibn Mūsā ibn Shākir's treatise on mechanical devices.

Al-Idrisi's map of the world (12th). Note South is on top.

Besides translation and commentary of earlier works, scholars at the Bayt al-Hikma produced important original research. For example, famous mathematician al-Khwarizmi worked in al-Ma'mun's House of Wisdom and is famous for his contributions to the development of algebra.[5] He is also known for his book Kitab al-Jabr in which he develops a number of algorithms.[5] The application of the word "algebra" to mathematics and the etymology of the word "algorithm" can be traced back to al-Khwarizmi — the actual concept of an algorithm dates back before the time of Euclid. Besides that, this mathematician is responsible for the introduction of the Hindu decimal system to the Arab world, and through them to Europe. There were also important breakthroughs in cryptanalysis by Al-Kindi.[5] There were also many original contributions to astronomy and physics. Mohammad Musa might have been the first person in history to point to the universality of the laws of physics.[5] In the 10th century, Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen) performed several physical experiments, mainly in optics, achievements still celebrated today.[18] Mohammad Musa and his brothers Ahmad and Hasan (collectively known as the "Banu Musa brothers") were also remarkable engineers. They are authors of the renowned Book of Ingenious Devices, which describes about one hundred devices and how to use them. Among these was "The Instrument that Plays by Itself", the earliest example of a programmable machine.[19] In medicine, Hunayn wrote an important treatise on ophthalmology. Other scholars also wrote on smallpox, infections and surgery. Note that these works, would later become standard textbooks of medicine in the Renaissance.[20] Under al-Mamun lead science saw for the first time bigger research projects involving large groups of scholars.[21] In order to check Ptolemy's observations, the caliph ordered the construction of the first astronomical observatory in Baghdad
(see Observatories section below). The data provided by Ptolemy
was meticulously checked and revised by a highly capable group of geographers, mathematicians and astronomers.[8] Al-Mamun also organized research on the circumference of the Earth and commissioned a geographic project that would result in one of the most detailed world-maps of the time.[21] Some consider these efforts the first examples of large state-funded research projects.[21] Observatories[edit] The creation of the first observatory in the Islamic world was ordered by caliph al-Mamun in 828. The construction was directed by scholars from the House of Wisdom: senior astronomer Yahya ibn abi Mansur and the younger Sanad ibn Ali al-AlYahudi.[22] It was located in al-Shammasiyya and was called Maumtahan Observatory. After the first round of observations of Sun, Moon and the planets, a second observatory on Mount Qasioun, near Damascus, was constructed. The results of this endeavor were compiled in a work known as al-Zij al-Mumtahan, which translates as "The Verified Tables".[21][23] Notable people[edit] This is a list of notable people related to the House of Wisdom, most of them are mentioned in the text above. Besides the listed occupation, most of them were also translators:

Sahl ibn Harun (d. 830), chief librarian; Yaqub ibn Ishaq al-Kindi (801–873), philosopher and polymath; Yusuf ibn Maṭar (786–833), mathematician Hunayn ibn Ishaq
Hunayn ibn Ishaq
(809–873), physician (Assyrian-Nestorian);[24] Muhammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī
Muhammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī
(780–850), mathematician; The Banu Musa brothers, engineers and mathematicians; Thabit Ibn Qurra (826-901), mathematician and astronomer Yusuf Al-Khuri (d. 912), mathematician and physician (Assyrian Priest-Nestorian) Qusta Ibn Luqa (820–912), physician and scientist (Assyrian-Nestorian) Abu Bishr Matta ibn Yunus al-Qanna (c. 870-940), philosopher (Assyrian-Nestorian) Abu Yahya Ibn al-Batriq (working 796 - 806), astronomer (Assyrian-Nestorian) Yahya ibn Adi (893–974), philosopher (Assyrian-Nestorian) Sind ibn Ali (d. 864), astronomer; Abu Uthman, usually known as Al-Jahiz
(781–861), writer and biologist; Al-Jazari
(1136–1206), physicist and engineer.

Other houses of wisdom[edit] Some other places have also been called House of Wisdom, and should not be confused with Baghdad's Bayt al-Hikma:

In Cairo, Dar al-Hikmah, the "House of Wisdom", was another name of the House of Knowledge, founded by the Fatimid Caliph
Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah in 1004.[5] There is a research institute in Baghdad
called Bayt al-Hikma after the Abbasid-era research center. While the complex includes a 13th-century madrasa, it is not the same building as the medieval Bayt al-Hikma. It was damaged during the 2003 invasion of Iraq33°20′32″N 44°23′01″E / 33.3423°N 44.3836°E / 33.3423; 44.3836 The main library at Hamdard University
Hamdard University
in Karachi, Pakistan is called 'Bait al Hikmah'. International NGO
based in France, La Maison de Sagesse.[25][26] On November 2, launch of the activities of the House of Wisdom (Fez-Granada) in Fez, by cardinal Barbarin and its founder, Khal Torabully, with the Executive Committee, with a view of reactualizing its spirit and mission in the 21st century, Lancement des activités de la Maison de la Sagesse Fès-Grenade à son siège social, le Palais Shéréhézade à Fès, le 2 novembre,par le Cardinal Barbarin, en présence de son fondateur Khal Torabully et le bureau http://www.courrierdesafriques.net/2016/11/le-cardinal-barbarin-a-fes-lancement-des-activites-de-la-maison-de-la-sagesse The House of Wisdom
House of Wisdom
and the Silk Roads, activities in Fez, Morocco, https://lematin.ma/express/2018/rencontre-nouvelles-routes-soie/287409.html Programme of THE NEW SILK AND CONVIVENCIA ROUTES, FEZ, MOROCCO : http://www.courrierdesafriques.net/2018/02/maison-de-la-sagesse-fes-grenade-fes-a-lheure-chinoise-sur-les-nouvelles-routes-de-la-soie-et-de-la-convivencia

See also[edit]

Round city of Baghdad Brethren of Purity Dar Al-Hekma Dar Al-Hekma
Dar Al-Hekma
College Astronomy in medieval Islam


^ Jürgen Renn & Sonja Brentjes, The Arabic
Transmission of Knowledge on the Balance, p. 25 ^ M.-G. Balty-Guesdon, Le Bayt al-ḥikma de Baghdad, Arabica T. 39, Fasc. 2 (Jul., 1992), p. 133, "à l'usage du calife et ses proches" ^ Hyman and Walsh Philosophy in the Middle Ages Indianapolis, 1973, p. 204' Meri, Josef W. and Jere L. Bacharach, Editors, Medieval Islamic Civilization Vol.1, A-K, Index, 2006, p. 304. ^ Meri, p. 451. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Al-Khalili, pp. 67-78 ^ Kaser, Karl The Balkans and the Near East: Introduction to a Shared History p. 135. ^ Yazberdiyev, Dr. Almaz Libraries of Ancient Merv
Dr. Yazberdiyev is Director of the Library of the Academy of Sciences of Turkmenistan, Ashgabat. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Lyons, pp. 55-77 ^ Meri, Josef W. and Jere L. Bacharach. “Medieval Islamic Civilization”. Vol. 1 Index A – K. 2006, p. 304. ^ Wiet. Baghdad ^ Angelo, Joseph (2009). Encyclopedia of Space and Astronomy. p. 78. ISBN 9781438110189.  ^ a b c Al-Khalili, p. 135 ^ Al-Khalili, p. 233 ^ "The Mongol Invasion and the Destruction of Baghdad". Lost Islamic History.  ^ Saliba, p.243 ^ Rosenthal, Franz The Classical Heritage in Islam The University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1975, p. 6 ^ Adamson, London Peter The Great Medieval Thinkers: Al-Kindi
Oxford University Press, New York, 2007, p. 6. London Peter Adamson is a Lecturer in Late Ancient Philosophy at King's College. ^ Al-Khalili, pp. 152–171 ^ Koetsier ^ Moore ^ a b c d Al-Khalili, pp. 79-92 ^ Hockey 1249 ^ Zaimeche, p. 2 ^ John L. Esposito (6 April 2000). The Oxford History of Islam. Oxford University Press. p. 160. ISBN 978-0-19-988041-6.  ^ La Maison de Sagesse Archived 2016-12-18 at the Wayback Machine. ^ "PRIX INTERNATIONAL MÉMOIRE POUR LA DÉMOCRATIE ET LA PAIX 2016 : La Maison de la Sagesse présélectionnée Le Mauricien". www.lemauricien.com (in French). Retrieved 2017-09-13. 


Al-Khalili, Jim (2011), The House of Wisdom: How Arabic
Science Saved Ancient Knowledge and Gave Us the Renaissance, New York: Penguin Press, ISBN 9781594202797 

Lyons, Jonathan (2009), The House of Wisdom: How the Arabs
Transformed Western Civilization, New York: Bloomsbury Press, ISBN 9781596914599  Meri, Joseph; Bacharach, Jere (2006), Medieval Islamic Civilization: An Encyclopedia, Routledge, ISBN 0415966906 

Hockey, Thomas (2007), The Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers, New York: Springer, ISBN 9780387304007 

Koetsier, Teun (2001), "On the prehistory of programmable machines: musical automata, looms, calculators", Mechanism and Machine Theory, Elsevier, 36 (5): 589–603, doi:10.1016/S0094-114X(01)00005-2.  Micheau, Francoise, The Scientific Institutions in the Medieval Near East  in (Morelon & Rashed 1996, pp. 985–1007) Moore, Wendy (February 28, 2011), "All the world's knowledge", BMJ, 342: d1272, doi:10.1136/bmj.d1272, PMID 21357350 

Morelon, Régis; Rashed, Roshdi (1996), Encyclopedia of the History of Arabic
Science, 3, Routledge, ISBN 0415124107 

George Saliba, 'Islamic science and the making of the European Renaissance', Zaimeche, Salah (2002), "A cursory review of Muslim
observatories", A cursory review of Muslim
observatories (PDF), Foundation for Science, Technology and Civilisation, Manchester 

v t e

Mathematics in medieval Islam


9th century

'Abd al-Hamīd ibn Turk Sind ibn Ali al-Jawharī Al-Ḥajjāj ibn Yūsuf Al-Kindi Al-Mahani al-Dinawari Banū Mūsā Hunayn ibn Ishaq al-Khwārizmī Yusuf Al-Khuri ibn Qurra Na'im ibn Musa Sahl ibn Bishr al-Marwazi Abu Said Gorgani

10th century

al-Sufi Abu al-Wafa al-Khāzin Abū Kāmil Al-Qabisi al-Khojandi Ahmad ibn Yusuf Aṣ-Ṣaidanānī al-Uqlidisi Al-Nayrizi Al-Saghani Brethren of Purity Ibn Sahl Ibn Yunus Ibrahim ibn Sinan Al-Battani Sinan ibn Thabit Al-Isfahani Nazif ibn Yumn al-Qūhī Abu al-Jud al-Majriti al-Jabali

11th century

al-Zarqālī Abu Nasr Mansur Said al-Andalusi Ibn al-Samh Al-Biruni Alhazen ibn Fatik Al-Sijzi al-Nasawī Al-Karaji Avicenna Muhammad al-Baghdadi ibn Hud al-Jayyānī Kushyar Gilani Al-Muradi Al-Isfizari Abu Mansur al-Baghdadi

12th century

Al-Samawal al-Maghribi Avempace Al-Khazini Omar Khayyam Jabir ibn Aflah al-Hassar Al-Kharaqī Sharaf al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī Ibn al-Yasamin

13th century

al-Hanafi al-Abdari Muhyi al-Dīn al-Maghribī Ibn 'Adlan Nasir al-Din al-Tusi Shams al-Dīn al-Samarqandī Ibn al‐Ha'im al‐Ishbili Ibn Abi al-Shukr al-Hasan al-Marrakushi

14th century

al-Umawī Ibn al-Banna' Ibn Shuayb Ibn al-Shatir Kamāl al-Dīn al-Fārisī Al-Khalili Qutb al-Din al-Shirazi Ahmad al-Qalqashandi Ibn al-Durayhim

15th century

al-Qalaṣādī Ali Qushji al-Wafa'i al-Kāshī al-Rūmī Ulugh Beg Ibn al-Majdi Sibt al-Maridini al-Kubunani

16th century

Al-Birjandi Muhammad Baqir Yazdi Taqi ad-Din Ibn Hamza al-Maghribi Ibn Ghazi al-Miknasi Ahmad Ibn al-Qadi

Mathematical works

The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing De Gradibus Principles of Hindu Reckoning Book of Optics The Book of Healing Almanac Encyclopedia of the Brethren of Purity Toledan Tables Tabula Rogeriana Zij


Alhazen's problem Islamic geometric patterns


Al-Azhar University Al-Mustansiriya University House of Knowledge House of Wisdom Constantinople observatory of Taqi al-Din Madrasa Maktab Maragheh observatory University of Al Quaraouiyine


Babylonian mathematics Greek mathematics Indian mathematics


Byzantine mathematics European mathematics