Scientist of al-Andalus

Scientist of al-Andalus

By Luz Mª Martínez Arias, Mª Luisa Freire Lodeiro


Maslama Ibn Ahmad al-Mayriti was born in Madrid (Mayriti means “from Madrid”) and died in Cordoba in 398/1007-1008.

Eminent polygrapher, mathematic and astronomer, he was one of the most important scientifics in Cordoba during the Caliphate and he was a pupil of the geometer Abd al-Gâfir ibn Muhammad1.

His scientific work was linked to the palace-residence of Madinat al-Zahara, that it was, then, an important center of knowledge. Theological and koranic studies were taught in that place and the scientific knowledge was organized around two groups: mathematical-astronomical and physical-botanical-medical. Maslama was the greatest exponent of the former and Abulcasis of the latter.

Thus, Maslama ruled the school of astronomy founded by the caliph al-Hakam II in the 10th century. He took to Cordoba a famous encyclopaedia that contained all the science of those times: Letters from the Purity Brothers, written by a political-religious secret society from Basora and whose evolutives theories had a great influence from the 10th to 12th centuries.

Maslama adapted the astronomical tables of al-Jwarizmi (830)2 to the Cordoba meridian, and put the “Arin Dome” (center of the world) in Cordoba, as reference for all the astrological calculations and released in the Christian Europe, besides of adding new tables3. Sa’id al-Andalusi told like that: "He was interested in the astronomical table of Muhammad b. Musà al-Juwarizmi and, changing the era of the Persian by the one of the Arabs, he fixed in this (table) the average longitudes of the stars for the beginning of the era of the Hegira".

This text, according to Juan Vernet, has materials Indo-Iranian, Greek-Arabian and Spanish. “The Spanish material is represented by the mention of the “sofar” or “sufr” era, that it begins in 38 BC, when, according to tradition, Romans pacified and conquered all the Iberian Peninsula”4

This review of the Tables was later translated by Robert de Chester, who among others adapted, in the 12th century, Maslama's tables to London coordinates and introduced the latin word “sinus” into trigonometry. He also turned the Persian calendar to Arabic dates using the Hegira for the calculations. It was a great step for the evolution of the Andalusian scientific culture. Because of this adaptation, these tables are often called al-Jwarizmi-Maslama tables.

According to Julio Samsó, it's very difficult to know from the analysis of the most preserved text existing (the Latin translation by Abelard of Bath, 1116-1142), what part was made by al-Jwarizmi and what by Maslama and his collaborators.

As it was said, Maslama and his collaborators had to introduce changes in the ziy ( al-Jwarizmi-Maslama tables).

According to Hogendijk, Maslama tables mean an improvement regarding the al-Jwarizmi's ones because their use is easier obtaining exact results where al-Jwarizmi's tables only gave approximations.

“The work made by Maslama with al-Jwarizmi ziy must had been substantial and it involved, on the part of our astronomer, a notable maturity because he was able to assimilate the theory laying under these astronomical tables, to adapt them to his own geographical-cultural coordinates and to introduce novelties in them”5

Maslama was also the author of a treatise about the astrolabe, an astronomical instrument whose invention is attributed, among others, to the Greek Hipparchus ca. 200 BC. It is made of a graven disc with marks for the degrees, the lines and circles. A metallic net with points representing the brilliantest stars rotated on it to represent the daily movement of the sky, and at the same time a rotating bar was used to measure the altitude of the stars with reference to the horizon.

The astrolabe was the calculation instrument more used by the astronomers and the astrologers, allowing to solve graphically, in an easy way, problems related to the movement of the Sun and the fixed stars, so as problems of spherical astrology.

This treatise about the astrolabe is preserved in El Escorial Monastery library. It's a translation into Latin made in Toledo by Juan Hispalense in the 12th century. In this treatise, Maslama includes, besides the uses of the astrolabe, the topographical Arabic method of the triangulation, that allows the measure of altitudes and distances using right triangles. This method had a quick dissemination in the North of the Peninsula, above all in Catalonia, and its introduction in al-Andalus was one of the main scientific contributions of Maslama.

According to Julio Samsó, Maslama was the first Andalusian astronomer whom we certainly know that made astronomical observations. So, Azarquiel writes in his Treatise about the movement of the fixed stars, that Maslama determined, in 369/979, the celestial longitude of the star Qalb al-Asad (Calbalazada), nowadays known as Regulus, in 135º40', with an error of only 2'. We can find the same calculation in the table of stars that enclosed his notes about the Planisphere of Ptolemy but here referred to the year 367/977.

This knowledge will arrive later to the Christian kingdoms, and was used to built the first astrolabes there.

He translated the Planisphere of Ptolemy. Both the Arabic version of Maslama and the classical are lost, although Maslama's one gave origin to a Latin translation of Hermann the Dalmatian (1143), and to another Hebraic, both known today. This is a piece with a theorithecal nature in what Ptolemy studies the basis of the stereographic projection of a sphere on a plane and it's the base of the astrolabe that, besides being an instrument of observation, it's also an analogical computer.

Furthermore, Maslama wrote some comments to the Planisphere of Ptolemy to add new procedures. Three of them to divide the ecliptic of the astrolabe; other three to divide the projection of the horizon and three more to project in the astrolabe the fixed stars of the spider (a part of the astrolabe), using ecliptic, equatorial and horizontal coordinates.6

Thus, his astronomical work will be used as basis to the “alfonsies” tables and astronomy books and his books will have a great influence over Christian Europe in his later Latin translations.

He was the author of some books of practical Maths, and he became an authority in the litigations about partition of inheritances and valuation of estates. His Book of Practical Arithmetic is a summary of commercial transactions. In his treatises of commercial arithmetics, Theory about the perfection of the numeral sciences and Commercial calculation, he uses algebraic, arithmetic and geometric operations.

Maslama, besides, wrote books about magic, witchcraft and alchemy, using concepts as metals transmutation, elixirs, combining them with experimental operations of laboratory, and for the first time in history, formally organized: mercury oxidation, etc. In his book The distinction of the wise man, he gives instructions to the purification of precious metals and proved the principle of the conservation of the mass, rediscovered by Lavoisier eight centuries later. In this treatise it's described as well for the first time the mercuric oxide, a fundamental substance in the future.

Maslama was also an astrological counselor of Almanzor, telling him the best moments for his campaigns and announcing the falling of the Caliphate, as it happened. Maslama saw the solar eclipse in 1004, the coming of a comet in 1006 and he knew about the conjunction of Jupiter with Saturn in the Virgo sign. Because of that he deducted that a civil war would blow up.

He had a lot of pupils interested in maths and astronomy and he founded a school in Madrid about those subjects. The later geographical dissemination of all of them let us see that the work of Maslama was spread quickly for al-Andalus and his school meant the beginning of science as an organized activity there.

In the mathematical-astronomical culture of al-Andalus, Maslama means the beginning of a new stage after the works of assimilation and translation of the 9th century and before the splendor stage of the 11th century. So, until 10th century only some evidences of an Andalusian astronomy are found, and with no original contributions. But this changes radically with Maslama. He, with his pupils Ibn al-Saffar and Ibn al Samh, took the Andalusian astronomy to a comparable level to the Middle East astronomy. They kept the news about phenomena from sky, like sunspots, Northern lights, etc very clearly.

Most of his works were known in the Christian world by Latin translations.

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Abu I-Qasim Asbag Ibn Muhammad b al-Samh al-Mahri (dead in 1035) was a pupil of Maslama in Cordoba.

After going from Cordoba to Granada, under the protection of Habu b. Maksan, he opened in this city his own school of maths and astronomy. It was the time of the “taifas” (kingdoms), in the beginnings of 11th century, and those kingdoms tried to imitate the Umayyad of Cordoba, and that fact would have a positive influence in the scientific and cultural life of al-Andalus.

He knew very well Ptolemy's books and he was famous for his astronomical observations, even Alfonso X used his notes and books for his astronomy works.

There are not many references about the study of the arithmetic and geometry by Ibn al-Samh. He's the author of some comments on Euclides' Elements, a treatise of geometry about the straight, curved and zigzag lines and about the nature of the numbers.7

He's also the author of some astronomical tables based on the Sindhind which are not preserved, 8 and the author of a treatise, today lost, about the building of an astrolabe, in which Ibn al-Samh used the right ascension of the mediation of the star together with its declination.

Besides, he's the author of a treatise, with 130 chapters, about the use of the astrolabe9, that is of a great interest, not only because it's, probably, the most complete treatise about that topic written in al-Andalus and in the Christian Spain during the Middle Ages, but above all because it treats about some matters not very common related with this instrument. As the use of astrolabe in relationship with the Moon (determination of latitude and longitude, of the degree of the ecliptic, of the vision of the new Moon, etc.)10

Ibn al-Samh says that these chapters were written by Hanas, according to Julio Samsó he would be the Middle East astronomer Habas al-Hasib, one of the most important Arab astronomers of the 9th century. So, these quotations of Ibn al-Samh are the first known evidence of the spreading in al-Andalus of his works.

The book by Ibn al-Samh was known by the collaborators of Alfonso X because it's the source of the book written by him about the spherical astrolabe, an instrument of three dimensions. The flat astrolabe is an instrument of only two dimensions.

Ibn al-Samh is, also, the author of a treatise about the building of an equatorium, Book of the paintings of the seven planets in 1025.

The equatoria are rares astronomical instruments used to calculate the longitude of a planet without calculations.

About the equatoria there are not many written descriptions and even less models. It seems that this instrument could be an al-Andalus invention. So, according Juan Vernet, all the known equatoria, except Kasi's one (1416), are European, and the oldest three are from an al-Andalus author: Ibn al Samh (1025), Azarquiel (1100) and Abu Salt (1110). However, although Ibn al-Samh's equatorium is the first known, according to Julio Samsó, it could be from Middle East.11

The equatoria of Ibn al-Samh and Azarquiel are described in the Books of the knowledge of the astronomy, Spanish translation by the translators of the Alfonso X kingdom, with the title previously told Book of the paintings of the seven planets. In it it's shown first Ibn al-Samh's system (one page for each planet with an outer circle representing the ecliptic) and then Azarquiel's one (one page for all the planets).

It seems that in the translation of the Alfonsies books about the knowledge of Astronomy, a recopilation of 16 treatises of books translated from the Arab to Alfonso X request (made in the second third of 13th century), some mistakes were made which led to wrong conclusions.

According to Julio Samsó, Ibn al-Samh's equatorium is an hybrid instrument, an astrolabe-equatorium. Ibn al-Samh, besides of describing the equatorium in detail, gives the numerical parameters in order to built it derived from Ptolemy's ones.

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Abu Marwan Ibn Zuh, Andalusian doctor and philosopher, born in 1092 in Peñaflor, near Isbiliya (the Muslim Sevilla) and died in Sevilla in 1161-1162, was known in the Medieval Europe with the latinized name of Avenzoar.

Thus, Avenzoar lived in a convulsed time, the 12th century, during what two enemy dinasties ruled alternatively al-Andalus, the Almoravids and the Almohads.

His ancestors were devoted to the practice and study of medicine in al-Andalus for near a century.

At the beginning he had a lucky life near the court, but, finally he fell from grace and he was imprisoned in Marrakech, the Almoravid capital, where he spent more than 10 years, although he could work as a doctor. Thanks to these severe conditions he could study diseases and epidemics which he didn't know yet. Finally Avenzoar is released, because of the capture of Marrakech by the Almohads in 1147. He went to the court of the Almohad calipha 'Abd al-Mu'min and he was favored by the Almohad governors until his death.

Avenzoar came back to Sevilla with the government of the Almohads in al-Andalus and he worked teaching and practicing medicine until his death.

He was an original doctor and collected in his works a big amount of his own personal experiences. He's one of the most studied doctors in the Medieval Europe and he had a considerable influence in the Renaissance medicine.

Avenzoar didn't totally accept the prevailing ideas about medicine and he argued the ideas of Galen (Galenus) and Avicena. He had very wise ideas about philosophy, pathology and anatomy in a time when magic and obscurantism reigned.

As a doctor, he wrote a lot of books but only some of them are known today:

The Book of the Middle Course concerning the Reformation of Souls and the Bodies, Kitab al-Iqtisad, (presented to the governor of al-Andalus, Ibrahim ibn Yusuf, in 1121) is a treatise of general medicine with seven chapters. It's a divulgation book and it talks about diseases, therapies, prophylaxis, hygiene measures and cosmetic. In it he describes the body organs, the possible diseases and their healing. The last part includes topics as hygiene, perfumes, contraceptives, etc. So, Julio Samsó tells us about him: It's ...a youth work and it has a divulgative character and it's, in great part, a cosmetic treatise (“zina”), a word that includes all the knowledge referred to the conservation and embellishment of the external parts of the body, talking about cosmetics of course, but also about surgery and aesthetic medicine (nasal rectifications, teeth growth regulation, perforation of the ear lobe in order to take ornaments, etc), about hygiene and, particularly, sexual hygiene (…). At this part it's added the medical part itself, a kind of handbook for the doctors formed in the galenic-hippocratic theories.12

The Book of foods and drugs, the Kitab al-agdiya or dietetics treatise (devoted to the Almohad sultan 'Abd al-Mu'min) has two parts: a description of the properties and faults of foods and a treatise of prophylaxis where Avenzoar advises about the right care of the body in order to avoid diseases. He talks, so, about diets, drinks, condiments, food preparations and rules of hygiene.

Averroes, his pupil and friend, lauded his practical nature. So, his methodological criterium has an empiric direction. In this sense, Averroes says about Avenzoar's science that it's not a theoretical science but a way of healing. Juan Vernet says the same: "His fame as practical man was extraordinary and Averroes himself at the end of his “Colliget”, sends to the “Taysir” for all related to therapeutic".13

His main book was the Taysir... (Book of the simplification of the therapeutic and the diet), a big treatise of general medicine and dietetic (published several times in Latin in the following centuries), where he shows his great knowledge of therapeutic, emphasizing the value of the experience, making a description of the diseases and their treatment. Here he summarizes the knowledge and experiences of his life. This work was thought as a teaching handbook. He is interested in the alimentary regime of patients, the medical instrument, the preparation of the food. He also talks about the kidney diseases and the bladder stones.

In this book it's described by first time the tracheotomy, the pericardium abscesses and inflammation, the artificial feeding by the esophagus or the rectum. This is his more original work and thanks to it he can be consider as one of the biggest names in the medicine history. It was translated to Latin by Paravicini (1280).

It seems that Avenzoar tried this book to be an average between a theoretical and a practical medicine, but an inspector disapproved it because he thought that book only could be useful for who had medical knowledge. Thus, Avenzoar began to write his work al-Yami, in what, simply, he wrote all what a patient and his family must know. Ibn Sur wanted to provide to the doctors a good practical treatise of therapeutic behind which there were a good theoretical formation of a man that, like him, knew perfectly the work of Hippocrates and Galen (…). The visit of the inspector broke his expectations and the result was the writing of the “Yami”. Both books are, then, linked in their origin and the Medieval European tradition considered the “Kitab al-Yami” (“Antidotarium”) as a kind of appendix of the “Taysir” and, in fact, the modern critical edition of this last book also includes the “Yami”. 14

Thus, the Taysir is a great handbook for a practical doctor and it has a medical content much higher that the Kitab al-Yami, that it's, above all, a medicaments list.

He also discovered the cause of the scabies, a skin disease caused by a parasite mite, the itch mite (Sarcoptes scabiei) that it was discovered by him.

Other medical contributions were: the development of the practical of the tracheotomy, the application of dissection methods, first in animals and then in humans, the proof of the presence of the blood in the body. He was also the first in establishing the scientific basis of otitis. He did, besides, suitable descriptions about meningitis, intracranial thrombophlebitis and about some tumors and he treated topics like stomach ulcers, malaria, uterus physiology... Likewise he used anesthesia by inhalation.

His papers, soon translated to Latin, had an immediate dissemination and a great permanence in time because his work was used until 18th century.

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Abu al Walid Muhammad Ibn Rusd, known in the Latin world as Averroes, was born in Cordoba in 520/1126 during the Almoravid Andalusian time in a family of judges. His father, cadí of Córdoba, taught him Muslim jurisprudence. He was cadí in Sevilla and he came back years later to Córdoba because he was named doctor of the caliph of Córdoba and later he was named Main Judge of Córdoba.

He was the doctor of the Almohad caliph of Marrocco and the Muslim Spain after the invasion of the Almohads but in the last years of his life he lost the support of the caliph and was exiled to Lucena, the old Jewish city of al-Andalus, near Cóordoba and his philosophy books were burnt because an edict denounced them as dangerous for Islam (Averroes thought that reason has priority over religion). Because of this many of his works have been lost forever and we can only know them through translations into Hebrew and Latin.

He died after being restored and after the time the caliph let him come back from the exile in Marrocco in 595/1198.

He was interested in all the fields of knowledge such as philosophy, theology, mathematics, physics, astronomy, law, medicine, poetry, and he had a deep knowledge of the ancient Greek thought.

The most important part of his work are explanations, comments and critiques of interpretations of previous philosophers, applying the rules of the Middle East wise of the end of the 10th century and begining of 11th century Ibn al-Haytam, that he thought that it was necessary to analyse the texts from every point of view, and not to have previous ideas in favour or against the things we can read . In this sense Juan Vernet says “He had enough intelligence and audacity for not following blindly and without reasons to anybody, neither to Aristotle himself. In this we can not share the affirmation of Ibn Sab'in who had told that if Aristotle had affirmed that an individual can stand and seat at the same time, Averroes also had sustained it”15.

It tackled the philosophy through the juridical sciences, and he was interested in the divergences that exists between different juridical-religious schools.

His thought, although Muslim, is based on the Organon from Aristotle. He wrote comments on the work of this philosopher. It treats about the harmony between religion and philosophy, trying to define clearly the relationship between them. In his work Destructio destructionis (Tahafut al-tahafut) he attacks al-Gazali, who thought that philosophy is in contradiction with religion and in this way philosophy is against the Muslim religion principles, by what would be, like this, an affront to the teachings of the Muslim religion: “His ideas, not always well understood, gave origin to a collection of tales that made him the prototype of the incredolous and of the atheistic. This happens with the explanations that he gives about the education of the philosophy. This can not be the same for the illiterates and for the instructed, since each group understands the truths in a different way. So, to the question “Where is God?”, the illiterates would answer that in heaven; those that had some studies, that in every place, and the wise persons, that in any place. Anecdotes like this contributed to give a false image of a believer man that tried to conciliate the reason with the faith..."16

His ideas had big influence in the thought of Thomas Aquinas, and his comments about Aristotle had big echo in the medieval Europe, being recognised like an authentic philosopher, although the French Ernest Renan, in the 19th century, rejected the originality of his thought.

In the field of medicine, Muslim science by excellence, considered a highly technical discipline and one of which required long study and training, Averroes also stood out in his time, being one of the biggest doctors of the period, although his medical work has been almost forgotten because of his fame like a philosopher.

He studied with Avenzoar, and he is the author of treatises that had a big diffusion until the Renaissance and of which different versions were made to the Hebrew and to the Latin. The medical texts of Averroes are of two types:

- Original medical works of himself: he alludes in them to all the subjects on medicine that had been treated by the most prestigious Arab doctors. Through the medical writings of Averroes we can know better the pieces of information extracted from Aristotle and Galenus, since they are presented more schematised and orderly that in the own originals.

We know fifteen texts in this group, amongst other: About the conservation of the health, Assertion about the different temperaments or the Book of the Generalities in Medicine, Kulliyyat fi-I-tibb, written between 1162-1169. This last work, that consists of seven volumes, consecrated to anatomy, physiology, pathology, semeiotic, therapeutic, hygiene and medication, was very used like text book in Christian universities like Paris, Oxford, Rome, Leuven and so on. The last part, "the Medication", concludes with a glorious praise of the Taysir of Avenzoar

The Generalities in Medicine was reviewed by Averroes his second stage of dedication to the subject, to 1194: the first of these two versions seems to be the one that is preserved in the Arabic text of the work, whereas the second would be represented by the Latin translation (“Colliget”)17

-Texts made to comment Aristotle, Avicenna and Galenus: there are nine titles related to the Temperaments, Elements, Medicines, Fevers, Natural faculties and so on, by Galenus and a comment about the medicine of Avicenna.

In summary, his works are a compendium of the Arabic knowledges in physiology, pathology, diagnosis, medical matter and, even, anatomy, branch of the medicine that had lower impulse, since the Muslim religion did not allow the dissection of corpses.

He was the first one to explain the function of the retina and in realising that an attack of viruela causes immunity.

Related to his works in medicine Ibn Abi Usaybia in his History of the doctors of Occident says that he was an excellent author and that he had deep knowledges about medicine.

Averroes is also author of several booklets about Ethics, Politics, Mathematics and Astronomy. He formulated the dogma, suggested already by Aristotle and reiterated later by Descartes in the 18th century, that any algebraic curve can be rectified in an exact way.

Averroes treats to refuse, when studying the aristotelian thought, every platonic corruption, and this comports the rejection of the ideas of the Arabic philosophers of the Middle East, especially Avicenna, since they suppose platonic approaches. This had strong consequences in sciences as well as in philosophy.

In Astronomy he rectifies very important ptolemaic concepts (Ptolemy based his astronomical theories in a platonic idea of the world) like the ones of the eccentric and the epicycles. This critique of Averroes to the ptolemaic system had a very important influence in Copernicus, the one who, centuries afterwards, is going to cause a revolution in Astronomy.

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Sahli was born in Toledo in the 11th century. He lived in Valencia and then he settled permanently in al-Andalus.

In 1607 he built an astrolabe which is still preserved in the Archaeological Museum in Madrid. This instrument, made of brass, is used to calculate the position of the Sun and the stars, and also to find the latitude and the coordinate. It will be useful and very used in navigation, astrology and agronomy as well as to measure the time. It was a great invention of the time, and the instrument most famous in the Middle Ages and in the Renaissance.

Ibrahim Ibn Sahli also built another astrolabe, which is conserved in the Museum of History of Science in Oxford.

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Arzachel, whose full name was Abu Ishaq ibn Yahya al-Zarqalliel, was born in Cordoba in 1029 and died in Toledo in 1087.

He worked as a blacksmith, creating instruments that others entrusted him, but thanks to have maintained a close contact with the scholars of his time and to his great intelligence, and despite being illiterate he could create highly accurate instruments and to acquire a great astronomical knowledge, although he was self-taught. This did not prevent him becoming the greatest astronomer of the Islamic West.

Between 1061 and 1080 he became part of a team of astronomers, who together created the toledanas tables, with which they could determine phenomena such as lunar phases, among others. These tables were translated into Latin and had much influence in the medieval European astronomy.

His influence in other scientists was such that in 1149, Robert of Chester adapted these tables to the London coordinates. He also led trigonometry to England and introduced the word sinus in scientific language.

Another great invention was the fabrication of a clepsydra (two water clocks that measured time and calculated the phases of the Moon).

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This author, also known by his Latin name, Geber, lived in Sevilla between 1100 and 1160. We don’t know other details about his life.

Although he wasn’t one of the greatest mathematicians, he was one of the most popular because his works were translated and thus became well known to European mathematicians.

One of his most famous works it's his criticism of the work of Ptolemy, in a manuscript knowing as Correction of Almagest.

He gave his name to a theorem of spherical trigonometry, as well as he was the creator of the torquetum, an instrument designed to take and convert measurements from the horizon and the equatorial ecliptic.

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Ibn Khalaf was a known engineer and inventor, who lived in Andalusia in the early 11th century.

His main legacy is the Book of secrets, a watches and clepsydras treatise.

He has been compared to Leonardo da Vinci because of his many inventions such as: a bicycle, a flying equipment, some war machines and a diving suit.

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Abulcasis was born in 936 in Zahara, Córdoba. It is considered the father of modern surgery. He was one of the most famous and influential physicians of his time and later centuries. In fact, many medicine students went to him to learn, as his medical procedures would become the basis of modern surgery.

His greatest contribution is al-Tasrif, an encyclopedia with thirty volumes, which collect medical and pharmaceutical knowledge. Of particular interest are the volumes dealing with cautery, used not only in operations but also in internal diseases. This work is also the first describing the hemophilia and its familiar origin.

He also created a number of surgical instruments, such as the gestatoria chair. It was the first in using silk thread in the operations.

He was also an expert dentist, able to straighten teeth, repair parts and replace them.

Abulcasis was not only exceptional in medicine as a doctor, but he also applied the ethics to his job. For example, he took care of individual patients to provide them better diagnosis and treatment and he did not hesitate to criticize his colleagues for their poor scruples to treat their patients, as some of them were mere pretenders, charlatans whose only interest was the fame or the money rather than the patient's welfare.

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He was born in Belalcázar in the 12th century. He studied medicine with Arab doctors and he was a follower of the the works of Hippocrates.

He is the author of the manuscript Oculist's guide. He was an expert in ointments, creams and eye drops for ophthalmological use.

He also wrote a medical-botanical encyclopedia The book of simple medicaments. In this work we noticed how important it was for al-Gafiqui to take direct knowledge of the minerals and plants for the making of simple medicines.

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Firnas was born in Ronda (Málaga) and he was well known for his experiments and inventions. He created a water clock, developed the technique of cutting of the rock crystal and made an armillary sphere to represent the movements of the stars. He was so educated and versed in many sciences that he built a planetarium in his own home. But perhaps the most extravagant thing he did, it was to build a flying machine that had a wing covered with feathers and silk. The experiment cost him multiple fractures and consequences that would accompany him the rest of his life. But thanks to this adventure he became the precursor of aviation, serving as inspiration for future generations.

He was a master in the art of music because he had a great knowledge in singing and musical techniques, but above all he highlighted in poetry.

His reputation as a highly educated and wise man would allow be part of the circle of Abd-al-Rahmnan II and the emir Muhammad.

He died in the year 887

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Bibliography (only Spanish)

  • Arié, R., España musulmana (siglos VIII-XV), in Muñón de Lara, M. (dir.), Historia de España, vol. III, Ed. Labor, Barcelona, 1984.
  • Boyer, C. B., Historia de la matemática, Ed. Alianza Universidad Textos, Madrid, 1986.
  • Sa’id al-Andalusi, Historia de la Filosofía y de las Ciencias o libro de las categorías de las naciones, Ed. Trotta, Madrid, 2000.
  • Vernet, J., El Islam en España, Ed. MAPFRE, Madrid, 1993.
  • “ “ , Lo que Europa debe al Islam de España, Ed. Acantilado, Barcelona, 2006.
  • Samsó, J., Las ciencias de los antiguos en al-Andalus, Ed. MAPFRE, Madrid, 1992.
  • Gracia, D. El desajuste medieval, in La ciencia en España, Historia 16, Nº 11, March 1977.


  • 1.Abu Ayyub ‘Abd al-Gafir b. Muhammad, one of best experts about arithmetic. Maslama was one of his pupils. Sa’id al-Andalusi, Historia de la Filosofía y de las Ciencias o libro de las categorías de las naciones, Ed. Trotta, Madrid 2000, 166.
  • 2.The astronomical tables made by this author, with a deeply ptolemaic mentality, are the basis and the start of the next astronomical tables written in Spain in the medieval Spain. Gracia, D. El desajuste medieval, en La ciencia en España, Historia 16, Nº 11, marzo 1977, p. 73.
  • 3.Ibid, 169
  • 4.Vernet, J. El Islam en España, Ed.. MAPFRE, Madrid, 1993, p. 71.
  • 5. Samsó, J., Las ciencias de los antiguos en al-Andalus, Ed. MAPFRE, Madrid, 1992, p. 91.
  • 6. Samsó, J., Op. cit., p. 94.
  • 7. Ibn al-Samh (…), knew very well arithmetics and geometry (…) he wrote excelent works, among them: “Introduction book to Geometry” (…), that it's a comment about Euclides' book; “Book about commercial Arithmetics known as “al-mu’amalat”” (…); “Book about the nature of numbers” (…); his great book of geometry, in which he deepened about the parts of this science related to straight, curved and inclined lines … Sa’id al-Andalusí, Op. cit., 170.
  • 8… and an astronomical table, made as the Sindhind system, that it's a big book divided in two parts: one of them has the tables and the other the comments of these ones. Ibid., 170.
  • 9. Ibn al-Samh is the author of …two books about the astrolabe, in one of them –divided in two sections- it is shown how this intruments can be built while in the other, divided in 130 chapters, is shown how they are used and how to take advantage of them…Ibid., 170.
  • 10. Samsó, J., Op. cit., p. 97.
  • 11. Samsó, J., Op. cit., pp. 109-110.
  • 12. Samsó, J., Op. cit., p. 373.
  • 13. Vernet, J., Lo que Europa debe al Islam de España (What Europe owes to the Spanish Islam), Ed. Acantilado, Barcelona 2006, p. 76.
  • 14. Samsó, J., Op. cit., pp.374-375
  • 15. Vernet, J., Lo que Europa debe…, Op. cit., p. 79
  • 16. Ibid., p. 79
  • 17. Samsó, J., Op. cit., p. 376.


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