Bayt al-Hikma

Useful Vocab: Bayt al-Hikma (House of Wisdom), Translation Movement, Khwarizmi, Abu Nuwas, Banu Musa, Hunayn b. Ishaq

NB: The material here is not all related to a single institution or even to Baghdad. Rather, this page is meant to accumulate a representative set of examples to show the various scholarly accomplishments of the ‘Abbasid period.

NB: The material here is not all from the early ‘Abbasid period either, as scholars continued to work on this material over generations.

A 8th-century Description

This passage is from an Arabic translation of a Middle Persian study of astronomy attributed to Zoroaster. This first text sets up the idea that the ‘Abbasids continued a translation program already familiar to the Sasanians. Check out the description of Anushirwan for comparison.

Source, p. 37-8.

A 10th-century Text

This snippet is from Mas’udi, a 10th-century historian and geographer who wrote in Arabic.

From the days of the ancient Greeks through early Byzantine times, scientific knowledge continued to grow and develop. Learned men and philosophers were held in great esteem, and investigated the natural world, the human body, reason and the soul, as well as the quadrivium: that is, arithmetic, the science of numbers; geometry, the study of space and figures; astronomy, the science of the heavenly bodies; and music, which is the science of ordering sounds.

The sciences were financially supported, honored everywhere, universally pursued; they were like tall edifices supported by strong foundations. Then the Christian religion appeared in Byzantium and the centers for learning were eliminated, their vestiges effaced and the edifice of Greek learning was obliterated. Everything the ancient Greeks had brought to light vanished, and the discoveries of the ancients were altered out of recognition.

Source, 39-40.

A 10th-century Description

This passage is from Mas’udi, an Arab geographer and historian who lived in the 10th century.

Source, p. 30-1.

An 11th-century Description

This passage is from an Arabic history written in Spain at the start of the 11th century.

Source, p. 31.

A 13th-century Depiction

This illustration appears in the Maqamat of Hariri, in a manuscript copied in the 13th century in Mesopotamia.

Sources for the Bayt al-Hikma