Constantine the African and the Qayrawani doctors: Contribution of the ‘Phoenicians’ of North Africa to Latin Medicine in the Middle Ages and Renaissance

When a sixteenth-century medical writer referred to Phoenicians, alongside Arabs, as exceptionally important medical sources, he was probably referring to the Muslim and Jewish doctors of Qayrawan, who were writing in Arabic in the tenth century, and Constantine the African, who was translating their writings into Latin in the late eleventh century. The resultant corpus of medical works, transmitted initially from the Benedictine monastery of Montecassino, formed the core of medical education in the West, and continued to be influential into the Renaissance.

See also articles on ‘Salerno and Constantine the African’, ‘Kairouan’ and ‘The Aghlabids of Tunisia’ in Muslim Heritage.

Article Banner:  An early illustrated work dealing with the school of Salerno. The cover shows Constantine the African lecturing to the school. From Anastasiuset al., Regimen sanitatis Salernitanum (Source)

On the title page of a medical work published in Lyons in 1517 we read:

‘The New Practice (of medicine) of the Lyonais compiler, Lord Symphorien Champier, concerning all the kinds of diseases, <compiled> from the traditions of the Greeks, the Latins, the Arabs, the Phoenicians, and recent authors, <in> five golden books.’[1]

In the preface Symphorien Champier refers to the ‘Arabs and Phoenicians, as the most serious and brilliant interpreters <of medicine>’  (fol. 3v: ‘Arabes vero et Penos velut gravissimos splendidissimosque interpretes’), and on a typical page, from book four, we read the heading ‘From the tradition of the Phoenicians and the Arabs’ (fol. 86r: ‘Ex traditione Penorum et Arabum’; Figure 1). The Arabs and Phoenicians are also mentioned in other works of Symphorien Champier, such as in his preface to De curatione pleuritidis per venae sectionem autore Andrea Turino (‘On the cure of pleuresis through bloodletting, by Andrea Turino’), published in Basel in 1537, where we have the phrase ‘Andrea has the support of all the Arabs and Phoenicians’ (sig. a2 verso: ‘Habet et Andreas secum Arabes et Pœnos omnes’).

Figure 1. Symphorien Champier, Practica nova, Lyons, 1522, f. 86 recto.

Symphorien Champier (1471-1539) was a prolific humanist and doctor, who spent his career in Lyons, and wavered between attacking the science of the Arabs and embracing it.[2] Using the Classical adjective ‘Peni/Poeni’ he is referring to the Phoenicians, who wielded power over the Western Mediterranean from their base in Carthage from the ninth to the third century BCE. But it is not these ancient Phoenicians that Symphorien has in mind. The quotations attributed to them turn out to be from the works of Isaac Isra’ili and his translator Constantine the African. Since they both from the area formerly under control of the Phoenicians—Ifriqiya, roughly equivalent in area to modern Tunisia—he can honour them with the Classical title of ‘Phoenician’.

We know about the life of Constantine only from Western sources (mainly Peter the Deacon and a certain ‘Matthew F.’).[3] These, naturally, are much vaguer about his life before he suddenly appeared at Salerno, the leading medical school in the West. He is said to have been born in ‘Carthago’ (‘Carthage’). He then travelled throughout the known world (Babylonia, India, Ethiopia and Egypt) in pursuit of knowledge. But on his return home he was persecuted by the ‘Afri’ (‘Africans’), and ‘secretly fled to Salerno’, where he found the state of medical learning so poor in comparison with what he knew in his native land, that he immediately returned home and collected a number of Arabic manuscripts on medicine, intent on bringing them to Salerno to improve the standards there. Unfortunately, he suffered shipwreck on Cape Palinuro, and staggered into Salerno with only half his manuscripts. This account probably deliberately recalls Aeneas’s own journey from Carthage to Italy (after the episode with Dido), and the drowning of his oarsman Palinurus, after which the cape took its name.[4]

The story from here on is somewhat clearer, since we are now on the same soil as the biographers, and backed up by contemporary documents. He was in Salerno by 1077, but in 1078 he entered the Benedictine Abbey of Montecassino (the mother house of the Benedictine Order), as a monk. His entry coincided with the splendid revival of the abbey under Abbot Desiderius (1058–1086), who later became Pope Victor III (1086-7). Desiderius’s Montecassino was a centre for Greek learning as well as Arabic. The Abbey had its own infirmary where certain monks performed the role of doctors and nurses. But even more so, it had its own scriptorium, where texts were copied and illustrated. This was the gateway through which Arabic medicine first entered Europe. Constantine died there in the very last years of the eleventh century. He was always known as the African (sometimes with the addition ‘monk of Montecassino’).

But how much faith can we put in the story that he originated from Carthage? In the mid-eleventh century Carthage was a ruin. After the Romans sacked the Phoenician city, it re-emerged as a Roman city, the capital of Africa Proconsularis, which coincided with the borders of modern Tunisia, with an extension along the coast eastwards. As such it survived into the Christian era. It was the capital of the exarchate of Africa, an administrative division of the Byzantine Empire encompassing its possessions in the Western Mediterranean, and ruled by an exarch (viceroy). The exarchate was created by Emperor Maurice in the late 580s and survived until the Muslim conquest of the Maghreb in the late seventh century. Carthage was destroyed in 698, but it was still possible to speak of a ‘bishop of Carthage’. Pope Leo IX (1049-54) urged African bishops in 1053 to support the archbishop of Carthage, who ‘presided over the entire African church, and was second only to the Pope’.[5]The name ‘Carthage’ harked back to the Classical city, but, in fact, by this time, what had been left of ancient Carthage was subsumed into the area of the newly emerging Arabic city of Tunis, which started to rise to prominence as the chief city of the Arabic region of Ifriqiya in 1059. This is the very time that Constantine might have been in this region, and thus, with some justification (and maintaining the ‘Classicizing’ language of Latin humanists), he could be called a ‘Poenus’.

In all likelihood Constantine belonged to a Christian community in Africia/Ifrikiya–even a community that still had some knowledge of Latin.[6] It is unclear for how long Romance continued to be spoken, but its influence on North African Arabic (particularly in the language of northwestern Morocco) indicates it must have had a significant presence in the early years after the Arab conquest. In the twelfth century the geographer al-Idrisi, describing Gafsa in southern Tunisia, writes that ‘its inhabitants are Berberised, and most of them speak the African Latin tongue (al-laṭīnī al-ifrīqī)’.[7] Calques like dura mater, pia mater for the two meninges covering the brain—al-umm al-jāfiya and al-umm al-raqīqa—might suggest the native knowledge of Latin or ‘African Romance’.

But Constantine was not Champier’s only Poenus. He also mentions ‘Isaac’. In this he is referring to the chief Arabic author whose works Constantine translated. In fact, Constantine relied on the works of three authors, who were related as a succession of master and pupil: Isḥaq ibn ‘Imran (d. ca. 903-9), his pupil Isḥaq al-Isra’ili (who died in the mid-tenth century, Champier’s ‘Isaac’) and Isḥaq’s pupil Abu Ja‘far ibn al-Jazzar (who died in 980). These doctors all lived and worked in al-Qayrawan, 184 kilometers south of Tunis and the most important city in Ifriqiya before the rise of Tunis. In 800 the Aghlabids made al-Qayrawan their capital and there followed a period of prosperity and cultural flowering. The Shi’ite Fatimids arose in Ifriqiya and, replacing the Aghlabids in 909, spread over the whole of the North African coast, making Cairo their capital. But the Zirids were their vassals in al-Qayrawan, and brought about another period of splendor for al-Qayrawan. However, when they declared their independence, the Fatimids in Cairo encouraged the Banu Hilal to invade Ifriqiya from the West and, in 1057, they utterly destroyed al-Qayrawan. In 1059 the population of Tunis swore allegiance to the Hammadid prince al-Nasir ibn Alnas, who was based in Bejaia (in modern-day Algeria), and this was the beginning of the rise of Tunis in power and population. This political upheaval could be what Peter the Deacon referred to as the reaction against Constantine that forced him to leave Africa. Whatever the case, it would not be a stretch to call the Arabic doctors and medical writers of al-Qayrawan also ‘Poeni’, and Constantine could just as easily have been a Poenus of al-Qayrawan as of Tunis (or of both).

Isaac, of course, was a Jew. Jews formed an important part of the population of al-Qayrawan which was a center of Talmudic and Halakhic scholarship until forced conversion in 1270. Another pupil of his was Dunash Ibn Tamim, another Jew—who was well known for his astronomical and cosmological learning, including, as it now seems, a cosmology attributed to Masha’allah in two Latin translations, called De orbe (‘On the World’).[8]

So what were these ‘Phoenician’ sources that Champier could have had access to? What were the works that Constantine translated?

A story goes that, as a kind of letter of introduction and witness to his competence, he presented the short Introduction to Medicine of Hunayn ibn Isḥaq to Alfano, archbishop of Salerno (1058-1085), when he arrived in Salerno.[9] This story may be apocryphal. The earliest version of the Isagoge is heavily Grecized, and could already have belonged to a South Italian trend of translating works on physics and astronomy from Greek and, when the Greek was not available, from Arabic, but giving the appearance that they were all translated from Greek. [10] Alfano himself (archbishop 1058-1085) translated Nemesius’s On the Nature of Man from Greek into Latin, whilst an unknown translator rendered parts of the same work from Arabic. In this case Constantine might have been responsible for making the text of the Isagoge less Greek. In any case it is an apt text from which to begin any account of the medical corpus translated from Arabic at the time .

The Isagoge gives, in very straightforward terms, the basic elements of Greco-Arabic humoral medicine. This is already clear from its opening:[11]

Medicine is divided into two parts, i.e. in theory and practice, of which theory is divided into three: into the observation of natural things, of non-natural things and those which are contrary to nature, from which the knowledge of health, illnesses and the neutral state arises… Natural things are seven in number, namely elements, mixtures, composite bodies, limbs, forces, actions, spirits. Others have added to these four others factors, namely ages, colours, appearances and the difference between male and female.[12]

This Isagoge was to form the first text of the corpus of Latin medical texts known as the Ars medicinae or Articella, which has survived in over 200 manuscripts, and incorporated texts translated from Greek as well as from Arabic: Hippocrates, Prognostics and Aphorisms (both from Arabic), Philaretus, On Pulses, and Theophilus, On Urines (both Byzantine Greek texts), and finishing with Galen’s Tegni or Ars parva (a general guide to medicine). But parallel to these texts, and exceeding them in quantity were translations that no modern scholar disputes belong to Constantine.

Constantine contributed several texts of the Qayrawani doctors, and a magnum opus which summates his life work and was probably left incomplete on his death.

The oldest of the Qayrawani corpus is a text by by Isḥaq ibn ‘Imran, On Melancholy, which deals with psychological diseases and their cure.[13] More substantial are the works of the Qayrawani doctor, Isḥaq Isra’ili.

An appropriate introduction is provided by Constantine’s preface to his translation of his work on urines:

Among Latin books I was able to find no author who published reliable and authoritative learning concerning urines. Hence I turned to the Arabic language, in which I found a wonderful book with information on this subject. This book I, Constantine the African, a monk of Montecassino, decided to translate into the Latin language, so that I might obtain a reward for my soul from my efforts and might widen the path for those beginning to learn about urines. This book has been collected and excerpted from ancient authors. From it one can easily approach the knowledge of urine, and also its divisions and indications. It was composed in Arabic by Isaac, the adoptive son of Solomon, and he divided it into ten parts.[14]

Urines were an important diagnostic aid. In the frontispiece of one manuscript of this text Constantine is depicted as a monk, receiving urine bottles from his patients (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. The Preface to Isaac Isra’ili’s On Urines, from Oxford, Bodl., Rawl. C. 328, f. 3r (image in public domain)

The rubric reads:

Here is Constantine, the monk of Montecassino, who is like the fount of this knowledge. He was well known for his judgements concerning all illnesses. In this book and in many other books he shows the true cure. Women come to him with <their> urine so that he can tell them what illness they are suffering from.[15]

The other texts of Isḥaq translated by Constantine were his books on fevers, and two books on healthy living: the Diaetae universales (‘General rules on health living’) and Diaetae particulares (‘Particular rules on health living’). These deal respectively with general effects on diets of age, gender, location and time of year, and specific foodstuffs.

The list of texts translated by Isḥaq’s pupil Ibn al-Jazzar includes works on healthy sexual intercourse (fi ’l-jimāde coitu), on the stomach, on forgetfulness (fi ’l-nisyān, de oblivione)—this being written in response to a letter to Ibn al-Jazzar from somebody who had been suffering from ‘too much forgetfulness and inability to retain things as a result of too much reading’.[16]

The most important work of Ibn al-Jazzar that he translated, however, is the Zād al-musāfir, or ‘Guide to the Traveller’ (in Latin: Viaticum), whose full title is ‘Guide to the Traveller and Nourishment to the One who Stays at Home’ (… wa-qūt al-ḥāḍir). As the title is meant to imply, this is a self-help manual, for the patient who has no access to a doctor—or even to a pharmacist, for it provides ingredients for medicines which can easily be found in the locality of the patient. A famous example of its contents appears among the remedies for what we would call psychological diseases: in this case, lovesickness, which appeared also as a separate text (Liber de heros morbo—‘The Book on the Heroic Disease’).[17]

In case of sickness caused by excessive love, to prevent men from being submerged in excessive brooding, tempered and fragrant wine should be offered, and hearing various kinds of music, speaking with dear friends…

Rufus says: ‘’Sadness is taken away not only be wine drunk in moderation but also by other things like it, such as a temperate bath. Hence it is that when certain people enter a bath, they are inspired to sing. Therefore certain philosophers say that the sound is like the spirit, the wine is like the body of which the one is aided by the other.’[18]

The major work of Constantine the African, however, was his adaptation of the Kitāb or Kunnāsh al-malakī (‘The Royal Collection’), or Kāmil as-sinā’a aṭ-ṭibbiya (‘The Complete Book of the Medical Art’) of ‘Ali ibn al-‘Abbas al-Majusi al-Arrajani. Kunnāsh is originally a Syriac word indicating a collection of treatises, or a work of encyclopedic character, while Kāmil ainā ‘at also indicates the comprehensiveness of the book. ‘Ali ibn al-‘Abbas lived during most of the tenth century (chronologically between the Arabic doctors Abu Bakr al-Razi and Ibn Sina). His nisbas indicate that he was a Zoroastrian from a Persian town situated between Shiraz and Ahwaz, and his work (his only work) was dedicated to the Buyid emir ‘Adud ad-Dawla who ruled in Shiraz and Baghdad from 949-83.[19] But the work must have spread westwards soon after its composition. It was certainly known in al-Andalus in 1068 when Ṣa’id al-Andalusi mentions the author and his book ‘as the best encyclopedia (kunnash) of medicine that he knows’.[20] So it is not surprising that Constantine should have got to know it in Ifriqiya. The Arabic text consists of ten books of theory and ten books of practice.

Constantine evidently regarded his version of this book as his most important work. He dedicated it to Abbot Desiderius in a florid style:

To the lord abbot of Montecassino, Desiderius, the most reverend father of fathers—nay rather the shining jewel of the whole ecclesiastical order, Constantine the African, although unworthy, nevertheless his monk,… <dedicates this work>.[21]

He gives it a name which picks up the ‘completeness’ in the Arabic title: ‘Pantegni’—a title concocted from two Greek words, meaning ‘all’ and ‘the art’, mirroring the Arabic title Kāmil aṣ-ṣinā ‘a, and the book promises to include the ten books of theory and the ten books of practice which the Arabic has. In fact, this is not exactly what we have. Perhaps because of the shipwreck on Cape Palinurus, most of the early manuscripts have only the ten books of theory and two and a half books of the practice, while later manuscripts have completed the practice, following the order of subject matter of ‘Ali ibn al-‘Abbas’ text, but replacing the contents with those of a variety of other texts, some being translations by Constantine and his circle, others pre-Salernitan Latin medical texts. Thus, some short texts of Ibn al-Jazzar are included:  On Leprosy, and On Degrees (of qualities in medicines). The Viaticum above all is used to fill up the Practica. Since some chapters come from the Liber aureus of Constantine’s pupil, Johannes Afflacius (a Muslim convert, also a monk at Montecassino), it may be that he (or other students) was responsible for adding some of the material. But the compilatory nature of the work is also implied by Constantine’s own words at the beginning of the Pantegni (Theorica): that he is the author in the sense of being the ‘coadunator’ of the whole work—somebody who puts together the whole thing from many books.[22]

‘Ali ibn al-‘Abbas’s own name does not appear in any of the manuscripts. Sometimes the work is attributed to the better-known ‘Rhazes’ (i.e. Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Zakariyya ar-Razi).[23] But usually only Constantine’s name is given, and for this he was much criticized by later scholars, and especially by Stephen of Antioch who, in 1127, made a much more literal translation of the whole 20 books of the Kitāb al-malakī.[24] But, nevertheless, the Pantegni was very popular, surviving in over 100 manuscripts.

One reason for this popularity was 1) that it was the first fully comprehensive medical textbook, covering anatomy, surgery, regimen, diseases from head to toe, and fevers which afflicted the whole body, and finally giving a comprehensive list of materia medica and their properties (the pharmacy). Avicenna’s Canon was to fulfil the same roll and eventually to displace the Pantegni in the education of the doctor, but it wasn’t translated until a century later, by Gerard of Cremona. 2) That it was written in an accessible language. Constantine does not stick close to the Arabic, but paraphrases, abbreviates, avoids the excessive Greek terminology of earlier medical texts, and invents calques on the Arabic that are easy to understand (the already mentioned dura mater and pia mater), or retains the Arabic word, e.g. ṣifāq—‘peritoneum’, or part of the uterus–as siphac.[25] 3) The marketing strategy of the Benedictine monasteries, of which Montecassino was the hub. 4) The universalising of the relevance of medicine.

Constantine introduces ‘Ali ibn al-‘Abbas’s text with these words:

Since the whole of science has three principal parts—for all secular or divine letters are subject to logic, ethics or physics—many people have wondered to which of these parts ‘literal’ medicine should be subject. It is not put under logic alone, since neither invention nor judgement are predominant in it. It is not subject to physics alone, since it does not depend only on necessary arguments, whether they can be proved or not. It seems absurd to subject it to ethics alone, since it is not its intention to dispute about morals alone. But, since the doctor ought to be a dealer in natural and moral things, it is clear that, because it falls into all (categories), it must be subject to all different ways of thinking. Hence I, Constantine, weighing up the very great usefulness of this art, and running through the volumes of the Latins, when I saw them, in spite of their number, not to be sufficient for introducing <medicine>, I turned to our old or modern writers.[26]

The first chapter (where Constantine returns to ‘Ali ibn al-‘Abbas’s text) is a version of the Hippocratic Oath in which the one who wants to be a doctor should promise to honour his parents and his teacher, not to practice medicine for the sake of money, not to make poisons, not to learn how to abort unborn children, not to make amorous advances to the patient’s wife, maidservant or daughter, be ready to hear confessions from the patient which he would not dare to confess to his parents, and to read assiduously (and memorise the contents, in case you lose a book).

What is striking is that, when it came to printing the text, the work was no longer attributed to ‘Ali ibn al-‘Abbas, or even to Constantine, but to the Qayrawani doctor, himself, Isaac, and is printed alongside the other texts that are genuinely by Isaac, and Isaac is even given as the author of Ibn al-Jazzar’s Viaticum. The editor, Andrea Turino of Pescia, refused to publish these translations under the name of Constantine, because, he says, ‘everybody knows full well that Constantine stole these works’ (‘apud omnes liquido compertum sit id Constantini furtum esse’). Even when the original author cannot be recognized, we must suspect, Turino says, Constantine of theft, as is clear in the case of the Viaticum (‘ … Addidimus multa Constantini opuscula verentes et illa furta esse, ut de Viatico manifeste patet’); all the writings under his name fall under suspicion. As the title of the Pantegni Turino gives: ‘The book, Pantegni, of Isaac Isra’ili the adopted son of Solomon, king of Arabia: which Constantine the African, the monk of Montecassino, claimed was his own work’. [27]

Figure 3. Frontispiece to Omnia opera Ysaac, Lyons, 1515, showing Halyabbas (‘Alī ibn al-‘Abbās al-Maǧūsī), Ysaac (Isḥaq al-Isra’ili) and Constantinus monachus (Constantine the African)

This edition was printed by Barthélemi Trot in Lyons in 1515 (see Figure 3). It is endorsed by none other than Symphorien Champier, the citizen of Lyons, who, as the ‘illustrissimus philosophus’, addresses Andrea Turino with fulsome praise, for sweating over the emendation of the works of Isaac. When we return to the Practica nova (‘The New Practice’), published two years later, we find that Champier repeats his arguments for the authorship of Isaac.[28] And we can make sense of the quotation of the passage of the Viaticum as being by ‘Constantinus sive Isaac’ (‘Constantine or Isaac’). Champier gives the reference in the margin: ‘Isaac or Constantine in Isaac, the fourth <book> of the Viaticum chapter 14’ (‘Isaac sive Constantinus in Isaac .iiii. Viatici caput .xiiii.’; see Figure 1).

While there is some appropriateness in calling both Constantine and Isaac ‘Poeni’ there remains the question as to what led Symphorien Champier to adopt this name. Did he mean to suggest something distinctive about the contribution of the ‘Poeni’, as opposed to the ‘Arabes’—a different geographical origin, or a different kind of medicine? This seems unlikely, since he always groups the ‘Poeni’ and ‘Arabes’ together. But it might also be possible to see the reference to ‘Poeni’ in the light of a Classicizing tendency both in the eleventh-twelfth century and in the Renaissance. To openly declare in the late eleventh that one’s work was taken from the Saracens would not, perhaps, have been the best way to advertise its value, at a time when Christians were in open conflict with Muslims in Spain and Sicily and the First Crusade was just about to begin. in the late eleventh. But to imply that Constantine the African’s itinerary was similar to that of Aeneas restored some respectability to what he achieved. Just as Aeneas brought the benefits of Phoenician royal culture from Carthage to Rome and founded Roman civilisation, so Constantine brought medicine (including a ‘royal’ book) from Carthage to Salerno and founded Western medicine.

Bibliography and References to Burnett

Printed books

  • Bloch, H., Montecassino in the Middle Ages, 3 vols, Rome, 1986. An incredibly rich description of the Benedictine Abbey of Montecassino where the first corpus of Arabic medical texts was translated into Latin in the late eleventh century, and from where these translations were diffused throughout Western Europe.
  • Burnett, C., ‘Encounters with Encounters with Razi the Philosopher: Constantine the African, Petrus Alfonsi et Ramon Martí’, in Pensamiento hispano medieval: Homenaje a Horacio Santiago-Otero, ed. J.-M. Soto Rábanos, Madrid, 1998, pp. 973-92. Evidence of the influence and the reputation of Abu Bakr ar-Razi, as doctor and philosopher, in the Latin West.
  • Burnett, C., ‘European Knowledge of Arabic Texts Referring to Music: Some New Material’, Early Music Theory, 12, 1993, pp. 1-17. This includes a discussion of music therapy taken from Arabic medical writings.
  • Burnett, C., ‘Physics before the Physics: Early Translations from Arabic of Texts concerning Nature in MSS British Library, Additional 22719 and Cotton Galba E IV’, Medioevo, 27, 2002, pp. 53–109. Evidence that Constantine the African arrived in Southern Italy at a time when there was already a great interest in learning from the Arabs.
  • Burnett, C.,‘The Legend of Constantine the African’, in The Medieval Legends of Philosophers and Scholars, Micrologus 21, 2013, pp. 277-94. On the reputation of Constantine the African throughout the centuries.
  • Burnett, C. and D. Jacquart (eds), Constantine the African and ‘Ali ibn al-‘Abbas al-Maǧusi: the Pantegni and Related Texts, Leiden, 1994. A collection of articles on the various aspects of the transmission and impact of the earliest corpus of Arabic medical texts in Europe, of which the major one was the Royal Collection (Kunnāsh al-malakī) of ‘Ali ibn al-‘Abbas al-Maǧusi.
  • Champier, Symphorien, Practica nova Aggregatoris Lugdunensis domini Simphoriani Champerii de omnibus morborum generibus ex traditionibus Grecorum, Latinorum, Arabum, Penorum ac recentium auctorum Aurei Libri quinque, Lyons, 1522. An example of a Renaissance medical book which is replete with quotations from Arabic doctors.
  • Grant, E., A Source Book for Medieval Science, Cambidge, MA, 1974. A valuable resource for English translations of key texts in medieval science, including several from (ultimately) Arabic sources.
  • Hasse, D.N., Success and Suppression: Arabic Sciences and Philosophy in the Renaissance, Cambridge MA, 2016, pp. 42-45. This is the most up-to-date and fullest account of the impact of Arabic learning in the Renaissance and Early Modern period, both the positive aspects that contributed to developments of science, technology and thought in the West, and the negative reactions to Arabic influences.
  • Jacquart, D. and F. Micheau, La Médecine Arabe et l’Occident Médiéval, Paris, 1990. An authoritative account of the transmission of Arabic medicine to Western Europe in the Middle Ages, including a section on Qayrawan (pp. 107-18).
  • Lewicki, T., ‘Une langue romane oubliée de l’Afrique du Nord. Observations d’un arabisant’, Rocznik Orientalistyczny, 17 (1958), pp. 415–480. The fullest account of the evidence of Latin/Romance speaking in North Africa in the post-Classical period, especially in place names—evidence for Constantine of Africa’s possible Romance background.
  • Newton, F., ‘Arabic Medicine in Italy: Constantine the African,’ in Mediterranean Passages, from Dido to Derrida, eds Miriam Cooke, Erdağ Göknar, and Grant Parker, Chapel Hill NC, 2008, pp. 115-121. Just one of several works on Constantine the African and Montecassino by a leading expert in the field.

Blogs –


[1] Lyons, 1522, title page: ‘Practica nova Aggregatoris Lugdunensis domini Simphoriani Champerii de omnibus morborum generibus ex traditionibus Grecorum, Latinorum, Arabum, Penorum ac recentium auctorum Aurei Libri quinque’.

[2] D. N. Hasse, Success and Suppression: Arabic Sciences and Philosophy in the Renaissance, Cambridge MA, 2016, pp. 42-45.

[3] Peter the Deacon, De viris illustribus. The entry on Constantine the African is edited in H. Bloch, Montecassino in the Middle Ages, 3 vols, Rome, 1986, I, pp. 126-9. See also F. Newton, ‘Constantine the African and Monte Cassino: New Elements and the Text of the Isagoge’, in Constantine the African and ‘Ali ibn al-‘Abbas al-Maǧusi: the Pantegni and Related Texts, ed. C. Burnett and D. Jacquart, Leiden, 1994, pp. 16-47, id., ‘Arabic Medicine in Italy: Constantine the African,’ in Mediterranean Passages, from Dido to Derrida, eds Miriam Cooke, Erdağ Göknar, and Grant Parker, Chapel Hill NC, 2008, pp. 115-121, translation of the two sources and the useful blog

[4] Virgil, Aeneid, 5.857-8. Virgil’s story was based on the real history of Queen Elissa, who founded Carthage in 814 B.C. 

[5] Patrologia Latina 143, cols 729-31, see col. 729: ‘dignitatem Carthaginensis Ecclesiae … quia sine dubio post Romanum pontificem primus archiepiscopus et totius Africae maximus metropolitanus est Carthaginensis episcopus’. See Jonathan Conant, Staying Roman: Conquest and Identity in Africa and the Mediterranean, 439-700, Cambridge, 2012, p. 368 and T. Lewicki, ‘Une langue romane oubliée de l’Afrique du Nord. Observations d’un arabisant’, Rocznik Orientalistyczny, 17 (1958), pp. 415–480.

[6] The Arabic equivalent of Constantine—Qusṭa—was a common name for a Christian Arabic speaker.

[7] Lewicki, ‘Une langue romane oubliée’, p. 430.

[8] See D. Jacquart and F. Micheau, La Médecine Arabe et l’Occident Médiéval, Paris, 1990, pp.112-18, and Taro Mimura, ‘The Arabic original of (ps.) Māshā’allāh’s Liber de orbe: its date and authorship,’ The British Journal for the History of Science 48, 2015, pp. 321-52. 

[9] C. Burnett, ‘Encounters with Encounters with Razi the Philosopher: Constantine the African, Petrus Alfonsi et Ramon Martí’, in Pensamiento hispano medieval: Homenaje a Horacio Santiago-Otero, ed. J.-M. Soto Rábanos, Madrid, 1998, pp. 973-92 (pp. 974-8).

[10] C. Burnett, ‘Physics before the Physics: Early Translations from Arabic of Texts concerning Nature in MSS British Library, Additional 22719 and Cotton Galba E IV’, Medioevo, 27, 2002, pp. 53–109.

[11] A translation of the whole text is included in E. Grant, A Source Book for Medieval Science, Cambridge, MA, 1974, pp. 705-15.

[12] Isagoge Iohannitii, ed. G. Maurach, Sudhoffs Archiv, 62, 1978, pp. 148-74 (with variants from passages transcribed in Newton, ‘Constantine the African’): ‘Medicina dividitur in duas partes, scil. in theoricam et practicam (speculativa et operativa), quarum theorica dividitur in tria, in contemplationem naturalium rerum et non naturalium et earum quae sunt contra naturam, ex quibus sanitatis, egritudinum et neutralitatis scientia procedit… Res vero naturales septem sunt, scilicet elementa, commixtiones, compositiones vel complexiones, membra, virtutes, actiones, spiritus, et alii addiderunt his alias .iiii. scilicet etates, colores, figuras, distantiam inter masculum et feminam’.

[13] Isḥaq ibn ‘Imran, Maqāla fī l-mālīhūliyā (Abhandlung über die Melancholie) und Constantini Africani libri duo De melancholia, ed. K. Garbers, Hamburg, 1977.

[14] Omnia opera Ysaac, f. 156r and edited in Bloch, Montecassino, I, p. 103.

[15] MS Oxford, Bodl., Rawl. C. 328, f. 3r:‘Hic est Constantinus monacus Montis Casinensis qui velud fons est illius scientie, qui in iudiciis urinarum notus extitit et in omnibus egritudinibus in libro isto et in multis aliis libris veram curam exibuit, ad quem mulieres cum urina veniunt ut notificet eis quis morbus sit in causa’.

[16] ‘De nimia oblivione et inminuta retentione cum nimia assiduitate legendi’: see G. Bos, ‘Ibn al-Ğazzār’s Risāla fi ’n-nisyāand Constantine’s Liber de oblivione’, in Constantine the African, pp. 203-32 (p. 226).

[17] M. Wack, ‘‘Alī ibn al-‘Abbās al-Maǧūsī and Constantine on Love, and the Evolution of the Practica Pantegni,’ in Constantine the African, pp. 161-202. ‘Heroic’ plays on the double meaning of ‘heroicus’: ‘belong to passionate love’ (erōs) and ‘heroic’.

[18] Viaticum, 1.20, quoted and discussed in C. Burnett, ‘European Knowledge of Arabic Texts Referring to Music: Some New Material’, Early Music Theory, 12, 1993, pp. 1-17 (see pp. 3-4).

[19] See F. Micheau, ‘‘Alī ibn al-‘Abbās al-Maǧūsī et son milieu’, in Constantine the African, pp. 1-15.

[20] Ṣa‘id al-Andalusi, Kitāb ṭabaqat al-umam ou Les catégories des nations, ed. L. Cheikho, Beirut, 1912, p. 62.

[21] Preface to Pantegni in MS Cambridge, Trinity College, R.14.34: ‘Domino suo montis cassinensis abbati .D. reverentissimo patrum patri, immo totius ordinis æcclesiastici gemmæ prænitenti CONSTANTINUS Affricanus, licet indignus suus tamen monachus …’ (the capital letters are in the manuscript).

[22] Omnia opera Ysaac, f. 4r: ‘Est ergo Constantinus Affricanus auctor, quia ex multorum libris coadunator’.

[23] E.g. MS Hildesheim, Dombibl. 748, f. 1r: ‘Incipit liber Pantegni a Constantino Affricano translatus. Nomen auctoris fuit Rasis’.

[24] C. Burnett, ‘The Legend of Constantine the African’, in The Medieval Legends of Philosophers and Scholars, Micrologus 21, 2013, pp. 277-94.

[24] For more examples, see G. Strohmaier, ‘Constantine’s Pseudo-Classical Terminology and its Survival’, in Constantine the African, pp. 90-98.

[26] For the Latin original see D. Jacquart in ‘Le sens donné par Constantin l’Africain à son oeuvre: les chapitres introductifs en arabe et en latin’, in Constantine the African, pp. 71-89 (see p. 84).

[27] ‘Liber Pantegni Ysaac israelite filii adoptivi Salomonis regis Arabie: quem Constantinus Aphricanus monachus montis cassinensis sibi vendicavit’. See Burnett, ‘The Legend of Constantine the African’, pp. 278-30.

[28] Practica nova, f. 4r, summarised in the margin as ‘Constantinus monachus falso sibi ascripsit Pantegni et Viaticum Ysaac’ (‘Constantine the monk falsely attributed to himself the Pantegni and Viaticum of Ysaac’).


Star-finders Astrolabes

Oliver Hoare once said “The ability of Islamic civilization to perfect what it inherited, and to endow what it made with beauty, is nowhere better expressed than in the astrolabe”. Over a thousand-year period in Muslim Civilisation, epoch-making discoveries and contributions, such as the first record of a star system outside our own galaxy were made. Also astronomical instruments including celestial globes, armillary spheres, sextants and especially astrolabes were developed laying the foundation for modern-day astronomy.

Figure 1. 1001 Inventions book, Astrolobe section in Astronomy zone, Page 280-821

Note: This Article has been composed by Cem Nizamoglu and first published in 1001 Inventions website.


Astro is defined as “star” in Greek, “+labe” from the Greek word labiomeaning “taker” – in this sense, perhaps even “thief” – but it is better known as “finder”. In English, astrolabe has a very cool name which can literally be interpreted as STAR-FINDER”[1], sounding like a spaceship or superhero name from a science-fiction movie!

Over a thousand-year period in Muslim Civilisation, epoch-making discoveries and contributions, such as the first record of a star system outside our own galaxy were made. Also astronomical instruments including celestial globes, armillary spheres, sextants and especially astrolabes were developed laying the foundation for modern-day astronomy. For example, according to Franz S Verlag, “Al-Farghani” wrote the first known substantial description of the astrolabe during the years 856-57 AD, the date of the star table, which was based on the Mumlahan Tables”[2]. People from Muslim Civilisation continued to use and contribute extensively to this device that making astrolabes became an art.

Today the oldest functional astrolabes discovered are mostly from Muslim Civilisation and some of them sold in very high prices in auctions for their elegance and history. This article will try to explore the origins of astrolabes, its types, uses and much more.

Figure 2. “The Anatomy of an Astrolabe: One of the highlights of the Arts of the Islamic World auction in London is a magnificent 11th-century Umayyad brass astrolabe, signed by Muhammad ibn al-Saffar. Astrolabes are elaborate instruments designed to determine the solar or stellar hour at a specific location, allowing the user to make a number of astronomical or astrological observations. They were used by astronomers and navigators from classical antiquity to the Renaissance.” (Source)

Figure 3.  Ahmad ibn Khalaf’s Astrolabe, Baghdad, Iraq, 9-10th Century (Source) Background is from 1001 Inventions website theme image and it is actually from the surface of an Arabic Astrolabe 

1. What is an astrolabe?

© 1001 Inventions -
Figure 4. From 1001 Inventions School of Scholars canvas 

The astrolabe, Professor David A. King defines, is a two-dimensional model of the universe that one can hold in one’s hands; its heavenly features include a star map and the ecliptic (both appearing in the rete), and its terrestrial features (engraved on various plates) serve specific latitudes or localities.

Some astrolabes were small, palm-size, and portable; others were huge. They were the astronomical analog computers of their time, solving problems relating to the position of celestial bodies, like the sun and stars, and time. In effect, they were the pocket watches of medieval astronomers. They could take altitude measurements of the sun; could tell the time during the day or night; or find the time of a celestial event such as sunrise, sunset, or culmination of a star.

From 1001 Inventions book: The Enduring Legacy of Muslim Civilization

The astrolabe is the most important astronomical calculating device before the invention of digital computers and the most important astronomical observational device before the invention of the telescope.” Astrophysicist Harold Williams[3]

2. Origins of Astrolabes

Figure 5. Aristotle teaching astronomy while using an astrolabe on an Arabic Manuscript (Image Source) – Turkish School’s MS Ahmed III 3206 Aristotle teaching, illustration from ‘Kitab Mukhtar al-Hikam wa-Mahasin al-Kilam’ by Al-Mubashir (pen & ink and gouache on paper) located at the Topkapi Palace Museum, Istanbul, Turkey. (Source)

The astrolabe is thought to have originated in Ancient Greece. Though no working examples have survived, Hipparchus, writing in around 150 BCE, is credited with discovering stereographic projection, the mathematical means of representing the 3D sky onto a 2D plate that is the basis of how the astrolabe works.

While the origin of the astrolabe may have been Greek, it is generally agreed that the design was then perfected in Muslim Civilisation – indeed the name Astrolabe comes from the Arabic (asturlab) which is a version of the Greek term astrolabos (star-holder/taker), but it is in the Golden Age of Muslim Civilisation that the astrolabe was highly developed and its uses widely multiplied. Introduced to Europe from Muslim Spain in the early 12th century, it was one of the major astronomical instruments until the modern times.

From 1001 Inventions book: The Enduring Legacy of Muslim Civilization

Astrolabes were used in classical times, possibly as early as the 2nd Century BC by Hipparchus in compiling his famous star catalogue. They became especially popular in the Islamic world, and the oldest surviving example was made in the 9th Century AD by Ahmad ibn Khalaf. Astrolabes came to [Muslim Spain] in the 10th Century, and in the next century European manuscripts were being written describing how to use this instrument. In the early European universities, astrolabes were used to teach astronomical principles to students, and Geoffrey Chaucer wrote a treatise on their use in 1391. The Portuguese and subsequent explorers used the mariner’s version on their travels during the Age of Exploration. However, by the 18th Century their use had been supplanted by newer, more accurate instruments and methods of calculation...” Nick Kanas[4] 

 3. Uses of Astrolabes

Figure 6.  Using an astrolabe for navigation, in Arabic manuscript by Iqbâl-nâma Nizâmî, Kâbul or Kandahar, 16th Century (Source)

“The astrolabe has many applications, such as working out heights of inaccessible objects, time of day and its position on earth. This is all done by the use of  ingenious tables and figures that are imprinted on both sides of an astrolabe.”[5]  It has many uses that astronomers in Muslim Civilisation recorded. For example, 10th century famous astronomer Abdul-Rahman al-Sufi outlined over 1,000 uses of an astrolabe in his writings.

Using stereography, celestial spheres were enabled to be projected on to a 2D plane and form the important body of an astrolabe. These astrolabes were based on the ecliptic, and divided into 12 portions. Further, each portion was given a sign of the zodiac.

From Muslim Heritage: Using an Astrolabe by Emily Winterburn

The ability of Islamic civilization to perfect what it inherited, and to endow what it made with beauty, is nowhere better expressed than in the astrolabe.” Oliver Hoare[6]

4. Makers of Astrolabes 

Figure 7.  [Mariam]* Al-Ijliya al-Asturlabi (Source) 
(* First name Mariam was provided by the Syrian Archaeological Society, but remains to be corroborated)

As there are many uses, there are many makers of Astrolabes as some of them mentioned in this story.

The making of astrolabes, a branch of applied science of great status, was practiced by many include one woman from Aleppo (Syria), Mariam (*note above) “Al-Astrolabiya” Al-Ijliya (Al-‘Ijliyah bint al-‘Ijli al-Asturlabi), who followed her father’s profession and was employed at the court of Sayf al-Dawlah (333 H/944 CE-357/967), one of the powerful Hamdanid rulers in northern Syria who guarded the frontier with the Byzantine empire in the tenth century CE.

Another name should be specially mentioned here “This remarkable astronomical instrument was made by the Muslim astronomer known as Nastūlus, who was active in Baghdad between 890 and 930. Its rediscovery brings our knowledge of the activities in that flourishing scientific centre a substantial step further” as Prof David A. King continues: 

Figure on the right: This type of instrument was previously not known to exist. 

this instrument is important for the history of instrumentation for another reason: it partly resolves the question of the origin of the solar/
calendrical scales on Islamic instruments. Julio Samsó has favoured an Andalusī origin. Direct evidence from Late Antiquity of scales of this kind from either end of the Mediterranean is not available.

However, now we have an earlier example of them from Baghdad that is certainly without any Andalusī influence whatsoever.

Prof David A. King, An Instrument of Mass Calculation made by Nastūlus in Baghdad ca. 900[7] 

From 1001 Inventions book: The Enduring Legacy of Muslim Civilization

Figure 8. “A depiction of Mariam al Ijliya, a famous astrolabe maker who lived in Aleppo in the 10th century” from “Astrolabe: the 13th Century iPhone” Article by Jane L Kandur (Source) (Image ©IGETEV, Muslim Women’s Historical Heritage)

5. Types of Astrolabes 

Figure 9. Spanish stamp of Al-Zarqali with universal astrolabe (Source)

Most known ones called Universal Astrolabes. These were developed in Toledo in the 11th century, and it revolutionized star mapping. Two individuals, Ali ibn Khalaf al-Shajjar, an apothecary or herbalist, and Al-Zarqali, were important in this new development. The universal astrolabe was a major breakthrough because it could be used at any location. Ordinary astrolabes needed different latitude plates if they were moved, because they were designed  for a certain place and were latitude dependent.

An important aspect of the universal  astrolabe was that its stereographic  projection used the vernal or autumnal equinox as the center of projection onto the plane of the solstitial colure.

There are, of course other types of astrolabe such as Nautical, Quadrant, Rojas Astrolabes, and Planispheric Astrolabe was one of the most popular one. Other one of the most interesting of them all was an astrolabe with geared calendar made by Muhammad b. Abi Bakr, Isfahan, 1221/2 as shown below. Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr al-Farisi (d.1278) was an Islamic astronomer born in Aden (Yemen). He is the author of al-Tuḥfa, which includes a treatise containing important information for the history of Islamic astronomy and its connection with the religion of Islam. This early Persian astrolabe with a geared calendar movement is the oldest geared machine in existence in a complete state. It illustrates an important stage in the development of the various complex astronomical machines from which the mechanical clock derives. Scholars from Muslim Civilisation learned of this design from a text by al-Bîrûnî, who explained how gearing might be used to show the revolutions of the sun and moon at their relative rates, and to demonstrate the changing phase of the moon. These phenomena were of fundamental importance in the lunar calendar used in Muslim Civilisation.

From 1001 Inventions book: The Enduring Legacy of Muslim Civilization

Figures 10-11  Abī Bakr al Ibarī’s Astrolabe, 13th cent. is the oldest geared machine in existence in a complete state (Source)  

The astrolabe is an instrument maximum size, usable size, that we have and most people can see in museums etc. It is in the order of maybe 5-10 inches, they are all in that range. It is really a series of brass discs turning one on top of each other. You can manage to solve with all sorts of mathematical problems. The same Abdul Rahman al-Sufi, who worked on the stars, also wrote a book on the construction and use of an astrolabe. He gave us the list of 385 astronomical mathematical problems that could be solved with an astrolabe. Put briefly to our modern use and to our young people nowadays, it is nothing different, it is in change of function, it is just as efficient as your little pocket calculator that you use nowadays. Unfortunately, nowadays most kids in schools use it to find the sum function and to multiply functions, which is what an astrolabe does. It is an ingenious application of mathematics onto a technology that allows you to solve mathematical problems.” Prof George Saliba[8]

6. Anatomy of Astrolabes 

Figure 12. Astronomers using an astrolabe from the Arabic illuminated manuscripts, a compendium of tales by al-Hariri of Basra, Iraq (1054-1122) illustrated by Yahya ibn Mahmud al-Wasiti: The Maqamat (Assemblies)

Astrolabes were the cutting edge of technology, used and developed by astronomers in Muslim Civilisation who were intrigued and fascinated by the heavens. It was through these hardworking scholars that the astrolabe made it into Europe, where modern astronomy was born. 

Figure 13. Diagram showing the parts of an astrolabe (Source)

Astrolabes, as an instrument for timekeeping, were eventually superseded by mechanical clocks and more advanced methods of calculation, but simplified astrolabes for stargazers are still made today.

– The tracings engraved on the astrolabe allow you to perform a variety of different calculations. For example, to tell the time at night, you line up a rule on the back of the astrolabe with a star to find its altitude. You rotate the rete until the star’s pointer sits on the correct altitude line on the plate, and read the time off the rim.

– Left, top, and right: The lines engraved on each plate are projections of the sphere of the sky overhead. Each plate covers a narrow range of latitudes (the pole’s altitude over the horizon).

– Center: The mater of the astrolabe is a hollow disc deep enough to hold several flat plates.

– Bottom: The rete has a circle (ecliptic) to track the sun’s path across the sky, and pointers correspond to bright stars. Dagger-shaped pointers were characteristic of early astrolabes from Muslim Civilisation.

– the mater or base plate,

– the rete or top web-like plate which shows the fixed stars, the ecliptic (the zodiac constellations and part of the sky across which the Sun travels) and certain naked eye stars,

– the plates, each of which is made for a different latitude. Each plate has engraved on it a grid marking the zenith (point directly over head), the horizon and all the altitudes in between;

– the alidade or rule with sights used for making observations and reading off scales.

The rete and plates are designed to fit into the mater.

From 1001 Inventions book: The Enduring Legacy of Muslim Civilization

Figures 14-15. Ibrahim ibn Saîd’s Astrolabe Toledo / Valencia (Spain), 11th cent. (Source) and Figures 15. North African universal astrolabe
uses the ‘universal lamina’ described by Al-Zarqali (Source)  

7. How to make an Astrolabe

Figure 16.  “Treatise on the Astrolabe” 13th Century manuscript by Mahmud bin Muhammad al Mushi, Sivas, Turkey (Source) 

There are many articles and videos show how to make or use your own astrolabe. It was not so different in medieval times, there are manuscripts or books show how to use or construct various Astrolabes. For example, Kitāb Fī Al-ālāt Al-falakīyah by François Charette “This volume contains the critical edition with English translation of a richly-illustrated Arabic treatise on the construction of over one hundred various astronomical instruments, many of which are otherwise unknown to specialists. It was composed by Najm al-D n al-Misr , a rather shadowy figure, in Cairo ca. 1330”[9].

Another example is “Treatise on the Astrolabe by a Seljuk-illustrated (Seljuq / Selcuk) Arabic manuscript in naskh script, copied by Mahmud bin Muhammad al Mushi, Sivas, Turkey, dated 1231. This is one of the earliest known extant copies of the treatise, originally by Abu Rayhan Muhammad Bin”.[10]

Figure 17. A Seljuk’s (Seljuq’s / Selcuk’s) Arabic Illustrated manuscript on the construction and use of the astrolabe, ink on paper Sivas and Kayseri, Anatolia (Turkey), 1231-1238 from the The al-Sabah Collection, Dar al-Athar al-lslamiyyah, Kuwait (LNS 67 MS) (Source)

Chaucer, famous British author of the Canterbury  Tales, also wrote a “Treatise on the Astrolabe” for his ten-year-old son, Lewis, in 1387.  We would like to finish our story with what he wrote to his son:

Little Lewis my son, I have . . . considered your anxious and special request to learn the Treatise of the Astrolabe . . . therefore have I given you an astrolabe for our horizon, constructed for the latitude of Oxford. And with this little treatise, I propose to teach you some conclusions pertaining to the same instrument. I say some conclusions, for three reasons. The first is this: you can be sure that all the conclusions that have been found, or possibly might be found in so noble an instrument as an astrolabe, are not known perfectly to any mortal man in this region, as I suppose.”
Chaucer, Treatise on the Astrolabe

Figures 18-19. Kelmscott edition of Treatise, picturing Chaucer and his son Lewis, illustrated by William Morris (Source) and a illustration from the 1872 edition of  Chaucer’s Treatise on the Astrolabe (Source)

8. Videos


9. Further Reading

  • “1001 Inventions: The Enduring Legacy of Muslim Civilization” by Salim T. S. Al-Hassani
  • “Islamic Science and the Making of the European Renaissance” by George Saliba
  • “The renaissance of astronomy in Baghdad in the 9th and 10th centuries” by David A. King  [Link]
  •  “An Instrument of Mass Calculation, made by NasÐūlus in Baghdad ca. 900” by David A. King [PDF]
  •  “World Maps for Finding the Direction and Distance of Mecca: Examples of Innovation and Tradition in Islamic Science” by David A. King
  • “Synchrony with the Heavens” by David A. King
  • “House of Wisdom: How the Arabs Transformed Western Civilization” by Jonathan Lyons
  • “On the Astrolabe” written by Farghani, introduction and translation by Franz Steiner Verlag
  • “Star Maps: History, Artistry, and Cartography” by Nick Kanas
  • “Modelling the Stars” by Jonathan Chang  [Link]
  • “An overview of Muslim Astronomers” by Salah Zaimeche [Link]
  • “Alfraganus and the Elements of Astronomy” by Yavuz Unat [Link]
  • “Abu Ishaq Ibrahim Ibn Yahya Al-Zarqali” by FSTC [Link]
  • “Interview with Professor George Saliba” by Kaleem Hussain [Link]
  • Astrolabe: the 13th Century iPhone by by Jane L Kandur [Link]

Figure 20. “An early seventeenth century margin drawing from the folio in Jahāngīr’s Album showing an astrologer surrounded by his equipment—an astrolabe, zodiac tables and an hour glass (courtesy: Werner Forman Archive/Naprestek Museum, Prague). ” (Source) 

10. References

 [1] “The Astrolabe: Some Notes on Its History, Construction and Use” by Roderick S. Webster, Paul R. MacAlister and Flolydia M. Etting, Paul MacAlister & Associates, 1974, Page 3 

[2] “On the Astrolabe” written by Farghānī, introduction and translation by Franz Steiner Verlag, 2005, Page 3   

[3] “1001 Inventions: The Enduring Legacy of Muslim Civilization” by Salim T. S. Al-Hassani, National Geographic, 2012, Page 280 

[4] “Star Maps: History, Artistry, and Cartography” by Nick Kanas, Springer Science & Business Media, 5 Jun 2012, Page 244 

[5] Muslim Heritage: “Modelling the Stars” by Jonathan Chang [Link] 

[6] “World Maps for Finding the Direction and Distance of Mecca: Examples of Innovation and Tradition in Islamic Science” by David A. King, BRILL, 1 Jan 1999 

[7] “An Instrument of Mass Calculation, made by NasÐūlus in Baghdad ca. 900” by David A. King, Suhayl 8, 2008,  Page 116, [PDF] 

[8] Muslim Heritage: “Interview with Professor George Saliba” by Kaleem Hussain [Link] 

[9] “Mathematical Instrumentation in Fourteenth-Century Egypt and Syria: The Illustrated Treatise of Najm al-Dīn al-Miṣrī” by François Charette (Link) 

[10] “Treatise on the Astrolabe,” a Seljuk-illustrated Arabic manuscript in naskh script, copied by Mahmud bin Muhammad al Mushi, Sivas, Turkey, dated 1231. This is one of the earliest known extant copies of the treatise, originally by Abu Rayhan Muhammad Bin” Contributor: Science History Images / Alamy Stock Photo [Link] 

11. More Images

Figure 21. Arabic Spherical astrolabe Signed by Musa 1480-81 (Source) Oxford, Museum of the History of Science, inv. 49687 Astrolabes show the heavenly vault on a flat surface. This is the only complete example of a spherical astrolabe to have come down to us. The rete records the positions of 19 fixed stars. (Source)

Figures22-23. The front and back of an Arabic Astrolabe in the Whipple Museum, Cambridge. This astrolabe is signed “Husain b. Ali” and dated 1309/10 AD. It is probably North African in origin, and is made of brass. It has four plates (for the front of the astrolabe, representing the projection of the celestial sphere and marked with lines for calculation), each for a specific latitude, and 21 stars marked on the rete (the star map, with pointers, fitting over the plate)

Figure 24. Calendar scales (round the outside edge) on an Arabic astrolabe in the Whipple Collection, Cambridge, a case of calendrical applications of Arabic astrolabes. Arabic astrolabes have calendar scales on them that enable the positions of the moon and the dates of the lunar calendar to be calculated easily.

Figures 25-26.  Front covers of In Synchrony with the Heavens by David A. King

image alt text 
Figures 27-28. Front covesr of The House of Wisdom: How the Arabs Transformed Western Civilization by Jonathan Lyons (Bloomsbury, 2009).

Figures 29-30. This astrolabe comprises five tympanums, of which four are for latitudes 0°/18°, 21°/24°, 30°/32°, and 34° (corresponding to the regions between Ethiopia and Syria). The inside of the mater carries the meridians and parallels. There is a rete: the zodiacal circle bears the names of the constellations in Latin. The back is inscribed with the names of the zodiac constellations in Latin and a shadow square. Dates from at least the fourteenth century, but may be older. Provenance: Medici collections.

Figure 31. From 1001 Inventions first exhibition, Manchester, UK, 2006

Figure 32.  (Image Source)

Figure 33. Part of the permanent exhibition Al-Andalus y la Ciencia on the Andalusian scientific heritage at the Fundación El legado Andalusí and el Parque de las Ciencias de Granada in Spain

Figure 34. From Albumasar’s Introductorium in Astronomism, Venice, 1513 – Introduction à l’astronomie, contenant les huit livres divisés d’Abu Ma’shar Abalachus –  Abū Maʿshar, Jaʿfar ibn Muḥammad al-Balkhī, was an astrologer, astronomer, and philosopher, of the Abbasid court in Baghdad (Source)

Figures 35-36. Unknown image – supposedly illustraion of a Moorish (Andalusian) astronomer using an astrolobe (Source) (Source)

Figures 37-38. Arabic astrolabes of the ninth and tenth centuries with Armenian inscriptions [ History of the Armenian astronomy B. E. Thoumanian, Yerevan, 1964] (Source)

Figures 39-40. Depiction and description of an astrolabe after al-Biruni, 18th century. Illustration to: Kitab al-tafhim li-avail sinaat al– tanjum (introduction to the basics of astrology) (Source) (Source)

Figure 41. “Drawing, by Matthew Paris, from the Liber Experimentarius of Bernardus Silvestris. Euclid holding a sphaera and looking through a dioptra. Beside him sits Hermann of Carinthia, a mediaeval translator of Arabic works on astronomy, holding an astrolabe. Dated 13th Century” (Source)

Figures.42-43. Beginning of 12th Century Muhammad ibn Abi’l Qasim ibn Bakran’s Astrolabe (Source)

Click here for more astrolabes…