Transmission of Muslim Astronomy to Europe

by Salah Zaimeche Published on: 26th December 2001

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It was in Muslim Toledo, Spain, where flocked in the 12th century, in particular, scholars from all Christian lands to translate Muslim science, and start the scientific awakening of Europe.

Summarised extracts from a full article:
A review on Muslim Contribution to Astronomy by Salah Zaimeche

Between the 10th and 13th centuries a great transfer of knowledge and learning took place between the Muslim world and Europe. This transfer included works covering all subjects, including astonomy. Haskins,(endnote 55) Sarton, Myers, Mieli etc have described that in great detail.

The most important centre for this transferral of knowledge was Muslim Spain, Al-Andalus. One of the first European scientists to study Islamic astronomy there was Gerbert of Aurillac, later Pope Sylvester II. In the late tenth century he travelled to Spain and brought back with him works on the astroloabe.

But this transfer of knowledge really picked up in the twelfth century, when hundreds of European Christian scholars flocked to the Spanish city of Toledo to translate Islamic scientific works, thus starting a scientific revival in Europe.

Amongst these translators were the Italian Gerard of Cremona, who amongst others translated the Toledan tables of al-Zarqali and Jabir ibn Aflah’s Islah al Majisti (correction of the Almagest of Ptolemy).

The Jew turned Christian, John of Seville, also made translations of the astronomical works of al-Battani, Thabit ibn Qurra, al-Qabisi, and al-Majriti. And later on, when Alfonso of Castille sought to construct an armillary sphere, `the finest and best that had yet been made’, he turned to the Muslim scholars.(endnote 56)

Charles Burnett has given ample details on how such Muslim science entered England.(endnote 57) Burnett explains the early penetration of texts on the astrolabe, and also how al-Khwarizmi’s tables were adapted to English locations. He also dwells on the education of King Henry II, and the influence of his Muslim inspired entourage.

The first English scientist ever was Adelard of Bath, the most `Arabist’ of all scientists, hence his lack of popularity today among academic circles, despite his considerable scholarly achievements, with a few exceptions, though.(endnote 58) Adelard’s main works include the astronomical tables of Al-Khwarizmi, as revised by Maslama at Cordoba. Another Englishman, Robert of Chester, made an adapted version of al-Battani and al-Zarqali’s tables in 1149. Petrus Alphonsi, another Jew convert to Christianity, served both Spanish and English royal courts, and is accredited with the introduction of Muslim astronomy to England.

Also incomer to England in 1091 from Lotharingia (modern day Lorraine) was Walcher of Malvern, who had come into possession of the astrolabe, and who, for the first time, in Latin Europe, on 18 October 1092, used such instrument to determine the time of lunar eclipse that he had observed in Italy.(endnote 59)

In France, Muslim learning was mostly concentrated in the Southern Languedoc-Provence region and towns. By the 13th century, Montpelier was a well known centre of Muslim astronomy and also medicine. Marseilles, too, played its part, when a certain Raymond sought to adapt the astronomy of Muslim Spain north of the Pyrenees, declaring himself the first Latin `to acquire the science of the Arabs.'(endnote 60) His inspirations were al-Battani, Mash-Allah, and above all Al-Zarqali from whose astronomical canons his works are largely drawn.(endnote 61)


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