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Tag: Crusades

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Medicine

During the Abbasids’ Golden Age, the first true hospitals were created, including free public ones in Baghdad and elsewhere in the region. The main difference from the ‘sleep temples’ and asylums of the Classical era was that these hospitals were designed to treat and heal, rather than merely to isolate the infected and the sick. The idea was something of a revolution within itself, and later spread to Europe, along with pharmacology, taken back West by the Crusaders.

         These hospitals featured competency tests for doctors and surgeons, grading for purity and strength of pharmaceuticals, and separate wards for people with similar contagious diseases, as well as the first real autopsies. Patients from different religions were treated, and the surgical staff were Christians and Jews as well as Muslims. There were female doctors and nurses for the first time as well.

         The rise in cheap paper and literacy meant that everything could be written down and passed to other cities along the pilgrimage routes, for others to master. Great books were amassed from all the new knowledge. These eventually found their way into Europe and were translated into Latin… although only the Latin-speaking elite could understand them. They included pioneering works like the 30-volume medical encyclopaedia, the ‘Kitab al-Tasrif’, (The Book of Concessions), written by al-Zahrawi, and published in the year 1000 AD. It was used for centuries in both East and West.

And Ibn Sina’s The Canon of Medicine (c. 1020 AD), is still regarded as one of the most important medical textbooks of all time. It was used at the University of Montpellier’s medical department as late as 1650 AD, and was even used across until even later China.

         Dozens of Renaissance and later medical breakthroughs had already been accurately described by the Arab polymaths. Blood circulation, for instance, usually credited to the 17th century English physician, had been published by Ibn al-Nafis  in the 13th century.


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Vast Libraries

Magnificent libraries were made possible by the price of cheap paper, and by the growing literacy because people were required to read and write the Qur’an. An example was the Royal library in 10th century Cordoba, assembled under the patronage of Caliph al-Hakim II, which boasted 400,000 books. The library’s directory stretched to 44 huge ledgers. Caliph al-Hakim II sent scholars across the East to buy and have copied important books, and in so doing, added to the expansion of knowledge. The library at Cairo supposedly had two million volumes; and the one at Tripoli had three million, before it was destroyed by Crusaders. We can only imagine the extent of the House of Wisdom’s great library before it was sacked. It must have run into the millions of documents as well. It is said that when it was sacked in 1258 by the Mongol Horde, that the Tigris ran black with ink for six entire months.



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Misinformation

Western society tends to believe that the scientific and cultural bedrock upon which it sits was a product of the Classical world, most notably of the Romans and the Greeks. At our schools, teachers rant on about Latin etymology, and about Euclid, Pythagoras, Plato and Aristotle. But in our obsession for those empires, we blinker ourselves to the full picture, of how the two Classical civilizations arrived at our doors. The knowledge of the Romans and the Greeks passed through a matrix, a system that honed them and gave them shape, like a swordsmith giving edge to a blade.

The general idea that’s been commonly believed is that the fall of the Roman Empire (in 476 AD), was followed by centuries of darkness, until the blinding light of the European Renaissance. And during that era of darkness, there was no important scholarship, no learning, no breakthroughs in their desert of darkness.

It was almost a thousand years when nothing really happened at all.

But then the Renaissance, the rebirth of learning, was constructed solely on the classical cultures.

Nothing could be farther from the truth…


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March 3, 2009 Posted by tahir in Travel

Transitions

Something I find tremendously interesting is the way icons and ideas pass from one culture to another. And, as they do so, the society in which they arrive believes quite ardently that it has originated them. Let me give you a couple of examples. To the French there is nothing more, well, French, than the Croissant. There are various lines of history on these puff pastry crescents, but the most likely is that they arrived in France from Constantinople, where the pastry is a much-loved favourite. And, of course, the crescent is a known symbol of Turkey as well as Islam. But the star and crescent symbol was not originally Islamic. It was adopted by the Turks when they conquered Byzantium, from the Christians (i.e. the same people who now claim the crescent croissant as their own… so it’s come full circle in a way). The Christians didn’t create the crescent form as an icon though, they merely borrowed it from their Near-Western pagan ancestors. Another wonderful example of such a transition that lives in the Madre de Dios jungle in Peru, and elsewhere in South America. I have been warned by tribesmen there to watch out for the so-called ‘Mal de Ojo’, the ‘Evil Eye’. The superstition was actually taken to the New World by the Spanish Conquistadores, whom in turn acquired it from Morocco.



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