A Thousand Years of the Persian Book

The article below A Thousand Years of the Persian Book” was originally posted on the US Library of Congress website.


Beginning in ancient times Persia has been a center of scientific achievement and was often the conduit of knowledge from China and India in the East to Greece and Rome in the West. Persian-speaking scholars have been active in furthering knowledge in fields of science and technology, such as astronomy, chemistry, anatomy, biology, botany, cosmology, mathematics, engineering, and architecture.

Ancient Sassanid Persia was home to some of the earliest universities and libraries of the ancient world. After the Islamization of Persia (651), middle Persian Pahlavi texts as well as Indian, Chinese, Greek, Aramaic, and Latin scientific texts were translated into Arabic. Although Arabic remains the primary language used for scientific writing in the Islamic world, many scholars have also produced a range of scientific manuscripts and works in the Persian language. The Mughal court in India (1526–1858) became a major center for the production of scientific works in Persian.

Marvels of Creation and Oddities of Existence

Over the centuries many scholars and scientists of Persian origin have written in Arabic, the preferred language for religious and scientific subjects. The iconic Marvels of Creation and Oddities of Existence, originally written in the thirteenth century, is a popular work of cosmography that has been translated into various Islamic languages. The Library holds manuscripts in the original Arabic, as well as Turkish and Persian translations. This sixteenth-century Persian text contains several unique illustrations, including these depictions of mythical creatures.

Zakariya ibn Muhammad Qazvīnī. عجايب المخلوقات و غرائب الموجودات (Marvels of Creation and Oddities of Existence). Persia, 1565. Manuscript. Near East Section, African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress (016.00.01).

This sixteenth-century Persian text contains several unique illustrations, including a gold leaf map that clearly demonstrates how the world was viewed in the medieval Islamic period.

Zakariya ibn Muhammad Qazvīnī. عجايب المخلوقات و غرائب الموجودات (Marvels of Creation and Oddities of Existence). Persia, 1565. Manuscript. Near East Section, African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress (016.00.01).

The Book of Indian Castes and Kinsfolk

In India from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries, during the reign of the Mughal court and the subsequent British Raj period, many manuscripts were written in Persian. The manuscript on display, illustrated in vibrant colors and detailing the distinguishing characteristics and customs of India’s various castes, religious communities, and the trades and technologies of each group, is by James Skinner (1778–1841). The son of a Scottish lieutenant colonel and an Indian Rajput princess, Skinner was fluent in Persian and wrote extensively in the language. His manuscript portrays professions ranging from surgery to papermaking with miniature paintings produced primarily by Mir Khalan Khan.

James Skinner. کتاب تشريح الاقوام (Book of Indian Castes and Kinsfolk). India, 1825. Manuscript. Page 2. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (020.00.00, 20.00.01).

The Study of Medicinal Plants

The study of medicinal plants and their effects on humans has been an age-old tradition in Persian-speaking lands. This publication, written by two commanding officers in the Muhammadzai Pashtun tribal confederacy during the Barakzai period (1826–1973), is a lithographic printing of a pharmacology. By the 1860s, lithographic book printing extended from India to the frontier territories of Afghanistan and was preferred to typographic printing because it better retained the traditional calligraphy. This book, the earliest work in the field of medicine printed in Afghanistan, contains a list of various substances, herbs, flowers, minerals, and potions used for healing purposes in traditional medicine.

Ṣāliḥ ibn Ṣāliḥ Muḥammad and Gul Muḥammad Khān Muḥammadzāī. کتاب عمل الصالحين (Book of Effects [Medicinal Plants]). Kabul, 1898. Near East Section, African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress (017.00.00).

Explanation of Human Anatomy

This comprehensive manual in three volumes deals with the human body, ailments, and the medicinal properties of plants. The book was the first detailed handbook of modern medicine in Iran and was probably used for teaching purposes at the Polytechnical College (Dar al-Funun) in Tehran. The first volume contains numerous detailed images illustrating human anatomy, such as this one showing the lower half of the female body. The illustrations are most likely copied from a European book.

‘Abd al-Sabur Mirzā Muhammad.‏ تشريح البشر و توضيح الصور (Pictorial Explanation of Human Anatomy). Tabriz, Iran, 1855–1856. Near East Section, African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress (018.00.00).

Geographic Survey of Persian Lands

This lithographic book, of which apparently only volumes one, two, and four were published, aims at a comprehensive treatment of the geography of Iran in an alphabetical arrangement. The volume displayed here follows the model of the famous Mu‘jam al-buldān (Dictionary of Countries) compiled by thirteenth-century Arab author Yāqūt. It includes entries from Persian letters “alif” through “te,” including a lengthy entry on Tehran and its history from the early Safavid period through the 1870s. The image on display, most probably copied from a contemporary photograph, shows the Ayvān (or Tāq)-i Kasrā (Palace of Khusraw), which was the legendary palace for the Sassanid kings (224–651) located in the vicinity of modern Baghdad.

Muhammad Hasan-Khān. مرآة البلدان ناصرى (Mirror of the Lands, A Geographic Survey of Persian Lands). Volume 1. Tehran: Nasiri Publishing House, 1877. Near East Section, African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress (019.00.00).

Khwarazmi: The Father of Algebra

The article below was originally posted on the Al-Jazeera News Outlet on October 20, 2015. Excepting the video, the version posted below contains pictures and accompanying captions not featured in the original Al-jazeera report.

Kindly note that in recent decades, especially after 1979, there while there has been a tendency to de-emphasize the Iranian origins of “Islamic” scholars, original Arab and Muslim sources themselves have been clear as to the contributions of the Iranians to Learning, Mathematics, Sciences and Medicine.

A statue of Arabo-Islamic historian, Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406) in Tunisia. Ibn Khaldun emphasized the crucial role of the Iranians in promoting learning, sciences, arts, architecture, and medicine in Islamic civilization.

Arab scholar and historian Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406 CE) ranked among the greatest in history, on par with the earlier Greco-Roman historians such as Plutarch or Xenophon; states the following in his work, The Muqaddimah Translated by F. Rosenthal (III, pp. 311-15, 271-4 [Arabic]; R.N. Frye (p.91):

“…It is a remarkable fact that, with few exceptions, most Muslim scholars…in the intellectual sciences have been non-Arabs…thus the founders of grammar were Sibawaih and after him, al-Farisi and Az-Zajjaj. All of them were of Persian descent…they invented rules of (Arabic) grammar…great jurists were Persians… only the Persians engaged in the task of preserving knowledge and writing systematic scholarly works. Thus the truth of the statement of the prophet becomes apparent, ‘If learning were suspended in the highest parts of heaven the Persians would attain it”…The intellectual sciences were also the preserve of the Persians, left alone by the Arabs, who did not cultivate them…as was the case with all crafts…This situation continued in the cities as long as the Persians and Persian countries, Iraq, Khorasan and Transoxiana (modern Central Asia), retained their sedentary culture.”

For more on the historical role of Iranians in the promotion of progress see: Learning, Science, Knowledge, Technology & Medicine

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None of the great achievements of modern science would be possible without the mathematisation of science and the development of algebra.

The word algebra stems from the Arabic word al-jabr, which has its roots in the title of a 9th century manuscript written by the mathematician Al-Khwarazmi.

Statue of Khwarazmi in Tehran’s Amir Kabir University in Tehran (Source: M. Tomczak in Public Domain). Khwarazmi was born around 780 CE in the Persianate-region of Khwarezm (one of the regions that Khaldun described as being among the Persian countries). He passed away in Baghdad in around 850 CE.

Al-Khwarazmi’s Kitab al-mukhtasar fi hisab al-jabr wal-muqabala (The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing) was a pioneering piece of work – offering practical answers for land distribution, rules on inheritance and distributing salaries.

A page from Khwarazmi’s al-Kitāb al-mukhtaṣar fī ḥisāb al-jabr wa-l-muqābala (The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing) (Source: Public Domain taken from John L. Esposito. The Oxford History of Islam. Oxford University Press).

Originally Persian, Al-Khwarazmi spent his academic life in the city of Baghdad from where the Abbasid caliphs ruled and established the Bayt al-Hikma (The House of Wisdom), a renowned center of learning.

In this episode of Science in a Golden Age,theoretical physicist, Jim al-Khalili explores Al-Khwarazmi’s 9th century treatise that also underpins the science of flight and the engineering behind the fastest car in the world.

With Professor Ramazan Sesen and Dr Peter Starr, Jim discusses the origins of the House of Wisdom and how the translation of Greek, Persian and other texts was central to the progressive scientific and mathematical revolution that originated in Baghdad.

And, in the Sulemaniye Library in Istanbul, Jim uncovers a rare text by Al-Kindi, a philosopher, polymath, and musician – and perhaps the world’s earliest mathematical code breaker.

A postage stamp of Khwarazmi printed in the former USSR on September 6, 1983 in commemoration of his (approximately) 1200th birthday (Source: Public Domain).

Khwarazmi is one of Iranian/Persianate civilization’s foremost scholars who has contributed to progress in mathematics, science and learning in not just Islamic but also greater human civilization.

Two New courses for Fall 2018

Kaveh Farrokh is offering two new courses for the of Fall 2018 at the Paris-based Methodologica Universitas at the Départment de Méthodologie des Sciences Historiques.  See also the Institution’s Encyclopedic project:

Analytica Iranica: The Multidisciplinary Journal of Iranian Studies … Kaveh Farrokh is one of the Academic Advisors of this Encyclopedia project …

The first of these is the first course offered on the military history of ancient Iran or Persia:

Course HIS/CP/202: The Military History of Ancient Iran: 559 BCE-651 CE [Fall 2018, Methodologica Universitas, Départment de Méthodologie des Sciences Historiques]Click here for Registration Information

The course description for the above is as follows (HIS/SP/202):

This course examines Iran’s pre-Islamic military history with respect to political relations, wars, battles with Greece, Rome, Central Asia. These topics are examined in the Achaemenid (559-333 BCE), Parthian (250 BCE-224 CE) and Sassanian (224-651 CE) epochs. Methodology of the course utilizes scientific methodology in archival analysis (primary and secondary sources), numismatics (study of coins), archaeological analysis (analysis of equipment and technology), and statistical methodology (e.g. compiling data for analysis, factor analysis, etc.). The strengths and weaknesses (military, political and social) of each dynasty is examined up to the downfall of ancient Iran to the Arab conquests of Iran (637-651 CE). Detailed analysis is made of developments from the early Achaemenid era to the end of the Sassanian era with respect to equipment, technology, military architecture, military doctrine, and martial culture. Influences upon and from Greece, Rome, Central Asia and Eastern Europe are also examined. The course concludes with a survey of post-Islamic sources reporting of the extensive military literature pertaining to Sassanian weapons and tactics (battlefield tactics, siege craft, etc.) and its influence upon Islamic warfare.

Kaveh Farrokh meeting the late Professor Ehsan Yarshater (1920-2018) during the Honoring ceremony for the late Professor Emeritus Richard Nelson Frye (1920-2014) in the Greater San Francisco area in 2008.

The second is a comprehensive course on the History of ancient Iran or Persia, which will incorporate modern research and academic methodologies incorporating anthropology, archaeology, the study of sources, numismatics, etc:

Course HIS/CP/203: The History of Ancient Iran: 559 BCE-651 CE [Fall 2018, Methodologica Universitas, Départment de Méthodologie des Sciences Historiques]Click here for Registration Information

Three Books published in 2017-2018 on the military history of Ancient Iran or Persia (from left to right): The Armies of Ancient Persia: the Sassanians (2017; see book review by the Military History Journal in 2018); A Synopsis of Sassanian Military Organization and Combat Units (Kaveh Farrokh, Katarzyna Maksymiuk & Gholamreza Karamian, 2018); and The Siege of Amida (Kaveh Farrokh, Katarzyna Maksymiuk & Javier Sánchez-Gracia, 2018).

The course description for the above is as follows (HIS/CP/203):

Course begins with the pre Indo-European era of ancient Iran and the rise of proto-Iranian peoples and arrivals onto the Iranian plateau. Recent archaeological works and research of pre Indo-European Iran, such as the Burnt City and Elam are surveyed. This is followed by detailed historical surveys of the three epochs of ancient Iran: Achaemenids (559-333 BCE), Parthians (250 BCE-224 CE) and Sassanians (224-651 CE). Course material is integrated with methodology utilizing scientific methodology in archival analysis (primary and secondary sources), numismatics (study of coins), archaeological analysis (analysis of equipment and technology), and statistical methodology (e.g. compiling data for analysis, factor analysis, etc.). The political relations and cultural exchanges of the Achaemenid, Parthian and Sassanian dynasties with the Greco-Roman, Central Asian, Indian subcontinent, Caucasian, European and Chinese realms are examined. Each epoch is also examined with respect to developments in legal systems, societal development and the role of women, the arts, architecture, learning, medicine, technology, theology and religious philosophy, communications, shipping, commerce and the Silk Route.

[Above] Kaveh Farrokh’s second textShadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War-Персы: Армия великих царей-سایه‌های صحرا-” cited by the BBC-Persian service as theBest History Book of 2007(November 5, 2008), as well as the by Kayhan News Service of London (November 12, 2008). The text was nominated by the Independent Book Publishers’ Association (Benjamin Franklin Award) among the top finalists for the Best textbooks of 2008. The book has been recognized by world-class scholars such as the late Professor Emeritus Richard Nelson Frye (1920-2014), Harvard University, Dr. Geoffrey Greatrex, Department of Classics and Religious Studies, University of Ottawa, Dr. Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones, School of HistoryUniversity of Edinburgh and Dr. Patrick Hunt. The book was reviewed in the world-class academic (peer-reviewed by top Iranian Studies scholars) Iranshenasi journal in 2010: Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War, by Dr. Kaveh Farrokh. Iranshenasi, Volume XXII, No.1, Spring 2010, pp.1-5 (see document in pdf). [Below] Translations of Shadows in the Desert [A] Persian translation by Taghe Bostan Publishers (2009) [B] Persian translation by Qoqnoos Publishers (2009) [C] the original textbook (2008) and [D] Russian translation by EXMO Publishers.

Ibn Sina, Persian Polymath and Physician, Never Demanded Money from his Patients

The article below entitled Ibn Sina, the great Persian polymath and physician, never demanded money from his patients” was written by Damjan Stojanovski and published in the Vintage news outlet on October 13, 2016.

Kindly note that three of the images and accompanying captions displayed below do not appear in the original Vintage News posting.
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The cultural and scientific enlightenment fostered by the Islamic Golden Age during the Abbasid Caliphate undoubtedly propelled mankind’s progress during the High Middle Ages. Contributing to various scientific fields, many thinkers and philosophers such as Al-Farabi, Al-Kindi, Rhazez, and others have cemented their names in the history of science. As for Ibn Sina (980-1037), his work and research are arguably the most revered.

13th-century illustration depicting scholars at an Abbasid library from the Maqamat of al-Hariri by Yahya ibn Mahmud al-Wasiti. Baghdad, 1237 (Source: Vintage News).

Also known as Avicenna, Ibn Sina was a Persian polymath with contributions in medicine, psychology, geology, physics, astronomy (he was the first to propose that Venus was closer to the Sun than the Earth), and of course, philosophy. A prominent thinker and empiricist, in contrast with his scientific penchant for knowledge, he was also a poet and an Islamic theologian.

A Portrait of Ibn Sina (Source: CGIE.org).

Records and historical facts about his life are hard to pin down, as there exists only one known autobiography about him, written by one of his students, al-Jūzjānī. He was born in a village near Bukhara (modern-day Uzbekistan) in 980 CE, most likely in August.

The Statue of Ibn Sina at the Persian Scholar Pavilion in the Vienna International Center (Source: “Yamaha5” in Public Domain). To the right of Ibn Sina, holding a bulbous long-necked beaker, is Zakariya Razi (854 CE – 925 CE), known as “Rhazes” in the West). Razi was another important Iranian polymath, medical prodigy and physician, philosopher and alchemist. To the left of Ibn Sina is the Iranian Polymath and scholar from Khwarezm, Abu-Reyhan Biruni (973-1048 CE),

Because of his father’s position as a governor and a respected scholar, Ibn Sina received a quality education and upbringing. The young genius could memorize the Quran at the age of 10 and had a thirst for unconventional knowledge for his age. At times, he prayed in mosques, when challenged with difficult texts and ideas.

One of his many tutors, Nātilī, had the honor to teach elementary logic to Ibn Sina. However, his teachings were obsolete, since the young thinker was rapidly grasping advanced ideas and was already entering new fields of knowledge.

Undertaking a tremendous task of studying the works of Aristotle on his own, he gained a methodical approach to the sciences which, in return, aided his logical viewpoint. He had difficulty at fist, but once he read Al-Farabi’s commentary on the work, he quickly understood Aristotle’s “Metaphysics”. Contrary to popular belief, he was not the first to introduce Aristotelian philosophy to the Middle East, but he was by far the most distinguished.

Pages from a 17th-century manuscript of Al-Farabi’s commentary on Aristotle’s metaphysics (Source: Vintage News & Public Domain).

Ibn Sina favored medicine and anatomy over the rigid field of mathematics and logic; thus he began studying medicine at the age of 16 and became a skilled physician by 18. By 997 CE, Ibn Sina healed the local emir, Nuh II, from a life-threatening illness and was promptly appointed as the emir’s personal doctor. The respected position that Ibn Sina gained from this rather heroic deed allowed him valuable access to the Sāmānid royal library, consequently opening new doors of knowledge. Ibn Sina never required payment from his patients, as the practice of curing and mending their wounds was payment enough for the curious physician.

A manuscript written on paper during the Abbasid Era (Source: Vintage News & Public Domain).

By his 20s, Ibn Sina undertook writing his ideas, penning many books about astronomy, medicine, philosophy, mathematics, music, poetry, and philology.

Tomb of Ibn Sina in Hamedan, Iran (Source: Public Domain).

Piece of carved wood suggests Persian taught maths in Japan 1,000 years ago

The report posted below on October 6, 2016 by Gabriel Samuel of Britain’s Independent newspaper was first released by the Japan Times on October 5, 2016.

Kindly note that excepting the first image, all other images and accompanying descriptions are from Kaveh Farrokh’s Fall 2014 course on the Silk Route at the University of British Columbia.


The piece of wood was discovered in the 1960s but as only now been fully analysed Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties.

Archaeologists have unearthed a piece of wood revealing ancient Japan was a “cosmopolitan” nation “where foreigners were treated equally”, including details of one Persian man teaching maths more than a millennium ago.


Scientists analysed carvings on the wood using infrared imaging technology, which appeared to name a Persian lecturer who worked at a facility where government ministers were trained in the former Japanese capital of Nara.

Previous discoveries have revealed Japan had direct trade links with Persia as early as 600AD, but this is the first time it has been suggested a Middle Eastern official may have been employed in the country at that time.


Sassanian influences upon Japanese arts: the case of the metalwork plate of Shapur II hunting lions (Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg – Inv. S-253) and motif-parallels in Japanese textile arts (Source: Fall 2014 course on the Silk Route at the University of British Columbia).

Akirhiro Watanabe of the Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, who led the survey, suggested the man was likely to have taught mathematics due to Persia’s renowned expertise in the subject. As noted by Watanabe to the Japan Times:

Although earlier studies have suggested there were exchanges with Persia as early as the 7th century, this is the first time a person as far away as Persia was known to have worked in Japan… This suggests Nara was a cosmopolitan city where foreigners were treated equally”.

Throughout the 17th century, thousands of Persian merchants were known to travel to the city of Nagasaki for the purposes of trade, but it is now believed the ties between the two countries date back far earlier.


Sassanian and Soghdian merchants were actively trading with China, a process that led to Iranian links with ancient Korea and Japan (Source: Fall 2014 course on the Silk Route at the University of British Columbia).

Nara was the capital of Japan between 710 and 784, before it was shifted to Kyoto and later to present-day Tokyo.

A vast ancient tomb with colourful painted murals opened to the public at a museum in the Nara Prefecture last week, another impressive find by the local archaeological surveying team.

Last month, archaeologists were left baffled by the remarkable discovery of ancient Roman coins while excavating the ruins of Katsuren Castle on Okinawa Island recently.

The four copper coins were originally thought to be a hoax before their true provenance was revealed through detailed scanning.