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Abu Ma'shar al-Balkhi

Abu Ma'shar al-Balkhi

Abu Maʿshar, Latinized as Albumasar (also Albusar, Albuxar; full name Abū Maʿshar Jaʿfar ibn Muḥammad ibn ʿUmar al-Balkhī أبو معشر جعفر بن محمد بن عمر البلخي ; 10 August 787 – 9 March 886, AH 171–272),[4] was an early Persian[5][6][7] Muslim astrologer, thought to be the greatest astrologer of the Abbasid court in Baghdad.[3] While he was not a major innovator, his practical manuals for training astrologers profoundly influenced Muslim intellectual history and, through translations, that of western Europe and Byzantium.[4]

Abu Ma'shar was a Persian nationalist.[8]

Abū Maʿshar al-Balkhi
Born10 August 787
Balkh, Khurasan[2] (present day Afghanistan)
Died9 March 886 (aged 98)
ResidenceBalkh, Baghdad
Academic background
InfluencesAristotle, al-Kindi
Academic work
EraIslamic Golden Age
Main interestsAstrology, Astronomy
InfluencedAl-Sijzi, Albertus Magnus, Roger Bacon, Pierre d'Ailly, Pico della Mirandola.[3]


Abu Maʿshar was a native of Balkh in Khurasan, one of the main bases of support of the Abbasid revolt in the early 8th century. Its population, as was generally the case in the frontier areas of the Arab conquest of Persia, remained culturally dedicated to its Sassanian and Hellenistic heritage. He probably came to Baghdad in the early years of the caliphate of al-Maʾmūn (r. 813–833). According to An-Nadim's Al-Fihrist (10th century), he lived on the West Side of Baghdad, near Bab Khurasan, the northeast gate of the original city on the west Bank of the Tigris.

Abu Maʿshar was a member of the third generation (after the Arab invasion) of the Pahlavi-oriented Khurasani intellectual elite, and he defended an approach of a "most astonishing and inconsistent" eclecticism. His reputation saved him from religious persecution, although there is a report of one incident where he was whipped for his practice of astrology under the caliphate of al-Mustaʿīn (r. 862–866). He was a scholar of hadith, and according to biographical tradition, he only turned to astrology at the age of forty-seven (832/3). He became involved in a bitter dispute with al-Kindi (c. 796–873), the foremost Arab philosopher of his time, who was versed in Aristotelism and Neoplatonism. It was his confrontation with al-Kindi that convinced Abu Maʿshar of the need to study "mathematics" in order to understand philosophical arguments.[9]

His foretelling of an event that subsequently occurred earned him a lashing ordered by the displeased Caliph al-Musta'in. "I hit the mark and I was severely punished."[10]

An-Nadim includes an extract from Abu Ma'shar's book on the variations of astronomical tables, which describes how the Persian kings gathered the best writing materials in the world to preserve their books on the sciences and deposited them in the Sarwayh fortress in the city of Jayy in Isfahan. The depository continued to exist at the time an-Nadim wrote in the 10th century.[11]

Amir Khusrav mentions that Abu Maʿshar came to Benaras (Varanasi) and studied astronomy there for ten years.[12]

Abu Maʿshar is said to have died at the age of 98 (but a centenarian according to the Islamic year count) in Wāsiṭ in eastern Iraq, during the last two nights of Ramadan of AH 272 (9 March 866).


His works on astronomy are not extant, but information can still be gleaned from summaries found in the works of later astronomers or from his astrology works.[3]

  • Kitāb al‐mudkhal al‐kabīr, an introduction to astrology which received many translations to Latin and Greek starting from the 11th-century. It had significant influence on Western philosophers, like Albert the Great.[3]

  • Kitāb mukhtaṣar al‐mudkhal, an abridged version of the above, later translated to Latin by Adelard of Bath.[3]

  • Kitāb al‐milal wa‐ʾl‐duwal ("Book on religions and dynasties"), probably his most important work, commented on in the major works of Roger Bacon, Pierre d'Ailly, and Pico della Mirandola.[3]

  • Fī dhikr ma tadullu ʿalayhi al‐ashkhāṣ al‐ʿulwiyya ("On the indications of the celestial objects"),

  • Kitāb al‐dalālāt ʿalā al‐ittiṣālāt wa‐qirānāt al‐kawākib ("Book of the indications of the planetary conjunctions"),

  • Kitāb al‐ulūf ("Book of thousands"), preserved only in summaries by Sijzī.[3]

  • Kitāb taḥāwīl sinī al-'ālam (Flowers of Abu Ma'shar), uses horoscopes to examine months and days of the year. It was a manual for astrologers. It was translated in the 12th century by John of Seville.

  • Kitāb taḥāwil sinī al‐mawālīd ("Book of the revolutions of the years of nativities"). translated into Greek in 1000, and from that translation into Latin in the 13th century.

  • Kitāb mawālīd al‐rijāl wa‐ʾl‐nisāʾ ("Book of nativities of men and women"), which was widely circulated in the Islamic world.[3] ʻAbd al-Ḥasan Iṣfāhānī copied excerpts into the 14th century illustrated manuscript the Kitab al-Bulhan (ca.1390).[13][1]

Latin and Greek translations

Page spread from the 1515 Venetian edition of Abū Maʿshar's De Magnis Coniunctionibus

Page spread from the 1515 Venetian edition of Abū Maʿshar's De Magnis Coniunctionibus

Albumasar's "Introduction" (Kitāb al‐mudkhal al‐kabīr, written c. 848) was first translated into Latin by John of Seville in 1133, as Introductorium in Astronomiam, and again, less literally and abridged, as De magnis coniunctionibus, by Herman of Carinthia in 1140.[14] Lemay (1962) argued that the writings of Albumasar were very likely the single most important original source for the recovery of Aristotle for medieval European scholars prior to the middle of the 12th century.[15]

Herman of Carinthia's translation, De magnis coniunctionibus, was first printed by Erhard Ratdolt of Augsburg in 1488/9. It was again printed in Venice, in 1506 and 1515.

Modern editions:

  • De magnis coniunctionibus, ed. K. Yamamoto, Ch. Burnett, Leiden, 2000, 2 vols. (Arabic & Latin text)

  • De revolutionibus nativitatum, ed. D. Pingree, Leipzig, 1968 (Greek text)

  • Liber florum ed. James Herschel Holden in Five Medieval Astrologers (Tempe, Az.: A.F.A., Inc., 2008): 13–66.

  • Introductorium maius, ed. R. Lemay, Napoli, 1995–1996, 9 vols. (Arabic text & two Latin translations)

  • Ysagoga minor, ed. Ch. Burnett, K. Yamamoto, M. Yano, Leiden-New York, 1994 (Arabic & Latin text)


Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgIn 1390 ʻAbd al-Ḥasan Iṣfāhānī compiled a miscellany of treatises called the Kitab al-Bulhan (كتاب البلهان), and in his introduction he mentions the astrological treatise on the horoscopes of men and women from the Kitab al-mawalid of Abu Maʿshar which is included in his book. This compilation was probably bound in Baghdad during the reign of Jalayirid Sultan Ahmad (1382–1410).
Sep 30, 2019, 9:01 AM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgThe Arrival of the Pagan Philosophers in the North:A Twelfth Century Florilegium in Edinburgh University Library, Charles Burnett, Knowledge, Discipline and Power in the Middle Ages, ed. Joseph Canning, Edmund J. King, Martial Staub, (Brill, 2011), 83;"...prolific writer Abu Ma'shar Ja'far ibn Muhammad ibn 'Umar al-Balkhi, who was born in Khurasan in 787 A.D. and died in Wasit in Iraq in 886..."
Sep 30, 2019, 9:01 AM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgYamamoto, Keiji (2007). "Abū Maʿshar Jaʿfar ibn Muḥammad ibn ʿUmar al‐Balkhi". In Thomas Hockey; et al. (eds.). The Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers. New York: Springer. p. 11. ISBN 978-0-387-31022-0..
Sep 30, 2019, 9:01 AM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgPingree, David (1970). "Abū Ma'shar al-Balkhī, Ja'far ibn Muḥammad". Dictionary of Scientific Biography. 1. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. pp. 32–39. ISBN 0-684-10114-9..
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Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgFrye, ed. by R.N. (1975). The Cambridge history of Iran, Volume 4 (Repr. ed.). London: Cambridge U.P. p. 584. ISBN 978-0-521-20093-6. We can single out for brief consideration only two of the many Persians whose contributions were of great importance in the development of Islamic sciences in those days. Abu Ma'shar al-Balkhi (d. 272/886), who came from eastern Iran, was a rather famous astrologer and astronomer.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
Sep 30, 2019, 9:01 AM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgHockey, Thomas (2014). Biographical encyclopedia of astronomers. New York: Springer. p. 91. ISBN 9781441999184. The introduction of Aristotelian material was accompanied by the translation of major astrological texts, particularly Claudius Ptolemy's Tetrabiblos (1138), the pseudo-Ptolemaic Centiloquium (1136), and the Maius Introductorium (1140), the major introduction to astrology composed by the Persian astrologer Abu Ma’shar.
Sep 30, 2019, 9:01 AM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgSelin, Helaine (2008). Encyclopaedia of the history of science, technology, and medicine in non-western cultures. Berlin New York: Springer. p. 12. ISBN 9781402049606. Since he was of Persian (Afghan) origin...
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Citation Linkwww.iranicaonline.orgPingree, D. "ABŪ MAʿŠAR – Encyclopaedia Iranica". www.iranicaonline.org. Encyclopedia Iranica. Retrieved 11 February 2017.
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Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgPingree (2008).
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Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgBayard Dodge, The Fihrist of al-Nadīm: A Tenth-Century Survey of Islamic Culture, New York, Columbia University Press, 1970, vol. 2, p. 656.
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Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgBayard Dodge, The Fihrist of al-Nadīm: A Tenth-Century Survey of Islamic Culture, New York, Columbia University Press, 1970, vol. 2, pp. 576–578, 626, 654, 656–658 & 660.
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Citation Linkwww.wdl.org"Introduction to Astronomy, Containing the Eight Divided Books of Abu Ma'shar Abalachus". World Digital Library. 1506. Retrieved 15 July 2013.
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Citation Linkopenlibrary.org, p. 3.
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Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgStephen C. McCluskey, Astronomies and Cultures in Early Medieval Europe, (Cambridge University Press, 2000), 189.
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Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgRichard Lemay, Abu Ma'shar and Latin Aristotelianism in the Twelfth Century, The Recovery of Aristotle's Natural Philosophy through Iranian Astrology, 1962.
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Citation Linkislamsci.mcgill.caPDF version
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Citation Linkwww.academia.eduMusic Symbolism in Medieval and Renaissance Astrological Imagery
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Citation Linkwww.slv.vic.gov.auThe 'Book of Surprises' (Kitab al-bulhan)of the Bodleian Library
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Citation Linkarchive.orgKitab al-Bulhan, MS. Bodl. Or. 133, fol. 34r
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Citation Linkwww.cgie.org.irEncyclopedia Islamica
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