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History is linear. Events happen in sequence. The consequence of an action cannot precede the action which causes it. This is as true of history as it is of physics. History tends to be taught as a mantra learnt by rote from acknowledged authorities. On the blind acceptance of the the knowledge imparted by these authorities, the mantra complete with all of its self-contradictions, is accepted without question. The history we have come to accept is no more than a blind acceptance of what we are told by our state educators in which consequences often precede their causes.
This brief (unfinished) essay exposes some of the self-contradictions of the western european tradition of history which has edited Byzantium from the history of the world. "Western European" is defined by those parts of Europe in which the Latin alphabet is in use (which of course excludes eastern europe). Indeed, as becomes evident, pre-Islamic Persia too has suffered the same fate as mediaeval Byzantium. I suppose this proves the maxim that the victors write the history. And, the victorious Arab Muslims, and Latin Christian Europeans have been re-writing history for a millennium. Note: this essay is unfinished. This is the online version of an essay which has since been broken up into separate parts.
Much of what follows is formative. Some of the questions posed (in the essay below) now have some answers, though they do not appear in this version. For instance:
1. Algebra (in brief). It is now evident (to me) that the kernel of the Algebra of Diophantus was Babylonian, that is, the kind of abstract logic practiced in Babylon before Alexander brought the east into the Greek sphere (refer Neugebauer). However Diophantus remade it into mathematics, making it entirely Greek. What we call Algebra today is squarely based on the work of Francois Vieta who translated Diophantus and took the symbolic notations already found sporadically in Diophantus' work to its absolute conclusion. Other than the name "algebra" (which means "bone setter" in Arabic), the Arabic contribution is pretty close to nil. The best book on this subject is Jacob Klein's Greek Mathematical Thought and the Origin of Algebra.
2. As for the writings on the destruction of the library of Alexandria, this essay does not even touch on Oxyrhyncus. Oxyrhyncus was a town in Egypt which was sacked by the Arab Mohammedans & lay abandoned for 2 centuries before it was reoccupied. In the sands around Oxyrhyncus have been found countless fragments of manuscripts that were extant at the time of the Arab conquest. These manuscript fragments range from Hesiod, to lost Greek plays, to the Bible. (Indeed it is Oxyrhyncus where the oldest version of "revelations" containing the devil's number as "616" was found.) It puts paid the myth that knowledge had been destroyed well before the Mohammedan's arrival in Egypt.
Additionally, I cannot emphasise with enough vigour the absurdity of the claim that Arabs preserved the achievements of Classical and Hellenistic Greek civilization; Homer, Hesiod, Herodotus, Plato, Thucydides, Aristophanes, Plutarch, Aeschylus, Eurypides, Sophocles, Apollodorus, Apollonius, ... as a short list of examples, were never translated into Arabic, but survived solely because Byzantium preserved them, as did the Byzantines preserve Aristotle, Ptolemy, Diophantus, Archimedes, Hero, Euclid, etc, authors whose works the Arabs did translate (or rather, paraphrase). And, as for Latin authors, for example, Cicero, Ovid, Virtruvius, Pliny, the thoroughly repugnant Virgil, neither Greek or Arab had any interest in what they wrote; the survival of their writings was solely the preserve of the Latin west. In 1204 the "Latins" (Norman Catholics from Flanders) sacked Byzantium burning the last remaining library of Antiquity. Where no Greek original has survived to our time, around 8 (or so) Greek books exist only in Arab translations; and about 4 (or so) in Latin translation. That does not mean that either Arab or Latin played any role in the preservation of Hellenic literature. The perpetuation of the deceit of an Arab preservation of Classical civilization is a "Latin" (western) means of deflecting the criminality of the west's actions; having destroyed the Byzanitne libraries the crime appears diminished if the destruction is presented as never having been as great as has been made out; and this is achieved by claiming that it was Arabs instead who had preserved ancient Greek knowledge by claiming this knowledge had "disappeared" a long time ago, which then reduces the Byzantines to same level of backwardness as the Latin west. It is about time that the west accepted that the prolonged Dark Age in western Europe was solely a consequence of that part of the world's Latin/Roman heritage: it has always been that there never was any such thing as "Greco-Roman" civilization; the east was always Greek as much as the west was Latin, and although each one exerted some influence over the other, both remained distinct and different. Virgil, a cause celebre of the Latin west, made sure that anything Greek, including Greek science and philosophy, was at all times viewed as being mere Greek treachery by the Latin west, which meant it was rejected in the west. Put simply, the backwardness of western Europe in the "Middle Ages" was a consequence of it being (an almost) pure Roman civilization purged of its Greek component.
3. Anna Comnena's Alexiad gives answers to my question of where the engineers/builders of what have come to be known as the "Crusader Castles" in the Levant came from. They were sent by the Duke of Cyprus on the orders of Emperor Alexius to assist the "Franks" (Normans) of the First Crusade in the "building [of] such a strong-point at whatever site the Frank might choose." (Book 11, part 7. E R A Sewter translation of Alexiad, Penguin, p.354). These "Franks", which included the Teutonic Knights, were shown Byzantine building techniques by the Byzantines themselves, which then spread into western Latin Europe, and are the technological basis on which the entire "gothic" cathedral is built.
In 1980 the official text-book for the study of European history in the final year of High School in the Australian state of Victoria was Ferguson's Europe in Transition 1300-1520.
On the subject of the Renaissance, Ferguson wrote:
"It is now recognised that the capture of Byzantine capital [by the Turks in 1453] did not alter the practical situation in any such drastic way. The Greek refugees came to Italy too late to do more than assist a classic revival already reaching its peak. As Voltaire remarked, the Greeks could teach the Italians nothing but Greek, and, one might add, even for that they were no longer essential." p. 407
Ferguson restates what has become the orthodox historical dogma on the Renaissance, a dogma which can be described only as an irreconcilable paradox...:
"The most striking proof of the cultural backwardness of Italy in the age of the communes is to be found in the almost complete lack of a literature in the vernacular until the second half of the thirteenth century. When the first Italian literature appeared, the medieval French vernacular tradition was already two centuries old... Medieval Italy produced no national epic..." And,
"...the precocity of its urban development which, while fitting it to be the pioneer of the increasingly urban civilization of the Renaissance, was paradoxically responsible for its relative backwardness in the Middle Ages." p. 277
As for art:
"The conviction so frequently expressed by Italian writers during the Renaissance ...[was] that art was reborn in Giotto's generation, this was not without justification in view of the relative backwardness of Italian art prior to the end of the thirteenth century." p.373
Thus the Renaissance occurred in Italy at the time when Italy was most backward compared to the states that surrounded her (for instance, Carolingian France) without any external stimulus... According to Ferguson it was an indigenous and spontaneous acausal occurrence. Happenstance would have it that in 1204, the beginning of that century, saw the sack of Constantinople by the Catholic Frankish Crusaders.... Somehow this event did not produce Greek refugees, although the later sack by the Turks in 1453 did....!
Additionally it must also be attributable to happenstance that Byzantine art had been developing along lines that were taken up by Italian artists of Renaissance Italy. Happenstance also must account for compositional similarities between earlier Byzantine works and later Italian ones. And, central in this argument, is the art of Giotto, for it is he who has come to be attributed with the birth of renaissance painting - his art born, as it were, fully formed from the head of an Italian-art-scene Zeus.
Viewed in this way Giotto explodes into Italian painting without precedence (his master was Cimabue). The inexplicable leap in technique has come to be attributed to the genius of the Italians, a position supported solely in deliberately omitting Byzantium, for only in the Byzantine realm and its immediate geographical sphere of influence was art being created with the degree of technical and compositional sophistication that instead came to be seen as Giotto's achievement. Only if Byzantine masterworks are omitted can it be claimed that the Italians produced the original indigenous civilization that we have come to know as the Renaissance. It comes as a shock therefore to realise that Byzantine art was producing art copied by the Italians and Giotto himself. And this is evident in any comparison (see below).
Giotto. Painted 1305-06
c. 1295 , Macedonia, signed by Michael & Eutychios.
Reproduced from Art of The Byzantine Era, David Talbot Rice. Thames & Hudson. Isbn 0 500 20004 1 [refer amazon : Art of The Byzantine Era]
The composition of the Byzantine painting (above) is uncannily like Giotto's. More importantly though, the work by Michael and Eutichios predates Giotto's famous work. This painting is in no way a unique occurrence in the Byzantine realm. Similar workmanship, though less well preserved, can be seen in the religious centre of Mistra in the Peloponnisos, Greece, for example. Further, skill like this does not occur without some line of succession.... Some one, or others, must have imparted these skills....
History, as it has been told regarding the renaissance, is a surreal dream imparted as reality. This renaissance flourished most notably in Italy, & most notably in the visual arts: painting.... To date the catalyst for this renaissance has been deemed to be Arab Spain. It is merely an inconvenience that the Arabs had to be taught by someone, & that since the religion of Islam forbade the representation of the human form, what the Muslims could have imparted excluded representational painting. The catalyst for both the Italian painting of the renaissance, and the education of Arabs themselves lay instead elsewhere: Byzantium.
Byzantium was crucial in preserving not only painting, but all classical learning from science, to plays, to philosophy, even stained glass techniques (which via Venice spread westward), and disseminating its knowledge in all directions which led to several renaissances or even the naisscance of cultures: the Carolingian; the Abassid (in Baghdad); the Umayyid (in Cordova, Spain), the Italian Renaissance; and via the introduction of the Cyrilic alphabet to the Slavs to its north, the birth of slavic literature and civilization. Indeed it becomes self evident that had Byzantium not existed there could never have been any renaissance of any kind.
THE BYZANTINE INFLUENCE beyond the alps: the paradigm of influence via art
The influence of Byzantium beyond Italy (with regards to art) in the west, and in the dissemination of Greek scientific literature to the "Arabs" in the east is often either overlooked, or completely refuted... however...:
"This mid-Byzantine style was carried overseas, for Byzantine craftsmen were world-famous. they worked in Russia...and the Russian school of painting was developed on a Byzantine base. They worked in and around Venice, especially at Torcello and taught the Venetian mosaicists. They worked in Sicily under the patronage of the Norman emperors." p 69
"After the coronation of Charlemagne by Pope Leo III ...[in 800]... another style of manuscript illumination was introduced to the court. It differs completely from from the earlier style... the artist [of] the so-called Coronation Gospels was working in a style that shows a complete understanding of Late Antique traditions and methods ... The appearance of this style at Aachen is still something of a mystery. In the Coronation Gospels the name Demetrius appears written in the gold in the margin, and it may well be taken as evidence that the painter was a Greek. Charlemagne's association with the Empress Irene, who ruled in Constantinople from 797 to 802, was especially close, and an embassy sent by her arrived at Aachen in 802, shortly before she was deposed. Perhaps the full vigor of Late Antique painting was still known and practiced in the conservative Byzantine court at the end of the 8th century. If so, it is possible that a Greek artist travelled with Irene's delegation in 802, or that the re-imposition of Iconoclasm... may have encouraged Greek artists to leave Constantinople for the more liberal atmosphere of the western empire. Much of this is still in dispute, but the appearance in the west of a survival , or a revival of a full Late Antique naturalism is of the greatest importance, not only as evidence of the realization of a Carolingian Renaissance under Charlemagne, but also as an overpowering influence on the art of the succeeding reign... and beyond it into the 10th century." pp. 95-97
"...during the 12th century under the influence of Byzantine art, Byzantine elements... had as profound an effect on continental as on English illumination. These Byzantine elements can be detected very early in Flanders in the Mosan school... At about the same time many centres in Germany, France, and England were abandoning the Romanesque traditions of a flat geometric style in favour of a more naturalistic treatment of space and the volume of the human body. This was undoubtedly a result of the strong Byzantine influence...." p. 138
As to why Byzantium is disparaged:
"It was perhaps because of the title Edward Gibbon chose for his great history of the Byzantine world, 'The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,' and partly because of the nature of the 19th century outlook, that Byzantine art was too long regarded as decadent and inept." p 83
And, "... 15th- and 16th- century critics and historians [came to attribute pre-renaissance art to] the bad influence of ignorant foreigners, the Byzantine Greeks..." p. 156. Thus the Byzantines were stigmatised as fomenters of backwardness. This perception unfortunately persists.
All quoted material is from the Grolier encyclopedia series "The Book of Art Series", Volume 1, Origins of Western Art , text by Donald E Strong, Giuseppe Bovini, David Talbot Rice, Peter Lasko, G Zarnecki, G Henderson. Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 65:103501, published in 1965
Probably the most important aspect of this is that it shows that Byzantines were not limited to the geographical boundaries that constituted the Byzantine empire: they travelled. Why is so innocuous a statement so revolutionary?
There are some excellent books on Byzantine Art and its influence in the west and on the Renaissance in Italy:
Byzantine Painting: The Last Phase by David Talbot-Rice. This book outlines the significance and influence of Byzantium on the western artistic tradition.
BYZANTIUM. Faith and Power (1261-1557). This publication by New York's MET is a collection of various essays by Byzantinists. The chapter entitled "The encounter of Northern Renaissance Artists with Byzantine Icons" by Maryan Ainsworth is particularly revealing. It demonstrates the profound influence on the art of the Lowlands exerted by loot from Byzantium after the 1204 crusade, which directly led to artists like van Eyck.
Mistra: Byzantine capital of the Peloponnese by Steven Runciman. Mistra was the Greek Florence in which, for a brief moment, blazed a movement of intellectualism which anticipated the Renaissance in Florence. Indeed, the Greek tutors of the Medici were from Mistra. The invading Turks put paid to this. Mistra is now abandoned to the wilderness.
Most of our understanding of Italian art of the renaissance is based on what Vasari wrote.
However, what Vasari wrote was done so as the propagandist of the Medici family, his patrons,
who sought to place Florence & the Medici as the most important phenomena in Italy to the exclusion of all
else (eg Siena & artists such as Duccio & Giovanni di Paolo). Vasari writes that the Greeks were invited to Florence,
but that the native genius of the Italians soon surpassed their greek masters... failing to point out the virtual non-existent
state of art in Florence before the Greek arrivals.
There is no doubt that the Italians took art to a different destination than the Byzantines had been leading it.
I cannot see that the Greeks would have taken the Italian direction at all. I see it as an outcome of the cross-pollination of 2 distinct cultures
which for a short period opened up to one another.... The most stiking difference in the work of the Byzantines and the Italians is best
appreciated when considered in the context of Boticelli. The "pagan" themes of the Primavera, or Birth of Venus are entirely
absent in the very Christian Byzantine Orthodox east.
Above: "Under Moslem rule, Spanish Christians produced what was later called Mozarabic or 'arabized' art. One of its most astonishing productions is a collection of illuminated manuscripts... and this illustration of the text 'Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him' is from an eleventh century version." p. 433 The Hutchinson History of the World. J. M. Roberts. ISBN 0 09 126970 9.
The latest (last) edition of this book appears as The New History of the World by J. M. Roberts (Amazon link) although it does not include the illustrations of the earlier edition.
|It is an astonishing claim that the seed of the renaissance could have been sown by Arab Spain. When it came to visual representation the muslim did not represent the figure. The kind of art produced by Christians exposed to Spanish Islam produced clumsy efforts like the one left. As a catalyst for rebirth Spain hardly seems plausible. ...
In 1985 a BBC TV channel 4 documentary, The Day the Universe Changed, by James Burke was screened on TV in this country, which was accompanied by a book of the same name (Book available at Amazon ). For nearly a decade I accepted this book's contention which attributed the origin of the renaissance, along with the concomitant preservation and dissemination of Greek knowledge to the Arabs.
Another documentary was screened in this country, this time by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC-TV) in 1989: Roads to Xanadu: East and West in the making of the Modern World by John Merson (also accompanied by a book) ISBN 0-86777-095-3. This book augmented the contention that Muslim Arabs preserved and disseminated Greek knowledge:
"Many of the ancient universities of Europe bear a remarkable similarity to the Islamic Madrassas or schools of the Middle East. In the ancient centres of Islamic civilization - Baghdad, Damascus, Cairo and Istanbul...In the Dark Ages, which overwhelmed Western Europe with the fall of Rome in the third century, the cultivation of learning and inquiry became centred in the Madrassas and the libraries of the Arab world...In the late Middle Ages the Madrassas were the crucial junction points in the transmission of knowledge from the ancient world of Greece... Here the works of Classical Greek mathematicians, physicians and scholars were studied. Books saved from the famous library of Alexandria which was destroyed with the collapse of the Roman empire... In the Dark Ages, which overwhelmed Western Europe with the fall of Rome in the third century, the cultivation of learning and inquiry became centred in the Madrassa's and libraries of the Arab world." p. 82. And here we have an explanation for the renaissance in a nutshell.
The problems are:
1/ The religion of Islam and the Muslim era commenced with the Hijra at 622;
2/ The first Madrassa was founded alternately in 1057 or 1069 (dates vary) by Nizam Al-Mulk in Baghdad;
3/ Rome was sacked by the Visigoths in 410 and then in 455 sacked again, this time by the Vandals.
Thus, Rome was sacked in the 5th Century, not 3rd, and the first Madrassa was founded nearly 460 years later still! How could the Madrassas have preserved knowledge when they had yet to exist? Where was this knowledge stored in the meantime?
It gets worse. The Madrassa themselves were religious schools in which only the Koran was studied. Further, "Istanbul" was Greek Byzantium until 1453 when it fell to the Turks - latecomers - and the universities of western Europe were already between 350 and 200 years old when the Turks captured Byzantium. It should be noted that the University of Bologna was founded in 1088 - near contemporaneously with the Madrassa at Baghdad (Oxford University was founded a century later). However, this ignores Byzantium which refounded a public academy in 838 (founded by Patriarch John the Grammarian's relative Leo the Mathematician) and essentially was a consequence of the iconoclast dispute in which knowledge of Greek logic was sought by both sides in order to settle it...
As for the claim that books were saved from the library of Alexandria, Arab Muslims make 2 claims: 1/ that they preserved the knowledge; but that 2/ the library was already gone when Caliph Umar I is claimed to have burned it in c.641 AD - which means that they could not have preserved the knowledge from the library at Alexandria as it was already gone, or that they saved the knowledge and then destroyed the library... which since it is claimed they did not destroy it means it did not exist when Islam overran Alexandria... thus the argument chases its own tail. Furthermore, why is a collapse of Alexandria considered to be a corollary to the sack of Rome as Merson claims? Alexandria was in the Eastern half of the empire, under Byzantine control and never suffered collapse until it was taken by the Zoroastrian Sassanid Persians , some decades before Persia itself was overwhelmed by the Muslims. Why does the sacking of Rome - the city - mean that the entire Roman empire was sacked? Merson presents us with an absurd argument in which books were saved from Alexandria prior to Islam by Islam, a religion which did not yet exist... in religious schools which only studied the Koran, but which did not yet exist either!
Merson's explanation is pure invention. It is a pseudohistory: unconstrained by historical truth, and unconcerned by history, it is not history at all. But it nevertheless furnishes a concise outline of the fiction posing as history that has placed the Arabs as the force that preserved for us the classical knowledge of antiquity. John Merson is "a lecturer in the History and Philosophy of Science at the University of New South Wales" as per the blurb on the book's dust jacket. This is a demonstration as good as any that Australia is not the place to get a university education! You'll simply end up more stupid: http://www.unsw.edu.au
|DESTRUCTION OF THE LIBRARY OF ALEXANDRIA
There is much written on the destruction of the library of Alexandria. However much it seems that it might be plausible that the claim of Muslims destroying the library being a later Christian invention intended to discredit Islam, the claim of it being a Christian invention itself raises several questions. If the library and what was in it was destroyed before the rise of Mohammedanism, how can we account for what did survive of vast quantities of the scientific literature of the Greeks? The basis of the claim that it was Christians who destroyed Library before Mohammedans is one intended to demonstrate Christian intolerance of knowledge; for it explains for the Latin west, why they remained in a dark age of ignorance for so long, which makes the answer: knowledge had been destroyed a long time ago. However, it leaves a chasm when trying to work out where all this knowledge which had been destroyed in Alexandria lay in the interim.... for, somewhere it must have lain, for it to be "rediscovered"... And, it can't have been, as in accordance to the Latin Christian tradition, in a Christian land, for that would contradict the claim of Christian antipathy to knowledge which saw to the destruction of knowledge, and scuttle the excuse the west has maintained in explaining its prolonged intellectual Dark Age. The answer, it is claimed, is that Arabs preserved it.... One supposes much like the womb of Semele with Dionysos inside which was snatched by Zeus & implanted in his thigh, just moments before Semele was burnt to a cinder ... so too, one imagines the Arabs snuck in & took as much as they could before the Christians burnt it all...
But how did these Arabs get this knowledge? And, why did they do nothing with this stored knowledge for 400+ years? Where did they hide this repository of knowledge? And why was it all Greek knowledge & never Latin? Did non-Christian, pre-Muslim, Arabs secretly take this "knowledge", written in a language foreign to them, and await an Islamic enlightenment to retrieve and understand it? And why did they then have to procure it from Byzantium in the 9th century AD if they already had it stored "somewhere" to begin with? And this poses an additional question of why did this knowledge claimed to have been destroyed in Alexandria which is in the Byzantine half of the empire, have survived in Byzantium, the seat of government, itself? And since it is demonstrable that every translation into Arabic of a Greek original came from Byzantium, it begs the question of why it survived there and not Alexandria. Unless, of course, the claim that the library was destroyed before the Mohammedans entered the scene is itself a fabrication.
To understand the enormity of the problem, every Greek text published by Harvard as a Loeb, has come to us via a Byzantine manuscript (although in some rare instances it is augmented with references to fragments from papyri found in Heracleum, Greece ( eg. Derveni Papyrus?), or Egypt): http://www.hup.harvard.edu/loeb It beggars belief that so much was preserved in Byzantium (remembering that only 1 out of 4 or 5 books survived the destruction wrought by the Catholics in 1204) and yet nothing survived in Alexandria except for translations into Arabic from Greek manuscripts which themselves came from Byzantium!
Other problems arise in the form of John Philoponus. Philoponus (in his pre-Christian phase) was a critic of Aristotle. He wrote commentaries on Aristotle's Physics and The Heavens and conducted experiments on the speed of falling bodies 1000 years prior to Galilleo (was galilleo aware of Philoponus' writings? considering that galilleo claimed to have "invented" the Dutch spy-glass, it is very likely that galilleo simply took credit for the ideas of others....) and successfully demonstrated some Aristotelian contentions to be false. (pp. 169-175, Greek Science in Antiquity Marshall Clagett Publisher Link) The importance of Philoponus rests in this instance however in his being among the last of the caretakers of the library of Alexandria.The erudition of Philoponus was such that it demonstrates that the corpus of knowledge stored at Alexandria was extant whilst Philoponus was still alive - but disappeared afterward. Indeed there continued to exist an Alexandrian Academy until the conquest of Egypt by the Persians, (around) 30 years prior to the Muslim conquest. This would indicate that there still existed manuscripts to be referred to for study, which indicates that a repository for these manuscripts, the library, still existed. After the Arab conquest the "Arabs" had to seek manuscripts from Byzantium since they had not survived in the territories they conquered.
There is another contention on the destruction of the library as presented by Nicholas Whyte: that the "tale" of its destruction was a later invention by Muslims intended to emphasise Omar's piety ( http://explorers.whyte.com/trans.htm ). However, Mr. Whyte was unable to provide me with the source of his information. It does sound like the kind the boast that might have been made to empahsise piety.....
Further, there are additional claims regarding the destruction of libraries by this same Omar which involve the destruction of the libraries of Persia:
"Even books were subjected to the same fate. Abdul Rahman ben Khaldoon in his introduction (Moghaddameh) writes: When Sa'ad abi Vagghas conquered Iran, he informed Umar ibn Khattab that there were many books in that country and asked what he should do with those books? Umar sent the message to get the books washed in water and to burn them because, he said: if their contents were like those of the Quran, then the God's book is sufficient, and if they were contrary to Quran, then it would be that God Almighty should protect us from their deviation effects. As regards the Alexandria library, Umar replied that everything is in the Holy Book and there is no need for a library." This is taken from an Iranian site http://home.btconnect.com/CAIS/Iran/identity.htm and cannot therefore be reduced to being part of a Christian propaganda campaign intended to discredit Islam.
Most importantly however, is the cultural level of the Arabs at the time of the conquest of both Persia and Egypt - and this consideration has to be made in the context of the later Abassid (150 years later) revival of learning which was solely a Persian, not Arab, phenomenon in which the vanquished Persians were able to conduct their previous civilization, but only in their conqueror's language and only whilst worshipping their conqueror's god. Somehow that it was conducted in Arabic has tended to obscure the extent that this was Persian phenomenon and this has led instead to the claim that it was Arab....
The attribution to Arabs of the achievements of others is ongoing... In the west this can be illustrated thus:
Up until the 4th Crusade 1204 Hero of Alexandria's Mechanics, for example, was still extant in Greek. It was being translated for the Norman Court into Latin from the Greek in Sicily in the 1160s ( Angold, p.154 ). However, the Greek originals no longer survive but exist only in Arabic translations. At the Baulieu Library (of the University of Melbourne) Hero's Mechanics is available only in the French translation of the Arabic, but more importantly, this translation belongs to a collection of "Sciences et philosophie arabes". Somehow, for the French, that it has come to exist only in Arab translations has meant that it has become part of "arab science". What is most galling is it was the French (specifically from Flanders) who destroyed the originals in the libraries of Byzantium in 1204 - and now the descendants of these destroyers attribute the knowledge to others!
|Some ridiculous accounts on how this knowledge was preserved can be found on the internet, (which has become as much a source of misinformation as information). To account for what is claimed to be the RE-appearance of knowledge that is supposed to not exist, having been destroyed by Christians centuries earlier, some very silly stories have been invented. This one is as silly as they get:
"In those 'missing' pages we'll learn how the malicious efforts of Roman mercenaries and Christian zealots to obliterate all trace of pagan culture were thwarted by wary scholars who saw in their critical frowns, heard in their biased questions, a spirit of bigotry which might well, and indeed did, grow into a veritable holocaust. These scholars, fortunately for posterity, quietly packed their belongings, slipping in 'accidentally' a few irreplaceable manuscripts, and left the city. Others -- translators, copywriters and researchers, employed at the Library-museum -- also became apprehensive. Whenever possible they too secreted out fragile papyri and parchments.
"Some were stored in underground crypts, or hidden in Egyptian mummy cases; others, wrapped in Chinese silk were smuggled out on merchant caravans winding their way along age-old trade routes to cities in the Near East like Damascus, Antioch, Edessa, Harran and Jundishapur where the refining influences of Greek culture had been felt since the Alexandrian colonization some 300 years BC, and where now prosperous Arabian merchants and knowledge-hungry students bartered to possess these precious manuscripts. In so doing they gathered up those vital seeds of civilization which they and their countrymen would not only nurture during Europe's long ages of darkness, but would cultivate into hardy, fruitful growth.
"Undeniably, the Islamic movement has had its cruel and militant conquests... [but] Islam also had its corps of intellectuals who quietly, persistently, besieged the citadels of truth -- their banners, emblems of benevolence, their scimitar, the pen. 'The ink of the scholars is more precious than the blood of martyrs.' But for their role in the recovery of ancient learning, in its preservation and circulation throughout their empire and on to the Schoolmen of Western Europe, our culture might well have lacked its scientific renaissance, lost its philosophical heritage."
from: http://www.amaana.org/ikhwan/ikhwan4.html (my REF: vak-file-ref: "loopy++ muslim propaganda 1")
The "Joshua Roll" (above), now in Rome was produced sometime c.900 AD in Byzantium. Like science, mathematics, astronomy and philosophy, the knowledge of classical illusionist techniques were never "lost" as they were in western Europe, but was preserved and put into practice in Byzantium. Needless to say, nothing like this was to be produced in the west for another 400 years. At the same time that the above image was drawn, the Byzantines were supplying manuscripts to the "Arabs" in the newly founded city of Baghdad. (Compare the "Joshua Roll" to the "Mozarabic" art of Spain). Objects of art and manuscripts (such as depicted above) poured into western Europe after the Catholic's 4th Crusade of 1204 which destroyed 3 out of every 4 books that had survived antiquity.
||Left: The prayer niche at the "Great Mosque" of Cordoba. The decoration was done in 949 AD by Byzantine craftsmen sent to Spain by Emperor Constantine 7 Porphyrogenitus, who also sent, as a gift, a Greek manuscript to the Spanish Khalif at the same time.
As Greek was unknown to the Arabs the Khalif requested the emperor send a Greek translator. In 951 the Emperor sent a monk named Nicolas who then founded the first school of the Greek language in Arab Spain (see below).
The theory of the advanced stage at which (what has come to be called) Arab civilization was (regarding philosophy and science) when compared to the purported surrounding backwardness is a source of continual bewilderment . This surrounding backwardness in the mythology propounded we are told included Byzantium also. However, the level at which philosophy existed within the Byzantine Empire never declined to the extent as it did in the (Latin) west, and Byzantium itself was the source of what has come to be misleadingly labelled as "Islamic" philosophy. It is an anomaly of attribution that differentiates between "Late Roman" and "Early Byzantine" which has tended to encourage dubious conclusions regarding Byzantium... By so classifying "Early Byzantine" to be instead "Late Roman" the continuity from Rome to Byzantium is severed and leads to an assumption that Byzantium had to, somehow, start from scratch... During this early period Simplicius in the 6th century provided posterity with his commentaries, introductions, elaborations on the works of Aristotle (who is one of the main sources of thinkers - the pre Socratics - whose original works are now lost to us). His contemporary, Philoponus ( ca. 490-570 A.D.), was equally familiar with Aristotle and provided posterity with critiques on Aristotle which demonstrated conclusively that Aristotelian concepts of physics were faulty. Indeed, what has come to be seen as the "Arab" contribution to Aristotelian philosophy in the writings of Avicenna and Averroes (among others) was no more than a restating of Aristotle as commented on by Philoponus and Simplicius.
Further, the freedom of thinking that is said to have characterised the "Islamic" period when contrasted to the "Christian world" turns out to be a chimera. Byzantium was well in advance of both the Arab and the Frank:
A/ Averroes the arab commentator on Aristotle who came to so impress the French was exiled from Islamic Spain because his rationalist stance was seen to conflict with the message of Islam (example source : frederich heer the medieval world europe from 1100-1350 p 193 -> isbn 0 297 82014 1);
B/ the university of Paris in 1210 banned the teaching of Aristotle on similar grounds (example source : the day the universe changed, p49) as the church came to fear the idea that reason rather than faith could be the source of knowledge.
There was never any such "banning" of Aristotle within the Byzantine realm, where debates employed Aristotelian logic continuously , and continued, to illustrate my point, until the debates between George Gemistos Plethon and George Scholarios during the 14th and 15 centuries on the strengths and weaknesses of Aristotelian versus Platonic philosophy. The level at which Byzantine Philosophy was at is not limited to these debates and a fuller outline on the Byzantine philosophical tradition can be found in: Byzantine Philosophy and its Ancient Sources, edited by Katerina Ieodiakonou, published by OUP ISBN 0 19 926971 8 (Amazon link). In Byzantium Aristotle's logic was employed in both secular and religious disputes. The banning of Aristotle was a phenomenon of the theocratic Muslim and western Christian states.
It is astounding though that this improbable "history" is still being told and told by those who desire to tell a story they believe is free of an undercurrent of "Eurocentricism". It does not seem to concern those who propound this mythology whether their claims are supportable. The perpetrators of the sack of Byzantium in 1204 were the people Byzantines knew as the "Franks" : the French. It is the descendants of these same Franks who are attempting to "right" the guilt of their "Eurocentricism" by giving to "non-Europeans" a (Greek) heritage which is not theirs to give away. This seems to be led by the contemporary political situations of these peoples: the English are attempting to integrate a restive and hostile Muslim (Pakistani) immigrant population (a legacy of that country's imperial past); France is attempting, similarly to England, to integrate a hostile Muslim immigrant population from north African countries (a legacy of that country's imperial past); and Germany is still trying to remake herself after baring her Nazi, racist soul, a soul that believed itself to be the true inheritor of the Greeks.
When the first western crusaders launched their crusade (the 1st crusade 1097) they were supplied with engineers & engineering diagrams. It was the Greeks who gave them the plans on constructing siege engines for instance, of which the west knew nothing. The technology acquired by the crusaders was Greek, much the same way as the technology learned by the Arabs was too. These engineering plans, it intrigues me... How many filtered their way back to western Europe, to Italy and France? How much influence did this have on the progress of art and architecture there? cathedrals? [This is partially answered]
An unanswered question is what happened to the Byzantine intelligentsia after the sack of 1204. Byzantium employed clerks, lawyers, tax collectors, artists, artisans, teachers - all educated by the state to provide services for the state. The organisational structure of Byzantium was an unbroken continuance of that of Rome. Literate clerks were required by the state for the purpose of tax collection and administration. The state required engineers not only for the waging of war but for the construction and maintenance of aqueducts, the building of state monuments, and adornment of these monuments. Byzantium had developed an entire functional judicial system. Not only was Justinian's Code a product of the eastern half of the Empire, it had been augmented and expanded in the Greek language (Justinian's Code was in Latin) and known as the Basilica (888 AD). In the intervening years when Latin Crusaders ruled the "kingdom" of Byzantium for 50 years prior to its "restoration" to Greek rule, there is the unanswered question of what happened to the Byzantine intelligentsia. ...the state that supported them no longer existed. Are we to believe that they somehow disappeared, or took to the fields to till the soil ? ...and it was mere happenstance that the flourish of Italian culture occurred at this time?
As for claims of "Islamic sciences". The lands that were conquered by Islam were Byzantine, Syria and Egypt (essentially a Christianised hellenistic civilization) as well as Zoroastrian Sassanid (or Sasanian) Persia:
"So far the diffusion of Hellenism was the work of the Seleucids, then of the Romans... In the fourth century the eastward spread of Hellenism became the deliberate task of the Christian Church...the methods used in science held good in theology also, and this assumption caused the Church to be a missionary of Greek intellectual culture as well as of the Christian religion." pp. 18-19 How Greek Science Passed to the Arabs, Delacy O'Leary ISBN 0-7103-0747-0 (available at Amazon )
The idea of gears, cogs and clockwork has generally been attributed to Arabs. Until the discovery of the antikythera machine this was accepted dogma. The Greeks, so the story went, may have known about mechanics, but were not sophisticated enough to create them...(or alternately, too aloof to bother)! This we were told had to wait for the Arabs to achieve! The antikythera mechanism threw this contention on its head. But even in its discovery, the comparisons made were with Islamic clocks created over one thousand years later. The antikythera machine was a demonstration of the level of sophistication of technology achieved by the Greeks which Rome, including what became the Eastern Roman Empire - Byzantium, inherited. Byzantium was never sacked by barbarians, although Rome was. Rome consequently lost the knowledge that it did have, but Byzantium never did. The evidence shows that muslims merely reverse-engineered greek devices.....
That Arabs simply reverse engineered Hellenistic technology which was still available in Byzantine times is best indicated by the Byzantine sundial (dated 520 AD) kept at The Science Museum in London. Use of Arab mechanics is attributed to al-Biruni, an "Arab" astronomer, around 1000AD, who in a manuscript written in the eleventh century AD describes geared mechanisms. This has been assumed to have been the origin (in part at least) to the geared mechanisms produced by Arabs. However, his treatise merely describes acurately Byzantine devices. One such device created 500 years earlier is still extant and is kept at the Science Museum London. It indicates that the Arab world had at its disposal Byzantine artifacts like the Byzantine sundial, or the original Greek literature on which it was based:
"what remains of the "smaller [Greek] device" corresponds closely to that of al-Biruni in mechanical detail, and it is this new correspondence that makes the instrument important, tightening the link between Hellenistic and Arabic traditions." (explains Michael Wright (formerly Curator of Mechanical Engineering, The Science Museum, London) 19/6/2004 (via email) of the Byzantine device. Michael Wright has recently used xray technology (linear tomography) to study the workings of the antiythera mechanism and has reconstructed a working model. The complexity of the mechanism is a demonstration of the sophistication of the technology that Hellenistic Greece achieved.)
Even the idea that al-Biruni is an Arab is in itself an error: al-Biruni was a Persian, not an Arab. Further:
"Abu-Rayhaan-e-Birooni , the Iranian mathematician, astronomer, historian, and geographer lived in the late 10th, and early 11th century. He spent his
childhood in Kharazm, where he worked for a Greek scientist gathering plant, seed, and fruit samples." (my italics, http://www.farhangsara.com/biruni.htm )
...thus raising the tantalising prospect of the activity of Greeks (Byzantines?) within the Muslim realm.....
points to develop........[note, these are points to be considered]
... there is the contention that the Arabs surpassed the Greeks in mathematics. After-all armed with Hindu Numerals (known as a positional number system) they should certainly have been able to surpass the Greeks who still used Greek Numerals (Roman Numeral were completely different). This is like stating that the complexity of Chinese characters prevents the expression of complex ideas by Chinese. This supposition is false. The current analysis of the discovered Method by Archimedes uses mathematics which the rest of the world never used again until it was arrived at independently in the nineteenth century! So much for the use of Greek Numerals hampering mathematical progress!
.... exasperation .. . there is something wrong about history we are told. A common misconception is the Dark Ages. As to how dark or whether there was a "dark age" is not what is of cncern here: what needs to be pointed out is that this so-called "dark age" was a solely western phenomenon. The "Gerco-Roman" world survived intact in the east (though not in the west) until Byzantium finally fell to the Ottoman in the fifteenth century. The history though of the east has disappeared with it.... We only get glimpses...like Greek fire - flame throwers which the Greeks used against Arabs & Turks which helped their army & navy maintain power. It is a history of ideas, technology and civilization that has largely died with them & so too it seems did a more accurate history than the one foisted on us by western european scholars with their narrow nationalistic starting point from which they launch themselves into an understanding of the past.
As for Arabs translating Greek writings... it was the Greeks who did the translations, from Greek into Latin & Arabic, refer: How Greek Science Passed to the Arabs isbn 0-7103-0747-0, author Delacy O'Leary; Byzantium: the bridge from antiquity to the middle ages, isbn 1 84212 489 7, author Michael Angold.
1/ The Normans in Sicily were sent Greek manuscripts from Constantinople along with translators (re: Angold, Hero's Mechanics, Euclid's Optics, Ptolemy's Almagest(sic)pp.153-4.
2/ "In 949 the Byzantine Emperor Constantine VII sent an embassy to Cordova and amongst the presents he sent to Abdarrahman was a copy of Dioscorides in Greek with painted pictures of the many plants described in the text. This book attracted much attention, but no one in Cordova could read Greek, so the Khalif in thanking the Emperor begged him to send someone who could translate and explain the work. In 951 the Emperor sent a monk named Nicolas, who was able to speak Arabic, and he not only made translations of Dioscorides and other Greek works but began teaching the Greek language, his lectures arousing great enthusiasm and being attended by many court officials, including Hasdai ibn Shaprut, the Jewish wazir." p 171, O'Leary. ..Why would the Arabs need the Greeks if they already had the knowledge? ..It was not the Arabs disseminating Greek knowledge, but Greeks disseminating it themselves. Yet the history taught is one in which we are told that studious Arabs fully aware of the importance of ancient manuscripts persevered and disseminated the knowledge that the Greeks were too stupid to understand and which they consequently lost.... However, what did come to western Europe from Arab Spain had come directly from the Greeks.
3/ Arab scholars from Baghdad were sent "to the Greek lands" (Byzantium) to study and bring back manuscripts:
"Harun [c.800AD] gave active support to the scholars who studied and translated Greek scientific works, sending out agents to purchase Greek manuscripts in the Roman Empire [Byzantine Empire], a generous policy which brought a good deal of important material to Baghdad..." p. 151 O'Leary. "Baghdad was founded in 762. Harun ar-Rashid became khalif in 786 and in his reign Baghdad became the centre of a movement which aimed at translating Greek scientific material into Arabic." p. 155 O'Leary. Again, it was Byzantine scholars who had kept the ancient manuscripts and it was Byzantium that supplied Baghdad with what Islamists have come to claim was instead preserved by Arabs.
4/ Another example, this time in Angold's Byzantium :
"The net effect of the Carolingian Renaissance was to raise Western culture to much the same level as that of Byzantium... in 757 a Byzantine embassy brought an organ as a special gift for the Frankish king. It made a colossal impression. It emphasised the technological superiority of Byzantium. By 817 the Carolingian court had the resources to construct an organ without recourse to Byzantine aid" p.118.
The spread of Greek knowledge was part of Byzantine diplomacy. In that same vein Methodios and Cyrillos were sent to the Slavic lands c.863, imparting to them a modified version of the Greek alphabet known now as "Cyrillic".
Ferguson's description of the advanced state of Europe north of the Alps as compared to Italy can be explained by the cultural exchanges occurring between Byzantine and Frank. The Franks were a new European power and the Byzantines knew it. Italy, within Byzantium's sphere of influence, was in many ways a Byzantine dependency (even though the Italian states were independent) which Byzantium had no interest in impressing. Indeed, even the desire to impress Arab Spain was hardly motivated by Byzantine altruism. The lauded Abbasid Khalifate in Baghdad was founded by Abu l- Abbas when he overthrew the Umayyids and became Khalif in 749. For him, his most important pursuit was to exterminate the Umayyids. The last surviving Umayyid established the independent Khalifate in Spain. It was the mutually held enmity toward the Abbasids that made Byzantium and Islamic Spain allies which led to cultural exchanges. (O'Leary. p. 147, p. 171) And, these exchanges were not limited solely to scientific tracts, but also artistic pursuits. The entrance to the Mihrab of the Great Mosque of Cordova was decorated in the mid-tenth century by Greek mosaicists sent by Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus (Angold, pl. 20).
5/ According to both Angold and Treadgold (author of: A concise History of Byzantium, isbn 0-333-71830-5 author Warren Treadgold) the Emperor's throne room was fitted with automata:
"He [Emperor Theophilos, reign 829-42] was best known for making lavish additions to the Great Palace and decorating the throne room with mechanical golden lions that roared and golden birds that sang, to the astonishment of visitors." Treadgold, p.163 and
"He [Theophilos] had automata - such as mechanical birds singing from gilded boughs - constructed for the throne room in emulation of the Abbasid court..." Angold p. 90
It is a curious anomaly in Angold's book that although he shows that Arabs sought Greek science directly from the Greeks, he claims that they also built automata. This would have necessitated an intimate knowledge of Hero's Mechanics which only became available from Byzantium. Angold ( pp. 153-4) acknowledges that Hero's Mechanics was one of the texts translated by Greeks from Greek transcripts in Sicily which begs the question why it had not already been available. Ptolemy's Almagest (sic) was without exception the most sought after text by Arabs, and it was not translated into Arabic until 827, and Euclid's Elements some time later (O'Leary pp. 157-8). It is a peculiar contention that prior to their understanding of mathematics and astronomy, the Arabs constructed automata that required at least a rudimentary understanding of mathematical principles that underlay their workings and without possessing a copy of the Mechanics! It seems more plausible that the automata in Baghdad were most probably an ambassadorial gift from Byzantium to the new power centred in Baghdad, as was the gift of an organ to the Frankish power centred at Aachen.... As Angold points out, the Franks were able to reverse engineer an organ 60 years after having been given one as a gift... It seems evident throughout his book that Angold is keen to give credit to the Arabs... It is a curious deferential attitude which seems symptomatic of a desire not to appear to be an arrogant myopic westerner... Do we have to distort history so that non-western perspectives like those of Muslims/Arabs are entertained so that they don't engender in Arabs a sense of inferiority? The geared technology of Hellenistic Greece can be demonstrated to have existed well into Byzantine times. The British Science Museum has in its possession a geared Byzantine sundial dated at c.520AD ( re: http://www.nmsi.ac.uk/piclib/imagerecord.asp?id=10306286 ). This Hellenistic technology is but one facet of Hellenistic technology which included the construction of automata. It seems curious that it is contended that the Greeks somehow lost this knowledge... when the evidence shows that they never did.
(The intense interest that was held for Ptolemy's Syntaxis ("Almagest" (sic)) by Arabs was that it described the heavens in a way that corresponded to Mohammed's description in the Koran:
Sovereignty 67 : 4-6 "He created seven heavens, one above the other. His work is faultless. Turn up your eyes: can you detect a single flaw? We have adorned the lowest heaven with lamps, missiles for pelting the devils. We have prepared a scourge of flames for these, and the scourge of Hell for the unbelievers: an evil fate!"
According to Plato the earth is the centre of the cosmos, the site of imperfection and in a state of constant flux; conversely, the firmament the sphere upon which the stars are fixed is permanent and perfect. Between earth and the firmament revolved the gods (planets). According to Asristotle, the only sphere in which change occurs is the meteorological zone (sublunary); the region between the earth and the moon. The heavens (Ouranos) are divided into 7 heavens defined as the spaces between the moving bodies (between moon & sun, sun and mercury, mercuy & venus, etc). Ptolemy came to provide this system what came to be the definitive mathematical model.
To augment his bona fides Mohammed couched his garbled Greek cosmology (Mohammed does not seem to grasp what the 7 heavens were or where they existed) which he probably learnt from the Hellenised Jews that he came to later exterminate.)
.... Byzantium had the technology and used it to impress - much the same way that
the english centuries later attempted to impress China with British technology...
There is also an assumption that translations into Arabic were a demonstration of an Arabic thirst for knowledge. Instead though it is a demonstaration that the people vanquished by the Arabs were forced to employ the Arabic language in place of their native one. This occurred under the supposedly enlightened Ummayids who in circa 700 imposed Arabic, the "holy" language of Islam upon the subjugated (Zoroastrians, Boyce, p 150). The Arabs themselves had no such thirst. That the vanquished conducted their research in that language seems to have impressed upon some the erred conclusion that the research was Arabic.
NOT LIMITED TO BYZANTIUM
The distortion of history is not limited to that of Byzantium. For centuries what are Hindu numerals were instead attributed to Arabs. Recently, on the internet, I came across a site which referred to "Arab paper" when it is undisputed that paper was a Chinese invention that spread westward with the Mongols, including the Chinese idea of paper currency. Even the non-Greek aspects of what is referred to as Arabic mathematics is almost entirely Indian... On another website describing algebraic equations it was pointed out that algebraic formulations were formulae for distribution of assets in settling legal disputes... which raises the tantalising probability that even the Hindu-derived "Arabic" algebra (as distinct from the Greek geometric algebra) was practiced in administering Sassanid justice by pre-Islamic Zoroastrian Persia! [NOTE: this section is redundant. REFER ABOVE]* Furthermore, the basis of this Persian algebra it is evident, is based squarely on the mathematics of the Indians themselves. The knowledge, additional to that of the Greeks, that has been ascribed to Arabs should always ever have been ascribed to Persians and Indians instead. Al Khwarizmi after whom "algorithm" is derived ( a corruption between his name and the Greek word for numbers ariqmoV (arithmos) and who is attributed as the "inventor" of "Arab" algebra, was a Persina (not an Arab), and did nothing more than restate principles already known to Indian mathematicians (eg. Brahmagupta) [NOTE: this section is redundant. REFER ABOVE]. Indeed, it becomes apparent that the flourish of the sciences in the Islamic world, as manifested in Baghdad, was the flourish of the non-Arab civilization that Islam had displaced: prevented from pursuing the religious dimension of Sassanid civilization (practising the Zoroastrian religion), Persians instead pursued the secular dimension of what had been their civilization. Forcibly converted to an alien Islam the (formerly Zoroastrain) Persian intelligentsia found that the only familiar aspect of their previous civilization that could be pursued openly without fear of persecution was science, particularly astrology undertaken as astronomy. Astrologers had been central to Presian Zoroastrian civilization since the Achaemenid dynasty. Mohammadean cosmology's references to the seven heveans were nothing more than a restatement of the cosmology of both Greek (Hellenistic/Roman/Byzantine) and Persian civilizations. Koranic reference to the seven heavens permitted Persians to reason that stargazing and the concomitant mathematics was consistent with Mohammadean cosmology and therefore a study and celebration of the grandeur of god's creation. In this context Ptolemy's Syntaxis (Almagest (sic)) with its description of the mechanics of the seven revolving spheres became their greatest treasure. With their civilization, cities and libraries destroyed, the Persians knew that the most complete repository of learning lay in Byzantium as well as in India. Sassanid Persia had truned to Byzantium (and India) to retrieve ancient knowledge in the third century AD during the reign of Shabuhr 1 (240-272 AD)*. Later, when Justinian closed down the Athens Academy, it was to Ctesiphon that the Greek scholars went (although only for a short while, for the Greeks became homesick). It is unsurprising therefore, that under Arab Islamic rule, several hundred years later, that Persians again turned to Byzantium and India. The Abassid achievement was a Persian phenomenon. The idea of an Arabic/Islamic flowering of knowledge out of a previously barren intellectual landscape is a cruel fantasy, a consequence of the fact that:
a/ the Persian achievement that preceeded it was so totally destroyed by the Arabs that it has been assumed that it never existed and;
b/ the Persian intelligentsia that remained was forced to pursue their interests in their conqueror's language, whilst practicisng their conqueror's religion.
The use of Pahlavi (Middle Persian) the language of the Sassanid state had been abandoned because Arabic was imposed by the preceeding Ummayid dynasty (c.700 AD). This has never made the Persian achievement either Arabic or Islamic. That it is portrayed as such to this day is a demonstration that often the pursuit of history is not confined to a study of the past as an end in itself, but is distorted to serve another interest. Unsupported empirically, today's commentators (western as well as Muslim) attribute to Arabs/Muslims what was not Arabic/Islamic in an attempt to counter the leitmotif of Islam's permanent achievement: terrorism. Where the motivations for historical attribution otherwise, it would be Persians instead who would be credited with the achievement now attributed to Arabs. Comparitivley it should be noted that Muslim Turks have (largely) never been credited with the achievemnts of Byzantium. Byzantium was far too well known in the west to permit that. Ctesiphon, however, demolished by the Arabs 800 years before the fall of Byzantium, is almost totally unknown in the west and the consequence of this ignorance of Persian history is presented instead as an absence of Persian history. If a thriving civilization (Sasanid Persia) can be so utterly demolished that its past glory can be reduced to an archway (as at Ctesiphon), it makes it difficult to demonstrate the level of sophistication of the civilization that Islam displaced.
* According to Dinkard, the Zoroastrian canon in Pahlavi, Book IV, knowledge and science was sought from texts dispersed throughout the world. "The passage in question runs as follows: 'The King of kings, Shabuhr son of Ardashir, further collected those writings... which had been dispersed... throughout India, the Byzantine Empire, and other lands, and which treated of medicine, astronomy, movement, time, space, substance, creation, becoming, pasing, passing awway, change in quality, growth(?), and other processes and organs.'"p. 113 Zoroastrians, Boyce
Ctesiphon, the former pre-Islamic Persian capital, was destroyed by the Muslims. Building material in Baghdad can be shown to have come from Ctesiphon. What remains of Ctesiphon ( http://www.livius.org/ct-cz/ctesiphon/ctesiphon.htm ) are the ruins of a solitary enormous brick building, the Takhti Khesra, "throne of Khosrau" (Chosroes) the sole remainder of the Sassanid palace. To fully appreciate the significance, it has to be remembered that this city was Byzantium's equal!
Even when Khalif al-Mansur (second of the Abbasid Khalifate) desired to build a new capital for his empire he entrusted this to his court astrologer, Nawbakht a Persian. Nawbakht, with the assistance of other prominent astrologers, chose Saturday 31 July 762 for the city's founding. (refer: astrology websitehttp://cura.free.fr/xxv/25hold3.html )
"A certain amount of judicious stealing went on: many of the stones for the palace- the centre of the universe- came from the ruins of the Persian city of Ctesiphon not far away; a wrought-iron gate was taken from Wasit, another from Kufa." ( refer http://www.asiatour.com/iraq/e-02bagh/ei-bag11.htm )
The attribution to Arabs of the study of astronomy/astrology is itself a falsehood. The astronomers/astrologers in the early part were Zoroastrians forced to converted to Islam and their astronomical observations and texts weren't translated into Arabic for many centuries later.
"The astronomical records kept under the Sassanid kings of Persia were continued under the Arabs and were continued in Persian, not Arabic, until much later." p.156 O'Leary
I can only comment that the accident of history meant that Greek scientific manuscripts (like most of those of Heron of Alexandria for instance) were destroyed in the 4th Crusade. That these tracts were known to the Arabs and Latins was because Byzantium had preserved them and had made them available to both. It is a source of profound bewilderment for me that historical happenstance, which has meant that some Greek scientific tracts are known only from Arab translations, has come to be employed by arabists as a demonstration of Arab "enlightenment".
|NOTE: this section is redundant. REFER ABOVE
* The contention that the idea of algebra is based on law can be found at this site: http://facstaff.uindy.edu/~oaks/MHMC.htm which is an on-line transcript of a lecture by Jeff Oaks, University of Indianapolis. Accordingly:
"The Book of al-jabr (restoring) and al-muqabala (balancing) (henceforth Algebra) was written by al-Khwarizmi in Baghdad sometime during the reign of the Abbasid caliph al-Ma'mun (reigned 813-833). Reading the first half of the book one delves into the topic of algebra as it existed on its inception. Rules are presented which instruct the reader on the solution to any algebraic problem in one variable which is reducible to a quadratic equation.
"Then come the applications, which occupy nearly half the book. There are problems on mercantile transactions, geometry, and testimonies. It is the examples involving the distribution of estates which take up the bulk of the applications. Islamic law, as recorded in the Qu'ran, offers very complicated rules for the distribution of estates. This accounts for the weight given to such problems in the Algebra."
There are some problems with what is written here. ... mainly the failure of correct attribution...:
1/ Islamic Law, the Sharia, is not a part of the Koran but is completely separate;
2/ Al Khwarizmi's name indicates that he is Persian, not Arabic (Support for this can be found, among other sources @ http://www2.sjsu.edu/depts/Museum/alkhwa.html : "Muhammad Bin Musa Al-Khwarizmi, mathematician, astronomer, and geographer, was born in a small town south of the river Oxus in Persia (Kheva, a place located in what is present day Uzbekistan) around 770. His family name indicates that he was from Khwarizm and that one of his ancestors was a Magus, or priest of Zoroaster.")
These distinctions aside, it makes sense that what Al Khwarizmi describes mathematically is a Persian, Sassanid system of justice which became reworked into Islamic law. The mistake in attribution stems from a belief that Persians writing in Arabic somehow become Arabs. (...it does make one wonder why it is that no-one makes the same kind of mistake with Copernicus... his De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres) which described a heliocentric system has never been suspected of being Roman on the basis that it was written in Latin.)
The Persians exerted enormous influence on the Arabs and indeed were the driving force behind what has been claimed to be "Islamic" civilization. It was instead largely Zoroastrian civilization re-packaged as Muslim.
"The new [Abbasid] caliphs, after having relied largely on Iranian [Persian] supporters, showed marked favour to Iranians in their regime; and at their capital in Baghdad they revived the traditions of the Sasanian court and reigned in royal splendour... The Abbasids not only revived the magnificence of the Sasanian court, but imitated Sasanian authoritarianism in religious matters. (In this and associated developments one can only guess at the part played by Zoroastrian priests turned Muslim.) They began their rule by persecuting heretics..." p. 151 Zoroastrians: their religious beliefs and practices, author Mary Boyce, isbn 0-415-23903-6
Algebra was already known to the Indians as the mathematical discipline of Vija. The Indian mathematician and astronomer, Brahmagupta (c. 598-c. 660) wrote an astronomical tract (the Brahma-sphuta-siddhanta) which included two chapters on mathematics. This was translated into English by H. T. Colebrooke in 1817, but knowledge of it seems to be ignored by contemporary scholars. It should be noted that whilst Mohammed was alive, not having yet left Arabia, and butchering those around him, that Brahmagupta was writing the scientific tracts... which Persians were to translate into Arabic and which Arabs would come to claim as their own.
|ADDENDUM REGARDING HINDU NUMERALS
Circa 615 AD and Syria was taken by the Persian Chrosroes II. In 627 the Byzantines smashed the Persian armies and Chrosroes II was murdered by his own army. By 636 Byzantine rule in Syria was over, overrun by the first Arab-Islamic onslaught that came out of the Arabian peninsula. By 664 the Arabs had conquered Kabul... they had yet to invade India...
Serverus Sebokt (sebokht)
"the celebrated seventh century [Syrian] translator [of Greek] Serverus Sebokt ...was a bishop and monk about 640 at the convent of Kenesre on the Euphrates, a monastery that had become celebrated for its teaching of Greek. Like his predecessors he continued the study of Aristotelian logic...translation of Ptolemy's Almagest...a tract on the astrolabe... and so on. He makes mention of the Hindu numerals in a work dated before 660. " p 181 Clagett
Another date of 662 AD is attributed as the date of Severus Sebokht's statement:
"I will omit all discussion of the science of the Indians, ... , of their subtle discoveries in astronomy, discoveries that are more ingenious than those of the Greeks and the Babylonians, and of their valuable methods of calculation which surpass description. I wish only to say that this computation is done by means of nine signs. If those who believe, because they speak Greek, that they have arrived at the limits of science, would read the Indian texts, they would be convinced, even if a little late in the day, that there are others who know something of value." http://www-gap.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/~history/HistTopics/Arabic_numerals.html
The importance of this cannot be overstated, but seems to have been overlooked. The Arabs had not by that date made contact with the Indians - the conquests and uprisings within the conquered territories had limited their progress. This means that Hindu numerals were known and in use in Persia prior to Persia's fall to the Muslim Arabs. The Persians had ruled Syria for a period of around 12 years and it is thus evident that what was available to Persian scholars came to be available to the conquered Syrians. This debunks once and for all the proposition that Hindu numerals had to wait for the Arabs to realise their value and to then disseminate their use. It would seem that in the intervening 9 years of Byzantine restoration of rule to Syria that this knowledge did not permeate into the Greek intellectual world - and was consequently "lost" to them in the ensuing waves of Arab raids on what remained of the Byzantine Empire. One wonders what would have happened if it this knowledge had entered the Greek intelligentsia? The world was on the cusp of a possible merger of Greek astronomy and mathematics with the Hindu... The Persians were already in possession of both branches as well as their own. The Arab conquest was disruption to this.
The level of civilization of pre-Islamic Persia is often understated.... but:
"The Sassanid dynasty was founded in A.D. 224, and was characterized by a strong central government and a bureaucratic caste that included scribes, astrologers, doctors, poets, and musicians. By the sixth century the royal residence at Jundishapur, northeast of present-day Basra, had become a cultural crossroads where many different learned traditions mingled: Persian, Christian, Greek, Hindu, Jewish, and Syrian...A significant translation effort, centred in Jundishapur, rendered Greek texts into Syriac, the local language. Texts deemed to contain useful knowledge were generally chosen for translation - mainly medical arts, but also scientific subjects including Aristotle's logical tracts, mathematics and astronomy. Jundishapur also became the site of a hospital and medical school enriched by the presence of Indian medical masters" p. 103 Science and Technology in World History: An Introduction by James E. McClellan ISBN 0801858682 (Amazon link)
This goes a long way in explaining how the knowledge of Hindu Numerals came to be known by Syrians ....
........ The obverse side to the Persians seeking knowledge from Greece ( and India) by the Sassanid Persians is:
"Sassanian Persia was seeking not only to regain territories lost to Rome earlier in the century by its Parthian predecessor, but was also making a claim to recover all the lands once owned by the Achemenid Persian Empire, which had been overthrown by Alexander the Great (c. 330 BC) but whose heir it claimed to be." p1 Early Medieval Europe 300-1000, Roger collins. Isbn: 0333658086
The real contribution of Persia, as will be seen, was never the pursuit of science, but the pursuit of superstition: religion. The Persians profoundly influenced the Jews. Persian Zoroastrian ideas of a creation balanced by a counter creation; that some things were clean (creation) and others unclean (counter-creation), gave rise to the Jewish concepts of clean and unclean. This appears without precedent or coherent explanation in Jewish beliefs, but in the Zoroastrian religion this belief in a perfectly good Ahura Mazda and his perfect creation which was counter-balanced by the evil Ahriman (otherwise known as Angra Mainyu) and his counter-creation; an idea of good balanced by bad, clean balanced by unclean, has its own coherence. Zoroastrian reverence for the "holy" earth held that blood spilt on it would defile the sacredness of the earth, and this Zoroastrian horror is clearly evident in the Biblical attitude to menstruating women, eg Leviticus 15:19-29, which mirrors Zoroastrian attitudes on menstruation. The Zoroastrian belief in a "Saoshyant", a world Saviour, was also adopted by Jews.
|It was the Persians who permitted the Jews to rebuild their temple which had been destroyed by the Assyrians. As a consequence, the Persians came to be held in high regard by those liberated from their bondage, and their customs permeated the Hebraic mythography.
In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfil the word of YHWH spoken by Jeremiah, YHWH moved the heart of Cyrus...to make a proclamation throughout his realm...: This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: YHWH, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and has appointed me to build a temple at Jerusalem in Judah. Any one of his people among you - may YHWH his God be with him... 2 Chronicles 36.22-23
As 2 Chronicles 36.22-23 indicates, the Hebraic account presents the Persian Ahura Mazda as being one-and-the-same as YHWH... It is evident here that some syncretist understanding was at this stage occurring.
The expectation of a saviour was prophesied by the Magoi (pronounced Magi, Greek plural for male Magos, singular) to happen at around 6 BC based on their astrological observations and led to the messianic claims that were rampant at that time, including the declaration that Jesus was the prophesied messiah. The references in the New Testament to the 3 Magoi and the (claimed) blessing by these Magoi of Jesus lent credibility to Christianity. And it was to Islam too that Zoroastrians imparted their superstitions. The ritualised Zoroastrian religion demanded adherents pray 5 times a day, a custom adopted by Islam. The Zoroastrian Avestas were transmitted orally - and were only written down some time before the Muslim onslaught. Indeed the teaching of the Avestas was based on complete memorisation of the "holy" words. This was adopted by Islam in the Madrassa in which the Koran is memorised in the manner the Avestas once were.... The idea that the Avestas were too holy to write down has in itself been adopted by Muslims: the Arabic Koran, it is claimed, is too holy to be understood in any language other than Arabic....
The most frightening aspect of the Persian bequest to the modern world is the terrorist state of Iran. The Zoroastrian expectation of the Saoshyant was re-written into Islam and has become the expectation of the "invisible Immam", and the "Madi" who will save the world when earth-bound forces fail. The modern Persian terrorist state of Iran thus has been engineering such turmoil like the Danish cartoon controversy as well as the Hezb-Allah war launched from Lebanon against Israel to cause the Madi to materialise.....The modern terrorist state of Iran genuinely expects the saviour to come when the world is close to annihilation. This means that the Iranian endeavour to develop nucelar weapons is not a bargaining chip intended to be employed in negotiations with other countries, but the means by which the end of the world might be engineered to bring about the "saviour"! The contribution of Persia is another story and will have to wait ... for now.... © demetrios vakras