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By: R. Behrouz,  M. Ourmazdi & P. Reza'i

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  Avicenna (Click to enlarge)

There is not much information about the evolution of science in Iran in ancient times. It is however, established that science and knowledge was a progress during the Sassanid period (226-652 AD.) when great attention was given to mathematics and astronomy.


The existence of astronomical tables such as the Shahriyar Tables and the observatories which were later imitated by the astrologers and astronomers of the Islamic period prove the importance of astronomy in Iran during the Sassanid dynasty.

Sa'ad Andolsosi in his book "Classes of People" highly praised the knowledge of Iranians of that period in mathematics and astronomy.

In some books wrote in the Pahlavi languages one encounter many references to scientific subjects such as the divinity, natural science, mathematics and other relevant subjects.

The medical and veterinary essays, prescriptions and expressions mentioned in "Dinkart" (from the Sassanid period) are very interesting. Some medical books later narrated in Arabic were initially compiled in the Syrian or Pahlavi languages by Iranian scholars. Among such books are books on veterinary, agriculture, diseases and treatment of gab-birds, training and education of children, tactics of warfare, etc.

In the mid-Sassanid era, a strong wave of knowledge came to Iran from the west in the form of views and traditions of Greece which, following the spread of Christianity, accompanied Syriac, the official language of Christians as well as the Iranian Nestorian script. The Christian schools in Iran have produced great scientists such as Nersi, Farhad and Marabai. Also a book is left by Paulus Persa, heads of the Iranian Department of Logic and Philosophy of Aristotle, written in Syriac and dictated to Sassanid King Anushiravan.

Other great teachers have risen from similar theological and scientific schools. Amongst them was Ibrahim Madi, Hibai the translator, Marbab Gondishapuri and Paulus son of Kaki of Karkhe (Mentioning Gondishapur, it is necessary to add that this town was located east of Susa, southeast of Dezful and northwest of Shushtar). During the Sassanid period Gondishapur became a center of medical science and its fame lasted for several centuries even after the advent of Islam in Iran.

A fortunate incident for pre-Islamic Iranian science during the Sassanid period was the arrival of eight great scholars from Greece who sought refuge in Iran from persecution by the Roman Emperor Justinian. These men were the followers of neoplatonic school. King Anushiravan had many discussions with these men and especially with the one named Priscianus.

A summary of these discussions was compiled in a book entitled "Solution to the Problems of Khosrow, the King of Persia," which is now in the Saint Germany Library of Paris. These discussions touched on several subjects, such as philosophy, physiology, metabolisms, natural science as astronomy. After the establishment of Omayyad and Abbasid states, many Iranian scholars were sent to the capitals of these Islamic dynasties.

The philosophy of the Islamic period was influenced by Greece, India and also apparently by Iran of the pre-Islamic period. Ibn Khorram writes in his book "Al Melal Val Nehal" that Muhammad Bin Zakaria Razi took from ancient Iranian's five principals in which he believed:

1) Creator- Ahuramazda 2) Satan-Ahriman 3) Moment-Time 4) Place-Locality 5) Essence-Spirit

The same is mentioned by Massoudi in his book "Moruj-oz-Zahab." Shahaboddin Sohrevardi in the preface to his philosophical book quotes old Iranian terms and expressions derived from Zoroastrians, Manian and Zarvanians.

The Abbasid paid special attention to science and interest in the courts of caliphs of Baghdad and the emirs of Iran such as Kharazmshahis, Samanids, Ziariads, Bowayyids and the Dialameh of Isfahan, and reached its peak at the end of the 4th and beginning of 5th century AH but declined under the Turkmen and Mongol invasions.

The great Iranian translators who knew Syriac, Greek and Pahlavi languages and translated many scientific books into Arabic were "Al Bakhtyasu," Al-Nowbakht, Al-Masouyeh. Abdollah Ibn Moqaffa, Omar Ibn Farakhan Tabari, Ali Ibn Ziad Tammimi, Ibn Sahl, Yusof Al Naqel, Isa Ibn Chaharbakht, Yatr Ibn Rostam Al Kouhi and the latest was Abu Reyhan Birooni, the mathematician and famous translator of Indian books.

As the result of these men and their Arab colleagues, the knowledge and science of India, Greece and Alexandria were narrated in Arabic and created the greatest scientific treasury of the Middle Ages. The most ancient mathematicians and writers amongst the Muslims were two Iranians: Nowbakht Ahwazi and Ibrahim Ibn Habib-ol-fazari(8th century AD.), and the latter also translated into Arabic and collection of Indian astronomy books.

One of the greatest mathematicians of the old time who appeared at the end of the 2nd century of Hegira war an Iranian by the name of Muhammad Ibn Musa-al-Kharazmi whose work affected the Islamic and European culture after 12th century AD. This great mathematician in addition to having compiled a table of figures which was named Algorithm or Algrism (now known as Logarithm), also developed Algebra and by his work he has revived the Iranian and Indian Arithmetic system which were used before him. His work about Algebra was translated into Latin by the great Latin translator Gerardus Kremonsis.

Mathematics were later development by great scientists such as Abu Abbas Fazl Hatam, Abu Musa, Farahani, Omar Ibn Farakhan, Abu Zeid Ahmad Ibn Soheil Balkhi (9th century AD.), Abul Vafa Bouzjani, Abu Jaafar Khan, Bijan Ibn Rostam Kouhi, Ahmad Ibn Abdul Jalil Qomi, Bu Nasr Iraqi, Abu Reyhan Birooni (10th and 11th century AD.), the great Iranian poet Hakim Omar Khayyam Neishaburi, Qatan Marvzi, Massoudi Ghaznavi (13th century AD.), Khajeh Nassireddin Tusi (13th century AD.), Ghiasseddin Jamshidi Kashani (15th century AD.).

In medicine, Mansour Davaneqi, the founder of Baghdad, invited scholars from Gondishapur to live in that city. Amongst them was a Nestorian Christian named Jurjis Ibn Jebreel Ibn Bakhtyasu who wrote a detailed book on medicine which contained all subjects on medical science known at that time. Others who migrated to Baghdad also had publications of their own. The first Muslim who wrote on medicine was also another Iranian, Ali Ibn Rabn Tabari, who compiled medical knowledge from Greece, India and Iran.


After him came Abu Bakr Muhammad Bin Zakaria Razi who in the 10th century AD. wrote a number of detailed as well as short books on medicine. His books were translated into Latin and were printed several times. In addition to compiling subjects from ancient books Razi fully relied on his own experiences. His student was Abu Bakr Joveini who wrote a comprehensive medical book in Persian and this is the first book on medicine in the Persian language and one of the oldest literary works in this language.


The third important writer on medicine was Ali Ibn Abbas Majussi Ahwazi, the physician to the court of Azod-od-Dowleh Daylami, whose works were also translated into Latin and reprinted several times. His books were considered the best and most complete works on medicine prior to the appearance of Avicenna (11th century AD.) Abu Ali Sina (Avicenna). Wrote many books and papers on various scientific subjects. His book "Qanun," on medicine was for many centuries used as a text book by European scientists.

Many good physicians have appeared since Avicenna, bur none gained the prominence of Zinn-ol-Abedin Esmail Jorjani. His book is even more complete than Qanun and is considered as the greatest medical book written in Persian. Iranians were also proficient in other natural sciences such as botany, pharmacology, chemistry, zoology, lithology and mineralogy. The most famous scientists in these fields were Muhammad Bin Zakaria Razi and Abu Reyhan Birooni who also made discoveries. Alcohol and Sulfuric acid were discovered by Razi and Abu Reyhan Birooni has calculated specific gravity of many substances in a very precise manner.

In the year of 1000 AD. Birooni wrote an astronomical encyclopaedia which discusses the possibility that the earth might rotate around the sun long before Tycho Braheand drew the first maps of the sky, also using stylized animals to depict the constellations.

Jaber Ibn Hayyan, the famous Iranian chemist who died in 804 at Tous, in Khorasan was the father of a number of discoveries which were recorded in an encyclopaedia and numerous treaties covering two thousand works which became the bible of European chemists of the 18th century, particularly of Lavoisier.

These works led naturally to the following uses: tinctures and their applications in tanning and textiles, distillations of plans and flowers, the origin of perfumes, therapeutic pharmacy and of course gunpowder, a powerful instrument of military superiority which Islam possessed long before the West.


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