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Abbasid Caliphate in the Golden Age of Learning Report

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Updated: Jun 20th, 2020

The Abbasid period is often described as the Golden Age of Learning in the history of the Islamic world. This report is aimed at discussing the significant achievements that were made during this time. For instance, it is possible to examine different fields such as mathematics, medicine, optics, art, technology, and education. Apart from that, much attention should be paid to the spread of philosophical ideas and creation of educational organisations such as the House of Wisdom. Moreover, it is necessary to explain the factors that contributed to the rise of this cultural phenomenon. This discussion can be helpful for a better understanding of this historical period.

It should be mentioned that Abbasid period lasted from 759 to 1258 CE. During this period, the Abbasid Caliphate could interact with different cultures or civilizations such as India and China. As a result, they could adopt different scientific achievements, philosophical ideas, as well as technologies (Duker & Spiegelvogel, 2008, p. 198). Many of them were significantly elaborated by Islamic scholars. To a great extent, these cultural influences contributed to the scientific and intellectual development that lasted for several centuries. Moreover, these improvements could be observed in different countries.

Additionally, it is important to mention the policies of the ruling dynasty because it also led to scientific and intellectual progress. For instance, they attempted to involve people who could represent different ethnic groups (Duker & Spiegelvogel, 2008). In this respect, they differed profoundly from their predecessors, Umayyad caliphs, who mostly supported the rights of the Arab aristocracy. It should be mentioned that the representatives of the Abbasid dynasty accepted Persian culture, and in this way, they enriched the Islamic world. Apart from that, the caliphs believed that the development of science, technology, and philosophy could be a sign of their prestige or power. This is why they promoted the work of scholars who could represent different fields. To some degree, these attitudes stimulated the development of science, philosophy and technology.

There are several examples indicating that their period can be truly viewed as the Golden Age. For instance, one can speak about the work of Al-Khwārizmī, who greatly contributed to the development of mathematics. In particular, he designed methods of solving a quadratic and linear equation. Overall, he laid the foundations of algebra, and his ideas were of great importance to later generations of mathematicians. More importantly, he popularised the decimal number system by highlighting its practical applications and relevance to the needs of scientists (Stone & Thompson, 2007). This number system simplified many of the calculations that had to be performed on a daily basis; so, this innovation made commercial activities much easier. Furthermore, one should not overlook the important contributions of Alhazen.

He focused on the development of optics and discovered the formula for summing the powers of natural numbers. More importantly, he elaborated the key principles of scientific research. In particular, this scholar laid stress on the need to test theoretical assumptions through experiments. Although this principle may appear to be self-evident to modern researchers, it was a significant breakthrough in the tenth and eleventh centuries because, at that time, many scholars could accept the Aristotelian ideas about physics without questioning them. This is why this contribution should not be overlooked. Furthermore, one should not forget about the work of Omar Khayyám, who worked on various questions related to linear algebra. Furthermore, he worked on the revision of the calendar system.

Additionally, engineers during this period contributed to the development of irrigation techniques which were critical for the development of agriculture. Apart from that, inventors, who represented this culture, designed more effective water-raising machines which were vital for the formation of medieval cities. Moreover, one should consider the invention of devices that were important for navigation. For instance, one can mention kamal which can be viewed as the rudimentary form of the sextant. Additionally, they contributed to the spread of papermaking which was adopted from China (Duker & Spiegelvogel, 2008, p. 198). The use of paper was vital for increasing literacy and scientific progress. At that time, this technology was vital for the spread of knowledge and the growth of commerce. Apart from that, they transmitted the gun powder to European countries (Duker & Spiegelvogel, 2008, p. 198). It may seem surprising, but these technologies were not familiar in European states in the tenth and eleventh centuries. This is why this contribution should not be overlooked by historians.

Furthermore, one should examine the development of medicine in Abbasid Caliphate. The most important contributions were made by Avicenna who identified and described sexually-transmitted diseases. This knowledge could be vital for limiting the spread of epidemics that could pose dire threats to the lives of many people. Additionally, Avicenna emphasised the role of personal hygiene (Selin, 2005, p. 1120)). Admittedly, many of the views expressed by Avicenna were later rejected. Nevertheless, he highlighted the strategies that medical workers could use in order to help patients or safeguard them against various risks (Selin, 2005). This is why his work should be viewed as an important landmark in the history of medicine and healthcare.

Apart from that, it is critical to consider literary works created during this period. For instance, one should pay attention to The Book of One Thousand and One Nights. This text remains familiar to many modern readers. This literary works influenced the development of different literary genres which were developed in the eighteen century at the time when the first translations of this book we’re introduced to the Western world (Stone & Thompson, 2007, p. 185). In particular, one should speak about literary works that included multiple narratives sharing certain themes such as the relation between genders.

However, one should not speak only about scientific and technological achievements. More attention should be paid to the spread of philosophical ideas. In particular, scholars popularised the works of Aristotle and Plato. The Abbasid scholars could get access to their works because this caliphate controlled the lands that were formerly the parts of the Roman Empire. At that time, they were virtually unknown in the European world. Later, their work influenced many medieval Western theologians. Among them, it is possible to distinguish Thomas Aquinas. On the whole, they re-introduced to Greek philosophy to the European countries. Moreover, scholars highlighted the benefits of the work done by Ancient Greek geometers and astronomers. One should also keep in mind that many caliphs were willing to support the work of translators. For instance, Al-Ma’mun wanted to popularise the works the classical philosophers. This example indicates that learning was a part of the cultural norm in the Abbasid Caliphate. This is one of the points that should be taken into account.

Additionally, the Abbasid period was marked by the presence of such people who can be regarded as polymaths. This term is usually applied to describe individuals who had in-depth expertise in different areas that are not necessarily related to one another. For example, one should consider Omar Khayyám, who was a poet, astronomer and a mathematician. Such individuals could be regarded as the role models during the Renaissance period and later periods. For instance, one can mention such people as Leonardo da Vinci or Raphael. This versatility appealed to both researchers and artists who tried to obtain elaborate diverse skills. This behaviour can be viewed as the indirect legacy of the Islamic Golden Age.

Furthermore, the Abbasid dynasty fostered science by establishing institutions of learning. For instance, one can speak about the famous House of Wisdom established by Harun al-Rashid. Scholars, who were working in this organisation were involved in such activities as a translation of ancient Greek texts, mathematical research, mechanics, optics and medicine. To some degree, the House of Wisdom can be viewed as the precursor to the oldest medieval universities which were founded in Bologna and Oxford that became the centres of medieval learning. Apart from that, it is important to mention the construction of observatories and libraries that attracted many scholars from different countries.

This period can be distinguished because the work of scientists and translators contributed to the spread of scientific ideas and technological development throughout the world. The Abbasid Caliphate maintained contacts with various medieval states. For example, the Abbasid Caliphate established diplomatic relations with the Holy Roman Empire and paid visits to the courts of Sicily (Ring, Watson, & Schellinger, 2014, p. 117). Emperor Frederick Barbarossa took an interest in the scientific and philosophical achievements made by Islamic scholars. Their interaction with the Western world contributed to the rise of the early Renaissance, especially in Italy. Certainly, one should not idealise the Abbasid Caliphate because it had many internal flaws. Moreover, this state could not properly respond to various external stressors, such as the invasion of Mongols. This is one of the limitations that one should take into account. Nevertheless, during a certain period, the representatives of this culture introduced many remarkable innovations.

On the whole, this discussion indicates that the development of art and science in the Abbasid Caliphate can be explained by various influences. Much attention should be paid to the policies of caliphs who regarded science and learning as inherent values. Furthermore, this country was open to the influences of foreign cultures. The examples that have been provided are related to mathematics, mechanics, engineering, and other field. The scholars, who worked during this period, facilitated scientific progress by re-introducing the works of different philosophers and mathematicians. Finally, they popularised the technologies borrowed from other countries. Thus, they promoted both scientific and technological progress in various regions of the world. These are the main arguments that can be put forward.

Reference List

Duker, W., & Spiegelvogel, J. (2008). World History, Volume I. New York, NY: Cengage Learning.

Ring, T., Watson, N., & Schellinger, P. (2014). Middle East and Africa: International Dictionary of Historic Places. New York, NY: Routledge.

Selin, H. (2005). Encyclopaedia of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine in Non-Western Cultures. New York, NY: Springer Science & Business Media.

Stone, M., & Thompson, J. (2007). Literary Couplings: Writing Couples, Collaborators, and the Construction of Authorship. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.

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