Arab Agricultural Revolution

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Arab Agricultural Revolution[1] (also known as the Medieval Green Revolution,[2][3] Muslim Agricultural Revolution, Islamic Agricultural Revolution[4] and Islamic Green Revolution)[5] is a term coined by the historian Andrew Watson in his influential 1974 paper postulating a fundamental transformation in agriculture from the 8th century to the 13th century in the Muslim lands.[1] This was an extension of another hypothesis of an agricultural revolution in Islamic Spain proposed much earlier in 1876 by the Spanish historian Antonia Garcia Maceira.[6]

Watson argued that the economy established by Arab and other Muslim traders across the Old World enabled the diffusion of many crops and farming techniques among different parts of the Islamic world, as well as the adaptation of crops and techniques from and to regions beyond the Islamic world. Crops from Africa such as sorghum, crops from China such as citrus fruits, and numerous crops from India such as mangos, rice, cotton and sugar cane, were distributed throughout Islamic lands, which, according to Watson, previously had not grown these crops.[1] Watson listed eighteen such crops being diffused during the Islamic period.[7] Watson argues that these introductions, along with an increased mechanization of agriculture, led to major changes in economy, population distribution, vegetation cover,[8] agricultural production and income, population levels, urban growth, the distribution of the labour force, linked industries, cooking, diet and clothing in the Islamic world.[1]

Critical contemporary reviews of Watson's hypothesis apart,[9][10] a recent study by Michael Decker (2009) challenges the notion of a Muslim revolution.[11] Drawing on literary and archaeological evidence, Decker shows that, contrary to Watson's central thesis, widespread cultivation and consumption of staples such as durum wheat, Asiatic rice, and sorghum as well as cotton were already commonplace under the Roman Empire and Sassanid Empire, centuries before the Islamic period. At the same time he argues that their actual role in Islamic agriculture has been exaggerated. Decker concludes that the agricultural practices of Muslim cultivators did not fundamentally differ from those of pre-Islamic times, but rather evolved from the hydraulic know-how and 'basket' of agricultural plants inherited from their Roman and Persian predecessors.[12]

Decker also points to the advanced state of ancient irrigation practices which "rebuts sizeable parts of the Watson thesis."[13] This shows that basically all important agricultural devices, including the all-important watermills (see List of ancient watermills), but also waterwheels, shadufs, norias, sakias, water screws, and various kinds of water pumps were widely known and applied by Greek and Roman farmers long before the Muslim conquests.[14][15][16][17]

E. Ashtor has argued that, contrary to Watson's thesis, agricultural production declined in areas brought under Muslim rule in the Middle Ages, including areas in Iraq (Mesopotamia) and Egypt, on the basis of records of taxes collected on cultivated area.[18]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Watson, Andrew M (1974), "The Arab Agricultural Revolution and Its Diffusion, 700–1100", The Journal of Economic History 34 (1): 8–35, doi:10.1017/S0022050700079602 .
  2. ^ Watson, Andrew M (1981), "A Medieval Green Revolution: New Crops and Farming Techniques in the Early Islamic World", The Islamic Middle East, 700–1900: Studies in Economic and Social History .
  3. ^ Glick, Thomas F (1977), "Noria Pots in Spain", Technology and Culture 18 (4): 644–50, doi:10.2307/3103590 .
  4. ^ Decker 2009, pp. 187–206.
  5. ^ Burke, Edmund (June 2009), "Islam at the Center: Technological Complexes and the Roots of Modernity", Journal of World History (University of Hawaii Press) 20 (2): 165–86 [174], doi:10.1353/jwh.0.0045 
  6. ^ Ruggles, D Fairchild (2003), "Botany and the Agricultural Revolution", Gardens, landscape, and vision in the palaces of Islamic Spain, Penn State University Press, pp. 15–34 [31], ISBN 0-271-02247-7 
  7. ^ Decker 2009, pp. 187–8: "In support of his thesis, Watson charted the advance of seventeen food crops and one fiber crop that became important over a large area of the Mediterranean world during the first four centuries of Islamic rule (roughly the seventh through eleventh centuries C.E.)”
  8. ^ Watson, Andrew M (1983), Agricultural Innovation in the Early Islamic World, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-24711-X .
  9. ^ Johns, J (1984), "A Green Revolution?", Journal of African History 25 (3): 343–4, doi:10.1017/S0021853700028218 .
  10. ^ Cahen, C; Watson, Andrew M. (1986), "Review of Agricultural Innovation in the Early Islamic World, by Andrew Watson", Journal of the Social and Economic History of the Orient 29 (2): 217, doi:10.2307/3631792 .
  11. ^ Decker 2009, p. 191: "Nothing has been written, however that attacks the central pillar of Watson's thesis, namely the "basket" of plants that is inextricably linked to all other elements of his analysis. This work will therefore assess the place and importance of four crops of the "Islamic Agricultural Revolution" for which there is considerable pre-Islamic evidence in the Mediterranean world."
  12. ^ Decker 2009, p. 187.
  13. ^ Decker 2009, p. 190.
  14. ^ Oleson 2000, pp. 183–216.
  15. ^ Oleson 2000, pp. 217–302.
  16. ^ Wikander 2000, pp. 371−400.
  17. ^ Wikander 2000, pp. 401–2.
  18. ^ Ashtor, E (1976), A Social and Economic History of the Near East in the Middle Ages, Berkeley: University of California Press, pp. 58–63 .


  • Decker, Michael (2009), "Plants and Progress: Rethinking the Islamic Agricultural Revolution", Journal of World History 20 (2): 187–206, doi:10.1353/jwh.0.0058 .
  • Oleson, John Peter (2000), "Irrigation", in Wikander, Örjan, Handbook of Ancient Water Technology, Technology and Change in History 2, Leiden: Brill, pp. 183–216, ISBN 90-04-11123-9 .
  • Oleson, John Peter (2000), "Water-Lifting", in Wikander, Örjan, Handbook of Ancient Water Technology, Technology and Change in History 2, Leiden: Brill, pp. 217–302, ISBN 90-04-11123-9 .
  • Wikander, Örjan (2000), "The Water-Mill", in Wikander, Örjan, Handbook of Ancient Water Technology, Technology and Change in History 2, Leiden: Brill, pp. 371–400, ISBN 90-04-11123-9 
  • Wikander, Örjan (2000), "Industrial Applications of Water-Power", in Wikander, Örjan, Handbook of Ancient Water Technology, Technology and Change in History 2, Leiden: Brill, pp. 401–412, ISBN 90-04-11123-9 

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