Abbas ibn Firnas

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Abbas ibn Firnas
عباس ابن فرناس
20th century statue of Ibn Firnas outside Baghdad International Airport
Bornc. 810
Ronda, Takurunna province, Emirate of Córdoba
Córdoba, Emirate of Córdoba
Known forAstronomy, engineering, medicine, invention

Abu al-Qasim Abbas ibn Firnas ibn Wirdas al-Takurini (Arabic: أبو القاسم عباس بن فرناس بن ورداس التاكرني; c. 809/810 – 887 A.D.), also known as Abbas ibn Firnas (Arabic: عباس ابن فرناس) was an Andalusi polymath:[1][2][3] an inventor, astronomer, physician, chemist, engineer, Andalusi musician, and Arabic-language poet.[3] He was reported to have experimented with a form of flight.[1][4][5][6]

Ibn Firnas made various contributions in the field of astronomy and engineering. He constructed a device which indicated the motion of the planets and stars in the Universe. In addition, ibn Firnas came up with a procedure to manufacture colourless glass and made magnifying lenses for reading, which were known as reading stones.[5][6]


Abbas ibn Firnas was born in Ronda, in the Takurunna province and lived in Córdoba.[7] His ancestors participated in the Muslim conquest of Spain.[8] His full name was "Abu al-Qasim Abbas ibn Firnas ibn Wirdas al-Takurini", although he is better known as Abbas ibn Firnas. There is very little biographical information on him. While the majority of sources describe him as a Umayyad mawlā (client) of Berber origin,[9][10][11] some sources describe him as Arab.[12][unreliable source?][13][unreliable source?]


Abbas Ibn Firnas devised a means of manufacturing colorless glass, invented various glass planispheres, made corrective lenses ("reading stones"), devised a chain of things that could be used to simulate the motions of the planets and stars, and developed a process for cutting rock crystal that allowed Al-Andalus to cease exporting quartz to Egypt to be cut.[5][6] He introduced the Sindhind to Al-Andalus,[1] which had important influence on astronomy in Europe.[14] He also designed the al-Maqata, a water clock,[15] and a prototype for a kind of metronome.[16][17]


Some seven centuries after the death of Firnas, the Algerian historian Ahmad al-Maqqari (d. 1632) wrote a description of Firnas that included the following:[18]

Among other very curious experiments which he made, one is his trying to fly. He covered himself with feathers for the purpose, attached a couple of wings to his body, and, getting on an eminence, flung himself down into the air, when according to the testimony of several trustworthy writers who witnessed the performance, he flew a considerable distance, as if he had been a bird, but, in alighting again on the place whence he had started, his back was very much hurt, for not knowing that birds when they alight come down upon their tails, he forgot to provide himself with one.[6]

Al-Maqqari is said to have used in his history works "many early sources no longer extant", but in the case of Firnas, he does not cite his sources for the details of the reputed flight, though he does claim that one verse in a ninth-century Arab poem is actually an allusion to Firnas's flight. The poem was written by Mu'min ibn Said, a court poet of Córdoba under Muhammad I (d. 886), amir of the Emirate of Córdoba, who was acquainted with and usually critical of ibn Firnas.[6] The pertinent verse runs: "He flew faster than the phoenix in his flight when he dressed his body in the feathers of a vulture."[18] No other surviving sources refer to the event.[19]

It has been suggested that ibn Firnas's attempt at glider flight might have inspired the attempt by Eilmer of Malmesbury between 1000 and 1010 in England,[20] but there is no evidence supporting this hypothesis.[6]

Armen Firman[edit]

Armen Firman is the Latinized name of Abbas Ibn Firnas.[21]

According to some secondary sources, about 20 years before Ibn Firnas attempted to fly he may have witnessed Firman as he wrapped himself in a loose cloak stiffened with wooden struts and jumped from a tower in Córdoba, intending to use the garment as wings on which he could glide. The alleged attempt at flight was unsuccessful, but the garment slowed his fall enough that he sustained only minor injuries.[5]

However, there is no reference to Armen Firman in other secondary sources, all of which deal exhaustively with Ibn Firnas' flight attempt.[6][22][23] Armen Firman is not mentioned in al-Maqqari's account.[5]

As this story was recorded only in a single primary source, al-Maqqari,[6] and since Firman's jump is said to have been Ibn Firnas' source of inspiration,[5] the lack of any mention of Firman in al-Maqqari's account may point to synthesis, the tower jump later confused with Ibn Firnas' gliding attempt in secondary writings.[5]


In 1973, a statue of Ibn Firnas by the sculptor Badri al-Samarrai was installed at the Baghdad International Airport in Iraq.[24] In 1976, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) approved of naming a crater on the moon after him as Ibn Firnas.[25] In 2011, one of the bridges going over the Guadalquivir river in Córdoba, Spain, was named the "Abbas Ibn Firnás Bridge".[26] A British one-plane airline, Firnas Airways, was also named after him.[27]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Lévi-Provençal, E. (1986). "ʿAbbās b. Firnās". In Bearman, P.; Bianquis, Th.; Bosworth, C.E.; van Donzel, E.; Heinrichs, W.P. (eds.). Encyclopaedia of Islam. Vol. I (2nd ed.). Brill publishers. p. 11.
  2. ^ "Ibn Firnas ('Abbâs)" by Ahmed Djebbar, Dictionnaire culturel des science, by Collective under the direction of Nicolas Witkowski, Du Regard Editions, 2003, ISBN 2-84105-128-5.
  3. ^ a b Lynn Townsend White, Jr. (Spring, 1961). "Eilmer of Malmesbury, an Eleventh Century Aviator: A Case Study of Technological Innovation, Its Context and Tradition", Technology and Culture 2 (2), p. 97-111 [100]:

    "Ibn Firnas was a polymath: a physician, a rather bad poet, the first to make glass from stones (quartz), a student of music, and inventor of some sort of metronome."

  4. ^ How Invention Begins: Echoes of Old Voices in the Rise of New Machines By John H. Lienhard
  5. ^ a b c d e f g John H. Lienhard (2004). "'Abbas Ibn Firnas". The Engines of Our Ingenuity. Episode 1910. NPR. KUHF-FM Houston. Transcript.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Lynn Townsend White, Jr. (Spring, 1961). "Eilmer of Malmesbury, an Eleventh Century Aviator: A Case Study of Technological Innovation, Its Context and Tradition", Technology and Culture 2 (2), p. 97-111 [100f.]
  7. ^ Lévi-Provençal, Evariste (1999). Histoire de l'Espagne musulmane (in French). Maisonneuve et Larose. ISBN 978-2-7068-1386-3.
  8. ^ Nicolas Witkowski (dir.) et al., , Paris, Editions du Regard ; Éditions du Seuil, 2001, 441 p.
  9. ^ Elías Terés (2019). "ABBAS IBN FIRNAS". The Formation of al-Andalus, Part 2 Language, Religion, Culture and the Sciences. Routledge. pp. 234–244. ISBN 978-1-351-88958-2.
  10. ^ Lévi-Provençal, E. (24 April 2012). "ʿAbbās b. Firnās". Brill. Retrieved 5 August 2023.
  11. ^ Samsó, Julio (5 August 2023). "ʿAbbās ibn Firnās". Oxford Reference. Retrieved 5 August 2023.
  12. ^ Rossi, Cesare; Russo, Flavio (26 August 2016). Ancient Engineers' Inventions: Precursors of the Present. Springer. p. 229. ISBN 978-3-319-44476-5.
  13. ^ Illustrated Dictionary of the Muslim World. Marshall Cavendish. 2011. p. 106. ISBN 978-0-7614-7929-1.
  14. ^ Vernet, Juan (1981) [1970]. "Abbas Ibn Firnas". In Gillespie, C.C. (ed.). Dictionary of Scientific Biography. Vol. 1. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. p. 5.
  15. ^ Marshall Cavendish Reference. Illustrated Dictionary of the Muslim World. Marshall Cavendish, 2010 ISBN 9780761479291 p.106.
  16. ^ Roth, Norman (2017). Routledge Revivals: Medieval Jewish Civilization (2003): An Encyclopedia. Taylor & Francis. p. 465. ISBN 978-1-351-67698-4.
  17. ^ Tsuji, Kinko; Müller, Stefan C. (2021). Physics and Music: Essential Connections and Illuminating Excursions. Springer Nature. pp. 40 (see footnote). ISBN 978-3-030-68676-5.
  18. ^ a b Lynn Townsend White, Jr. (Spring, 1961). "Eilmer of Malmesbury, an Eleventh Century Aviator: A Case Study of Technological Innovation, Its Context and Tradition", Technology and Culture 2 (2), p. 97-111 [101]
  19. ^ Lynn Townsend White, Jr. (Spring, 1961). "Eilmer of Malmesbury, an Eleventh Century Aviator: A Case Study of Technological Innovation, Its Context and Tradition", Technology and Culture 2 (2), p. 97-111 [101]:

    The Moroccan historian al-Maqqari, who died in 1632 A.D. but who used many early sources no longer extant, tells of a certain Abu'l Qasim 'Abbas b. Firnas who lived in Cordoba in the later ninth century. […] No modern historian can be satisfied with a source written 750 years after the event, and it is astonishing that, if indeed several eye-witnesses recorded Firnas's flight, no mention of it independent of al-Maqqari has survived. Yet al-Maqqari cites a contemporary poem by Mu'min b. Said, a minor court poet of Cordoba under Muhammad I (d. 886 A.D.), which appears to refer to this flight and which has the greater evidential value because Mu'min did not like b. Firnas: he criticized one of his metaphors and disapproved his artificial thunder. […] Although the evidence is slender, we must conclude that b. Firnas was the first man to fly successfully, and that he has priority over Eilmer for this honor. But it is not necessary to assume that Eilmer needed foreign stimulus to build his wings. Anglo-Saxon England in his time provided an atmosphere conducive to originality, perhaps particularly in technology.

  20. ^ Lienhard, John H. (1988). "The Flying Monk". University of Houston. Retrieved 6 February 2015.
  21. ^ "Arabic and Islamic Names of the Moon Craters MuslimHeritage 9-28-07". Archived from the original on 16 October 2013. Retrieved 14 July 2009.
  22. ^ Terias, Elias, "Sobre el vuelo de Abbas Ibn Firnas", Al-Andalus, Vol. 29, No. 2 (1964), p. 365–369
  23. ^ Lévi-Provençal, E. "ʿAbbās b. Firnās b. Wardūs, Abu 'l-Ḳāsim." Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd edition, Edited by: P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel and W.P. Heinrichs, 2009
  24. ^ "Curious Questions: Did an Englishman called John Stringfellow really invent powered flight half a century before the Wright Brothers?". Country Life. 15 May 2021. Retrieved 24 October 2021.
  25. ^ "Planetary Names: Crater, craters: Ibn Firnas on Moon". Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature International Astronomical Union (IAU) Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature (WGPSN). 18 October 2010. Retrieved 24 October 2021.
  26. ^ "Abbas Ibn Firnás Bridge". Structurae. 14 January 2011. Retrieved 24 October 2021.
  27. ^ Harding, Nick (14 June 2018). "Firnas Airways: How not to start an airline". UK Aviation News. Retrieved 10 February 2021.


  • J. Vernet, Abbas Ibn Firnas. Dictionary of Scientific Biography (C.C. Gilespie, ed.) Vol. I, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1970–1980. pg. 5.
  • Lynn Townsend White Jr. (Spring, 1961). "Eilmer of Malmesbury, an Eleventh Century Aviator: A Case Study of Technological Innovation, Its Context and Tradition", Technology and Culture 2 (2), p. 97–111 [100f.], doi:10.2307/3101411.
  • Salim T.S. Al-Hassani (ed.), Elisabeth Woodcock (au.), and Rabah Saoud (au.). 2006. 1001 Inventions. Muslim Heritage in Our World. Manchester: Foundation for Science, Technology and Civilisation. See pages 308–313. (ISBN 978-0-9555035-0-4)

Further reading[edit]

  • Zaheer, Syed Iqbal (2010). An Educational Encyclopedia of Islam. Iqra Welfare Trust. p. 1280. ISBN 9786039000440.