Arab Agricultural Revolution

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The Arab Agricultural Revolution[1] (also referred to variously as Medieval Green Revolution,[2][3] Muslim Agricultural Revolution, Islamic Agricultural Revolution[4] or Islamic Green Revolution)[5] is a term coined by the historian Andrew Watson in a 1974 paper postulating a fundamental transformation in agriculture from the 8th century to the 13th century in the Muslim lands.[1] He listed eighteen crops that were widely diffused during the Islamic period, such as durum wheat, Asiatic rice, sorghum, and cotton.

Watson's paper[edit]

Watson's proposal 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]


Paolo Squatriti notes in 2014 that Watson's thesis has, since 1974, been widely used and cited by historians and archaeologists working in different fields.[9] However, Watson's paper was met with some scepticism at its time of publication,[10][11] and some aspects of his work have received criticism since then.


Michael Decker[12] claims that widespread cultivation and consumption of staples such as durum wheat, Asiatic rice, sorghum and cotton were already commonplace under the Roman Empire and Sassanid Empire, centuries before the Islamic period. He also claims that their actual role in Islamic agriculture has been exaggerated, arguing 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.[13] Decker claims the advanced state of ancient irrigation practices "rebuts sizeable parts of the Watson thesis."[14]

According to Eliyahu Ashtor, agricultural production declined in areas of Iraq (Mesopotamia) and Egypt, on the basis of records of taxes collected on cultivated area.[15] According to Oleson and Wikander, agricultural devices such as watermills/waterwheels, shadufs, norias/sakias, water screws and water pumps were widely known and applied in Greco-Roman agriculture long before the Muslim conquests.[16][17][18][19]

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. ^ Paolo Squatriti, Of Seeds, Seasons, and Seas: Andrew Watson's Medieval Agrarian Revolution Forty Years Later, The Journal of Economic History, 2014
  10. ^ Johns, J (1984), "A Green Revolution?", Journal of African History 25 (3): 343–4, doi:10.1017/S0021853700028218 .
  11. ^ 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 .
  12. ^ 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."
  13. ^ Decker 2009, p. 187.
  14. ^ Decker 2009, p. 190.
  15. ^ Ashtor, E (1976), A Social and Economic History of the Near East in the Middle Ages, Berkeley: University of California Press, pp. 58–63 .
  16. ^ Oleson 2000, pp. 183–216.
  17. ^ Oleson 2000, pp. 217–302.
  18. ^ Wikander 2000, pp. 371−400.
  19. ^ Wikander 2000, pp. 401–2.


  • 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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