List of inventions in the medieval Islamic world

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Physicians employing a surgical method. From Şerafeddin Sabuncuoğlu's Imperial Surgery (1465).

The following is a list of inventions made in the medieval Islamic world, especially during the Islamic Golden Age,[1][2][3][4] as well as in later states of the Age of the Islamic Gunpowders such as the Ottoman and Mughal empires.

The Islamic Golden Age was a period of cultural, economic and scientific flourishing in the history of Islam, traditionally dated from the eighth century to the fourteenth century, with several contemporary scholars[who?] dating the end of the era to the fifteenth or sixteenth century.[3][4][5] This period is traditionally understood to have begun during the reign of the Abbasid caliph Harun al-Rashid (786 to 809) with the inauguration of the House of Wisdom in Baghdad, where scholars from various parts of the world with different cultural backgrounds were mandated to gather and translate all of the world's classical knowledge into the Arabic language and subsequently development in various fields of sciences began. Science and technology in the Islamic world adopted and preserved knowledge and technologies from contemporary and earlier civilizations, including Persia, Egypt, India, China, and Greco-Roman antiquity, while making numerous improvements, innovations and inventions.

List of inventions[edit]

Early caliphates[edit]

7th century
An illustrated headpiece from a mid-18th-century collection of ghazals and rubāʻīyāt, from the University of Pennsylvania library's Lawrence J. Schoenberg Collection[6]
8th century
9th century
10th century
  • Alhazen's problem: A theorem by ibn al-Haytham solved only in 1997 by Neumann.
  • Arabic numerals: The modern Arabic numeral symbols originate from Islamic North Africa in the 10th century. A distinctive Western Arabic variant of the Eastern Arabic numerals began to emerge around the 10th century in the Maghreb and Al-Andalus (sometimes called ghubar numerals, though the term is not always accepted), which are the direct ancestor of the modern Arabic numerals used throughout the world.[61]
  • Binomial theorem: The first formulation of the binomial theorem and the table of binomial coefficient can be found in a work by Al-Karaji, quoted by Al-Samaw'al in his "al-Bahir".[62][63][64]
  • Cauchy-Riemann Integral: Ibn al-Haytham gave a simple form of this.[13]
  • Decimal fractions: Decimal fractions were first used by Abu'l-Hasan al-Uqlidisi in the 10th century.[65][66]
  • Experimental scientific method: Expounded and practised by ibn al-Haytham[67]
  • Fountain pen: An early historical mention of what appears to be a reservoir pen dates back to the 10th century. According to Ali Abuzar Mari (d. 974) in his Kitab al-Majalis wa 'l-musayarat, the Fatimid caliph Al-Mu'izz li-Din Allah demanded a pen that would not stain his hands or clothes, and was provided with a pen that held ink in a reservoir, allowing it to be held upside-down without leaking.[68]
  • Law of cotangents: This was first given by Ibn al-Haytham.[13]
  • Muqarnas: The origin of the muqarnas can be traced back to the mid-tenth century in northeastern Iran and central North Africa,[69] as well as the Mesopotamian region.[70]
  • Pascal's triangle: The Persian mathematician Al-Karaji (953–1029) wrote a now lost book which contained the first description of Pascal's triangle.[71][72][73]
  • Ruffini-Horner Algorithm: Discovered by ibn al-Haytham[13]
  • Sextant and mural instrument: The first known mural sextant was constructed in Ray, Iran, by Abu-Mahmud al-Khujandi in 994.[74]
  • Shale oil extraction: In the 10th century, the Arab physician Masawaih al-Mardini (Mesue the Younger) described a method of extraction of oil from "some kind of bituminous shale".[75]
  • Snell's law: The law was first accurately described by the Persian scientist Ibn Sahl at the Baghdad court in 984. In the manuscript On Burning Mirrors and Lenses, ibn Sahl used the law to derive lens shapes that focus light with no geometric aberrations.[76] According to Jim al-Khalili, the law should be called ibn Sahl's law.[77]
  • Vertical-axle windmill: A small wind wheel operating an organ is described as early as the 1st century AD by Hero of Alexandria.[78][79] The first vertical-axle windmills were eventually built in Sistan, Persia as described by Muslim geographers. These windmills had long vertical driveshafts with rectangle shaped blades.[80] They may have been constructed as early as the time of the second Rashidun caliph Umar (634-644 AD), though some argue that this account may have been a 10th-century amendment.[81] Made of six to twelve sails covered in reed matting or cloth material, these windmills were used to grind grains and draw up water, and used in the gristmilling and sugarcane industries.[82] Horizontal axle windmills of the type generally used today, however, were developed in Northwestern Europe in the 1180s.[78][79]
11th-12th centuries
13th century
  • Fritware: It refers to a type of pottery which was first developed in the Near East, beginning in the late 1st millennium, for which frit was a significant ingredient. A recipe for "fritware" dating to c. 1300 AD written by Abu’l Qasim reports that the ratio of quartz to "frit-glass" to white clay is 10:1:1.[100] This type of pottery has also been referred to as "stonepaste" and "faience" among other names.[101] A 9th-century corpus of "proto-stonepaste" from Baghdad has "relict glass fragments" in its fabric.[102]
  • Mercury clock: A detailed account of technology in Islamic Spain was compiled under Alfonso X of Castile between 1276 and 1279, which included a compartmented mercury clock, which was influential up until the 17th century.[103] It was described in the Libros del saber de Astronomia, a Spanish work from 1277 consisting of translations and paraphrases of Arabic works.[104]
  • Mariotte's bottle: The Libros del saber de Astronomia describes a water clock which employs the principle of Mariotte's bottle.[103]
  • Metabolism: Although Greek philosophers described processes of metabolism, Ibn al-Nafees is the first scholar to describe metabolism as "a continuous state of dissolution and nourishment".[105]
  • Naker: Arabic nakers were the direct ancestors of most timpani, brought to 13th-century Continental Europe by Crusaders and Saracens.[106]

Al Andalus (Islamic Spain)[edit]

9th-12th centuries
14th century
  • Hispano-Moresque ware: This was a style of Islamic pottery created in Arab Spain, after the Moors had introduced two ceramic techniques to Europe: glazing with an opaque white tin-glaze, and painting in metallic lusters. Hispano-Moresque ware was distinguished from the pottery of Christendom by the Islamic character of its decoration.[117]
  • Polar-axis sundial: Early sundials were nodus-based with straight hour-lines, indicating unequal hours (also called temporary hours) that varied with the seasons, since every day was divided into twelve equal segments; thus, hours were shorter in winter and longer in summer. The idea of using hours of equal time length throughout the year was the innovation of Abu'l-Hasan Ibn al-Shatir in 1371, based on earlier developments in trigonometry by Muhammad ibn Jābir al-Harrānī al-Battānī (Albategni). Ibn al-Shatir was aware that "using a gnomon that is parallel to the Earth's axis will produce sundials whose hour lines indicate equal hours on any day of the year." His sundial is the oldest polar-axis sundial still in existence. The concept later appeared in Western sundials from at least 1446.[118][119]


12th century
  • Blood measurement device: Created by Al-Jazari[120]
  • Double-acting principle: The principle was used by al-Jazari in his water pumps.[121]
13th century
  • Heliometer: A devise of measuring the diameter of sun was described by Syrian astronomer Mu'ayyad al-Din al-Urdi.[122]
  • Various automatons: Al-Jazari's inventions included automaton peacocks, a hand-washing automaton, and a musical band of automatons.[123][124][125]
  • Camshaft: The camshaft was described by Al-Jazari in 1206. He employed it as part of his automata, water-raising machines, and water clocks such as the castle clock.[126]
  • Candle clock with dial and fastening mechanism: The earliest reference of the candle clock is described in a Chinese poem by You Jiangu (AD 520), However the most sophisticated candle clocks known, were those of Al-Jazari in 1206.[127] It included a dial to display the time.[citation needed]
  • Crankshaft: Al-Jazari (1136–1206) is credited with the invention of the crankshaft.[25]: 23–24  He described a crank and connecting rod system in a rotating machine in two of his water-raising machines.[128] His twin-cylinder pump incorporated a crankshaft,[129] including both the crank and shaft mechanisms.[130]
  • Crank-slider: Ismail al-Jazari's water pump employed the first known crank-slider mechanism.[131]
  • Cotton gin with worm gear: The worm gear roller gin was invented in the Delhi Sultanate during the 13th to 14th centuries.[132]
  • Design and construction methods: English technology historian Donald Hill wrote, "We see for the first time in al-Jazari's work several concepts important for both design and construction: the lamination of timber to minimize warping, the static balancing of wheels, the use of wooden templates (a kind of pattern), the use of paper models to establish designs, the calibration of orifices, the grinding of the seats and plugs of valves together with emery powder to obtain a watertight fit, and the casting of metals in closed mold boxes with sand."[133]
  • Draw bar: The draw bar was applied to sugar-milling, with evidence of its use at Delhi in the Mughal Empire by 1540, but possibly dating back several centuries earlier to the Delhi Sultanate.[134]
  • Minimising intermittence: The concept of minimising the intermittence is first implied in one of Al-Jazari's saqiya devices, which was to maximise the efficiency of the saqiya.[135]
  • Programmable automaton and drum machine: The earliest programmable automata, and the first programmable drum machine, were invented by Al-Jazari, and described in The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices, written in 1206. His programmable musical device featured four automaton musicians, including two drummers, that floated on a lake to entertain guests at royal drinking parties. It was a programmable drum machine where pegs (cams) bump into little levers that operated the percussion. The drummers could be made to play different rhythms and different drum patterns if the pegs were moved around.[136]
  • Tusi couple: The couple was first proposed by Nasir al-Din al-Tusi in his 1247 Tahrir al-Majisti (Commentary on the Almagest) as a solution for the latitudinal motion of the inferior planets. The Tusi couple is explicitly two circles of radii x and 2x in which the circle with the smaller radii rotates inside the Bigger circle. The oscillatory motion be produced by the combined uniform circular motions of two identical circles, one riding on the circumference of the other.
  • Griot: The griot musical tradition originates from the Islamic Mali Empire, where the first professional griot was Balla Fasséké.[137]
  • Segmental gear: A segmental gear is "a piece for receiving or communicating reciprocating motion from or to a cogwheel, consisting of a sector of a circular gear, or ring, having cogs on the periphery, or face."[138] Professor Lynn Townsend White, Jr. wrote, "Segmental gears first clearly appear in al-Jazari".[139]
  • Sitar: According to various sources, the sitar was invented by Amir Khusrow, a famous Sufi inventor, poet, and pioneer of Khyal, Tarana and Qawwali, in the Delhi Sultanate.[140][141] Others say that the instrument was brought from Iran and modified for the tastes of the rulers of the Delhi Sultanate and Mughal Empire.[141]
14th century

Ottoman Empire[edit]

14th century
15th century
  • Coffee: Although there is early historical accounts of coffee consumption ( as qahwa) in Ethiopia, it is not clear whether it was "used" as a beverage.[145] The earliest historical evidence of coffee drinking appears in the middle of the 15th century, in the Sufi monasteries of the Yemen in southern Arabia.[146][147] From Mocha, coffee spread to Egypt and North Africa,[148] and by the 16th century, it had reached the rest of the Middle East, Persia and Turkey. From the Muslim world, coffee drinking spread to Italy, then to the rest of Europe, and coffee plants were transported by the Dutch to the East Indies and to the Americas.[149]
  • Dardanelles Gun: The Dardanelles Gun was designed and cast in bronze in 1434 by Munir Ali. The Dardanelles Gun was still present for duty more than 340 years later in 1807, when a Royal Navy force appeared and commenced the Dardanelles Operation. Turkish forces loaded the ancient relics with propellant and projectiles, then fired them at the British ships. The British squadron suffered 28 casualties from this bombardment.[150]
  • Iznik pottery: Produced in Ottoman Turkey as early as the 15th century AD.[151] It consists of a body, slip, and glaze, where the body and glaze are "quartz-frit."[152] The "frits" in both cases "are unusual in that they contain lead oxide as well as soda"; the lead oxide would help reduce the thermal expansion coefficient of the ceramic.[153] Microscopic analysis reveals that the material that has been labeled "frit" is "interstitial glass" which serves to connect the quartz particles.[154]
  • Standing army with firearms: The Ottoman military's regularized use of firearms proceeded ahead of the pace of their European counterparts. The Janissaries had been an infantry bodyguard using bows and arrows. During the rule of Sultan Mehmed II they were drilled with firearms and became "the first standing infantry force equipped with firearms in the world."[155]
16th century

Safavid dynasty[edit]

The Rothschild Small Silk Medallion Carpet, mid-16th century, Museum of Islamic Art, Doha
15th century
  • Classical Oriental carpet: By the late fifteenth century, the design of Persian carpets changed considerably. Large-format medallions appeared, ornaments began to show elaborate curvilinear designs. Large spirals and tendrils, floral ornaments, depictions of flowers and animals, were often mirrored along the long or short axis of the carpet to obtain harmony and rhythm. The earlier "kufic" border design was replaced by tendrils and arabesques. All these patterns required a more elaborate system of weaving, as compared to weaving straight, rectilinear lines. Likewise, they require artists to create the design, weavers to execute them on the loom, and an efficient way to communicate the artist's ideas to the weaver. Today this is achieved by a template, termed cartoon (Ford, 1981, p. 170[163]). How Safavid manufacturers achieved this, technically, is currently unknown. The result of their work, however, was what Kurt Erdmann termed the "carpet design revolution".[164] Apparently, the new designs were developed first by miniature painters, as they started to appear in book illuminations and on book covers as early as in the fifteenth century. This marks the first time when the "classical" design of Islamic rugs was established.[165]

Mughal Empire[edit]

16th century
A detailed portrait of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir holding a globe probably made by Muhammad Saleh Thattvi
  • Hookah or water pipe: according to Cyril Elgood (PP.41, 110), the physician Irfan Shaikh, at the court of the Mughal emperor Akbar I (1542–1605) invented the Hookah or water pipe used most commonly for smoking tobacco.[166][167][168][169]
  • Metal cylinder rocket: In the 16th century, Akbar was the first to initiate and use metal cylinder rockets known as bans, particularly against war elephants, during the Battle of Sanbal.[170]
  • Multi-barrel matchlock volley gun: Fathullah Shirazi (c. 1582), a Persian polymath and mechanical engineer who worked for Akbar, developed an early multi-shot gun. Shirazi's gun had multiple gun barrels that fired hand cannons loaded with gunpowder. It may be considered a version of a volley gun.[171] One such gun he developed was a seventeen-barrelled cannon fired with a matchlock.[172]
  • Seamless celestial globe: It was invented in Kashmir by Ali Kashmiri ibn Luqman in 998 AH (1589–1590), and twenty other such globes were later produced in Lahore and Kashmir during the Mughal Empire. Before they were rediscovered in the 1980s, it was believed by modern metallurgists to be technically impossible to produce metal globes without any seams.[173]
17th century

See also[edit]


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External links[edit]

  • Qatar Digital Library - an online portal providing access to previously digitised British Library archive materials relating to Gulf history and Arabic science