House of Wisdom
The House of Wisdom was a library and translation institute established in Abbassid-era Baghdad
Baghdad is the capital of Iraq, as well as the coterminous Baghdad Governorate. The population of Baghdad in 2011 is approximately 7,216,040...

, Iraq
Iraq ; officially the Republic of Iraq is a country in Western Asia spanning most of the northwestern end of the Zagros mountain range, the eastern part of the Syrian Desert and the northern part of the Arabian Desert....

. It was a key institution in the Translation Movement
Translation Movement
The Translation Movement was a movement started in the House of Wisdom in Baghdad which translated many Greek classics into Arabic.The relationship between the early period of Islamic mathematics and the mathematics of Greece and India is not yet fully understood as much work is extant only in...

 and considered to have been a major intellectual centre during the Islamic Golden Age
Islamic Golden Age
During the Islamic Golden Age philosophers, scientists and engineers of the Islamic world contributed enormously to technology and culture, both by preserving earlier traditions and by adding their own inventions and innovations...

. The House of Wisdom was a society founded by Caliph
The Caliph is the head of state in a Caliphate, and the title for the ruler of the Islamic Ummah, an Islamic community ruled by the Shari'ah. It is a transcribed version of the Arabic word   which means "successor" or "representative"...

 Harun al-Rashid
Harun al-Rashid
Hārūn al-Rashīd was the fifth Arab Abbasid Caliph in Iraq. He was born in Rey, Iran, close to modern Tehran. His birth date remains a point of discussion, though, as various sources give the dates from 763 to 766)....

 and culminating under his son al-Ma'mun
Abū Jaʿfar Abdullāh al-Māʾmūn ibn Harūn was an Abbasid caliph who reigned from 813 until his death in 833...

, who reigned from 813–833 AD and is credited with its institution. Al-Ma'mun is also credited with bringing many well-known scholars to share information ideas and culture in the House of Wisdom Based in Baghdad from the 9th to 13th centuries, many of the most learned Muslim scholars were part of this excellent research and educational institute.
It had the dual purpose of translating books from Middle Persian to Arabic and also of the preservation of translated books.

During the reign of al-Ma'mun, observatories were set up, and the House was an unrivalled center for the study of humanities and for science in medieval Islam, including mathematics, astronomy, medicine, alchemy and chemistry
Alchemy and chemistry in medieval Islam
Alchemy and chemistry in Islam refers to the study of both traditional alchemy and early practical chemistry by scholars in the medieval Islamic world. The word alchemy was derived from the Arabic word كيمياء or kīmīāʾ...

, zoology and geography and cartography. Drawing on Persian
History of Iran
The history of Iran has been intertwined with the history of a larger historical region, comprising the area from the Danube River in the west to the Indus River and Jaxartes in the east and from the Caucasus, Caspian Sea, and Aral Sea in the north to the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman and Egypt...

, Indian
History of India
The history of India begins with evidence of human activity of Homo sapiens as long as 75,000 years ago, or with earlier hominids including Homo erectus from about 500,000 years ago. The Indus Valley Civilization, which spread and flourished in the northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent from...

 and Greek texts—including those of Pythagoras
Pythagoras of Samos was an Ionian Greek philosopher, mathematician, and founder of the religious movement called Pythagoreanism. Most of the information about Pythagoras was written down centuries after he lived, so very little reliable information is known about him...

, Plato
Plato , was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the...

, Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

, Hippocrates
Hippocrates of Cos or Hippokrates of Kos was an ancient Greek physician of the Age of Pericles , and is considered one of the most outstanding figures in the history of medicine...

, Euclid
Euclid , fl. 300 BC, also known as Euclid of Alexandria, was a Greek mathematician, often referred to as the "Father of Geometry". He was active in Alexandria during the reign of Ptolemy I...

, Plotinus
Plotinus was a major philosopher of the ancient world. In his system of theory there are the three principles: the One, the Intellect, and the Soul. His teacher was Ammonius Saccas and he is of the Platonic tradition...

, Galen
Aelius Galenus or Claudius Galenus , better known as Galen of Pergamon , was a prominent Roman physician, surgeon and philosopher...

, Sushruta, Charaka
Charaka, sometimes spelled Caraka, born c. 300 BC was one of the principal contributors to the ancient art and science of Ayurveda, a system of medicine and lifestyle developed in Ancient India...

, Aryabhata
Aryabhata was the first in the line of great mathematician-astronomers from the classical age of Indian mathematics and Indian astronomy...

 and Brahmagupta
Brahmagupta was an Indian mathematician and astronomer who wrote many important works on mathematics and astronomy. His best known work is the Brāhmasphuṭasiddhānta , written in 628 in Bhinmal...

—the scholars accumulated a great collection of world knowledge, and built on it through their own discoveries. Baghdad was known as the world's richest city and centre for intellectual development of the time, and had a population of over a million, the largest in its time. The great scholars of the House of Wisdom included the Iranian Muḥammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī
Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi
'There is some confusion in the literature on whether al-Khwārizmī's full name is ' or '. Ibn Khaldun notes in his encyclopedic work: "The first who wrote upon this branch was Abu ʿAbdallah al-Khowarizmi, after whom came Abu Kamil Shojaʿ ibn Aslam." . 'There is some confusion in the literature on...

, the "father" of algebra
Algebra is the branch of mathematics concerning the study of the rules of operations and relations, and the constructions and concepts arising from them, including terms, polynomials, equations and algebraic structures...

, which takes its name from his book Kitab al-Jabr
The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing
, also known under a shorter name spelled as Hisab al-jabr w’al-muqabala, Kitab al-Jabr wa-l-Muqabala and other transliterations) is a mathematical book written in Arabic in approximately AD 820 by the Persian (Arabic for "The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing", in...



In the Abbasid Empire, many foreign works were translated into Arabic from Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

, Chinese
Chinese language
The Chinese language is a language or language family consisting of varieties which are mutually intelligible to varying degrees. Originally the indigenous languages spoken by the Han Chinese in China, it forms one of the branches of Sino-Tibetan family of languages...

 and many other languages like Persian
Persian language
Persian is an Iranian language within the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages. It is primarily spoken in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and countries which historically came under Persian influence...

. Large libraries were constructed, and scholars persecuted by the Sassanid
Sassanid Empire
The Sassanid Empire , known to its inhabitants as Ērānshahr and Ērān in Middle Persian and resulting in the New Persian terms Iranshahr and Iran , was the last pre-Islamic Persian Empire, ruled by the Sasanian Dynasty from 224 to 651...

 and Byzantine
Byzantine Empire
The Byzantine Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire during the periods of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, centred on the capital of Constantinople. Known simply as the Roman Empire or Romania to its inhabitants and neighbours, the Empire was the direct continuation of the Ancient Roman State...

 Empires were welcomed. Works were also translated at the Academy of Gundishapur
Academy of Gundishapur
The Academy of Gondishapur , also Jondishapur , was a renowned academy of learning in the city of Gundeshapur during late antiquity, the intellectual center of the Sassanid empire. It offered training in medicine, philosophy, theology and science. The faculty were versed in the Zoroastrian and...

, during the Muslim conquest of Persia.

In 750, the Abbasid
The Abbasid Caliphate or, more simply, the Abbasids , was the third of the Islamic caliphates. It was ruled by the Abbasid dynasty of caliphs, who built their capital in Baghdad after overthrowing the Umayyad caliphate from all but the al-Andalus region....

 dynasty replaced the Umayyad
The Umayyad Caliphate was the second of the four major Arab caliphates established after the death of Muhammad. It was ruled by the Umayyad dynasty, whose name derives from Umayya ibn Abd Shams, the great-grandfather of the first Umayyad caliph. Although the Umayyad family originally came from the...

 as the ruling dynasty of the Islamic empire, and in 762, the caliph al-Mansur
Al-Mansur, Almanzor or Abu Ja'far Abdallah ibn Muhammad al-Mansur was the second Abbasid Caliph from 136 AH to 158 AH .-Biography:...

 (reigned 754 – 775) built Baghdad and made it his capital (the previous capital having been Damascus
Damascus , commonly known in Syria as Al Sham , and as the City of Jasmine , is the capital and the second largest city of Syria after Aleppo, both are part of the country's 14 governorates. In addition to being one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, Damascus is a major...

). The Abbasid dynasty had a strong Persian bent, and adopted many practices from the Sassanid empire – among those, that of translating foreign works, except that now works were translated into Arabic. For this purpose, al-Mansur founded a palace library, modeled after the Sassanid Imperial Library.

The House of Wisdom was originally concerned with translating and preserving Persian works, first from Pahlavi, then from Syriac and eventually Greek and Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

. Works on astrology, mathematics, agriculture, medicine, and philosophy were thus translated.

The Barmakids
The Barmakids were a noble Persian family from Balkh that came to great political power under the Abbasid caliphs. Khalid, the son of Barmak became the Prime Minister or Wazir of Al Saffah, the first Caliph of the Abbasid dynasty. His son Yahya aided Harun Al-Rashid in capturing the throne and...

 were influential in the ensuing movement of restoring and preserving Persian culture. They are also credited with the founding of the first paper mill
Paper mill
A paper mill is a factory devoted to making paper from vegetable fibres such as wood pulp, old rags and other ingredients using a Fourdrinier machine or other type of paper machine.- History :...

 in Baghdad. The secret of papermaking
Papermaking is the process of making paper, a substance which is used universally today for writing and packaging.In papermaking a dilute suspension of fibres in water is drained through a screen, so that a mat of randomly interwoven fibres is laid down. Water is removed from this mat of fibres by...

 had been obtained from Chinese prisoners taken at the Battle of Talas
Battle of Talas
The Battle of Talas in 751 AD was an especially notable conflict between the Arab Abbasid Caliphate and the Chinese Tang Dynasty for control not only of the Syr Darya region, but even more...

 (751). Previously, copyists used papyrus
Papyrus is a thick paper-like material produced from the pith of the papyrus plant, Cyperus papyrus, a wetland sedge that was once abundant in the Nile Delta of Egypt....

 (which is fragile) or parchment
Parchment is a thin material made from calfskin, sheepskin or goatskin, often split. Its most common use was as a material for writing on, for documents, notes, or the pages of a book, codex or manuscript. It is distinct from leather in that parchment is limed but not tanned; therefore, it is very...

 (which is expensive). The introduction of paper thus facilitated the proliferation of books and libraries.

The concept of the library catalog was introduced in the House of Wisdom and other medieval Islamic libraries, where books were organized into specific genres and categories.

The activities of the library was supported by a large number of stationery shops. These shops doubled as bookshops, the largest of which, al-Nakim, sold thousands of books every day. This industry was only possible because of the abundance of paper (warraqa).

Under Al-Ma'mun

Under the sponsorship of caliph al-Ma'mun
Abū Jaʿfar Abdullāh al-Māʾmūn ibn Harūn was an Abbasid caliph who reigned from 813 until his death in 833...

 (reigned 813 – 833), it seems that the House of Wisdom took on new functions related to mathematics and astrology. The focus also shifted from Persian to Greek texts.

At that time, the library was directed by the poet and astrologer Sahl ibn Haroun (d. 830); the other notable scholars associated with the library are Muhammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī
Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi
'There is some confusion in the literature on whether al-Khwārizmī's full name is ' or '. Ibn Khaldun notes in his encyclopedic work: "The first who wrote upon this branch was Abu ʿAbdallah al-Khowarizmi, after whom came Abu Kamil Shojaʿ ibn Aslam." . 'There is some confusion in the literature on...

 (780–850), the Banu Musa brothers (Mohammed Jafar ibn Musa, Ahmad ibn Musa, and al-Hasan ibn Musa), Sind ibn Ali
Sind ibn Ali
Sind ibn Ali-Musa, Sind ibn ʿAlī , was a renowned Sindhi Muslim astronomer, translator, mathematician and engineer. His father Ali-Musa was a convert to Islam and an aristocrat who lived in Mansura, Sindh. Sind ibn ʿAlī traveled to Baghdad and received the best education available.He is known to...

 and Yaqub ibn Ishaq al-Kindi
' , known as "the Philosopher of the Arabs", was a Muslim Arab philosopher, mathematician, physician, and musician. Al-Kindi was the first of the Muslim peripatetic philosophers, and is unanimously hailed as the "father of Islamic or Arabic philosophy" for his synthesis, adaptation and promotion...


Christian scholar Hunayn ibn Ishaq
Hunayn ibn Ishaq
Hunayn ibn Ishaq was a famous and influential Assyrian Nestorian Christian scholar, physician, and scientist, known for his work in translating Greek scientific and medical works into Arabic and Syriac during the heyday of the Islamic Abbasid Caliphate.Ḥunayn ibn Isḥaq was the most productive...

 (809–873) was placed in charge of the translation work by the caliph. The most renowned translator was the Sabian Thābit ibn Qurra
Thabit ibn Qurra
' was a mathematician, physician, astronomer and translator of the Islamic Golden Age.Ibn Qurra made important discoveries in algebra, geometry and astronomy...

 (826–901). Translations of this era were superior to earlier ones, however, soon after, the emphasis on translation work declined, as new ideas became more important.

The House of Wisdom flourished under al-Ma'mun's successors al-Mu'tasim
Abu Ishaq 'Abbas al-Mu'tasim ibn Harun was an Abbasid caliph . He succeeded his half-brother al-Ma'mun...

 (reign 833–842) and al-Wathiq
Al-Wathiq ibn Mutasim was an Abbasid caliph who reigned from 842 until 847 AD .-Biography:...

  (reign 842 – 847), but declined under the reign of al-Mutawakkil
Al-Mutawakkil ʻAlā Allāh Jaʻfar ibn al-Muʻtasim was an Abbasid caliph who reigned in Samarra from 847 until 861...

 (reign 847–861), mainly because Ma'mun, Mu'tasim, and Wathiq followed the sect of Mu'tazili
' is an Islamic school of speculative theology that flourished in the cities of Basra and Baghdad, both in present-day Iraq, during the 8th–10th centuries. The adherents of the Mu'tazili school are best known for their having asserted that, because of the perfect unity and eternal nature of God,...

, while al-Mutawakkil followed orthodox Islam. He wanted to stop the spread of Greek philosophy which was one of the main tools in Mu'tazili
' is an Islamic school of speculative theology that flourished in the cities of Basra and Baghdad, both in present-day Iraq, during the 8th–10th centuries. The adherents of the Mu'tazili school are best known for their having asserted that, because of the perfect unity and eternal nature of God,...


The House of Wisdom eventually acquired a reputation as a center of learning, although universities as we know them did not yet exist at this time — transmission of knowledge was done directly from teacher to student, without any institutional surrounding. Maktab
Maktab , also called kuttab , is an Arabic word meaning elementary schools...

s soon began to develop in the city from the 9th century, and in the 11th century, Nizam al-Mulk
Nizam al-Mulk
Abu Ali al-Hasan al-Tusi Nizam al-Mulk, better known as Khwaja Nizam al-Mulk Tusi ; born in 1018 – 14 October 1092) was a Persian scholar and vizier of the Seljuq Empire...

 founded the Al-Nizamiyya of Baghdad
Al-Nizamiyya of Baghdad
Al-Nizamiyya of Baghdad was one the first Islamic universities, established in July of 1091 when Nizam al-Mulk appointed the 33-year-old Al-Ghazali as a professor of the school....



Along with all other libraries in Baghdad, the House of Wisdom was destroyed during the Mongol invasion of Baghdad
Battle of Baghdad (1258)
The Siege of Baghdad, which occurred in 1258, was an invasion, siege and sacking of the city of Baghdad, the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate at the time and the modern-day capital of Iraq, by the Ilkhanate Mongol forces along with other allied troops under Hulagu Khan.The invasion left Baghdad in...

 in 1258.

Other houses of wisdom

Some other places have also been called House of Wisdom:
  • In Cairo
    Cairo , is the capital of Egypt and the largest city in the Arab world and Africa, and the 16th largest metropolitan area in the world. Nicknamed "The City of a Thousand Minarets" for its preponderance of Islamic architecture, Cairo has long been a centre of the region's political and cultural life...

    , Dar al-Hikmah, the "House of Wisdom", was another name of the House of Knowledge, founded by the Fatimid Caliph Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah
    Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah
    Abu ‘Ali Mansur Tāriqu l-Ḥākim, called Al-Hakim bi Amr al-Lāh , was the sixth Fatimid caliph and 16th Ismaili imam .- History :...

     in 1004.

  • There is a research institute in Baghdad called Bayt al-Hikma after the Abbasid-era research center. While the complex includes a 13th century madrasa, it is not the same building as the medieval Bayt al-Hikma. It was damaged during the 2003 invasion of Iraq
    2003 invasion of Iraq
    The 2003 invasion of Iraq , was the start of the conflict known as the Iraq War, or Operation Iraqi Freedom, in which a combined force of troops from the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and Poland invaded Iraq and toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein in 21 days of major combat operations...

    33.3423°N 44.3836°E

  • The main library at Hamdard University
    Hamdard University
    Hamdard University is a private institution of higher education in Karachi and Islamabad, Pakistan. The university was founded in 1991 by Hakim Said of the Hamdard Foundation. Hamdard University has the largest campus of any private university in Pakistan, covering...

     in Karachi, Pakistan is called 'Bait al Hikmah'
    Bait al Hikmat
    Bait al Hikmat is the main library at Hamdard University, Karachi, Pakistan. It opened in 1989 and is named after the famous library, House of Wisdom, in Baghdad...

    . It is the largest library in Pakistan.

  • A high school located in Qatif
    Qatif or Al-Qatif is a governorate and urban area located in Eastern Province, Saudi Arabia. It extends from Ras Tanura and Jubail in the north to Dammam in the south, and from the Persian Gulf in the east to King Fahd International Airport in the west...

    , Eastern Province, Saudi Arabia

See also

  • Round city of Baghdad
    Round city of Baghdad
    The Round city of Baghdad is an ancient city built in the western part of Baghdad between 767 and 912 AD. In its territory is included the House of Wisdom.- External links :...

  • Brethren of Purity
    Brethren of Purity
    The Brethren of Purity were a secret society of Muslim philosophers in Basra, Iraq, in the 10th century CE....

  • Dar Al-Hekma
    Dar al-hekma
    In keeping with the Islamic tradition of knowledge, the Fatimids collected books on a variety of subjects and their libraries attracted the attention of scholars from across the world...

  • Dar Al-Hekma College
    Dar Al-Hekma College
    Dar Al-Hekma College is a private, non-profit institution of higher education for women in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Classes are taught in English. The college started in September 1999, with the approval of the Saudi Ministry of Higher Education...

External links

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