Collection of Medieval Medical Manuscripts

(The article was published in «Azerbaijan International» Magazine - AI 8.2 (Summer 2000)

PhD, Professor of History

Institute of Manuscripts, Baku

The Institute of Manuscripts of the Azerbaijan Academy of Sciences is a center for collecting, systematizing, storing and publishing medieval manuscripts. It currently includes about 40,000 documents including 11 000 manuscripts, in languages that include Azeri, Turkish, Uzbek, Persian and Arabic. These texts help us understand what Azerbaijanis from the Middle Ages thought about medicine, astronomy, mathematics, poetry, philosophy, law, history and geography.

The basis for the Institute was laid in 1924, when the first all-Azerbaijan Regional Congress was held in Baku. The Congress decided to organize a scientific library with a special department dedicated to ancient manuscripts and rare books. At first, this library was part of the Investigation Society of Azerbaijan; then it became attached to the Nizami Institute of Literature. In 1955 the Manuscript Department became the Independent Center of Scientific Research. Later, its name was changed to the Institute of Manuscripts.

Many of the ancient manuscripts found at the Institute came from the private collections of Azerbaijan's most prominent 19th- and early 20th-century thinkers, including Abbasgulu agha Bakikhanov, Mirza Fatali Akhundov, Abdulgani Afandi Khalisagarizada, Husein Afandi Gaibov, Bahman Mirza Gajar and Mir Mohsun Navvab.

It continues to collect manuscripts, rare books and historical documents from all over Azerbaijan. The Institute is located in the former Alexandrian Russian Muslim Female Boarding School, which was built by Haji Zeynalabdin Taghiyev between 1898 and 1901. This was the first girl's school in the Muslim East. The building was designed by Polish architect Joseph V. Goslavski (1865-1904), who also designed Baku's City Hall and Taghiyev's private residence, which now serves as the Taghiyev Museum housing the National History Museum collection.

In 1918, when Azerbaijan became independent, Taghiyev gave the building to the government of Azerbaijan to be used for ministers' offices. In 1920, after the Red Army invaded Azerbaijan, the Bolsheviks turned the building into the headquarters for the Worker, Peasant and Soldier Deputies. After that, it housed the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Azerbaijan Republic (the governing body of Parliament). Since 1950, the building has housed what is now called the Institute of Manuscripts.

Medical Manuscripts.

Among the carefully preserved books on natural sciences there are numerous sources on medicine and pharmacy in Oriental languages. The oldest of them dates back to the 9th century, the latest to the 20th. By the way, the Institute treasures one of the oldest hand-written copies of Canon of Medicine by great Ibn Sina (Avicenna) as well as other valuable works on medicine and pharmacy, including manuscripts of works by such medieval authors as Ali bin Abbas (10th century), Muwaffag al-Harawi (10th century), Isa ar-Ragi (10th century), Mahmud bin Ilyas (13th century), Yusif bin Ismail Khoyi (13-14th centuries), Zeyn al-Abidin Attar (15th century), Yusif bin Muhammad Harawi (15-16th centuries), Sultan Ali Khorasani (16th centurys), Sayyid Muhammad Mu'min (17th century), etc.

In order to find out the total number of manuscripts on medicine and pharmacy the funds and catalogs of the Institute have been examined by Prof. Farid Alakbarli. It has been revealed that the Institute's collection includes 390 medieval manuscripts and 27 printed books on medicine and pharmacognosy written in the following languages: Persian - 222 manuscripts, Turkic (Old Azeri and Old Turkish) - 71 manuscripts, and Arabic - 70 manuscripts. All studied sources can be divided into several categories:

1. Fundamental medical encyclopedias or pharmacopoeias which throw light to all questions of theoretical and practical medicine or pharmacognosy.

2. Small medical encyclopedias and short reference-books on pharmacognosy.

3. Different treatises devoted to the separate scientific questions.

4. Anonymous notebooks and separate pages containing some recipes or quotations from different, often unknown, sources.

Among sources belonging to the first category we should mark such fundamental works as: "al-Kanun fi at-Tibb" by Abu Ali Ibn Sina (980-1037 AD), " Kitab al-Hawi" by Abu Bakr ibn Zakariya ar-Razi (865-925 AD), "Jam' al-Bagdadi" by Yusif bin Ismail Khoyi (d.1311 AD), "Jam' al-adwiyya" by Ibn al-Beithar al-Andalusi (13th century), "Tuhfat al-mu'minin" by Sayyid Muhammad Mu'min (d.1697 AD) "Mahzan al-adwiyya" by Muhammad Huseyn Khan Samarkandi (18th century), etc.

Books belonging to the second category are very valuable for studying the problem as well. Among them there are such books as: "Kitab al-Hafi fi Ilm al-Madawi" by Mahmud bin Ilyas at-Tabrizi al-Shirazi (13th century), "Kifayyat al-Mujahida" (1523 AD) by Mansur bin Muhammad, "Jam' al-Fawa'id" (1511 AD) by Yusif bin Muhammad al-Harawi, "Dastur al-Alaj" by Sultan Ali Khorasani (16th century), "Siraj at-Tibb" by Hasan bin Riza Shirvani (17th century), "Fawa'id al-Hikmat" by Haji Suleyman Kajar Iravani (17th century), "Tibbnama" (1711 AD) by Muhammad Yusif Shirvani, "Manafe' an-Nas" by Muhammad Attar Salyani (18th century).

Considerable facts about some items of medieval health protection concept are contained also in the works belonging to the third category (so-called treatises). As mentioned above, they deal with individual scientific issues and therefore are not universal medical books (encyclopedias). These books throw light on individul branches of the medicine including the pediatric, anatomy, surgery, ophthalmology, gynecology, psychology, dietology, etc. Among them, there are following sources: "Kitab al-Jarrahi" by Abu al-Qasim az-Zahrawi (13th century), "Hirga" by Murtaza Gulu Shamlu (17th century),"Kitab-i Ruju' ash-Sheykh dar Tagviyyat-i Bah" by Sheykh Ajal ash-Sharif (17th century), "Zad al-Musafirin" (written in 1729 AD) by Muhammad Mahdi bin Ali Nagi, "Mualijat-i Munfarida" (written in 1775/6 AD) by Abu al-Hasan Maragi, etc.

As to the writings belonging to the third category (separate pages and anonymous notebooks dated mainly late 19th - early 20th centuries) most of them do not represent a significant scientific interest.

The classification of the studied books according to degrees of their popularity also has been carried out in this study. It has been established that the manuscripts of following books are treasured in the Institute in the largest number:

· "Tuhfat al-Mu'minin" (written in 1669 AD) by Sayyid Mir Muhammad Mu'min (d. 1697 AD) - 37 manuscripts.

· "Zad al-Musafirin" (written in 1728 AD) by Muhammad bin Ali an-Nagi - 13 manuscripts.

· "Karabadin" by Muzaffar bin Muhammad Huseyn Shafa'i (1586/7-1628/9 AD) - 9 manuscripts.

· "Ikhtiyarat-i Badi'i" (written in 1368 AD) by Ali bin al-Huseyn al-Ansari (1329 - 1404 AD) - 5 manuscripts.

All mentioned manuscripts have been collected from variuos regions of Azerbaijan. They have been copied in our country and belonged to Azerbaijani owners. Based on this, one may conclude that mentioned books were widely used by the medieval Azeri physicians and, therefore, these writings may be considered as the most popular medical books of the Medieval Azerbaijan.Besides that, the Institute of Manuscripts has a large number of Persian manuscripts written by the European physician Shlimer Firengi (or Felemenki) for the Iranian ruler Nasiraddin-shah Kajar. These books were written in the second half of the 19th century and expound the ideas of the Western medical science. As contents of these books have nothing to do with the concepts of the traditional Azerbaijan medicine, they have not been included in the list of the most popular Azerbaijan sources.

For studying the concept of health protection which existed in the medieval Azerbaijan science, a wide range of the medieval sources on medicine and pharmacognosy have been analyzed. The information about medicinal plants has been collected from the books written by Azerbaijani and foreign authors highly valued in the medieval Azerbaijan. About 40 medieval sources of the 10-18th centuries including 17 manuscripts have been selected as the objects of our study. Among them there are the following sources:

"Kamil as-Sina'at at-Tibbiyat" by Ali bin Abbas Majusi Arjani (died in 994 AD).

"Zahira-i Kharazmshahi" (1111 AD) by Zeynaddin bin Abu Ibrahim Jurjani ( 1045-1137 AD)

"Zahira-i Nizamshahi" by Rustam Jurjani (supposedly, the 13th century).

"Kitab al-Hafi fi Ilm al-Madawi" by Mahmud bin Ilyas (13-14th centuries).

"Adwar al-Hammiyat" by Abu Abdullah Muhammad bin Namvar Tabrizi (1194-1245 AD)

"Jam al-Baghdadi" (1311 AD) by Yusif bin Ismail Khoyi (Ibn Kabir).

"Ikhtiyarat-i Badi'i" (1369 AD) by Ali bin Huseyn al-Ansari (Zeyn al-Abidin Attar) (1329-1404 AD)

"Kifayat al-Mujahida" (1423 AD) by Mansur Ibn Muhammad.

"Jam' al-Fawa'id" ("Tibb-i Yusifi", 1511 AD) by Yusif bin Muhammad al-Harawi.

"Karabadin" by Muzaffar bin Muhammad Huseyn Shafai (1586/7-1628/9 AD)

"Tuhfat al-Mu'minin" (1669 AD) by Sayyid Mir Muhammad Mu'min (d. 1697 AD).

"Arwah al-Ajsad" written by Shamsaddin bin Kamaladdin Kashani (supposedly, the 17th century).

"Kitab-i Ruju' ash-Sheyh dar Tagwiyyat-i Bah" by Sheyh Ajal ash-Sharif (17th century).

"Siraj at-Tibb" by Hasan bin Riza Shirvani (17th century).

"Fawa'id al-Hikmat" by Haji Suleyman bin Salman Kajar Iravani (17th century).

"Hirga" (1678 AD) by Murtaza Gulu Khan Shamlu al-Ardabili.

"Tibbnama" (1712 AD) by Muhammad Yusif Shirvani.

"Zad al-Musafirin" (1729) by Muhammad Mahdi bin Ali an-Nagi.

"Mualijat-i Munfarida" (1775/6 A.D.) by Abu al-Hasan Maragi.

"Karabadin-i Kabir" (1777 A.D.) by Muhammad Huseyn Khan Alavi Samarkandi.

"Manafe' an-Nas" (1733) by Muhammad Attar Salyani.

The most influential medical manuscript housed at the Institute is a 12th-century copy of Avicenna's "Canon of Medical Sciences." Avicenna (Abu Ali Ibn Sina) (980-1037) was born in Bukhara, in what today is Uzbekistan. He did much of his medical observation later on in Persia.

The "Canon", written in 1030, is an encyclopedia of medical knowledge considered to be the single most famous book in medical history. The Institute's version of the manuscript was copied in 1143, a little more than 100 years after the text was written. It is one of the oldest Avicenna manuscripts in the world and is considered to be the most reliable.

In the 12th century, the "Canon" was translated from Arabic to Latin by Gerard of Cremona (1140-1187) and used as a medical textbook in European universities. The book was held in such reverence that Michelangelo was recorded as saying: "It is better to be mistaken following Avicenna than to be true following others."

Ancient Eastern medical texts like the "Canon" emphasize preventative medicine and recommend avoiding the overuse of animal fats. Herbs and aromatherapy were considered to be an important part of staying healthy.

Unfortunately, much of the knowledge found in these texts has been lost or forgotten. For instance, out of the 726 medicinal herbs mentioned in Avicenna, only 466 are known to grow in Azerbaijan today. Of these, 252 are not being used for any modern medicinal purpose.

Another important Persian medical manuscript found at the Institute is "Souls of Bodies" (Arvh al-Ajsad) by Shamsaddin ibn Kamaladdin Kashani. This medical encyclopedia was copied at the end of the 17th century on high-quality European paper with filigree. In his volume, Kashani gives an exhaustive explanation of all kinds of medicine and diseases, from the simplest to the most complex.

Before writing the book, Kashani carefully studied the works of his predecessors, including ancient and medieval physicians like Hippocrates, Galen, Zakaria Razi, Ismayil Gurgani and Ibn Baitar. His encyclopedic work is of great importance because it lists manuscripts that are not registered in any known and published catalogues or reference books in the world manuscript depositories.

Mahmud Ibn Ilyas' 14th century work, entitled "About the Science of Treatment" ("Quiyasiyya"), is a comprehensive, 1200-page book describing fundamental ideas about medicine, symptoms and causes of specific diseases, and treatments. Ilyas gained his experience while living in Tabriz and Shiraz, and traveling to many different Eastern countries.

Azerbaijani scholar Yusif ibn Ismayil Khoyi (also known as Ibn Kabir) worked as a doctor in the palaces of the Arabian caliphs in Baghdad. He is known for his comprehensive pharmacology written in Arabic in 1311. Several thousand medicinal herbs are identified in "The Necessary Things For a Doctor So As Not To Increase His Ignorance" ("Ma la yasa al-tabib jahlahu"), often referred to by its shortened title "Baghdad Collection" ("Jami-al-Bagdadi").

Mir Mahammad Momin, a palace physician for Suleyman Safavi, wrote many informative works in Persian including "Tohfat al-Mominin" (1669). This encyclopedic work includes the names of more than 4,000 herbs, animals, minerals and other ingredients used in medicine. Momin describes the name of each herb, its specific features, where it can be collected, other regions where it is available, and its names in other languages, such as in Chinese or Hindi dialects. The Institution owns 33 complete manuscripts and 4 fragmentary copies of this work.

Muhammed Yusif Shirvani's "Tibbname" ("Book of Medicine") was written in Azeri in 1712. A palace physician for the Shirvan Shahs, Shirvani recommends using natural materials to treat symptoms, such as rubbing a piece of lemon peel against your neck when tired. Shirvani also describes more complicated drugs, as well as uses for "non-indigenous" plants in the region such as potatoes and sunflowers.

In the 13th century, Nasreddin Tusi wrote an extremely enlightening book entitled "Mineral Cures" ("Tansukh Name") which identifies the symptoms of a disease and possible treatments via minerals. These are identified by color, as well as region.

In 2005, the unique medieval medical manuscripts from Azerbaijan have been included in the Memory of the World Register of UNESCO.


© Farid Alakbarli, 2006. // "Elm" History & Heritage Website //
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