Abu Maʿshar

Abū Maʿshar al-Balkhi

Page of a 15th-century manuscript of the "Book of nativities" (BNF Arabe 2583 fol. 15v).
Native name Abū Maʿshar, Jaʿfar ibn Muḥammad al-Balkhī
Born 10 August, 787
Balkh, Khurasan[1]
Died 9 March, 886 (aged 98)
Wāsiṭ, Iraq, Abbasid Caliphate
Residence Balkh, Baghdad
Academic background
Influences Aristotle, al-Kindi
Academic work
Era Islamic Golden Age
Main interests Astrology, Astronomy
Influenced Al-Sijzi, Albertus Magnus, Roger Bacon, Pierre d'Ailly, Pico della Mirandola.[2]

Abu Maʿshar, latinized as Albumasar (also Albusar, Albuxar; full name Abū Maʿšar Ǧaʿfar ibn Muḥammad ibn ʿUmar al-Balḫī أبو معشر جعفر بن محمد بن عمر البلخي ; 10 Aug 787 9 Mar 886, AH 171272),[3] was an early Persian[4][5] Muslim astrologer, thought to be the greatest astrologer of the Abbasid court in Baghdad.[2] While he was not a major innovator, his practical manuals for training astrologers profoundly influenced Muslim intellectual history and, through translations, that of western Europe and Byzantium.[3]


Abu Maʿshar was a native of Balkh in Khurasan, one of the main bases of support of the Abbasid revolt in the early 8th century. Its population, as was generally the case int he frontier areas of the Arab conquest of Persia, remained culturally dedicated to its Hellenistic and Sassanian heritage. He probably came to Baghdad in the early years of the caliphate of al-Maʾmūn (r. 813–833). According to An-Nadim's Al-Fihrist (10th century), he lived on the West Side of Baghdad, near Bab Khurasan, the northeast gate of the original city on the west Bank of the Tigris.

Abu Maʿshar was a member of the third generation (after the Arab invasion) of the Pahlavi-oriented Khurasani intellectual elite, and he defended an approach of a "most astonishing and inconsistent" eclecticism. His reputation saved him from religious persecution, although there is a report of one incident where he was whipped for his practice of astrology under the caliphate of al-Mustaʿīn (r. 862–866). He was a scholar of hadith, and according to biographical tradition, he only turned to astrology at the age of forty-seven (832/3). He became involved in a bitter dispute with al-Kindi (c. 796–873), the foremost Arab philosopher of his time, who was versed in Aristotelism and Neoplatonism. It was his confrontation with al-Kindi that convinced Abu Maʿshar of the need to study "mathematics" in order to understand philosophical arguments.[6]

His foretelling of an event that subsequently occurred earned him a lashing ordered by the displeased Caliph al-Musta'in. "I hit the mark and I was severely punished."[7]

An-Nadim includes an extract from Abu Ma'shar's book on the variations of astronomical tables, which describes how the Persian kings gathered the best writing materials in the world to preserve their books on the sciences and deposited them in the Sarwayh fortress in the city of Jayy in Isfahan. The depository continued to exist at the time an-Nadim wrote in the 10th century.[8]

Amir Khusrav mentions that Abu Maʿshar came to Benaras (Varanasi) and studied astronomy there for ten years.[9]

Abu Maʿshar is said to have died at the age of 98 (but a centenarian according to the Islamic year count) in Wāsiṭ in eastern Iraq, during the last two nights of Ramadan of AH 272 (9 March 866).


His works on astronomy are not extant, but information can still be gleaned from summaries found in the works of later astronomers or from his astrology works.[2]

Latin and Greek translations

Page spread from the 1515 Venetian edition of Abū Maʿshar's De Magnis Coniunctionibus

Albumasar's "Introduction" (Kitāb al‐mudkhal al‐kabīr, written c. 848) was first translated into Latin by John of Seville in 1133, as Introductorium in Astronomiam, and again, less literally and abridged, as De magnis coniunctionibus, by Herman of Carinthia in 1140. Lemay (1962) argued that the writings of Albumasar were very likely the single most important original source for the recovery of Aristotle for medieval European scholars prior to the middle of the 12th century.[10]

Herman of Carinthia's translation, De magnis coniunctionibus, was first printed by Erhard Ratdolt of Augsburg in 1488/9. It was again printed in Venice, in 1506 and 1515.

Modern editions:

See also

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Albumasar.


Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Albumazar.
  1. The Arrival of the Pagan Philosophers in the North:A Twelfth Century Florilegium in Edinburgh University Library, Charles Burnett, Knowledge, Discipline and Power in the Middle Ages, ed. Joseph Canning, Edmund J. King, Martial Staub, (Brill, 2011), 83;"...prolific writer Abu Ma'shar Ja'far ibn Muhammad ibn 'Umar al-Balkhi, who was born in Khurasan in 787 A.D. and died in Wasit in Iraq in 886..."
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Yamamoto 2007.
  3. 1 2 Pingree 1970.
  4. Hockey, Thomas (2014). Biographical encyclopedia of astronomers. New York: Springer. p. 91. ISBN 9781441999184. The introduction of Aristotelian material was accompanied by the translation of major astrological texts, particularly Claudius Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos (1138), the pseudo-Ptolemaic Centiloquium (1136), and the Maius Introductorium (1140), the major introduction to astrology composed by the Persian astrologer Abu Ma’shar.
  5. Selin, Helaine (2008). Encyclopaedia of the history of science, technology, and medicine in non-western cultures. Berlin New York: Springer. p. 12. ISBN 9781402049606. Since he was of Persian (Afghan) origin...
  6. Pingree (2008).
  7. Bayard Dodge, The Fihrist of al-Nadīm: A Tenth-Century Survey of Islamic Culture, New York, Columbia University Press, 1970, vol. 2, p. 656.
  8. Bayard Dodge, The Fihrist of al-Nadīm: A Tenth-Century Survey of Islamic Culture, New York, Columbia University Press, 1970, vol. 2, pp. 576--578, 626, 654, 656--658 & 660.
  9. "Introduction to Astronomy, Containing the Eight Divided Books of Abu Ma'shar Abalachus". World Digital Library. 1506. Retrieved 2013-07-15.
  10. Richard Lemay, Abu Ma'shar and Latin Aristotelianism in the Twelfth Century, The Recovery of Aristotle's Natural Philosophy through Iranian Astrology, 1962.

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