1st Edition

Islamic Astronomy and Geography

By David A. King Copyright 2012

    This volume of 12 studies, mainly published during the past 15 years, begins with an overview of the Islamic astronomy covering not only sophisticated mathematical astronomy and instrumentation but also simple folk astronomy, and the ways in which astronomy was used in the service of religion. It continues with discussions of the importance of Islamic instruments and scientific manuscript illustrations. Three studies deal with the regional schools that developed in Islamic astronomy, in this case, Egypt and the Maghrib. Another focuses on a curious astrological table for calculating the length of life of any individual. The notion of the world centred on the sacred Kaaba in Mecca inspired both astronomers and proponents of folk astronomy to propose methods for finding the qibla, or sacred direction towards the Kaaba; their activities are surveyed here. The interaction between the mathematical and folk traditions in astronomy is then illustrated by an 11th-century text on the qibla in Transoxania. The last three studies deal with an account of the geodetic measurements sponsored by the Caliph al-Ma'mûn in the 9th century; a world-map in the tradition of the 11th-century polymath al-Bîrûnî, alas corrupted by careless copying; and a table of geographical coordinates from 15th-century Egypt.

    Contents: Preface; Part I General: Islamic astronomy; From inscriptions to context: some Islamic astronomical instruments and their secrets; Some illustrations in Islamic scientific manuscripts and their secrets. Part II Regional Studies: Aspects of Fatimid astronomy: from hard-core mathematical astronomy to architectural orientations in Cairo; Mamluk astronomy and the institution of the muwaqqit; On the history of astronomy in the medieval Maghrib. Part III Mathematical Astrology: A Hellenistic astrological table deemed worthy of being penned in gold ink: the Arabic tradition of Vettius Valens' auxiliary function for finding the length of life. Part IV Sacred Geography and the Sacred Direction: The sacred geography of Islam; Al-Bazdawi on the qibla in early Islamic Transoxania. Part V Mathematical Geography: Too many cooks...: a new account of the earliest Islamic geodetic measurements; A world map in the tradition of al-Biruni (ca.1040) and al-Khazini (ca.1120) presented by Siraj al-Din al-Sajawandi (1210); Mathematical geography in 15th-century Egypt: an episode in the decline of Islamic science; Index.


    David A. King is Emeritus Professor of History of Science, Johann Wolfgang Goethe University, Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany.

    'The papers reprinted in this welcome addition to the series of three previous collections of David King's papers further witness to the breadth and depth of his researches on medieval Islamic astronomy, as well as the extent to which that discipline was responsive to the concerns of Islamic religion and culture. ... Every paper in this volume represents work well worth studying by anyone interested in exact sciences in medieval Islam.' History of Astronomy '... King’s research into regional, practical astronomies lends insight into the culture of science in Islamic societies.' Marginalia '... a book which has been a pleasure for me to read and which has drawn my attention to some papers of David that I had missed, in spite of the fact that I am fairly well acquainted with his scientific production.' Suhayl