1st Edition

The Sciences in Islamicate Societies in Context Patronage, Education, Narratives

By Sonja Brentjes Copyright 2024

    This Variorum volume reprints ten papers on contextual elements of the so-called ancient sciences in Islamicate societies between the thirteenth and the seventeenth centuries. They address four major themes: the ancient sciences in educational institutions; courtly patronage of science; the role of the astral and other sciences in the Mamluk sultanate; and narratives about knowledge.

    The main arguments are directed against the then dominant historiographical claims about the exclusion of the ancient sciences from the madrasa and cognate educational institutes, the suppression of philosophy and other ancient sciences in Damascus after 1229, the limited role of the new experts for timekeeping in the educational and professional exercise of this science, and the marginal impact of astrology under Mamluk rule. It is shown that the muwaqqits (timekeepers) were important teachers at madrasas and Sufi convents, that Mamluk officers sought out astrologers for counselling and that narratives about knowledge reveal important information about scholarly debates and beliefs. Colophons and dedications are used to prove that courtly patronage for the ancient sciences continued uninterrupted until the end of the seventeenth century. Furthermore, these papers refute the idea of a continued and strong conflict between the ancient and modern sciences, showing rather shifting alliances between various of them and their regrouping in the classifications of the entire disciplinary edifice.

    These papers are suited for graduate teaching in the history of science and the intellectual, cultural and social history of the Middle East and for all readers interested in the study of the contexts of the sciences.

    1. ‘The location of the Ancient or ‚rational’ sciences in Muslim educational landscapes (AH 500-1100),’ Bulletin of the Royal Institute for Inter-Faith Studies, 4(1), 2002: 47-71.
    2. ‘Shams al-Dīn al-Sakhāwī on Muwaqqits, Mu’adhdhins, and the Teachers of Various Astronomical Disciplines in Mamluk Cities in the Fifteenth Century,’ in (eds.) Emilia Calvo, Mercè Comes, Roser Puig, Mònica Rius, A Shared Legacy, Islamic Science East and West, Homage to professor J.M. Millàs Vallicrosa, Barcelona: Universitat de Barcelona, Publicacions i Edicions, 2008, 129-150.
    3. ‘Ayyubid Princes and their Scholarly Clients from the Ancient Sciences,’ in Albrecht Fuess, Jan-Peter Hartung (eds.), Court Cultures in the Muslim World: Seventh to Nineteenth Centuries, SOAS/Routledge Studies on the Middle East, London: Routledge, 2010, 326-56.
    4. ‘Patronage of the mathematical sciences in Islamic societies: structure and rhetoric, identities and outcomes,’ in Eleanor Robson, Jackie Stedall (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of the History of Mathematics, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 301-28.
    5. ‘Courtly Patronage of the Ancient Sciences in Post-Classical Islamic Societies,’ Al-Qanṭara: revista de estudios árabes, XXIX (2008), 403-436.
    6. ‘The language of 'Patronage' in Islamic societies before 1700,’ Cuadernos del CEMYR 20 (2012), 11-22.
    7. ‘The Study of Geometry According to al-Sakhāwī (Cairo, 15th c) and al-Muḥibbī (Damascus, 17th c),’ in J. W. Dauben, S. Kirschner, A. Kühne, P. Kunitzsch and R. Lorch eds., Mathematics Celestial and Terrestrial, Festschrift for Menso Folkerts zum 65. Geburtstag. Acta Historica Leopoldina 54 (2008), 323–341. Halle/Saale: Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher Leopoldina.
    8. ‘On Four Sciences and Their Audiences in Ayyubid and Mamluk Societies,’ in Syrinx von Hees ed. Inhitat -The Decline Paradigm: Its Influence and Persistence in Writing Arab Cultural History. Würzburg: Ergon, 2012, 139-172.
    9. ‘Narratives of knowledge in Islamic societies: what do they tell us about scholars and their contexts?’ Almagest, 4(1), 2013: 74-95.
    10. ‘Sanctioning knowledge,’ Al-Qanṭara: revista de estudios árabes, 35(1), 2014: 277-309.


    Sonja Brentjes is an historian of science with specialization in Islamicate societies, the late medieval Mediterranean and early modern Catholic and Protestant Europe. Currently, she is a visiting scholar at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin. Her latest books include: Teaching and Learning the Sciences in Islamicate Societies, 800–1700 (2018), and The Routledge Handbook of the Sciences in Islamicate Societies: Practices from the 2nd/8th to the 13th/19th Centuries (2023), co-edited with Peter Barker (associated editor) and Rana Brentjes (assistant editor).