Islamic Astronomy and Geography (Hardback) book cover

Islamic Astronomy and Geography

By David A. King

© 2012 – Routledge

428 pages

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Hardback: 9781409442011
pub: 2012-11-12

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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.


'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

Table of Contents

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.

About the Author

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

About the Series

Variorum Collected Studies

The first title in the Variorum Collected Studies series was published in 1970. Since then well over 1000 titles have appeared in the series, and it has established a well-earned international reputation for the publication of key research across a whole range of subjects within the fields of history.

The history of the medieval world remains central to the series, with Byzantine studies a particular speciality, but the range of titles extends from Hellenistic philosophy and the history of the Roman empire and early Christianity, through the Renaissance and Reformation, up to the 20th century. Islamic Studies forms another major strand as do the histories of science, technology and medicine.

Each title in the Variorum Collected Studies series brings together for the first time a selection of articles by a leading authority on a particular subject. These studies are reprinted from a vast range of learned journals, Festschrifts and conference proceedings. They make available research that is scattered, even inaccessible in all but the largest and most specialized libraries. With a new introduction and index, and often with new notes and previously unpublished material, they constitute an essential resource. 

For further information about contributing to the series please contact Michael Greenwood at

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SCIENCE / History