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Medico-botanical books have been produced since the dawn of civilization; records from Egypt, Mesopotamia, China and India reflect a tradition that existed before man discovered writing. Conversely, nothing in the West evidences such antiquity. The first herbal in the Greek language was written in the 3rd century B.C.E. by Diocles of Carystus, followed by Crateuas in the 1st century C.E. The only consistent work that has survived is by Pedanios Dioscorides of Anazarba "De Materia Medica" (65 C.E.). He remains the only known authority amongst the Greek and Roman herbalists. The first treatise written on agriculture in the West was just after the fall of Carthage; it was a Roman Encyclopaedic work written by Cato the Elder (234-149 B.C.E.) on medicine and on farming that was called "De Agricultura", the oldest complete Latin prose on this subject.
However, the stability of the world in which these works were compiled came to an end with the disintegration of the Roman Empire. In places where the authority of the empire no longer existed, its haphazard replacement by the early stages of feudalism brought little stability. Conflicts for the possession of the land were liable to break out anywhere. Civilization was near to collapse and all development halted. This dismal situation prevailed until the advent of Islam (7th century C.E.).
In 711 C.E., within a century of the establishment of Islam, the area under Muslim influence had become one of robust economic development capable of yielding the wealth necessary to finance the protection of an area stretching from the foot of the Pyrenees to the frontiers of China. The widespread patronage of intellectual works was a key factor in this development and this resulted in the flowering of Islamic culture and civilization in the Muslim world.
This civilization had such momentum that - despite constant threats of invasion and internal dissension - huge strides were made in agriculture, medicine and science. Hence a wide range of raw materials and the means of adapting them for curing illnesses and for enhanced forms of nutrition became available.
This great movement in agriculture was largely due to central government sponsoring an extensive network of irrigation canals. In the Near East good results were achieved. However, in the West the situation was less promising. The Iberian peninsula subsistence level agro-economy was only rudimentary. In fact it was defined by race. The Visigoth herder overlords jealously protected their stock-rearing interests whilst their conquered subjects produced wheat, barley, grapes, olive oil and a few vegetables, all inherited from their previous Roman masters. Thus the only links between the two systems were those of tribute or taxes.
Once the Muslims had assumed control of the province, there was a need to define which crops to cultivate. Fortunately, the Arab botanical range was already extensive and growing rapidly. In their territorial expansion, the Muslims had come across plants and trees, which were hitherto unknown to them, whilst their merchants brought back exotic plants, seeds and spices from their many voyages. Many of the more valuable crops such as sugar cane, bananas and cotton needed plenty of water or at least a monsoon season. Thus to cultivate them, a widespread artificial irrigation system would be needed. Artificial irrigation was in fact better known to the Muslims than the crop rotation system of colder European lands where it was felt necessary to leave the land fallow, i.e. to recover, for one year in three or four. However, artificial irrigation implied a need to raise water by several metres to guarantee a constant flow within the system. An ideal device existed for such tasks in the form of the Noria, Na?ura, the various forms of which represent a subject that merits its own particular study. Hence the Noria became the basis of sophisticated irrigation systems. The use of Norias spread rapidly to the extent that, in some areas, the water system became state property to ensure equitable distribution. In the Valencia area alone some 8,000 norias were built for the needs of rice plantations.
Correct calculation of levels was essential, a task that the successors of Roman agrimensores with their chains of specific length were ill-equipped to perform. In this, the Muslims had the advantage of the advances they had made in mathematics thus making triangulation possible and hence the accurate measurement of height.
The Muslims did not waste time in haphazard agricultural trials, but achieved maximum output by learning how to identify suitable soils and by mastering grafting techniques for plants and trees. The written works and oral traditions of ancient peoples were painstakingly recorded, whilst exchanges between experts became increasingly frequent, so that in all major towns the libraries were full of learned works on agriculture. Arising as they did from a civilization of travellers, the Muslims combed the known world for knowledge and information, journeying in the harshest of environments - as far afield as the Steppes of Asia and the Pyrenees. In this context the discovery of paper stimulated on the spot detailed recording of their journeys and observations.
This plethora of records and information built up to a level that prompted the compilation of encyclopaedic works.
· Kitab nabat (a treatise on plants) by Abu Hanifa Al-Dinawari (d.282/895 CE)
· Al filaha nabatiya (Nabatean agriculture) by Ibn Wahshiyya (IXth century)
· Al Biruni (973-1048) Kitab al saydana (Pharmacopoeia) - large pharmaceutical encylopedia
· Ali B. Sahl Rabban al Tabari (d. 240/855) Firdaws al hikma
· Ibn Baqunesh (Abu Othman Saïd Ben Muhamed) (d.1052 CE)
· Ibn Bassal (Abu Abdullah Muhamed Ibn Ibrahim) (d.1100 CE)
By the 12th century in Al Andalus, botany was converted from its role as a purely descriptive science and achieved the status of an academic science. This century was seen as the golden age of Islamic botany with such great scholars as:
· Abu'l Abbas an Nabati (Ibn Rumiyya) d. 636 AH/1239 CE
· Ibn Baytar (1197-1248 CE), Tafsir kitab Diasquridus - Jami' al mufradat al adwiya wal aghdiya
· Al Ghafiqi (d.1166 CE), author of "Kitab jami' al mufradat " (materia medica) .
· Ibn Al ?Awwam, 12th century author of "Kitab al filaha" (treatise on agriculture)
· Ibn Bajja (d. 1138 C.E.), Kitab al nabat Liber de plantis (Latin transl.), defining sex of plants.
· Najib Eddin as Samarqandi (d.1222 C.E.) wrote a treatise on medical formulary.The scholars themselves conducted their experiments and taught everywhere, including mosques and weekly markets. This is confirmed by the fact that Ibn Baytar's work was recorded in Arabic, Berber, Greek and Latin whilst Al Biruni's Pharmacopoeia gives synonyms for drugs in Syriac, Persian, Greek, Baluchi, Afghan, Kurdish and Indian dialects etc… Their linguistic capabilities demonstrated their intention