The House of Wisdom, Baghdad

The original House of Wisdom, Bayt al-Hikma in Arabic, was a centre of learning and a library, founded in Damascus then moved to Baghdad in the 8th century. Under the stewardship of Caliph Al-Ma’mun it became the largest collection of manuscripts and books in the world. Jewish, Christian and Muslim scholars worked and studied at the House of Wisdom. Manuscripts were translated from Persian, Greek, Chinese and Sanskrit into Arabic. Initially translation focused on mathematics, medicine and astronomy. Translations of philosophy and poetry came a little later. Scholars were invited to visit from India and Persia to exchange ideas on science, cartography, alchemy and to discuss mathematics and astronomical observations.  Great importance was placed on the value of knowledge. Intellectual development and the exchange of ideas was respected.  Ancient texts were often more desirable than gold and silver as spoils of war.

The House of Wisdom thrived in the 9th and 10th centuries and was finally destroyed during the Siege of Baghdad by the Mongols in 1258. At that time, it is said that the River Tigris ran black with ink…………The idea of scholars working together to develop and discuss ideas was not unique to Baghdad. By the early Middle Ages universities were developing in Bologna, Oxford and Paris. In Salerno, Southern Italy there was a Medical School where Jewish, Christian and Islamic scholars worked together to advance their knowledge of medicine. Patients came from near and far to be treated. The doctors developed a terraced garden on the hillside filled with plants and herbs useful in the treatment of ailments and disease.

It is interesting to note that scholars working together to broaden and extend the boundaries of human knowledge was an established concept in the Middle East, centred on Baghdad up until the 13th century and at roughly the same time in Salerno in Southern Italy. Other significant enlightened courts were found at Cordoba, Spain and also in Palermo, Sicily.

Further reading:

  • Gladstone’s Library, a wonderful residential library in Hawarden, North Wales, has a room known as ‘The House of Wisdom’ in its impressive Edwardian building. You can read more about Gladstone’s Library here. Sanatorium for the Mind
  • The Medical School, Salerno, Italy is an excellent example of all religions working together to develop and broaden medical knowledge in medieval times. You can discover more at The Medical School at Salerno
  • Updated: 08-05-17 / 10-10-20

3 thoughts on “The House of Wisdom, Baghdad

  1. Another fine blog post, Janet–thank you for the enlightenment you give us. Who would guess that these ancient people would be working together for the betterment of mankind? We should take a lesson from them…


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