Farming /Husbandry Manuals


 Back to the Yemeni  contribution to observe how the famed Calendar of Cordova, which regulates farming activity throughout the year is once more based on Eastern origins, The Yemen  having a calendar in use for agricultural and activities as reported by al-Hamdani, about 900.[1]


With regard to Muslim farming manuals, it is generally accepted that, with rare exceptions, they seem to have been mostly translated in the 19th century into Western languages to have any impact on the revival of Western farming.  Included amongst these late translations is a treatise on horses, horse riding, and veterinary matters by Abu Yusuf Kitab al-furusiyeh, and a veterinary treatise by Abu Bakr, which were translated into French by Perron.[2]

There are, however, medieval translations of Muslim works, which relate to farming and animal husbandry, or zoology.  These include De animalibus of Ibn Sina  by Michael Scot, which, in the 13th century,  introduced in the West important zoological texts.[3]The Majmu fi’l Filaha (Compendium of farming), attributed to Ibn Wafid (Abenguefith) but in fact a work by Al-Zahrawi , had two translations of it in romance languages, Catalan[4]and Castilian.[5]This work had great influence on the `Renaissance ’ work of agronomy, the Agricultura General of Gabiel Alonso Herrera (d. c. 1539).  The 11th century farming treatise by Ibn Bassal of Toledo , which in its abridged form was published at Tetuan in 1955, was translated into Castilian in the Middle Ages.[6]


 There are a number of issues raised when looking at the translation of a particular treatise: Kitab al Filaha (Book of Agriculture ) of Ibn al-Awwam (fl. End 12th century). It was translated into Spanish  early in the 19th century by Don Josef Antoine Banqueri.[7] A French translation in the second half of the 19th followed,[8]as the treatise was of particular interest in Algeria (as it was in Spain).[9]This treatise by Ibn al-Awwam has 34 chapters covering 585 plants, explaining the cultivation of more than 50 fruit trees, making observations on grafting, soil properties, manure, plant diseases and their treatments, irrigation, affinities between trees, animal husbandry and bee keeping.[10] It seems it had no earlier impact than the 19th century. And yet, Lopez asks what, for instance, will a comparative study of farming manuals of Ibn al-Awwam and Pietro de Crescenzi give.[11]Pietro dei Crescenzi, born in Bologna (1230-33 died in 1320) is an Italian writer on husbandry. Although citing Ibn Sina , Al-Razi ; Ishaq al-Israili, Ibn Sarabi,[12]he still makes no mention of Ibn al-Awwam. The two works are extremely similar, though. This, hence, raises matters similar to those raised in preceding chapters on whether Islamic works, even if apparently not translated, were still copied in `an unofficial’ manner. Sarton  points out that translation was not absolutely necessary, for there remained in Spain until the beginning of the Renaissance  a goodly number of people who could read Arabic.[13] Furthermore, it has been shown that Fray Gabriel Alonso Herrera, who wrote Agricultura general, has in his text many correspondences of Ibn al-Awwam, and he actually studied in Grenada and often alludes to the Grenadan Moors.[14]


Knowledge included in Islamic farming manuals often found itself transferred straight onto the ground, or other practical manifestations. In Sicily , Bresc notes, can be found many techniques described or suggested in the contracts of the 14th and 15th century also found in Muslim farming manuals.[15] Many ploughing methods to prepare the soil, the use of fertilisers, planting, etc, are also shared by both Islamic farming manuals and practice on the island.[16] Equally the plants grown in Sicily are well elaborated upon in Muslim farming manuals, a rich variety which, most importantly, contrasts with the absolute dearth of crops of northern European gardens.[17]


Note must be made, here, of the work by Attie[18]on Islamic manuscripts at the Bibliotheque Nationale de Paris as an extremely useful source for primary and secondary sources to enlighten on some of the issues presented here.[19]

[1] R. B. Serjeant: Agriculture  and Horticulture; op cit; p. 538.

[2] Le Naceri: Traite complet d'hippologie et d'hippiatrie, Paris, 1852-1860, 3 vol.

[3] J. L. Gaulin: Giordano Ruffo et l'art veterinaire: in Micrologus; op cit; pp 185-198: p.187.

[4] The medieval Catalan version can be found in the Bibliotheque Nationale of Paris; Number 93 by A. Morel Fatio, Catalogue des manuscrits espagnols et des manuscrits Portugais, Paris, 1982; pp. 332-3.   

[5] Text in Castilian edited by J.M.  Millas Vallicrosa: La traduccion castellana del Tratado de Agricultura’ de Ibn Wafid; Al-Andalus; 8; 1943; pp. 281-332.

[6] R. B. Serjeant: Agriculture  and Horticulture; op cit; p. 540.

[7] Libro de agricultura, ed. J. A. Banqueri (Madrid, 1802).

[8] Ibn Al-Awwam: Le Livre de l'Agriculture  d'Ibn al-Awwam, tr. from Arabic by J.J. Clement-Mullet, Vol. I, Paris 1864.

[9] J. Vernet and J. Samso: Development of Arabic Science in Andalusia , in  Encyclopaedia (Rashed ed) pp 243-76; at  p 263.

[10] Carra de Vaux : Les Penseurs... op cit, pp. 300-6.

[11] R Lopez: Les Influences Orientales; op cit; p. 621.

[12] G. Sarton : Introduction; op cit; Volume III; p.813.

[13] G. Sarton : The Appreciation; op cit; p.131.

[14] R. B. Serjeant: Agriculture  and Horticulture: op cit; p. 541.

[15] H. Bresc: Les Jardins de Palerme; op cit; p. 69.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid. p. 71.

[18] B. Attie: Les Manuscripts agricoles Arabes de la Bibliotheque Nationale de Paris; Hesperis Tamuda; Vol 10; 1969; pp. 241-61.

[19] See: Casiri: Bibliotheca arabico-hispana; Madrid; 1760.