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Iranians and the Beginning of the Translation Movement

The great role played by the Iranians in the downfall of the Umayyad dynasty and the subsequent establishment of the Abbasid rule paved the path for the direct and indirect influence of the Iranians on the world of Islam. It was the political influence of the Iranians that led to the cultural growth and grandeur of the Islamic world during that period. For instance, during the reign of the Abbasid Caliph, Mansur, Iranian medical sciences came to be transferred to Baghdad from Jondi Shāpur and some of the other prominent early Abbasid caliphs – who had either been brought up in an Iranian atmosphere or had Iranian ministers and counselors – turned into the greatest patrons of science and learning. Some prominent and political influential Iranian families like the Barmakis, the Bani Sahl, the Banu Nobakht, and the Āl-e Bakhtishu’ were the pioneers of the translation movement and patronized knowledge and scholars with great enthusiasm. The famous library of Baghdad as well as a center that was later on called the “Bayt Al- Hekmah” were both founded by Yahyā Barmaki who was the first Iranian courtier to initiate the translation of Ptolemy’s book “Al-Majesti” (“Almagest” in Latin) for which contribution the great physicians of that age considered themselves indebted to him. The Āl-e Nobakht family as well as scholars like ‘Amr bin Farkhān Tabari and Abu Mash’ar Balkhi also received the support of the Barmakis. During this period a large number of books on medicine and agriculture were translated from the Hindi and Syriac languages into Pahlavi and Arabic under the patronage of the Barmakis. The Āl-e Nobakhat were mostly engaged in translating Pahlavi works into Arabic while some members of the Bakhtishu’ family translated Greek works into the same language. Besides being scholars of repute, Banu Musā bin Shāker, one of the most renowned Iranian families, played a very significant role in the translation movement and had employed the services of a number of prominent translators like Honayn bin Eshāq and Sābet bin Qarah. Besides supervising the works of these translators, Banu Musā edited, illuminated and decorated their books. The introduction written by Ahmad bin Musā bin Shāker on the Arabic translation of the Greek mathematician Apollonius’s “Treatise on Conic Sections” proves the mastery of this family in the translation and editing of Greek works.

From among the other prominent translators of the Translation Movement mention can be made of Neyrizi, Sahl (Rabban) Tabari, ‘Amr bin Farkhān Tabari, Mohammad bin Ebrāhim Fazāri (or Ebrāhim bin bin Habib Fazāri), Yuhannā bin Māsuyeh, and a number of other scholars who translated great works in mathematics, astrology, and medicine from Pahlavi, Syriac, and Sanskrit into Arabic or/and wrote commentary on them. The most important works translated (or on which commentaries had been written) from the above-mentioned languages into Arabic include Sidhantha, Ptolemy’s works “Tetrabiblos” and Almagest, Zij Arkand and a number of other works in mathematics and astrology.

* source: Keramati , yunes " Iran Entry " The Great Islamic Encyclopedia . Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V.10 , pp.663 

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