Monday, April 14, 2014

000015 - Ibn al-Awwam, Arab Agriculturist

Ibn al-Awwam was an Arab agriculturist who flourished at Seville in Spain about the end of the 12th century. He wrote a treatise on agriculture in Arabic called Kitab al-Filaha (English: Book on Agriculture), which is the most comprehensive treatment of the subject in medieval Arabic, and one of the most important medieval works on the subject in any language. It was published in Spanish and French translations in the 19th century. 

His full name was Abu Zakariya Yahya ibn Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Al-Awwam Al-Ishbili. The appellation "Al-Ishbili" at the end of his name translates as "the Sevillean" i.e. from Seville. His dates of birth and death are not known. Nearly everything that is known about his biography is gleaned from his book. It appears that he was a large landowner whose interests lay exclusively with agricultural matters. It is clear that he did lots of hands-on growing and experimenting with a wide range of crops himself. It is also clear that he was well-read in the agricultural writings of his predecessors. He cites information from 112 different prior authors. His citations of prior authors have been analyzed with the following summary results: about 1900 direct and indirect citations altogether, of which 615 are to Byzantine authors (especially to the Geoponica of Cassianus Bassus), 585 are to Middle Eastern authors (especially to the Book of Nabataean Agriculture attributed to Ibn Wahshiyya), and 690 are to Andalusian Arabic authors (especially to Abu al-Khayr al-Ishbili and Ibn Hajjaj, who were two natives of Seville who each wrote a book about agriculture around year 1075, copies of which have survived only partly).

Ibn al-Awwam's treatise on agriculture is divided into thirty-four chapters. The first thirty chapters deal with crops and the last four deal with livestock. The first four chapters in the book deal successively with different types of soils, fertilizers, irrigation, and planning a garden layout. Then there are five chapters on growing fruit trees, including grafting, pruning, growing from cuttings, etc., and dozens of different fruit trees are treated individually. Later chapters deal with plowing, the choice of seeds, the seasons and their tasks, grain farming, leguminous plants, small allotments, aromatic plants and industrial plants. Again, many plants are treated individually. The treatise altogether covers the cultivation of 585 different plants.  One chapter is devoted to methods of preserving and storing foods after harvest, a topic which comes up intermittently elsewhere. The symptoms of many diseases of trees and vines are indicated, as are methods of cure. The chapters on livestock include discussion of the diseases and injuries to horses and cattle.

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