The House of Wisdom: One of the Greatest Libraries in History

A great library, Bayt al-Hikmah (‘The House of Wisdom’) was established in Baghdad in the 8th century by Caliph Harun al-Rashid during the Islamic Golden Age. The center continued to flourish under his son, al-Ma’mun.

Al-Rashid gathered books, manuscripts, and objects from his family to start the collection. The collection became so large that al-Ma’mun had to build an extension to the building, which served as a large academy known as the House of Wisdom. It was one of the greatest centers of medieval wisdom and contributed to the scientific movement that had started centuries earlier.

The House of Wisdom originally housed translators, but it grew to include research activities in medicine, science, and astronomy. This library had specialized rooms and an astronomical observatory.

Baghdad was a wealthy center, and charitable donations were encouraged in Islamic law. They helped fund the sharing of ideas.

Various specialists worked at the House of Wisdom: translators, scientists, scribes, researchers, and writers. Many manuscripts and books on philosophical and scientific subjects were translated. The House of Wisdom was open to both men and women and to people of all ethnicities and faiths. It welcomed scholars who were persecuted by the Byzantine Empire. Many different languages were spoken including Arabic, Farsi, Aramaic, Hebrew, Syriac, Greek, and Latin.

Paper brought from China became a new and cheaper material for writing.

Caliph al-Mamun was learned in the branches of knowledge taught at the House of Wisdom, which he visited to discuss the research. Arab society viewed astrology as a science during this period. The stars and planets were perceived to influence events on earth.

Al-Ma’mun chose scholars to translate specific works. Records show he would pay them the weight of each book in gold in order to encourage them to add works in Arabic. This activity helped preserve ancient knowledge that otherwise would have been lost.

Al-Ma'mun asked the King of Sicily for the entire contents of the Sicily Library, which was rich in philosophical and scientific books of the Greeks. He agreed and sent it all to the Caliph.

The Mongols completely destroyed Bayt al-Hikmah in 1258 CE. The Caliph was forced to watch them kill the scholars and throw the books into the Tigris River.

Source: The House of Wisdom: One of the Greatest Libraries in History
Ancient Origins © 2013 - 2021

Back to top