Article ID: CBB000933635

An Instrument of Mass Calculation made by Nasṭūlus in Baghdad ca. 900 (2008)


Abstract This remarkable astronomical instrument was made by the Muslim astronomer known as NasÐulus, who was active in Baghdad between 890 and 930. Its rediscovery brings our knowledge of the activities in that flourishing scientific centre a substantial step further. This type of instrument was previously not known to exist, although sundials based on the same principle are described in Arabic treatises datable to ca. 950 and ca. 1280. It is essentially a mathematical device providing a graphic solution to a problem that was of interest to Muslim astronomers, namely, the determination of the time of day as a function of the solar altitude throughout the year, here specifically for the latitude of Baghdad. The instrument reveals a level of mathematical competence and sophistication that is at first sight astounding. However, with a deeper understanding of the scientific milieu from which it came, it can be seen to be fully within the theoretical competence of the scientists of that environment. Nevertheless, the spectacular accuracy of the engraving of the principal curves on the instrument is completely unexpected. The instrument also features the earliest known solar and calendrical scales from the Islamic East; the origin of these was previously thought to be in the Islamic West

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Authors & Contributors
King, David A.
Abgrall, Philippe
Hogendijk, Jan P.
Kheirandish, Elaheh
Tibi, Selma
Panza, Marco
Arabic Sciences and Philosophy
Zeitschrift für Geschichte der Arabisch-Islamischen Wissenschaften
Suhayl: Journal for the History of the Exact and Natural Sciences in Islamic Civilisation
Centaurus: International Magazine of the History of Mathematics, Science, and Technology
Early Science and Medicine: A Journal for the Study of Science, Technology and Medicine in the Pre-modern Period
Osmanli Bilimi Arastirmalari: Studies in Ottoman Science
Oxford University Press
Franz Steiner Verlag
Belknap Press of Harvard University Press
Arab/Islamic world, civilization and culture
Scientific apparatus and instruments
Time measuring instruments
Instruments, astronomical
al-Saghani, abu Hamid Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn al-Husayn
Abu Nasr Mansur ibn 'Ali ibn 'Iraq
Na`īm Ibn Mūsā
Habash al-Hasib, Ahmad Ibn 'Abd Allah Al-Marwazi
al-Rāzī, Abū Bakr Muḥammad ibn Zakariyyā
Muhtar Pasha, Ahmed
Time Periods
10th century
9th century
11th century
19th century
Baghdad (Iraq)
Middle and Near East
Cairo (Egypt)
Ikhwān al-Ṣafā (Brethren of Purity)
Observatoire de Neuchâtel

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