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Al Tabari's homeland in Tabiristan

al Tabari’s homeland in Tabiristan

Where did al Tabari come from?

Al Tabari was from a Christian family in the Abbasid Empire, near the Caspian Sea (modern Iran). His father, Sahl, was himself a doctor who proposed a new treatment for epilepsy.

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Al Tabari was born about 838 AD. When he grew up, he moved to Baghdad. In Baghdad, there were other scholars to talk to, so he could learn more about medicine. When he got there, he found that a lot of people were choosing to convert to Islam. They convinced al Tabari to convert to Islam, too.

The religion of Islam

The walled city of Baghdad, not long after al Tabari

The city of Baghdad, not long after al Tabari lived there

Al Tabari wrote a medical encyclopedia

Like the Roman doctor Dioscorides in the first century AD and like Chinese doctors in the 600s, and Mahdav in India in the 700s, Al Tabari wrote a big medical encyclopedia, or tafsir. He called his encyclopedia the Firdous al-Hikmat, the “Paradise of Wisdom”.

In his encyclopedia, al Tabari listed all the known treatments and medicines of his time. Al Tabari included not only Islamic, Greek and Roman medical ideas, but also medical research from India.

Galen and Roman medicine
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The idea of humors

He discussed the Greek idea of the four humors, and Neoplatonist ideas about how everything came from the One. But he also discussed the Indian idea of three humors – phlegm, air, and bile – and he mentioned the work of an Indian woman doctor who worked as a gynecologist.

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What did al Tabari know?

Al Tabari followed Aristotle in believing (correctly) that light bounced off objects to reach your eyes.

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On the other hand, even though Egyptian doctors had known for a thousand years, al Tabari doesn’t seem to have known the difference between arteries and veins.

Doctors in ancient Egypt

New ideas from al Tabari

Al Tabari also came up with new ideas of his own. He was the first doctor to include a lot of information about how to treat children. He also emphasized the connection between mind and body, saying that often when people felt physically sick, you could help them feel better by talking to them about their troubles.

Al Tabari’s student: al Razi

Al Tabari’s most famous student was al Razi, who continued al Tabari’s medical studies. Later on, al Razi became even more famous than his teacher. That’s partly because Al Tabari died young. He died about 870, when he was only about 32 years old.

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Learn by doing: an experiment with light
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Bibliography and further reading about Al Tabari:


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