Our brand new monthly series where we explore interesting facts, discoveries and curiosities.
In our first article we visit one of the greatest ancient libraries the world has ever known, the Bayt al-Hikma or House of Wisdom.
Founded in 832CE by the Abbasid caliphs in Iraq, the Bayt al-Hikma holds an important place in history for its mammoth function of collecting, translating, preserving, and cataloguing all the world’s knowledge at a time when civilisation had fallen into intellectual darkness.
9th Century CE: While the Western world was mired in the dark ages, the city of Baghdad by contrast had reached its cultural zenith. Founded by the Abbasid caliphs, their passion for learning would go on to ignite what would become a golden age of Islamic discovery. A time of glory reflected in the stories of The One Thousand and One Nights, the city was considered one of the richest in the world and a cultural hub attracting poets and artists alike. It was during this period that the great library of Baghdad, the Bayt al-Hikma was established as both an academic institute and library for all.
With the immense mission of collecting the entirety of the world’s knowledge, the Bayt al-Hikma held many thousands of manuscripts and books. Teams of scholars, tasked with the preservation of the world’s scientific and cultural heritage, would scour the world, returning with manuscripts on every conceivable subject, notably philosophy, medicine, and mathematics. These parchment scrolls were collected in the Bayt al-Hikma, translated into Arabic, categorised and catalogued for study and prosperity and preserved (for the first time) onto paper books.
The House of Wisdom, its vast collection of knowledge, the new thought it invoked and it’s influence to Arabic discovery can not be understated. The desire to catalogue and preserve all the worlds knowledge has had a lasting effect on history, long past the great library’s destruction in 1258CE. Without the desire to preserve the works housed within, it is likely many of the great texts of antiquity would have been lost to the ages. This, finally may be the most important legacy of the Bayt al-Hikma, the great library of Baghdad.