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ʿAbbās Ibn Firnās

(b. Ronda, Spain; d. 274/a.d.887), humanities technology.

ʿAbbās ibn Firās, who was of Berber orgin, is sometimes confused with the poet ʿAbbās ibn Nāṣiḥ (d.240/a.d.844) He was the court poet and astrologer of the emirs ʿAbd al-Raḥmān II and Muḥammad I, but he attracted the attention of his compatriots because of his inventions and his dissemination of oriental science in the West. Ibn Firnās was the first Andalusian to understand the prosodic rules first laid down by al-Khalīl ibn Aḥmad in the eighth century, and he made known the tables of the Sind Hind, which later had great influence on the development of astronomy in Europe. He also attempted to fly—and actually managed to glide for a distance—but the landing was rough because according to his cirties he did not devote enough study to the way birds use their tails when they land. This flight was often menioned in Spanish and Arabic writings.

Ibn Firnās constructed a planetarium, a clock, and an armillary sphere; and he is often credited with the discovery of rock crystal. The texts now available are not explicit, however, and one cannot judge on the basis of the statements of E. Lévi-Provençal, for the had access to the Muqtabis manuscript, which has been lost. In any case, the historians Ibn Saʿid and Maqqarī state that “he was the first in al-Andalus [Andalusia] to invent (discover)stone crystal.” The statement can be interpreted in various ways, but it seems clear that rather than inventing or discovering “stone crystal,” Ibn Firnās introduced the cutting of rock crystal, an industry already known in other regions, into the Islamic West. This Would have brought about a reduction in the export of quartz to the east, especially to Egypt, for it could now be worked where it was mined. The technique of making glass, known at least since the third millennium before Christ, does not seem to have undergone any change at this time.


None of Ibn Firnās’ original works is extant. His biography can be reconstructed only from a few verses and from the information given by the chroniclers, which can be found in the monograph by Elias Terés in Al-Andalus, 25 (1960), 239–249. Also of value is that of E. Lévi-Provençal, in Encyclopaedia of Islam, I, 11. For a discussion of Crystal, see P. Kahle, “Bergkristall, Glas und Glasflüsse nach dem Steinbuch von al-Beruni,” in Zeitschrift der Deutschen morgenländischen Gesellschaft, 90 (1936), 322–356; and Libri Eraclii de coloribus et artibus Romanorum in Quellenschriften für Kunstgeschichte, IV (1873).

Juan Vernet