Middle East Council in America
MECC: Middle East Artifact
Backgammon board. Lebanon. Private Collection.

Arab Contributions to Western Civilization

From the eighth to the thirteenth century C.E., an empire greater than that of ancient Rome extended across North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia., from Spain to the borders of China. It’s citizens were drawn from many ethnic groups- Arab, Afghan, Aramaean, Berber, Egyptian, Indian, Persian, Spanish and Turkish; and they followed different faiths. Yet they were united by the bonds of a shared culture and the Arabic language in which it was expressed.

One of the greatest contributions of the Arabs to world civilization was the recovery and transmission of much of the intellectual legacy of the ancient world. The House of Wisdom, the great academy founded in Baghdad in 830 C.E. became a center for the translation of Greek, Persian, Sanskrit, and Syriac manuscripts into Arabic. Among them Galen’s Anatomical Procedures mathematical and astronomy texts by Euclid, Archimedes and Ptolemy and the works of Hippocrates, Plato and Aristotle. Indeed, in some instances only the Arabic translations of these precious works survive.

Perhaps the greatest influence the Arabs had upon the West was their introduction of new kinds of agriculture, manufactured good, technology, and improved means of transportation.

The Crusades increase the already extensive contact and trade between Europe and the Arabic speaking Middle East. In exchange for wood, iron, and other raw materials from the West, the East furnished cotton cloth, muslin, satin, rugs, tapestries, metal wares, paper, ceramics, perfumes and spices. The wealth and power of the medieval Arab world decline many centuries ago, but its achievements contributed to the Renaissance in Europe and subsequent western development.

The above adapted from The Arab World Notebook. (Berkeley:Najda, 1989)




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