Flora Louise Shaw Lugard.

A tropical dependency : an outline of the ancient history of the western Sudan with an account of the modern settlement of northern Nigeria online

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day. In geology, also, Arabian investigations were on the
sound path of reason. Avicenna says of mountains that
they may be due to two different causes. " Either they
are the effect of upheavals of the crust of the earth . . .
or they are the effect of water which, cutting for itself a
new route, has denuded the valleys, the strata being of
different kinds — some soft, some hard." The Arabs were
early acquainted with the properties of the magnet and
the theory of gravitation. True conceptions of geology
and astronomy led naturally to truer conceptions of the


age of the earth and the lapse of historic time than
have ever prevailed before the scientific era of the
present day.

History and geography were no less brilliantly repre-
sented than the natural sciences. Ibn Said, who wrote in
the middle of the thirteenth century, has preserved for us
a vivid description of the attainments of the Arabs of
Spain. There is no department of science or literature
in which he does not claim pre-eminence for them, and
supports his claim by lists of names, strange now to the
European ear, but, if we may judge by the manner in
which they are introduced, familiar enough to the learned
of his time. Ibn Said himself is described by his suc-
cessors as " the truthful historian." He was the descendant
of a line of distinguished men, and tells us that the history
of Andalusia, which he carried down to the year 1247, had
taken no less than 125 years to write and six authors to
complete it. It was conceived and carried to a certain
stage by his great-grandfather ; it was taken further by his
grandfather ; his two great-uncles worked upon it ; then
•' came my father Musa, who certainly was the most
learned and experienced of all my ancestors in these
matters"; finally, Ibn Said himself completed the work.
It is said that a better history of Andalusia was never
written. Contemporary with the earlier part of this com-
position was the geography of El Idrisi, who wrote about
the year 11 53. Nearly the whole of this work is still
extant. For the purpose of contrasting the state of
knowledge of Arabic Spain with the ignorance of the
Christian countries of the North, who had yet to wait
nearly four hundred years for a true knowledge of the
conformation of the earth, the following passage from it
may be quoted : —

"What results from the opinion of philosophers,
learned men, and those skilled in observation of the
heavenly bodies, is that the world is round as a sphere,
of which the waters are adherent and maintained upon
its surface by natural equilibrium. It is surrounded by


air, and all created bodies are stable on its surface, the
earth drawing to itself all that is heavy in the same way
as a magnet attracts iron. The terrestrial globe is divided
into two equal parts by the equinoctial line. The circum-
ference of the earth is divided into 360 degrees each of
25 parasangs. This is the Indian calculation. . . . From
the equinoctial line to each pole there are 90 degrees, but
there is no habitable land farther north than the 64th
degree." The earth, he says elsewhere, is essentially
round, but not of a perfect rotundity, being somewhat
depressed at the poles. His description of the countries
upon the earth, including England to the west and China
to the east, is extraordinarily full, and in many essential
particulars remains accurate to the present day. America
alone appears to have been unknown to the Arabs, and
when we remember that modern Europe had to wait for the
journey of Magellan round the world in the opening years
of the sixteenth century to be quite sure of the shape
of the globe, we must admit that in the learning of the
Arabs of Spain, Negroland had sources of information
far purer than any of which England at that time could

In every branch of science the theoretic conquests of
the Arabs gave practical results. Spectacles and telescopes
resulted from their study of optics. Ebn Junis, the astro-
nomer, was the first to apply the pendulum about the year
1000 to the measure of time, and from his abstruse studies
in astronomy clocks became a domestic possession. The
use of the astrolabe and the compass, revived again at a
later period in Europe, were common to Arab navigation.
Gunpowder has already been mentioned as a result of
chemistry, and military science was revolutionised by the
introduction of artillery and firearms. Improvement in
agriculture and the introduction and acclimatisation of new
plants were an even more important result of the same
study, combined with that of botany, to which the Arabs
were passionately addicted. Studies in the effects of drugs
and the nature of plants were the basis of their medicine,


while physiology and anatomy gave to their surgical schools
the wide renown which they enjoyed.

For seven centuries the medical schools of Europe
owed everything they knew to Arabian research. The
Arabic impression is still to be traced in the derivation of
such words as syrup, julep, &c. Vivisection as well as
dissection of dead bodies was practised in their anatomical
schools, and women as well as men were trained to per-
form some of the most delicate surgical operations. Their
studies of the functions of the human body and the cure
of its diseases enabled them to establish hygienic systems
which were perhaps among the greatest of the many boons
which they conferred upon medieval Europe. Every court
and household of importance had at one time its Jewish or
Saracen physician. Amongst other very eminent names
may be quoted for surgery Albucasis of Cordova, and for
medicine Ibn Zohr.

Ibn Zohr, more generally known as Avenzoar, was
regarded as the great authority in Moorish pharmacy.
He lived in the first half of the twelfth century, and
was contemporary of another and almost equally eminent
physician, Al Far. A story is told of these two which
is not without application to the dietetic controversies of
the present day. Ibn Zohr was very fond of green figs,
and ate them freely. Al Far never ate them, and he used
to say to Ibn Zohr: "If you eat figs to that extent you
will have a very bad abscess." Ibn Zohr replied : " If you
don't eat them you will be subject to fever and die of
constipation." Ibn Zohr was right. Al Far had fever
and died of constipation. But Al Far was also right.
Shortly after Al Ear's death, Ibn Zohr was attacked by a
bad abscess and died of it in Seville in 1 161. The daughter
and granddaughter of this Ibn Zohr were both accom-
plished female doctors. Avempace was another physician
of the twelfth century whose reputation was European.
Averrhoes, also deeply versed in medicine, was a personal
friend of Ibn Zohr.

In the higher departments of jurisprudence and poli-


tical economy, as well as in the literary fields of grammar,
logic, poetry, and biography, the Arabian schools excelled.
Their schools, colleges, and universities were the resort
of the learned of all nations ; but it was perhaps specially
in the material development of their civilisation that their
prosperity had its most direct effect in stimulating com-
mercial intercourse with Negroland.

An Arab historian, writing in the sixteenth century,
says of Cordova, where Abdurrahman I. established his
court : " One thing is certain, namely, that trade and
agriculture flourished in this place during the reigns of
the sons of Ommeyah, in a degree which has scarcely
been witnessed in any city of the world. Its market
was always over-stocked with the fruits of the land, the
productions of every district, and the best of every country.
No robe, however costly, no drug, however scarce, no
jewel, however precious, no rarity of distant and unknown
lands, but was to be procured in the bazaar of Cordova,
and found hundreds of purchasers." There were 471
mosques and 300 public baths, of which the numbers
afterwards increased. One "trustworthy writer" counted
the number of houses under the Caliph Al Mansur, and
found 63,000 of the "great and noble, and 200,077 ^^
the common people " ; there were at the same time up-
wards of 80,000 shops. Water from the mountains was
conveyed to the royal palace of Cordova, and "thence
distributed through every corner and quarter of the
city by means of leaden pipes into basins of different
shapes, made of the purest gold, the finest silver, or
plated brass, as well as into vast lakes, curious tanks,
amazing reservoirs, and fountains of Grecian marble
beautifully carved."

The town in the time of the Ommeyades measured
twenty-four miles by six, the greater part of which area was
covered by mosques, palaces, and the houses of the great
standing in beautiful gardens. These houses were palaces
of luxury, magnificently decorated, cooled in summer by
ingeniously arranged draughts of fresh air drawn from



the garden over beds of jdowers chosen for their perfume,
warmed in winter by hot air conveyed through pipes
bedded in the walls. There were bath-rooms supplied
with hot and cold water. There were boudoirs, drawing-
rooms, libraries, halls, corridors, and galleries lighted by
windows of clear and coloured glass. Clusters of columns
of marble, either plain or incrusted with more precious
substances, supported roofs of mosaic and gold. The
walls were decorated with mosaics, or covered with arab-
esque and floral paintings. The furniture was of the most
precious and varied description. It was made of sandal
and citron and other woods brought from the tropics, and
curiously inlaid with mother-of-pearl, ivory, silver, and gold.
There were tables of gold, set with emeralds, rubies,
and pearls. In winter the walls were hung with tapestry,
the floors were covered with thick Persian carpets, of which
the most magnificent were embroidered with gold and
pearls. There were luxurious couches piled with pillows.
Vases of porcelain and crystal were filled with flowers.
Rare and curious objects from all parts of the world were
brought together to satisfy the eye and taste. In the
evening the rooms were lit by wax candles, which were
distributed by groups of hundreds in chandeliers that
hung from the ceilings. Great skill and taste were de-
voted to the design and workmanship of these chandeliers.
They were often made from the metal found in the
bells of Christian churches, and when this was the case,
there seems to have been a special pleasure in designing
them for use in the mosques. One famous chandelier is
mentioned which held no less than 1804 candles. The
gardens in which the great houses stood are described
by every writer in terms of rapture. Bowers of roses ;
orange and pomegranate groves ; shaded walks, over
which lemon-trees were trained, so that the fruit when
ripe "hung down like little lamps" ; successions of colour
and perfume, to procure which plants were brought from
all parts of the world. Sometimes, to please a favourite
wife, a whole hillside would be planted with her chosen


colour. The use of water was thoroughly understood.
Fountains, cascades, and lakes gave coolness and mois-
ture to the air, and also provided opportunities for the
keeping of fish and the special cultivation of water-plants.
Garden fruits and vegetables were cultivated in rare
perfection and variety. In the gardens there were laby-
rinths, and marble playing-courts. There were menageries
of curious animals, and aviaries of foreign birds. Botany,
horticulture, zoology, and ornithology were passions no
less of the learned than of the rich.

In the town of Cordova, for a distance of ten miles,
the streets were lit at night by lamps placed close to
one another. The descriptions of the mosques and build-
ings of Cordova — including the famous mosque with the
360 arches, and the even more famous palace of Azzahra,
which took forty years to build, and contained the Hall
of the Caliphs, roofed in pure gold, and lighted at will
by fountains of quicksilver, which, when they were set
in motion, caused the room "to look in an instant as if
it were traversed by flashes of lightning " — are so elaborate
as to fill many volumes. The size of the Azzahra palace
may be imagined from the fact that it had 15,000 doors.
It had amongst its many beauties remarkable fountains
and terraces of polished marble, which overhung "match-
less gardens." It was filled with works of art, and, ac-
cording to one writer, it was such that "travellers from
distant lands, men of all ranks, following various religions,
princes, ambassadors, merchants, pilgrims, theologians,
and poets, who were conversant with edifices of this
kind, and had surveyed this, all agreed that they had
never seen in the course of their travels anything that
could be compared to it."

The other cities of the Arabs in Spain were no less
remarkable. In the garden of one of the palaces of
Toledo there was an artificial lake, in the centre of which
there was a kiosk of stained glass adorned with gold.
" The architect so contrived this that by certain geo-
metrical rules the water of the lake was made to ascend


to the top of the dome, and then, dropping at both sides,
join the waters of the lake. In this room the Sultan could
sit untouched by the water, which fell everywhere round
him, and refreshed the air in the hot season. Sometimes,
too, wax tapers were lighted within the room, producing
an admirable effect on the transparent walls of the kiosk."
It is worth remembering that glass was not introduced into
English domestic architecture until the reign of Queen
Elizabeth, and that the period at which this kiosk is de-
scribed was contemporary with the Saxon Heptarchy.

Seville, with its famous gardens, its noble squares,
its great observatory, its suspension bridge, was regarded
as one of the most important of Arab towns. Granada
was the Damascus of Andalusia, very famous under the
Almohade Sultans. Malaga, with its numerous towers,
had the advantages of land and sea. It was famous very
early in its history for the manufacture of forbidden wine.
Its oil and its figs were known all over the world, so were
its silks, especially the brocades, for which it had beautiful
designs. Its export trade extended to India and China.
Almeria was another of the rich coast towns. It had a
dockyard in which very fine vessels were built. It was,
according to an Arab author, Ash-shakandi, the "greatest
mart in Andalusia : Christians of all nations came to its
port to buy and sell, and they had factories established in
it, where they loaded their vessels with such goods as
they wanted, owing to which, and to its being a very
opulent and large city, filled with passengers and mer-
chants, the produce of the tithe imposed upon the goods
and paid by the Christian merchants amounted to very
considerable sums, and exceeded that collected in any
other seaport."

Almeria gained this trade largely by its famous manu-
factures of silk, and especially of brocades and damasks
and tissues of gold and silver. Thousands of hands were
engaged in each branch of the silk trade. It was also
famous for the manufacture of pottery and glass and what
we should in the present day call hardware. Ships from


the East brought to its ports all the finest wares of India
and China. " Almeria," says the author already quoted,
"is an opulent and magnificent city, whose fame has
spread far and wide. God has endowed its inhabitants
with various gifts, such as a temperate climate and
abundance of fruits ; they are handsome, well - made,
good-natured, very hospitable, very much attached to
their friends, and are above all things very refined in
their manners, and very elegant in their dress. Its coast
is the finest in all the Mediterranean as well as the safest
and the most frequented." Its inhabitants were said to
be the wealthiest in all Andalusia, and they would appear
to have somehow solved the problem of creating a manu-
facturing town without loss of beauty, for all authors vie
with one another in extolling the charm and picturesque-
ness of the town. It had no less than a thousand public
baths, and for forty miles the course of the river, " which
contributed no little to the ornament of the city and the
environs," was "through orchards, gardens, and groves,
where singing birds delight with their harmony the ears
of the traveller."

All the towns of the Arabs had public gardens planted
with groves of fine orange, pomegranate, and other trees,
of which the remains are still to be seen in the Alamedas
of Southern Spain. Abdurrahman I. was "passionately
fond of flowers." He planted beautiful gardens, to which
he brought all kinds of rare and exotic plants and fine
trees from foreign countries. He introduced good systems
of irrigation. His passion for flowers and plants led him
to send agents to Syria, India, and other countries with
a commission to procure him all sorts of seeds and plants,
many of which he successfully acclimatised in the royal
gardens, and this custom, followed by his successors and
adopted by the rich, led to the introduction of many fruits
and plants previously unknown even to cultivated Rome.
Among these, cotton, rice, the sugar-cane, the pome-
granate, and the peach may be mentioned, but many of
our garden vegetables have also come to us from the same


source. It may be worth noting that the peach, to which we
are in the habit of attributing a Persian origin, was found
by the Persians, according to Strabo, in the eastern part
of Negroland, where it was cultivated by the Ethiopians
at the period of the conquest of Egypt by Cambyses.
It does not seem to be native to Negroland, and the
presumption is that it may have been introduced into the
valley of the Nile from India. Nevertheless we may
accept it as a pleasant fruit of the early intercourse of
Egypt with Negroland.

Amone the vepfetables which we owe to the Arab
passion for gardening is asparagus. This was introduced
somewhat later than the peach by a certain courtier and
epicure of the name of Zaryab, who came to Andalusia in
821. This Zaryab, who, like Tarik, Tarif, and others, was
a freedman, was a celebrated musician. He improved the
lute, adding a fifth string to the four which up to his time
had sufficed, and founded a great school of music. He
was renowned throughout Spain, enjoyed a public pension,
and on one occasion, when he came to Cordova, the Sultan
himself, to show the respect which he held to be due to
talent, rode out to meet him. Zaryab appears to have
been a remarkable as well as an extraordinarily popular
person. He was not only talented but learned. He was
an astronomer and geographer. He had a prodigious
memory. " He was, moreover, gifted with so much pene-
tration and wit, he had so deep an acquaintance with the
various branches of polite literature, he possessed in so
eminent a degree the charms of polite conversation and
the talents requisite to entertain an audience . . . that
there never was either before or after him a man of his
profession who was more generally beloved and admired.
Kings and great people took him for a pattern of manners
and education, and his name became for ever celebrated
among the inhabitants of Andalusia."

Zaryab, who is worth quoting individually as having
been evidently a leader of fashion in the most civilised
court of Europe in the early half of the ninth century,


appears to have disdained no detail of daily life. Aspara-
gus is not the only dish which he added to the menus of
his day. He was fastidious about cooking, and invented
many good things. He also introduced the fashion of
being served on crystal instead of on gold or silver, with
other refinements of the table. The manufacture of glass
was introduced into Spain by an Arab of the name of
Furnas at about this period. Zaryab also set the fashion
of changing dress for four seasons of the year instead of
for only two, as was the custom before his day. The
curious in such matters may read in the Arab chronicles
what was worn — silks and muslins, wadded clothes and
furs, according to the time of year. The ladies were
also extremely fond of jewels, and wore even jewelled
shoes, for which they would give as much as £\20 a
pair. But in dress as in food, Zaryab specially valued the
refinement of cleanliness. Before his time the Kings of
Andalusia, we are told, used to have their clothes washed
in water of roses and other garden flowers, the conse-
quence of which was that they never looked quite clean.
Zaryab taught them a method in which, by adding salt
to the mixture, "the linen could be made clear and
white." The chronicle gravely records that the " experi-
ment having been tried, every one approved of it," and
Zaryab was much praised for the invention. It was the
reputation of the Arabs that they were "the cleanest
people upon earth " in all that related to their person, dress,
beds, and the interior of their houses. Indeed, we are
told, "they carried cleanliness so far that it was not an
uncommon thing for a man of the lower classes to spend
his last coin in soap instead of buying food for his daily
consumption, and thus go without his dinner rather than
appear in public in dirty clothes." By way of contrast
in habits we may recall certain Irish earls, who, towards
the end of the Desmond rebellion about 1581, are described
as sleeping with their ladies and all their servants in a
hall so dirty as to be "not fit for a hog cote," while the
only toilet that the ladies made in the morning was "to


get up and shake their ears." Zaryab flourished some seven
centuries before the ladies whose toilet was so simple. He
was the contemporary of Egbert and Charlemagne.

The contrast between Arab civilisation and the civilisa-
tion of Northern Europe of that date is sharply accentuated
by the fact that, while the literature of the Arabs was such
as to remain for our instruction to this day, Charlemagne,
the greatest monarch of the West, could not write. Spain
under the Arabs truly deserved, as we have seen, its name
as the " noble repository " of learning. One of the four
principal things in which Cordova was said to surpass all
other cities was "the sciences therein cultivated." It was
reputed to be the city of the earth where the greatest
number of books was to be found, One of the Ommeyade
Sultans was " so fond of books that he is said to have
converted Andalusia into a great market whereto the
literary productions of every clime were brought imme-
diately for sale." He also collected round him, and
employed in his own palace, the most skilful men of his
time in binding, transcribing, and illuminating books. He
amassed such literary treasures as no sovereign before or
after him, to the knowledge of his biographers, had ever
possessed. It is said of him that he was so fond of
reading that he preferred the pleasure of perusing his
books to all the enjoyments which royalty could afford.
He himself wrote a voluminous history of Andalusia.
His collection of books founded the great library of
Cordova, which remained until the taking of the city by
the Berbers in a.d. ioio. The catalogue alone consisted
of forty-four volumes.

Every wealthy man in Cordova had his own library.
To such an extent did this rage for collection increase, says
Ibn Said, that any man in a prominent position considered
himself obliged to have a library of his own, and would
spare no trouble or expense in collecting books. Books
were an expensive luxury too. A story is told of a
certain writer, richer in learning than in other goods,
greatly desiring a book, and watching for it daily in the


market till it came, "a beautiful copy, elegantly written."
He immediately bid for it and increased his bidding, but
to his great disappointment he was outbid, though the
price was beyond the value of the book. The book went
to his competitor. He approached to congratulate the
learned owner, but the man who had acquired it said :
" I am no Doctor ; neither do I know what the contents
of the book are ; but I am making a library, and there is
a vacant space which, as my means are ample, I resolved
to fill with this volume." The reader echoes with sym-
pathy the reply of the Doctor: "It is ever so; he gets
the nut who has no teeth."

Cordova was not singular in its literary reputation.
All the great towns had good libraries, and the Arabs

Online LibraryFlora Louise Shaw LugardA tropical dependency : an outline of the ancient history of the western Sudan with an account of the modern settlement of northern Nigeria → online text (page 4 of 41)