Precursor to Ibn Sina's Qanun: the earliest Arabic medical work to provide instructions on surgical procedure

Ali ibn al-Abbas al-Majusi. Kitab Kamil as-Sina'a at-Tabbaiya [The Complete Book of Medical Art].

Safavid Persia, [1582-1584 CE =] 990-991 H.

4to (180 × 240 mm). Arabic manuscript on cream paper. Two books, each with 10 chapters or maqalas, bound in one volume. (614) leaves, lacking one leaf from Book 2 (maqala 8, bab 23) and another leaf from Book 2 (maqala 10, bab 23) replaced in 19th century manuscript facsimile. 21 lines, per extensum, written in black naskh, chapter headings and important sections in red, catchwords throughout, each of the 20 chapters with an index of the ‘bab’ within and each with a separate colophon. Later brown lacquered leather over pasteboards, faintly pressed central medallions to covers, rebacked.


One of the few existing complete copies of this medical milestone. Exceptionally rare: a fundamental medical work from the Golden Age of Islamic scholarship, preceding and influencing Avicenna's Qanun. Monumentally influential not only in Islamic medicine, this work even had profound impact in the West. It was first translated into Latin by Constantinus Africanus in the 11th century for use as a primary text at Salerno's medical school, and then again in 1127 by Stephen of Antioch. By the 14th century knowledge of the work was so widespread that Al-Majusi is mentioned as one of antiquity's great medical scholars in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.

The text is divided into two distinct books, each of which comprise ten "maqalas" (sections), subdivided into "babs" (chapters). The first section deals with the theory of medicine, including anatomical structures and they body's physiology; the second examines the practical treatment of medicine, the application of medical treatments and surgery. Indeed, this is the earliest known Arabic medical work to provide detailed instructions on surgical procedure.

Ali ibn al-Abbas al-Majusi was a 10th century Persian physician and psychologist, known in the Latin tradition as "Hali Abbas". Born in Ahvaz in southwest Persia, he was perhaps the most celebrated physician in the Eastern Caliphate of the Buwayhid dynasty, becoming physician royal to Emir 'Abdul al-Daula Fana Khusraw (reigned 949-983). The present treatise was compiled under the patronage of Emir Khusraw and is therefore also known as "Al-Malikiyya" ("The Royal Book"). Emir Khusraw founded a hospital in Shiraz and the al-Adudi Hospital in Baghdad to show his support for medical science, and Al-Majusi probably worked at the latter around 981 CE, where he must have composed this, his chief work. He is thought to have died in either 990 or 1010 CE.

The manuscript was produced for a wealthy and important patron in 16th century Persia, written on fine paper by a single scribe who names himself as Salam'ullah bin Habib'ullah bin Muhammad in colophons at the end of the various sections. Many of these colophons also record the date of their completion, showing that the entire codex took two years to produce.

Complete manuscript copies of this text are exceptionally rare: its vast encyclopedic nature made it an expensive commodity in the Middle Ages, and its sheer size usually necessitated it to span several volumes. The present example appears to have been bound as two separate books at the time of copying before being joined together in a single large volume in the 19th century.

Edges a little scuffed; some very minor marginal staining to a few sections, occasional light mottling. A few outer edges repaired (only affecting the text of two leaves). Overall a very clean and attractive specimen. Provenance: sold at Sotheby’s, Arts of the Islamic World sale, 23 October 2019, lot 119 (described without mention of the facsimile leaves).

Art.-Nr.: BN#53684 Schlagwörter: , ,