Ibn al-‘Awwām

Kitāb al-filāḥa

Abū Zakariyā Yaḥyā ibn Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad ibn al-‘Awwām,  better known as Ibn al-‘Awwām al-Ishbīlī, ‘the Sevillian’, wrote his magisterial Kitāb al-filāḥa, ‘Book of Agriculture’, probably towards the end of the 12th century (Ibn al-‘Awwām 1988, I, p. 17). Although he does not appear in any of the biographies, he is the only agronomist mentioned by the historian Ibn Khaldūn (1332–1406) in his Muqaddima (Ibn Khaldūn 1967, p. 388), and is noted too by the early 15th century encyclopedist Al-Qalqashandī. Neither, however, gives any further biographical details (García Sánchez 1992, p. 991). Textual evidence in his treatise indicates that Ibn al-‘Awwām farmed and carried out successful agricultural experiments in the Aljarafe district to the west of Seville (as did his predecessors Abū’l-Khayr and Ibn Hajjāj), where he was probably an aristocratic landowner (García Sánchez 1992, p. 992). Since he is not mentioned in any other capacity or position it seems likely that he dedicated his life solely to agricultural pursuits, the only Andalusi agronomist to do so apart from Ibn Baṣṣāl. This is about all we know of the man. Yet his work is the most renowned of all the Andalusi agronomists because it was the first to be published and translated into a modern language, initially into Spanish by Banqueri in 1802, then into French by Clément-Mullet in 1864–67, and subsequently into Urdu in 1927. It was thus for a long time the only source of reference on medieval Andalusi agronomy. Moreover it is one of the few works of this genre that has come down to us more or less complete.

Ibn al-‘Awwām’s Kitāb al-filāḥa is, without doubt, the most comprehensive agricultural treatise in Arabic. He gathers all the knowledge of his time concerning agriculture, horticulture and animal husbandry into a huge compendium of excerpts from all the previous agronomical traditions and treatises. From 112 named authors (Ibn al-‘Awwām, Banqueri 1802, I, pp. 61-2) he includes one thousand nine hundred direct and indirect citations – 615 or 32.5% from Byzantine sources, especially from Cassianus Bassus, 585 or 31% from Near Eastern sources, 85% of which are from Ibn Waḥshīya, and 690 citations or 36.5 % from earlier Andalusi agronomists (Glick 2005, pp. 12-13). To these he often adds his own observations and experiences, about which he says: “As for my own contribution, I put forward nothing that I have not first proved by experiment on repeated occasions” (Ibn al-‘Awwām, Clément-Mullet 1866, I, p. 9). He records, for example, his experiments in grafting the wild olive of the mountains with the domesticated olive of the plain, and his successful cultivation of saffron, under irrigation, in the mountains (Bolens 1981, p. 30).

Ibn al-‘Awwām’s treatise comprises 34 chapters dealing with all aspects of husbandry – it mentions 585 different plants, explains the cultivation of more than 50 fruit trees, and includes many valuable observations on soils, manures, grafting, and plant diseases (Sarton 1927-48, II, pp. 424-25). Ibn al-‘Awwām also includes an agricultural calendar, one of the few Andalusi agronomists to do so. The last section of his work is devoted to animal husbandry, with chapters on cattle, sheep, goats, camels, horses, mules and donkeys, geese, ducks, chickens, pigeons, peacocks and beekeeping. As well as being of great value and interest for the study of agricultural history, the Kitāb al-filāḥa has enabled scholars to reconstruct the original texts of some previous authors whose work has only survived in abridged or fragmented form. In addition, the profusion of references, even though sometimes entangled and difficult to unravel, provides the historian with a wealth of information on the transmission of knowledge. It also presents a unique survey of the agricultural geography of Al-Andalus in the late 12th century, at least in regard to its interior arable land and the valley of the Guadalquivir river.


Ibn al-‘Awwām’s Kitāb al-filāḥa is set out in thirty-four chapters (a thirty-fifth, on dogs, was planned but no trace of it has survived). A much reduced summary of its chapter-headings is as follows:
  1. The soil; assessing the type and quality of soils; soil improvement.
  2. Manures and composts; their kinds and qualities; preparation and application.
  3. Water; types and sources of water and their qualities; the construction of wells; the noria; preparing and levelling the land for irrigation by means of the marhifal (sic – prop. murjīqal).
  4. Garden planning; choosing a site; placement of trees.
  5. General propagation and cultivation of trees; from seeds, cuttings, off-shoots, roots and layers.
  6. General planting and care of fruit trees.
  7. The cultivation of particular species of trees, fruit-trees and flowering plants grown in Spain, including the olive, vine, sugar cane, banana, rose and jasmine.
  8. Grafting; methods and most suitable times; species amenable to grafting; the Nabataean, Greek, Persian, Roman, and other types of graft.
  9. Pruning; species that benefit from pruning and those that do not; cutting-back shoots; rejuvenation by pruning.
  10. Tillage of the soil; ploughing, digging, harrowing and hoeing.
  11. Application of manures and composts.
  12. Irrigation of fruit-trees; methods for improving their yield and flavour; sympathies and antipathies among them.
  13. Artificial pollination – the fig, pomegranate, date-palm, pistachio.
  14. Treatment of ailments, diseases and pests that afflict fruit-trees.
  15. Ingenious methods for flavouring, scenting and colouring growing fruits and flowers.
  16. Preservation and conservation of fruits, vegetables, seeds and grains.
  17. Qalīb or tillage: preparation of land and amelioration of the soil; ploughing, digging, harrowing, etc.
  18. Grains and legumes that benefit the land.
  19. Sowing grain crops.
  20. Sowing and cultivation of rice, millet, sesame, lentils and haricots.
  21. Sowing and cultivation of beans, chick-peas, fenugreek, lupin, vetch, safflower, etc.
  22. Sowing and cultivation of flax, hemp, cotton, saffron, henna, madder, poppy, lucerne, clover, etc.
  23. Establishing a kitchen garden; sowing, culture and care of leaf vegetables, including lettuce, chicory, purslane, beet, orach, spinach, cabbage, cauliflower, sorrel, etc.
  24. Sowing and cultivation of root crops, including carrot, turnip, horse-radish, onion, leek, garlic, sekakul, colocasia, and others.
  25. Sowing and cultivation of cucumber, gherkin, melon, aubergine, marrow, gourd and watermelon.
  26. Cultivation of plants used for seasoning and medicaments including cumin, aniseed, fennel, mustard, coriander, etc.
  27. Cultivation of aromatic and scented plants including gillyflower, lily, water lily, narcissus, violet, mint, lavender, basil, mallow, etc.
  28. Cultivation of diverse kinds of garden plants such as artichoke, celery, rue, oregano, rocket, iris, arum, sumac, asparagus, etc.
  29. Harvesting and storing grain; location of threshing-floors and granaries; deterring harmful insects and pests; talismans; flour milling; preserving fruits and nuts.
  30. A miscellaneous chapter on tree-felling and construction; olive-pressing, distillation of rose-water; preparing raisins, syrups, vinegars, etc.; the farming calendar and agricultural seasons; weather lore.
  31. Care and breeding of cattle, sheep and goats; feeding; treatment of their ailments and infirmities.
  32. Care and breeding of horses, donkeys, mules and camels as riding and draught animals; feeding and training; treating their ailments, infirmities and bad habits; shoeing.
  33. Equine veterinary medicine and surgery.
  34. Poultry-keeping for profit and ornament, including pigeons, peacocks, geese, ducks and chickens; bee-keeping.
(Translated from Ibn al-‘Awwām (1866). Kitāb al-Filāḥa, Le Livre de l’Agriculture, 2 vols. French translation by J.-J. Clément-Mullet. Paris: Librairie A. Franck)

Published Editions & Translations

These early Spanish and French translations of the Kitāb al-filāḥa are unsatisfactory according to Sarton in his Introduction to the History of Science (Sarton 1927-48, vol. 2, p. 44), an opinion which is shared by Leclerc in his Histoire de la medecine Arabe. (Leclerc 1876, vol. 2. p. 111). However, both the Spanish and French translations have recently been revised (?) and republished:

  • Ibn al-‘Awwām (1988). Libro de agricultura (facsimile of 1802 edition, ed. and trans. into Spanish by J. A. Banqueri). 2 vols. Preliminary study and notes by E. García Sánchez and J. E. Hernández Bermejo. Madrid: Ministerio de A.P.A. and Ministerio de AA. EE.
  • Ibn al-‘Awwām (2000). Le Livre de l’Agriculture. Translated into French by J.J. Clément-Mullet.  New edition with an introduction by M. El Faïz. Arles: Actes Sud - Paris: Sindbad.
Some extracts from Ibn al-‘Awwām have been translated into English and published as:

  • Lord, P. (trans) (1979). A Moorish Calendar: from the Book of Agriculture of Ibn al-Awam. Wantage: The Black Swan Press.


The Kitāb al-filāḥa of Ibn al-‘Awwām, or summaries of it, or various passages from it, are included in several manuscripts (Ibn al-‘Awwām 1988, pp. 39-40):

  • Bibliothèque Nationale, Algiers, nº 1550, folios 180r-193v
    Part of the summary of the Kitāb al-filāḥa. Further information on this manuscript is given in Carabaza et al., 1991: II, pp. 1130-1131.
  • Bibliothèque Générale, Rabat, nº 1410 D, folios 140r-154v
  • Manuscript belonging to M. ‘Azīmān, Tetuan, folios 39v-48v (García Sánchez 1987, p. 340; Millás Vallicrosa 1954a, pp. 127-140).
    See Carabaza Bravo & García Sánchez 1998, ‘Códices Misceláneos de Agronomía Andalusí’, Al-Qantara XIX, p. 403
  • Deutsche Staatsbibliothek, Berlin, nº 6206, giving the whole work, except for the section on animal husbandry.
  • University of Cambridge Library, Cambridge, nº 1027 [Cod. Or. 608-8] (Brockelmann 1937-1949: S I, p. 903)
    A summary. See further
  • Leyden University Library, nº 1285 [Cod. Or. 346 Warn] (Brockelmann 1937-1949: I, pp. 651-652; Ullmann 1972, pp. 447-448; Voorhoeve 1957, p. 83)
    This ms. comprises the first part (volume 1 of Banqueri’s translation) of Kitāb al-filāḥa.
  • British Museum Library, London, nº 998 [Add. 01461] (Brockelmann 1937-1949: I, pp. 651-652; Ullmann 1972, pp. 447-448)
    A copy of the ancient manuscript from El Escorial, which is the most complete work to date.
  • Biblioteca de la Real Academia de la Historia, Madrid, nº IX of the Gayangos Collection (Terés 1975, p. 24)
    Originally from the Escorial collection and the most complete copy known.
  • Biblioteca Nacional, Madrid, nos. XCIC, CI-3 and CXII-XIII (Ullmann, 1972, pp. 447-448)
    • A copy of the previous codex (Ms. nº IX of the Gayangos Collection Biblioteca de la Real Academia de la Historia, Madrid)
  • Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, nº 2804 (Vajda 1953, p. 342)
  • Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, nº 5754, folios 176v-186r
  • There is also a manuscript of a Turkish translation of the treatise by Ibn al-‘Awwām dated 1065 of the Hegira: it is nº 23 in the Library of Musée (Bursa), and is entitled Terceme i Kitāb al-falāha de Abū Zakarīya Yahyā b. Muhammad b. Ahmad al-Avām. It consists of 273 folios. Cf. Sezgin 1986, III, p. 529.
(Sources: Carabaza Bravo & García Sánchez 2001, pp. 101-118, and Carabaza Bravo & García Sánchez, 2009, n.p.)


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