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Abd al-Latif al-Baghdadi (medieval writer)

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Title: Abd al-Latif al-Baghdadi (medieval writer)  
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Abd al-Latif al-Baghdadi (medieval writer)

Abd al-Latif al-Baghdadi, short for Muwaffaq al-Din Muhammad Abd al-Latif ibn Yusuf al-Baghdadi (Arabic: موفق الدين محمد عبد اللطيف بن يوسف البغدادي‎; 1162–1231), or Abdallatif al-Baghdadi (Arabic: عبداللطيف البغدادي‎), born in Baghdad, Iraq, was a physician, historian, Egyptologist and traveller, and one of the most voluminous writers of the Near East in his time.[1]


Many details of Abd al-Latif's life are known from his autobiography. As a young man, he studied grammar, law, tradition, medicine, alchemy and philosophy. He focused his studies on ancient authors, in particular Aristotle, after first adopting Avicenna as his philosophical mentor at the suggestion of a wandering scholar from the Maghreb. He travelled extensively and resided for a while in Mosul (in 1189) where he studied the works of al-Suhrawardi before travelling on to Damascus (1190) and the camp of Saladin outside Acre (1191). It was at the latter location that he met Baha’ al-Din Ibn Shaddad and ‘Imad al-Din al-Isfahani and acquired the qadi al-Fadil's patronage. He went on to Cairo, where he met Abu'l-Qasim al-Shari'i, who introduced him to the works of al-Farabi, Alexander of Aphrodisias, and Themistius and (according to al-Latif) turned him away from Avicenna and alchemy.[2][3]

He met Saladin himself in 1192 at Jerusalem, then went to Damascus again before returning to Cairo. In later years he again journied to Jerusalem and to Damascus in 1207-8, and eventually made his way via Aleppo to Erzindjan, where he remained at the court of Ala’-al-Din Da’ud until the city was conquered by the Seljuk ruler Kayqubadh. ‘Abd al-Latif returned to Baghdad in 1229, travelling back via Erzerum, Kamakh, Diwrigi and Malatiya. He died in Baghdad two years later.[2][3]

Account of Egypt

Abdallatif was undoubtedly a man of great knowledge and of an inquisitive and penetrating mind. Of the numerous works (mostly on medicine) which Osaiba ascribes to him, one only, his graphic and detailed Account of Egypt (in two parts), appears to be known in Europe.[4]


Abd-al-Latif was well aware of the value of ancient monuments and praised Muslim rulers for preserving and protecting pre-Islamic artifacts and monuments. He noted that the preservation of antiquities presented a number of benefits for Muslims:[5]

  • "monuments are useful historical evidence for chronologies;"
  • "they furnish evidence for Holy Scriptures, since the Qur'an mentions them and their people;"
  • "they are reminders of human endurance and fate;"
  • "they show, to a degree, the politics and history of ancestors, the richness of their sciences, and the genius of their thought."

While discussing the profession of treasure hunting, he notes that poorer treasure hunters were often sponsored by rich businessmen to go on archeological expeditions. In some cases, an expedition could turn out to be fraud, with the treasure hunter disappearing with large amounts of money extracted from sponsors. This fraudulent practice continues to the present day, with rich businessmen in Egypt still being deceived by local treasure hunters.[6]


This work was one of the earliest works on Egyptology. It contains a vivid description of a famine caused, during the author's residence in Egypt, by the Nile failing to overflow its banks. He also wrote detailed descriptions on ancient Egyptian monuments.[7]


Al-Baghdadi wrote that during the famine in Egypt in 597 AH (1200 AD), he had the opportunity to observe and examine a large number of skeletons. This was one of the earliest examples of a postmortem autopsy, through which he discovered that Galen was incorrect regarding the formation of the bones of the lower jaw and sacrum.[8]


The Arabic manuscript was discovered in 1665 by Edward Pococke the orientalist, and preserved in the Bodleian Library. He then published the Arabic manuscript in the 1680s. His son, Edward Pococke the Younger, translated the work into Latin, though he was only able to publish less than half of his work. Thomas Hunt attempted to publish Pococke's complete translation in 1746, though his attempt was unsuccessful.[9] Pococke's complete Latin translation was eventually published by Joseph White of Oxford in 1800. The work was then translated into French, with valuable notes, by Silvestre de Sacy in 1810.[10]

Medical works

Al-Mukhtarat fi al-Tibb

Al-Baghdadi's Mukhtarat fi al-Tibb was one of the earliest works on hirudotherapy. He introduced a more modern use for medicinal leech, stating that leech could be used for cleaning the tissues after surgical operations. He did, however, understand that there is a risk over using leech, and advised patients that leech need to be cleaned before being used and that the dirt or dust "clinging to a leech should be wiped off" before application. He further writes that after the leech has sucked out the blood, salt should be "sprinkled on the affected part of the human body."[11]

Medicine from the Book and the Life of the Prophet

He wrote a book called Al-Tibb min al-Kitab wa-al-Sunna (Medicine from the Book and the Life of the Prophet) describing the Islamic medical practices from the time of Muhammad.[12]


Al-Baghdadi was also the author of a major book dealing with diabetes.[12]


  1. ^ Chambers Biographical Dictionary, ISBN 0-550-18022-2, page 3
  2. ^ a b
  3. ^ a b
  4. ^ Chisholm 1911.
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ Dr. Okasha El Daly (2005), Egyptology: The Missing Millennium: Ancient Egypt in Medieval Arabic Writings, UCL Press, ISBN 1-84472-063-2. (cf. Arabic Study of Ancient Egypt, Foundation for Science Technology and Civilisation.)
  8. ^ Emilie Savage-Smith (1996), "Medicine", in Roshdi Rashed, ed., Encyclopedia of the History of Arabic Science, Vol. 3, p. 903–962 [951]. Routledge, London and New York.
  9. ^ G. J. Toomer (1996), Eastern Wisedome and Learning: The Study of Arabic in Seventeenth-Century England, pp. 272-273, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-820291-1.
  10. ^ G. J. Toomer (1996), Eastern Wisedome and Learning: The Study of Arabic in Seventeenth-Century England, p. 275, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-820291-1.
  11. ^ Nurdeen Deuraseh, "Ahadith of the Prophet on Healing in Three Things (al-Shifa’ fi Thalatha): An Interpretational", Journal of the International Society for the History of Islamic Medicine, 2004 (3): 14–20 [18].
  12. ^ a b The Prophet’s Medicine: Part One
  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain


  • Cecilia Martini Bonadeo, 'Abd al-Laṭif al-Bagdadi's Philosophical Journey: from Aristotle's "Metaphysics" to the "Metaphysical Science" , Brill, 2013, XII-378 p.
  • Silvestre de Sacy, Relation de l'Egypt par Adb al-Latif, Paris, 1810. – French translation of the "Account of Egypt".
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