Abu Ma’shar Ja’far ibn Muhammad ibn ‘Umar al-Balki was a famous astrologer, born in Balkh, but who worked in Baghdad, and died in Wasit in 886 AD. Abu Ma’shar was one of the first to work on astrology, horoscopes and the effects of planets on human life. He used Sassanian, Indian and Greek sources in compiling his many astrological works. He was known as 'Albumasar' in medieval Europe and the most notable astrological work ascribed to him was the Ahkam tahwil sini al-mawalid ('Prediction of Changes of Years and Births'), translated into Latin by Johannes of Seville (see B. Rosenfeld and E. Ihsanoglu, Mathematicians, Astronomers, and Other Scholars of Islamic Civilisation and their Works (7th – 19th C.), Istanbul, 2003, pp.44-45, no.88).
According to Seyyed Hossein Nasr, “Abu Ma’shar al-Balkhi was spreading the study of both astrology and astronomy relying heavily upon the Sassanid materials and his famous Kitab al-uluf ('The Book of Thousands') had deep repercussions in certain circles of the Islamic world. The West first became acquainted with Aristotelian physics with the help of the Introduction to Astrology of Abu Ma’shar (Albumasar) which became very popular in the 11th century” (see H. Nasr, Islamic Science – An Illustrated Study, World of Islam Festival, London, 1976, pp.97-99 and 127).
Two copies of Abu Ma’shar’s 'Great Conjunctions' are in the Escorial Library (Biblioteca real 937), and the Malik Library, Tehran (3106). For two illustrations of horoscopic diagrams from the above mentioned manuscripts see A. Contadini (ed.), Arab Painting – Text and Image in Illustrated Arab Manuscripts, Leiden, 2007, pp.174-5.
The contents of the present manuscript is as follows:
1. Arabic treatise entitled Kitab tankalusha al-babili, Teucrus of Babylon (second half of the first century AD). Abu Ma’ashar relied on this early Sassanian astrological work entitled Kitab fi ma’rifat darajat al buruj al-athnay ‘ashara fi al-falak, a treatise on the twelve signs of the zodiac, which would have been embellished with illustrations.
2. Persian treatise on the astrolabe, Ma’rifat astrulab.
3. Two short illustrated Persian tracts (risalah) on scales.
4. Persian treatise on talismans, tilsim.
5. An abridged Persian treatise on the astrolabe, Ma’rifat astrulab in thirty-four chapters and preceded by two pages of drawings of astrolabes.
6. Untitled Persian treatise relating to the mysteries of the knowledge of interiors (damair).
7. Persian treatise on Conjunctions entitled Risalat al-qiranat.
8. Persian treatise on Penetrations entitled Risalat al-ikhtiraqat.
9. Persian treatise on both Conjunctions and Penetrations entitled Risalat al-qiranat wa’l ikhtiraqat.
10. Arabic treatise on pricing, al-as’ar, by Abi Sa’id Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Jalil al-Sajathi.
11. Arabic treatise on the adjustments of latitudes and longitudes of countries (aqalim).
12. Untitled treatise of a talismanic nature.
13. Persian treatise on the solar eclipse and its effects according to the month.
14. An astronomical jadwal (table) relating to Predictions of Stars.
15. Persian treatise entitled Madkhal fi ‘ilm al-nujum ('Introduction to the Science of Stars'), incorporating astronomical tables and charts of magical letters (huruf) and the calculation of the position of the siham or Lots.
16. Arabic astronomical table (jadwal) calculating the estimated ascendant at the time of birth, estimating the moment of conception and calculating the longitudes and latitudes of the planets.
17. An abridgment of the horoscope Ikhtiyarat-i tali, by Abu Ma’shar, prepared for the Ghaznavid Sultan Yamin al-Dawlah Bahram Shah (r.1117-50 AD and 1152-60 AD).
R. Lemay, Abu Ma’shar and Latin Aristotelianism in the Twelfth Century, Beirut, 1962.
D. Pingree, The Thousands of Abu Ma’shar, London, 1968.
K. Yamamoto and C. Burnett (ed. and trans.), Abu Ma’shar On Historical Astrology: The Book of Religions and Dynasties (On Great Conjunctions), 2 vols., Leiden, 2000. Brockelmann, GAL, I. 250, S.I.394–396.
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