A thirteenth-century physician’s reasoning of a moderate lifestyle for good health still resonates today

Manuscript Of The Taqwim Al-Sihha Of Ibn Butlan, dated 1344 Aga Khan Museum Online Gallery
Manuscript Of The Taqwim Al-Sihha Of Ibn Butlan, dated 1344Aga Khan Museum Online Gallery

The medicine of classical and medieval Islamic civilization was derived primarily from the Greeks particularly Hippocrates (460-370 BC) and Galen (130-200 AD). With the expansion of Muslim rule into the Eastern Mediterranean regions and western Asia, the diverse pre-Islamic science and learning traditions of the Persians, Indians, and Chinese came into contact with and under the patronage of Muslim courts.

A vast movement of translation and innovative development took place between the eighth and ninth centuries where scientists from various religious and ethnic backgrounds worked together to achieve scientific advancements. Their advancements in the fields of science and philosophy were subsequently transmitted to Europe and Asia and formed an important link in humanity’s modern intellectual achievements.

The modern-day concept of a moderate lifestyle for good health was emphasized by Ibn Butlan (d. 1066) in the eleventh century; he stressed the benefits of daily attention to physical and mental well-being.

A Christian philosopher-physician, Ibn Butlan (d. 1086) lived most of his life in Baghdad, Iraq, which he left in 1049 to travel to Syria, Egypt, and Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul). He became a monk in Antioch (an ancient Greek city now in Turkey), where he spent the remainder of his life.

Tacuinum sanitatis
Tacuinum sanitatis

His work on medicine and diet titled Taqwim al-sihha (Almanac of Health) identifies the foods, drinks, environments, and activities (including breathing, exercise, and rest) necessary for a healthy life. His treatise includes the physiological effects of foods, drinks, and environmental elements on the body. Many of his discussions focus on the health benefits of plants and herbs. The relationship between plants and human health has been and continues to be of great concern for humankind based on both diet and medicinal uses.

The Taqwim al-sihha was translated into Latin in Sicily in 1266 under the title Tacuinum Sanitatis and became very popular in Europe.

Adapted from “Science and Learning,” Pattern and Light Aga Khan Museum, Skira Rizzoli Publications Inc.New York.

Research by Nimira Dewji


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