Who is Jazari?

Jazari, the greatest engineer of the 13th century, is a magnificent genius of the history of universal science. As an unforgettable scientist in terms of his contributions, inventions, perspective and engineering philosophy, Jazari made technological designs for more than fifty machines and devices and did not only theoretically plan these machines but produced and operated them. His scientific and practical legacy it is still up to date and interesting for the 21st century world. He has inspired a lot of Eastern and Western mechanics, especially with his machines focused on time use and management.

He whose full name is Badi’ al-Zaman Abu al-‘Izz ibn Isma’il ibn al-Razzaz al-Jazari was an engineer who lived around the year 1200 in the Artuqid period in the region of Diyarbakır (Amid). He served as a palace engineer for 25 years (1181-1206) in the Artuqid Palace, and was a strong representative of a tradition known as ‘Hiyal’ during the Hellenistic period as well as in the Advanced Period of Pneumatic and Islamic Civilization. Today, Jazari is considered to be the most important engineer of the entire Middle Ages. A significant portion of the machines briefly known as Kitab-ul Hiyal, the original name being Kitab Al-Masah‘ beyn al-‘ilm and El-‘amel en-Nafi’ fi Testa’ti’l-Hiyal’ were collected following the request of the great ruler Nasireddin Mahmud (1200-1222.) The full name of the book can be translated as “The Correlation of Knowledge and Application in Mechanical Science.” Although he was known to have written his book in 1206, we have no exact information about the death and birth dates of Jazari. The district between the Euphrates and Tigris was called Al-Jazeera (Island), which is why he used the nickname Al-Jazari.


In his book which he completed in 1206 or earlier according to the oldest dated copy, he mentions water clocks, candle clocks, cups and spoons used at banquets, hand washing and wudu apparatuses, measuring instruments used in blood collection, automatic musical instruments, various robots, water supply tools that were very effective in the agricultural revolution of the time, fountains, apparatuses that made a continuous flute sound, other types of devices and metal casting techniques. The book is one of the oldest manuscripts in engineering applications. Furthermore, each of the machines and tools described in this book are an important invention, but the book itself is also an important work of art in its own way, with its colourful paintings and expressive style.

The first to know and study Jazari were the Europeans. The first to introduce his work was Prof. Eilhard Wiedemann (1852-1928) and together with his assistant engineer F. Hauser at the beginning of previous century, he also wrote numerous articles about the devices and machines in this book, as well as many on the history of Islamic Science. Wiedemann also described the tools by drawing some technical drawings. Followed by Carra de Vaux, in his book Les penseurs de l’Islam , he praised this work (1921). Other Western scholars followed suit. Thus, Jazari, accepted as the founder of cybernetic science and the first scientist to make robots, with his book, the most important book of engineering, which can be traced from the Renaissance up to the present, was understood both by Westerners and by the Islamic world as a turning point in the history of technology and automation.

The famous historian Ibrahim Hakki Konyali (1896-1984), was the first to mention this work in the “History Treasury” magazine (1951) in our country and later in the “Kara Amid” magazine (1972) in Diyarbakir. Konyali wrote in his articles that Wiedemann made a few of these machines and that they were to be found at Erlangen University in Germany. The notes of S. Er (1967) and Hifzi Gundem (1968) in the magazine “The Engineer and The Machine” give the same information by referring to Konyali. Later on Dr. Toygar Akman’s articles published in TUBITAK’s journal “Science and Technique” had a huge impact on the young readers of the time (1973, 1974 and 1976).

Until Donald R. Hill translated the most important work to date on Jazari from its original in Arabic to English and published “The Book of knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices” with his own explanations (1974), it is clear that although Jazari was known in Western science circles, he was not known in our country. After this publication, Donald R. Hill made one of the clocks described in the book in 1976, and it was exhibited at the London Science Museum. In the meantime, Kasim Ecnebi and Ahmed Al-Hasan published the work comparatively with 4 copies (1979). A professor of history of science Dr. Kazim Cecen provided a working model of one of these devices at a conference at Istanbul Technical University and exhibited it there (1981). He also followed other conferences and articles. Following this, Prof. Dr. Atilla Bir, together on the most part with certified engineer Mahmut Kayral, published a number of articles on the work of Jazari in different magazines, mostly in the magazine “Automation,” and presented papers at congresses. Thus, these names have become the scientists to have published the most articles on Jazari.

Finally, the Ministry of Culture issued the medical specification of the oldest known copy of the work (dated 1206) (1990). In the meantime, Prof. Sadettin Okten wrote the Jazari clause in the Islamic Encyclopedia (1993). After that, T.T.K.; Sevim Tekeli, Melek Dosay and Yavuz Unat published their translations, including the historical development of the information and some technical explanations on the subject (2002). Under the branch of the History of Islamic Science, Prof. Dr. Fuat Sezgin also introduced some of the devices Jazari made in another study called “Science and Technique in Islam” published by the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality. Some models of these devices are exhibited in the Museum of the History of Islamic Science and Technology (Gulhane Park).

The most extensive study of Jazari’s work was published in Turkey. The most recent study was carried out by Durmus Caliskan in 2015, explaining all the devices in the book in full detail referring to modern engineering knowledge by analyzing texts and visuals. Following 15 years of work, published under the name of Jazari’s Extraordinary Machines Kitab-ul Hiyal, in addition to the original text translated by Sukran and Ihsan Fazlioglu, the engineering was explained by deciphering all of the designs of the devices by Caliskan and therefore no stone was left unturned.

Bearing in mind that, although not all of Jazari’s could be acknowledged here, it is seen that he is now well known today. There still remain 17 manuscripts; 14 Arabic, 2 Persian and 1 Ottoman version. The importance of this work has been fully understood in terms of how crucial the engineering information is for its time and for the future, in written, drawn and applied form and how it has reached today and has shed light on the historical developments of machine construction, automatic control, system engineering and robot technology.