Surviving Medieval Arab Philological Works on Horses

By Edouard Aldahdah

Posted on October 30th, 2013 in General

This morning I stumbled upon an erudite and thoroughly researched paper by Dr. Shihab al-Sarraf of the International Center of Furusiyyah [Horsemanship] Studies on “Mamluk Furusiyyah Literature and Its Antecedents”, published at the University of Chicago’s Mamluk Studies Review, VIII-1-2004. It is the most comprehensive review to date of the Islamic literature on horses and horsemanship from early to late medieval times. The following passage in this paper sparked my interest:

“The main body of Arab philological works on horses was written in Iraq during the period from the latter half of the second/eighth century to the end of the first half of the fourth/tenth century. These works included both comprehensive and specific treatises. Of the former type, commonly titled Kitab al-Khayl, more than twenty treatises were written, all deemed lost except four. These are Kitab al-Khayl by Abu ‘Ubaydah Ma‘mar ibn al-Muthanná (d. 209/824); Kitab al-Khayl by al-Asma‘i (d. 216/831); Kitab al-Khayl by Abu ‘Abd al-Rahman Muhammad al-‘Utbi (d. 228/842), and Kitab al-Khayl by Ahmad ibn Abi Tahir Tayfur (d. 280/893). The last two treatises are still in manuscript and the fate of their extant copies, presumably kept in a private collection, is uncertain. In any case, the basic and unmatched contributions in this domain remain the above first two treatises by the celebrated Basran philologists whose competence and rivalry in the knowledge of horses were particularly well-known. However, notwithstanding the importance of al-Asma‘i’s contribution, Abu ‘Ubaydah’s Kitab al-Khayl undoubtedly represents the most complete and learned philological work on horses, and was the source par excellence for subsequent treatises whether written by philologists, furusiyah masters like Ibn Akhi Hizam, or compilers. Similarly, very few, of an otherwise considerable number, of specific philological and historical works on horses have survived. The most notable of these are Nasab al-Khayl fi al-Jahiliyah wa-al-Islam by Ibn al-Kalbi (d. 204/819); Asma’ Khayl al-‘Arab wa-Fursaniha by Ibn al-A‘rabi (d. 231/846), and Al-Sarj wa-al-Lijam by Ibn Durayd (d. 321/933).”

Of these seven, two are unpublished and I have printed copies of the others, except for Ibn Durayd’s work on “the Saddle and the Bit”, a copy of which is at the Egyptian National Library (Dar al-Kutub al-Misriyah) a couple buildings away from my office in Cairo.


4 Responses to “Surviving Medieval Arab Philological Works on Horses”

  1. This other passage of al-Sarraf’s article on p. 160 is also interesting:

    “The anonymous “Kitab al-Furusiyah fi ‘Ilm al-Khuyuliyah” is another valuable,
    hitherto unknown work that needs to be noted. The author, who assumed the role
    of a narrator, attributed the treatise to someone called al-‘Abbasi and claimed that the latter copied it from sources pertaining to King Solomon (al-Malik Sulayman Ibn Dawud). The treatise is largely based on Abbasid sources and some of these are lost, hence the importance of this work. The text begins with a long introduction relating the Arabo-Islamic version of the creation of the horse and its breeds, which is the most detailed and complete account on this subject in furusiyah literature.”

  2. Is this paper in English, Edouard?…..and if so, where can I find it? Looks like it would be a very interesting read.

  3. Hi Kathy, it’s here and in English:

  4. Thanks Edouard. Will print this out and save it too.

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