The Academy of Jundishapur

by Jazmyne M. Sturgeon

The Academy of Jundishapur stood proud as a temple of learning in the Persian Empire. The Academy was founded by Khusru Anusharvan in the city of Jundi Shapur during the Sassanid Dynasty at around the mid 200’s A.D., although the exact date is unknown. Khusru encouraged the advancement of learning throughout Persia with the foundation of the Academy (Arberry 1953). The Academy of Jundishapur was a place of learning, a place where ideas gathered, smoldered, and blossomed; because of this, The Academy of Jundishapur impacted future developments of Islamic medicine and arts.

Perhaps the most prominent feature of the Academy is its impact on medical society. The Academy of Jundishapur is considered the most advanced center of higher education in 6th century Persia. Scholars from various backgrounds had gathered at Jundishapur to share manuscripts and exchange ideas; those scholars included Greeks, Jews, Christians, Syrians, Zoroastrians, Hindus, and Persians. It is interesting to note that even though Jundishapur collected knowledge from many different cultures, the Academy did not adapt cultural aspects, especially those that conflicted with Islam and the Quran (Stanton 1990). In the pharmaceutical world, names are most commonly Persian, as opposed to anatomical terms that are of Greek or Latin origin. This should not come as a surprise seeing that such an important school of medicine, the Academy of Jundishapur, is in the Middle East (Arberry 1953). Because of its location, the Academy of Jundishapur was able to combine Greek, Indian, and Iranian medical traditions in a cosmopolitan atmosphere, which laid the foundation for future developments in Islamic medicine (The Cambridge History of Iran 1975).

Ibn Bukhtishu was a famous doctor during the time of al-Mansur who headed the medical school until his death in AD 771. The Bakhtishu family carried the medical traditions of Jundishapur when they served several Abbasid caliphs as their personal physicians (The Golden Age of Persia). The Cambridge History of Iran expands:

The members of the Bukhtyishu family were directors of the Jundishapur hospital and produced many outstanding physicians. One of them, Jiris, was called to Baghdad by the Abbasid caliph al-Mansur, to cure his dyspepsia. Due to his success he becamse court physician of the caliphs, and after them the whole school was transferred to Baghdad marking the real beginnings of Islamic medicine. (The Cambridge History of Iran 1975)

The Abbasid Dynasty began its rule in AD 750. Under the rule of the Abbasid caliphs, the Muslim nation stretched from Asia to as far as the Atlantic Ocean at one point. The Muslim nation flourished and reached its peak; features included a stable, universal currency, multi-ethnic and multi-religious political systems, a strong legal system, and a trade route that stretched from Africa, to China, to Northern Europe (Jackson 2012). For the Bukhtishu family to serve as an Abbasid caliph’s personal physician is a high honor; and the education Bukhtishu’s received from Jundishapur gave them the ability to fulfill that role.

The Masuyas were a Christian family of Persian origin. The father was a genius who received his medical knowledge through experience at Jundishapur. He later moved to Baghdad where his three sons also became physicians. One of which, Yuhanna b. Masuya, was the first in Islamic civilization to perform animal dissection and write on ophthalmology, or the study of the eye (The Cambridge History of Iran 1975).

Sabur b. Sahl was another Persian physician of Jundishapur. He wrote one of the first books on antidotes called Aqrabadhin, which inspired many successors (The Golden Age of Persia 1975). Of course, the Academy of Jundishapur produced many fine students who made major impacts in Islamic society in the field of medicine and other studies.

Many scholars have agreed on the Academy of Jundishapur’s lasting impact on the hospital system. The Cambridge History of Iran states:

To a very large extent the credit for the whole hospital system must be given to Persia. The hospitals of the Mohammadan period were built very largely upon the ideals and traditions of the Sasanian hospital of Jundishapur.’ The well-known hospitals of ‘Adud al-Daula in Shiraz and Baghdad, as well as the later hospitals of Damascus and Cairo, were based upon the Jundishapur model. The first products of Islamic medicine were also from this important medical centre. (The Cambridge History of Iran 1975)

A.J. Arberry concurs in his work The Legacy of Persia. His assertion is that the greatest and longest lasting legacy that Persia contributed to Europe was their conception of hospitals. Arberry also claims that the modern hospital is a direct growth from Persian foundations, especially from Jundishapur (Arberry 1953). When it comes to medical and biological sciences, Jundishapur was a thriving center where medicine of many traditions have been preserved alongside Persian and Indian traditions, making the transition from the world of ancient science to the modern Islamic science flow naturally (The Cambridge History of Iran 1975). The Academy of Jundishapur was a thriving hub of medical knowledge. It took in vast amounts of information from a multitude of cultures and combined them into what was to become Islamic medicine. The medical center at Jundishapur, along with the medical knowledge that thrived there, had lasting impacts on European medicine.

Although medical studies were the Academy of Jundishapur’s cornerstone, it did have a range of other studies, including the arts. Persian weaving industry boomed in the city, and the native craftsmanship was celebrated in the West (Arberry 1953). Also, various types of fine silk were woven for export and personal use: the Sassanid weaves created in Jundishapur birthed a new type of decorative silk that would later influence medieval silk weaving in Syria, Egypt, Byzantium, and other places further west (Jackh 1952). Apart from weaving, The Academy of Jundishapur also toyed with astronomy:

In complete contrast to the impossibility of giving a clear and straight-forward account of early Abbasid astronomical theory, the materials on astronomical observations, although incomplete, are ample and precise… The earliest reported activity supplied a link with the Sasanian past. About AD 800, one Ahmad Nihavandi was making observations of the sun at Jundishapur, the garrison town and centre of medical studies established in Khuzstan by Shapur I. This is the only mention of the place in connection with astronomy, and subsequent reports for a long time thereafter are centered upon in Baghdad. (The Cambridge History of Iran 1975)

Cultures traveled from regions as far as Asia and the Atlantic Ocean to share their knowledge at The Academy of Jundishapur. The Academy served as a nesting ground for information to gather and flourish. Later, medical facilities based their hospitals on the Jundishapur model and used much of Jundishapur’s medical knowledge to increase their own. The Academy of Jundishapur produced many noteworthy students, some of which whose family went on to do great things. All of these things have contributed to making the Academy of Jundishapur Sassanid Persia’s center medicine and the arts.

Bibliography

Arberry, A. J. The Legacy of Persia. Oxford: Clarendon, 1953. Print.

Frye, R. N., ed. The Cambridge History of Iran Volume 4: The Period from The Arab Invasion to The Saljuqs. London: Cambridge UP, 1975. Print.

Frye, Richard Nelson. The Golden Age of Persia: The Arabs in the East. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1975. Print.

Jackh, Ernest. Background of the Middle East. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1952. Print.

Jackson, Steve N. “The Thin Tweed Line: The Caliphate and the Muslim Renaissance.” DHC 261: The University. Black Hall 151, Ellensburg, WA. Jan. 2012. Lecture.

Stanton, Charles Michael. Higher Learning in Islam: The Classical Period, A.D. 700-1300. Savage, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1990. Print

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