How Did the Islamic Empire Contribute to the European Renaissance?

by Tasha Brandstatter

Islamic knowledge, science and technological advancements had a pervasive influence on the European Renaissance. Transmitting knowledge first through interactions in Hispania and Sicily, which Islamic armies conquered in the eighth and ninth centuries, and then through the Crusades and trade, Europe benefited heavily from the Islamic Empire's progressive thinking. Not only did Muslims preserve and translate ancient classical texts that inspired Renaissance thinkers, but they also invented the scientific method and modern university system, which led to the Scientific Revolution, and pioneered medical and agricultural techniques that improved the quality of life of European people during the Renaissance.

Classical Texts

Starting in the late seventh century, leaders of the Islamic states began gathering together scholars to translate and interpret ancient texts, such as the works of classic philosophers like Aristotle and Plato, and mathematical treatises by men like Pythagoras, Euclid and Ptolemy. Not only did this help preserve the classical works that would become the foundation of the European Renaissance, but these centers for translation also became centers for learning. For all intents and purposes, they were the first universities, centuries before Europeans began establishing universities in the 11th century.

Scientific Method

The men who lived and worked with these texts were great thinkers who didn't just read classical philosophers, they questioned them. Famous Islamic philosophers such as Avicenna and Averroes admired the work of men like Aristotle, but also thought certain aspects of their arguments were wrong. What the Islamic philosophers wanted to know was, why? To find out, they observed the natural world, formed hypotheses, tested and drew conclusions from the results. Essentially this was the birth of the scientific method.

Medicine

Due to this new found scientific method, Islamic thinkers were able to make advances in science and mathematics, but most especially in medicine. Islamic medicine combined the work of the Greek and Roman philosophers, Hippocrates and Galen, and relied heavily on observation and experimentation. Muslim doctors studied the eye, performing cataract surgery; discovered bacteria and the different ways it could be transmitted; and knew about the heart's connection to the lungs and capillaries, all while Europe was still in the middle of the Dark Ages. These medical advancements made a strong impact in Europe after the Black Plague, and Avicenna's "Canon of Medicine" was the primary medical text in Europe through the 17th century.

Agriculture

The study and improvement of agricultural practices was fostered by the Islamic caliphs. Because of the arid environment of the Arabian Peninsula, Islamic scientists tried to figure out ways to get the most use out of the arable land that was available. When the Islamic Moors settled in Spain, they introduced the concepts of terracing and irrigation to Europe. European states subsequently borrowed these methods, improving crop yields and helping to support a growing urban population through the Renaissance. Even the word irrigation in Spanish, acequia, is derived from Arabic.

About the Author

Natasha Brandstatter is an art historian and writer. She has a MA in art history and you can find her academic articles published in "Western Passages," "History Colorado" and "Dutch Utopia." She is also a contributor to Book Riot and Food Riot, a media critic with the Pueblo PULP and a regular contributor to Femnista.

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