A lot of chemical terms such as alcohol, aldehyde, sugar/azucar, amalgam etc. are of Arabic origin.

Did Arabic chemistry in medieval times achieve any scientific insights still valid today (such as 'alcohol can be transformed into aldehyde by oxidation', although I am aware that oxidation is a more recent term)? Or was it rather the practice of alchemy?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Are you really asking about "Arabia", or rather about the Arabic-speaking Islamic world? $\endgroup$
    – fdb
    May 12 '15 at 21:23
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I was asking about Arabic-speaking chemists in medieval times: The question is motivated by the wealth of Arabic terms in chemistry. $\endgroup$
    – Felix
    May 13 '15 at 8:17

Jabir ibn Hayyan was the first to describe processes such as liquefaction, crystallisation, distillation, purification, oxidisation, evaporation and filtration. He also did an early classification of chemical elements around their properties which seems pertinent, and noted that "a certain quantity of acid is necessary in order to neutralize a given amount of base." It is noteworthy that he valued experiments a lot.

Jabir probably set the base for medieval Arabic chemistry and for modern chemistry, and his results are significant, but on the other hand, he was practising alchemy, and worked only towards this goal. I believe that putting a barrier between what is chemistry and what is alchemy is a subjective, if not unanswerable question.

Georges C. Anawati, "Arabic alchemy", in R. Rashed (1996), The Encyclopaedia of the History of Arabic Science, Vol. 3, p. 853-902, through Wikipedia


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.