Ibn Baṣṣāl

Dīwān al-filāḥa / Kitāb al-qaṣd wa’l-bayān

Abū ‘Abd Allāh Muḥammad ibn Ibrāhīm ibn Baṣṣāl al-Ṭulayṭulī, also known as Muḥammad ibn Baṣṣāl al-Andalūsī, born in the mid-11th century at Toledo, as indicated by his nisba, was a leading Andalusian agronomist about whom we have few biographical details. His name is often distorted by both copyists and transcribers as Ibn Faṣṣāl, Ibn Faḍḍāl or Ibn Baṭṭāl, although his correct name was Ibn Baṣṣāl (Carabaza Bravo & García Sánchez 2001, p. 105), meaning ‘he who tends bulbs’ (Ibn Baṣṣāl 1955, p. 13). We know from the Anonymous Botanist of Seville (probably  Abū ’l-Khayr, his student) that  at some time Ibn Baṣṣāl made the pilgrimage to the Hijaz, visiting Sicily, Egypt and Syria, and also, apparently, Abyssinia, Yemen, Iraq, Persia, northern India and Khorasan (García Sánchez 2008, p. 211, fn. 23), from where he brought back new ideas on the cultivation of cotton (Asín Palacios 1943, p. XIV). We may surmise that he also brought back plants and seeds from his travels, to be grown on in the botanical garden of Al-Ma’mūn at Toledo, where he most probably served under and succeeded Ibn Wāfid as director (García Sánchez 1992, p. 990).

Ibn Baṣṣāl’s compendious agronomical treatise, Dīwān al-filāḥa, was dedicated to Al-Ma’mūn and was subsequently abridged, in his lifetime, to a single volume entitled Kitāb al-qaṣd wa’l-bayān, ‘The Book of concision and clarity’, or ‘Book of proposition and demonstration’, which was translated into Castilian in the 13th century (Carabaza Bravo & García Sánchez 2001, p. 107). Also attributed to Ibn Baṣṣāl are two other works called Taqyīd min dīwān al-filāḥa li-Ibn Faḍḍāl and Taqyīd ājar min ghayr kitāb Ibn Faḍḍāl which are probably compendiums of extracts from his Dīwān al-filāḥa, possibly compiled from the original and not the abridgement. Ibn Baṣṣāl's treatise is unique in that it contains no references to earlier agronomists and appears to be based exclusively on his personal knowledge and experience. He is thus, arguably, the most original and objective of all the Andalusi agronomists (Colin 1999, n.p.). He mentions more than 180 cultivated plants and crops in his work (Hernández Bermejo & Garcia Sànchez 1998, pp. 15-26), although, strangely, the section dealing with the cultivation of cereals (indicated in his preface) is missing from the existing manuscripts. Being a dedicated plantsman Ibn Baṣṣāl mentions nothing of animal husbandry. His manual is practical, systematic and clearly didactic, and is organized on a pattern that is more or less followed by later agronomists.

Prior to the fall of the tā’ifa kingdom of Toledo to the Christians in 1085, Ibn Baṣṣāl removed to Seville where he became the pivotal figure in a school of prominent Andalusi agronomists, botanists and horticulturalists that included, at various times, Ibn Ḥajjāj, Abū’l-Khayr, Al-Ṭighnarī and Ibn al-Lūnquh, the Toledan physician who had also been a student of Ibn Wāfid (Colin 1999, n.p.). Ibn Baṣṣāl is not mentioned in any other capacity and it seems he dedicated his life’s work to agronomy. The Anonymous Botanist of Seville refers to him as “the eminent master, learned in theoretical and experimental agriculture, an expert agronomist who dominated the field” (Asín Palacios 1943, p. XIV). Here in Seville Ibn Baṣṣāl created a new botanical garden, the Hā’īṭ al-Sulṭān, ‘Garden of the Sultan’, for the poet-king Al-Mu’tamid (García Sánchez 1992, p. 990), where he experimented with the propagation and cultivation of blue lilies, asparagus and jasmine, among others (Asín Palacios 1943). Ibn Baṣṣāl died in Seville at the beginning of the 12th century.


The abridged version of Ibn Baṣṣāl’s work Kitāb al-qaṣd wa’l-bayān – comprises sixteen chapters.

Chapter 1 : On water

Chapter one examines water of different kinds, their various natures and constitutions, and their effects on plants. Four types are distinguished – rainwater, river water, spring water and well water. The best is rainwater, for it is the most beneficial to plants and leaves no residual salts. It has a warm and moist constitution, resembling air in this respect. In contrast, river water is dry and sour by nature, and can even remove or deplete the moisture in the ground by washing it out. Water from springs and wells is heavy and earthy, unlike rainwater, but can be warming in winter, benefiting plants suffering from the cold, and, conversely, cooling in summer, reviving plants with its freshness.

Chapter 2 : On land and soils

The second chapter exexamines the different types of lands and soils, their natures and properties, and how to distinguish good farmland from poor. Ten types of land/soil are distinguished: soft, heavy, mountain, sandy, black manured land, white, yellow, red, rough and stony land, and, finally, ‘alcadén’ (mukaddana) that is, reddish sandstone land. Each of these classes of land is examined in respect to its nature – whether cold, warm, dry or moist, whether it is porous or permeable to the passage of air and water, its agricultural advantages and disadvantages, the type of manure required and the crops best suited to each. The author draws attention to the varying productivity and workability of the soil depending on the season in which it is cultivated. A later chapter on plant science (Chapter 10) also specifies the most appropriate type of land for various crops, herbaceous plants and trees.

Chapter 3 : On manures

Chapter three deals with manures of different kinds and their appropriate uses. Ibn Baṣṣāl distinguishes seven types of manure: equine, human, sweepings and refuse, that from sheep, and pigeons, ashes from bathhouse furnaces, and, lastly, artificial compost made from grasses, weeds and dry leaves. He makes no specific mention, however, of cattle manure, so important in farming today. This may be because he classes it with manure from horses and mules, or because the manure of free-ranging cattle was rarely collected. Our author, like several other Hispano-Arab agronomists after him, dismisses as prejudicial to plants the manure from pigs and waterfowl, and warns farmers against their use. As always, he is careful to specify the nature and characteristics of each type of manure, especially whether it is more or less wet or dry, cold or hot, salty or viscous. He pays particular attention to the degree of maturity of the manure, its different reactions according to the type of soil in which it is incorporated, and its varying effects on the plants that receive it.

Chapter 4 : On the choice of land and its preparation

Chapter four discusses the indicators, especially the natural vegetation, by which the farmer can determine the quality of land. Next Ibn Baṣṣāl advises on the best way to prepare a piece of land and organize it for cultivation, and how to ensure that water circulates properly, if it is irrigated. For this purpose an instrument of undoubted Christian or Mozarab origin, the murchical, is used (called almarchaquel in the medieval Castilian translation – it was a triangular level, with a plumb, similar to that used by masons today), along with some other tools and equipment to level and flatten uneven ground. Among farming operations, our author discusses in particular the long fallow, which is equivalent to a good manuring in benefiting the crop. The land is given four ploughings between mid January and late May or early June in order to break up the clods, produce a fine tilth, and “lose its bad humours”. Ibn Baṣṣāl distinguishes between cultivated land, uncultivated wasteland which is ‘asleep’ and has never been ploughed, and land which has been worked but still carries the stubble of the previous crop. He extols the efficacy of good tillage in increasing fertility – there is nothing, not even manure, that confers its benefits. He studies the different effects of tillage according to the season and the weather conditions when it is carried out.

Chapter 5 : On planting trees

The fifth chapter, comprising fifty-three sections, deals with arboriculture and examines the species of trees, including fruit-trees, commonly grown in Muslim Spain. Different methods of propagation – by seed or stone, shoots, cuttings and grafts – are explained. Each species is treated in terms of propagation, preparation of the soil, care and watering. It begins with the cultivation of the palm-tree, followed by the olive, pomegranate, quince, apple, fig, pear, cherry, apricot, plum, peach, almond, walnut, hazelnut, grape, citron, orange, pistachio, pine, cypress, chestnut, holm-oak and deciduous oak, allohanta (?), tree of paradise, arbutus, elm and ash. In this long and dense chapter the author includes some methods for combating diseases of trees. As well as orchard and garden trees, forest trees figure prominently, indicating perhaps that Spain at this time was not as deforested as it is today.

Chapter 6 : On the different systems of propagation, especially layering

A brief chapter six expands on some methods of propagating the trees already mentioned. Ibn Baṣṣāl recommends, in particular, the technique of layering, especially for hard or heavy soil. He also discusses propagation from cuttings taken from the parent tree, and propagation by means of pips, seeds and stones, started in pots and containers and transplanted into nursery beds.

Chapter 7 : On how to prune trees and improve their health

Chapter seven is also very short and deals with the pruning of trees. It discusses the appropriate time for pruning in relation to the movement of sap, the correct point at which a shoot should be pruned, and the right way to prune old trees in order to rejuvenate them.

Chapter 8 : On how to graft various trees onto others and how to know if they are compatible. Also concerning the seven climes, their weathers and natures

The eighth chapter is devoted to the operation of grafting, which Ibn Baṣṣāl examines in great detail. As the success of the graft is closely related to climatic conditions, our author begins by addressing the agricultural potential and constraints of the seven climes, especially in relation to what is feasible in the way of grafting. Then he turns to the four natures or constitutions of trees – oleaginous, viscous, milky and aqueous – which determine the technique of grafting because only trees with the same nature can be grafted, although there are exceptions. There follows a classification of trees according to these four constitutions. After this introduction to the subject, the five general types of graft are discussed: the Roman graft (between bark and wood), cleft graft, tube graft (tarqīb al-qanūt), shield graft, and drill or awl graft. Detailed instructions are given on how to accomplish each type of graft, the tools needed, the species suited to each type and those that support different types.

Chapter 9 : On certain types of graft, their secrets and marvels

The ninth chapter complements the previous chapter in discussing some curiosities and wonders of grafting, especially in making grafts between trees of very different natures, for example, between the olive and the fig tree. The Andalusi agronomists excelled in this technique. They also made use of large clefts and hollows in the host tree, where they placed pots and containers filled with soil in which were sown seeds or stones of the plant to be grown. With repeated watering, these seeds rooted in the hollow and the soil in the host tree. In truth, these were more like epiphytes than true grafts, but in this way roses appeared to be grafted on vines, olives on laurels, and so on. 

Chapter 10 : On the sowing of cereals and  vegetables and their like in the kitchen-garden

Chapter ten, very long, presents the other major area of plant science - the cultivation of herbaceous plants, grains and vegetables. However, in spite of the title ‘Concerning Grains and Vegetables of the Kitchen-Garden’, the chapter does not include the cereals: wheat, rye, barley, etc. This omission, which occurs in both the Aziman Arabic manuscript and the medieval translation, is difficult to explain; whether cereals were deliberately omitted from this summarized version of the complete work, which seems very unlikely, or if only the existing texts at hand are deficient in this respect, we don’t know. Certainly, in his great work on agriculture, Ibn al-‘Awwām specifically refers back to Ibn Baṣṣāl’s observations on the cultivation of cereals. The chapter begins with the cultivation of chickpeas and is followed by beans, rice, peas, flax, henbane, sesame, cotton, safflower, saffron, poppies, henna and artichoke. Some crops, such as flax and cotton, are dealt with at much greater length and include instructions on industrial processing such as the retting of flax. On occasion Ibn Baṣṣāl recalls agricultural knowledge and expertise acquired in Egypt, Syria and Sicily during his pilgrimage to Mecca. For each crop he gives the required method of cultivation and care, manuring, time of planting, the recommended amount of seed per unit area, irrigation, thinning and weeding, and of course, the appropriate soil.

Chapter 11 : On the cultivation of spices used to flavour dishes

The eleventh chapter continues with the cultivation of plants used as spices and flavourings, such as cumin, caraway, fennel, anise, coriander, etc., following the same pattern as in the previous chapter.

Chapter 12 : On the cultivation of cucumbers, melons, pumpkins and their like

Chapter twelve – which is missing from the manuscript of the medieval Castilian translation – concerns the cultivation of cucumbers, melons, mandrake, watermelons, pumpkins and squash, eggplant, asparagus, caper, and colocynth, i.e. plants typical of larger gardens and irrigated land, hence the importance given here to the waterings or irrigations required, noting however that over-watering tends to reduce the sweetness of some, like the melon.

Chapter 13 : On the cultivation of root vegetables

Chapter thirteen is devoted to bulbs and root plants, giving concise but practical information on several of these. It begins with the cultivation of turnips, distinguishing two types -  the long and the round -  followed by carrots, radish, garlic, onion, leek, parsnip, the Sudanese pepper, and madder, the latter absent from Ibn al-‘Awwām’s later treatise.

Chapter 14 : On various methods of cultivating vegetables

The fourteenth chapter is given over to the cultivation of leaf vegetables, beginning with cabbage, of two types – the summer cabbage, which is tender, with closed leaves, and the winter cabbage, with well-separated leaves. This is followed by the cultivation of cauliflower, the cabbage of the Christians (baqla al-rūm), spinach, purslane, amaranth or the Yemeni vegetable, and chard. There is a somewhat extended treatment of lettuce, giving different methods of cultivation, and the chapter ends with concise instructions of the cultivation of chicory and the poppy. 

Chapter 15 : On the cultivation of aromatic plants such as sweet basil

The fifteenth chapter deals with aromatic plants. It begins with the rose, which Ibn Baṣṣāl treats at some length, in contrast to Ibn al-‘Awwām who only notes it in passing. The author explains how to achieve two flowerings, first in spring and again in autumn, by ceasing to water during the hot season and resuming repeated waterings from the beginning of August, thereby inducing abundant blooms in autumn. There follow some short paragraphs, sometimes only two or three lines, on the wallflower and the violet, distinguishing the violet of the mountains, with small leaves and very blue flowers, and the garden violet, which thrives in soil containing debris from old mud-brick buildings, mixed with sand from bath-houses. The summarized nature of this part of the work is apparent not only in its brevity but from the fact that in Ibn al-‘Awwām’s later work there are references to our author that are not in this text. The chapter continues with brief notes on the cultivation of the white lily, chrysanthemum, narcissus, basil al-qarnafalī, which is the best and most aromatic of its kind, followed by the aromatic herbs marjoram, lemon balm, rue, mallow, chamomile and wormwood.

Chapter 16 : Concerning wonderful and useful knowledge about waters, wells, the
preservation of fruits and other beneficial things indispensable to the farmer

The sixteenth chapter, the last, presents some useful knowledge, indispensable to the farmer, concerning water, wells, the preservation of fruits, etc. To protect plants from grubs in the soil and other similar pests, Ibn Baṣṣāl recommends covering the ground with a layer of sand from the bath-house, to the thickness of a finger, before manuring and sowing the field. He discusses the acclimatization of wild plants in the garden, collecting their seed, the importance of sowing it at the right time (in some cases thirty days before the arrival of spring), and trying to replicate the soil and moisture conditions of their natural habitat. Much space is devoted to the sinking of wells - the advantage of siting them at a height so that water can be led easily and quickly to all parts of the garden; the best time to sink a well, which is about the month of August, when the water-table falls in response to the sun and is at its deepest; the signs that indicate the amount of water at a place, and its quality and taste; ways to raise the water in very deep wells; and how to activate the water of a newly-dug well, etc. 

Finally, there are some brief instructions on the conservation of fruit. In the case of apples, these are picked when ripe, at night, being careful not to bruise or damage them, then they are laid out loosely in a cool room and inspected regularly every thirty days to remove any deteriorating fruit that may affect others; in this way they should last until June. The same procedure is followed with pomegranates. As for nuts such as chestnuts, hazelnuts, walnuts and almonds, they should be stored in holes after the manner of silos, in sand to keep them fresh. Two short prescriptions for making beautiful bouquets of flowers and unfermented wine with mustard (mosto amostazado) complete this chapter on rural household economy.

In these last chapters Ibn Baṣṣāl offers the same practical, objective advice based on experience which is found throughout the whole work. The plan and arrangement is organic and systematic, a pattern that is more or less followed by later Hispano-Arab agronomists. The work, however, being an abridgement, obviously suffers from some brevity and simplification, greatly reducing the subject matter of some chapters, particularly the last ones. Besides the anomalous absence of the section devoted to cereals, neither does it include any treatment of animal husbandry and veterinary science, which is otherwise found in the works of Hispano-Arab authors from Ibn Wāfid to Ibn al-‘Awwām. The systematic order that is apparent in the organization of the work can also be seen in the regular, didactic explanation of each stage in the cultivation of a crop, from the choice of land and manure, appropriate preparation of the ground, propagation, sowing or planting, care, irrigation, weeding, and harvesting.

(translated by S. Fitzwilliam-Hall from Ibn Baṣṣāl : Libro De Agricultura, ed. J.M. Millás Vallicrosa and Mohamed Aziman, Tetuan: 1955, pp. 21-29)

Published Editions & Translations

The abridged version of Ibn Baṣṣāl’s treatise was translated into Castilian in the 13th century. Although this medieval version has only the first twelve chapters, at times it is more complete than the Arabic manuscripts. It was edited by Millás Vallicrosa in 1948:

  • Millás Vallicrosa, J.M. (1948). ‘La traducción castellana del ‘Tratado de Agricultura’ de Ibn Baṣṣāl’. Al‑Andalus 13, pp. 347‑430. Reprinted (2001) in: Sezgin, F. (ed.). Agriculture. Texts and Studies 5 [Natural Sciences in Islam 24]. Frankfurt: Institut für Geschichte der Arabisch‑Islamischen Wissenschaften. See ms. nº 10106 of the Biblioteca Nacional de España, Madrid.
  • Ibn Baṣṣāl, Muhammad ibn Ibrāhīm (1955). Kitāb al-qaṣd wa’l-bayān. Libro de Agricultura. Edition with Spanish translation and notes by J.M. Millás Vallicrosa & M. Aziman. Tetuan: Instituto Muley El Hassan.
  • Ibn Baṣṣāl (1995). Libro de Agricultura. Edition with Spanish translation and notes by J.M. Millás Vallicrosa & M. ‘Azīmān (Tetuán, 1955). Facsimile edition with preliminary study and indexes by E. García & J. E. Hernández Bermejo. Seville: Sierra Nevada.

    • "The edition and Spanish translation of the work by Ibn Baṣṣāl, published in Tetuan in 1955 by J. M. Millás Vallicrosa and M. ‘Azīmān, revived the study of the agronomy of Al-Andalus which had been interrupted after the enormous effort made by Banqueri in publishing the work by Ibn al-‘Awwām at the beginning of the 19th century. Millás regrets not having had more than one manuscript available for the edition, which meant there were some doubts and difficulties which are, understandably, apparent in the edited text. Nevertheless, the sound philological training of this illustrious Arabist is evident in the work, although his botanical knowledge of botany is not so sound. Some of his erroneous botanical interpretations have been rectified in the introductory study of the re-edition published a few years ago.

      Since the publication of this work a total of five new manuscript copies have been discovered, all of them summaries and some of them incomplete and late, so they do not contribute anything new with regard to the ‘Azīmān miscellany. One of the manuscripts, nº 6519 in the Royal Library in Rabat, in Chapter V on the planting of trees, adds a section “on how to care for Melissa when it is diseased and its leaves turn yellow”; this is only found otherwise in the medieval Castilian translation, though it is but a scant contribution. Anyway, despite the absence of a better manuscript of the original text, we believe that a new critical edition incorporating these new copies is essential. We do not know to what extent it would be feasible to achieve a further goal, which is to reconstruct the text based on quotations from it by later authors."
  • Dr. Angel López is working on a new edition and translation of Ibn Baṣṣāl (Ibn Baṣṣāl, 1995), based on new Arabic sources which have appeared and incorporating the medieval Castilian translation (Millás Vallicrosa, 1948), scheduled to be published in 2011.
(Source:  Carabaza Bravo & García Sánchez, 2001 and 2009)


Ibn Baṣṣāl’s agronomic treatise is found among the following manuscripts:

  • Bibliothèque Générale, Rabat, nº 1410 D, folios 1v-98r.
  • Bibliothèque Générale, Rabat, nº 617 j, pp. 270-413.
  • Bibliothèque Royale, Rabat, nº 6332.
  • Bibliothèque Royale, Rabat nº 6519 (Al-Khaṭṭābī 1982, pp. 231-232). See Carabaza et al., 1991: II, 1125.
  • Tetuan. Private manuscript belonging to M. ‘Azīmān, folios 49v-105v.

    • Regarding this and another miscellaneous manuscript belonging to M. ‘Azīmān which contain extracts from the works by Al-Ṭighnarī, Ibn Luyūn, Ibn Baṣṣāl and Ibn Wāfid/Al-Nahrāwi see Millás Vallicrosa 1954a, pp. 129, 133. See also Carabaza Bravo & García Sánchez 1998, p. 403.
  • Biblioteca de El Escorial (Collection of Ancient Books), Madrid, nº. 45, 47 and 428.

    • These manuscripts correspond to the original Arabic collection of the library of El Escorial monastery in Madrid. They must have been destroyed in a fire which affected the upper storey of the monastery in 1671. Only the first two manuscripts are attributed to the agronomist from Toledo; the third one, quoted among the Libros de medicina sin autor (‘Medical books with no author’) is said to be an “imperfect agricultural book in 16 chapters”, therefore we imagine that it is an incomplete copy of Kitāb al-qaṣd wa-l-bayān (Morata 1934, pp.108, 148,179; Ibn Baṣṣāl 1995, p. XXVI).
  • Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, nº 5013, folios 72r-161v. See Carabaza et al., 1991: II, 1119-1120
  • Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, nº 4764, folio 161v. See Carabaza et al., 1991: II, 1122- 23
Another agronomical work attributed to Ibn Baṣṣāl is the Taqyīd min dīwān al-filāḥa li-Ibn Faḍḍāl, a short treatise on planting, sowing and grafting of various trees and plants. It is included in the following miscellaneous codex:

  • Biblioteca de la Real Academia de la Historia, Madrid, nº XXX of the Colección Gayangos, folios 100v-141r (Terés 1975, p. 24)
Finally, there is a third treatise, Taqyīd ājar min ghayr kitāb Ibn Faḍḍāl, but due to the ambiguity of its title it is not certain whether it was written by the agronomist from Toledo. There is a copy of it in the previous miscellaneous source:

  • Biblioteca de la Real Academia de la Historia, Madrid, nº XXX of the Gayangos Collection, folios 141v-143v. See Carabaza et al., 1991: II, 1115-1117.

    • This brief fragment has been edited and translated by M. A. Navarro García (“Un nuevo texto agrícola andalusí”, in García Sánchez (ed.), Ciencias de la Naturaleza en al-Andalus. Textos y Estudios II. Madrid: CSIC, 1992, pp. 155-169) although she doubts that Ibn Baṣṣāl is really the author. The folios fall into three sections: 1. an agricultural calendar; 2. advice on the cultivation of fruit-trees; 3. a paragraph dedicated to the growing of apples.
In the opinion of Carabaza Bravo and García Sánchez these last two may correspond to the missing manuscripts from El Escorial, the aforementioned nos. 45 and 47, respectively.

(Source:  Carabaza Bravo & García Sánchez, 2001 and 2009)

  • Bibliothèque de manuscrits Lmuhub Ulahbib, Bejaïa, Algeria, no number: Kitāb Mukhtaṣṣar al-filāḥa (‘The concise book of farming’) of Ibn Baṣṣāl.
  • 18th C. manuscript, complete and in good condition, attributed to “Abi Abd Allah Muhammad ben Ibrahim ben Basal (originaire d'andalousie) vivant 476h 1086 ap J.C.”. 11 folios with 28 lines each. This manuscript has been digitized by the Virtual Library of the Mediterranean and can be accessed at http://data.manumed.org/notices/88403/gallery/471358.

  • In addition, the anonymous 14th century Syrian author who wrote Miftāḥ al-rāḥa li-ahl al-filāḥa and used the complete work of Ibn Baṣṣāl as a source for his treatise, often cites quotations from the latter that are more extensive and clearer than those in the summary that we now have (Carabaza Bravo & García Sánchez 1998, p. 396)


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