‘Arīb ibn Sa‘d

Kitāb al-anwā’, ‘The Calendar of Cordoba for the year 961’

Abū ’l-Ḥasan (or less likely Abū ‘Alī) ‘Arīb ibn Sa‘d al-Kātib al-Qurṭubī al-Andalusī was born around 300/912 in Cordoba or its vicinity into a family of mawālī converts attached to the Banū al-Turkī and died around 370/980. Having been well-educated in the religious sciences as well as in poetry, grammar and lexicography, he embarked upon a political career, beginning with his nomination as governor of Osuna by the Caliph ‘Abd al-Raḥmān III in 331/943 and culminating in his appointment as kātib (secretary) of the royal chancellery under al-Ḥakam II. In addition, he was a practicing physician and is described in the biographies as adīb (man of letters), interested, inter alia, in agriculture, botany, zoology, astronomy, and hawking, as shā‘ir (poet), tarīkhī (historian), and akhbarī (chronicler), although only a few of his works have been preserved (López, 1990, pp. 319­-327).  He was a contemporary of the famous physician Al-Zahrāwī.

Regarding his works there are some indications that ‘Arīb ibn Sa‘d wrote a book on agriculture, now lost,  as well as the Calendar of Cordoba (Garciá Sanchez, 1992, p. 988). Dozy (1866; 1873, pp. i-viii) and Pellat (1961, introduction) believe that the Calendar of Cordoba has to be regarded as a conflation of two texts, the Kitāb al-anwā’ of ‘Arīb ibn Sa‘d/Sa‘īd and the Kitāb tafīl al-azmān wa-maāli al-abdān of Rabī‘ ibn Zaīd, also known as Racemundo, the bishop of Elvira (Granada) under ‘Abd al-Raḥmān III and Al-Ḥakam II. Their reasoning is based on the fact that the older of the two Latin translations ascribes the text to “Harib filii Zeid episcopi”, reconstructed as “Harib filii [Sa‘d liber, cum libro Rabi filii] Zeid episcopi” or “ Harīb/‘Arīb, the son [of Sa‘d, together with the book of Rabī‘, the son] of Zaīd, the bishop” (Pellat 1961, IX), while the Arabic text gives the title as Kitāb al-anwā’, which they take to be the original title of ‘Arīb’s work as indicated by references in Ibn al-‘Awwām (cf. Dozy, 1866, p 599f.). Lopéz (1990, p. 342f.) on the other hand mentions that Kitāb al-anwā’ is really the name of a literary genre rather than the title of an individual work and points out that the Arabic manuscript concludes by stating tamma kitāb Arīb fī tafīl al-azmān wa-maāli al-abdān (“Here ends ‘Arīb’s treatise regarding the detailed description of the seasons and the benefits of the bodies”). In his opinion, ‘Arīb made use of a sanctoral calendar composed by Rabī‘ ibn Zaīd bearing the same title, which was mentioned on the title page and thus led to confusion between the authors’ names. The supposed use of this sanctoral treatise also explains the references to Christian saints.

Apart from occasional quotations in other authors, the basis, thus far, for establishing the Arabic text is a single manuscript in Hebrew letters (Judaeo-Arabic), in addition to two Latin translations. The first of these dates from the 12th century and is ascribed to Gerard of Cremona, the second was made by an anonymous scholar, with its copies dating to the 13th and 14th centuries (López, 1990, p. 340f.; Martínez Gázquez & Samsó, 1981, p. 319f.). The dedication of the work to the caliph Al-Ḥakam II (also know as Al-Mustanṣir, r. 961 -76) in the older Latin version establishes his ascension to the throne in 961 as terminus a quo (López, 1990, 342). However, Sezgin (Gesch. VII, p. 356) points out that the text of Kitāb tafīl al-azmān wa-masālih al-abdān of Rabī‘ Ibn Zaīd is still extant, partially or entirely, in a manuscript from the Baladīyah Library of Alexandria; perusal of this manuscript may help to clarify the textual history and authorship of the Calendar of Cordoba.

Belonging to the genre of the Arabic Books of Anwā’ or astronomical and meteorological almanacs, the Calendar of Cordoba nevertheless carries some detailed information on the seasonal round of agricultural and horticultural activities and thus may be regarded as one of the earliest known Arabic farming calendars. It is one of the most important sources for establishing the introduction of certain crops into Al-Andalus by the Arabs, amongst which are mentioned the grapefruit or citron (uttrunj or uttruj), rice (arūz), aubergine (badinjān), sugar cane (qaṣab al-sukkar), cotton (al-quṭun), banana (al-mawz), watermelon (dullā‘), and a type of cucumber called qiṭṭā al-shāmī.

The question regarding Ibn Sa‘d’s sources is difficult to answer (López, 1990, pp. 343-346). His astronomical data seems to be taken from Al-Khwārizmī (d. ca. 850), the Iraqi Al-Battānī (d. ca. 929), and ‘Abbās ibn Firnās (d. 887). Another possible source is Kitāb al-anwā’ of Abū Ḥanīfah al-Dīnawarī (d. 282/895). As for medical influences Hippocrates and Galen may be cited, especially Hippocrates’ book on diet. Possible sources for the zoological information and animal husbandry are Kitāb al-khayl of Al-Aṣmā‘i (d. 216/831) and Kitāb al-tayr of Abū Ḥātim al-Sijistānī (d. 250/864). The type and format of the almanac are known from the eastern part of the Islamic world from the works of Quṭrub (d. 206/821), Ibn Durustawayh (d. 330/941), Al-Mubarrad (d. 285/899) and Ibn Māsawayh (d. 243/857).


The Calendar of Cordoba starts with a preface, outlining its purpose and contents:

“Abū ’l-Ḥasan ‘Arīb ibn Sa‘d the secretary - may God forgive him and ourselves - says:
Here is a book that recounts the periods and seasons of the year, the number of months and the days they have, the sun’s course through the zodiac and the mansions, the far points where it rises, the measure of its declination and its elevation, the variable length of the shadow it casts at the time of the meridian, the periodic return of the seasons, the succession of days with the increase and decrease of their lengths, the cold season and warm season and those, moderate and temperate, which separate them, fixing the date of the beginning of each season, the number of days it contains, after the doctrine of the astronomers who calculated the position and movement of the stars, and the ancient physicians who determined the seasons and their natures, for, in the division of the year there appeared among these scholars differences that will be mentioned and discussed in this book, God willing.

“We will also set down those times that no one can do without concerning the times for sowing and planting, and for various agricultural operations, the first harvesting of fruit, the storage and preservation of foodstuffs, the onset of maturity of fruits that are eaten dried, the dates of parturition, as well as other details concerning the well-being and health of people, such as the most suitable times for the purification of the body through the absorption of medicines and phlebotomy, the gathering of herbs and medicinal seeds, and the preparation of drugs, syrups and preserves, when appropriate and possible.

“We will also recount the knowledge regarding the changes of the winds and the theories of the Arabs concerning the anwā’ and the rains, for they were particularly interested in these and the need to determine the dates of the rising and setting of the stars, to distinguish those that brought the rain from those that did not, in order to adjust their migrations in search of grazing and their transfer to water sources…”. (Translated from ‘Arīb ibn Sa‘d (1961). Le Calendrier de Cordoue publié par R. Dozy. Nouvelle Edition Accompagnée d’une Traduction Française Annotée. Edited by C. Pellat. Leiden: Brill, pp. 2-4)

Under each month of the Christian calendar there follows the name of the month in Syriac and Coptic (two other solar calendars of Christian origin), and the number of days in the month, its sign of the zodiac, and the mansions through which the sun passes during it. Then follows information relating to classical element theory and related notions of humoral pathology: the elemental nature of the month, its ‘conformity’, and the controlling humor. Thus, January is cold and humid by nature; its conformity is the nature of water, and lymph is the reigning humor. In contrast, August is hot and dry, with the nature of fire, and yellow bile the dominant humor. This system provided a framework for dietary and medical considerations, as well as an indication of what crops were favored by the astrological conjunction. Also included are astronomical calculations, such as the average length of day and night, the times of sunrise and sunset, the height of the sun at noon, and so forth.
(adapted from Glick, T.F. (1978). Islamic and Christian Spain in the Early Middle Ages, p. 267)

Published Editions & Translations

The Arabic text of the Hebrew manuscript, along with the Latin translation of Gerard of Cremona, was first published by Dozy in 1873:

  • ‘Arīb ibn Sa‘d (1873). Le Calendrier de Cordoue de l’année 961. Texte Arabe et Ancienne Traduction Latine. Edited by R. Dozy. Leiden: Brill. See complete Arabic text here
A new edition, together with an annotated French translation, was published by Pellat:

The text of the alternative Latin translation is found in Martinéz Gázquez & Samsó:

  • Martínez Gázquez, J. & Samsó, J. (1981b). ‘Una nueva traducción latina del calendario de Córdoba (siglo XIII)’. In: Vernet (ed.). Textos y Estudios sobre Astronomía Española en el Siglo XIII, pp. 8-78. Barcelona: Universidad de Barcelona.


The text is known only from a small number of manuscripts, the exact relationship of which to the original is debated.

  • Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, no. 1082 (Arabic text in Hebrew letters)
    Further information on this manuscript can be found in Vajda, 1953, p. 653. See complete Arabic text here
  • Al-Maktabah al-Baladīyah, Alexandria, 2918j, folios 25-50 (Arabic).
    Further information on this manuscript can be found in Sezgin, Gesch. VII, p. 356.
  • Museu Episcopal de Vich, no. 167, folios 2-8 (?).
    Further information on this manuscript can be found in Martínez Gázquez & Samsó, 1981, p. 319ff.
  • Biblioteca Nacional de Madrid, no. 6.036.
    Further information on this manuscript can be found in Martínez Gázquez & Samsó, 1981, p. 319ff.
  • Unknown Latin manuscript [I have not come across any reference to the whereabouts of the manuscript of Gerard of Cremona’s translation]
  • Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin, Ms. lat. quart. 198, dat. 1132.
    Latin translation or version of the Calendar of Cordoba. Good descriptions of the manuscript can be found in the catalogues by Renate Schipke and Andreas Fingernagel:
           Schipke, Renate, Die lateinischen Handschriften in Quarto der Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Teil 1 Ms. lat. quart. 146–406, Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin Preussischer Kulturbesitz. Kataloge der Handschriftenabteilung, Erste Reihe: Handschriften, 6.1. Wiesbaden 2007, pp. 188-92.
           Fingernagel, Andreas: Die illuminierten lateinischen Handschriften süd-, west- und nordeuropäischer Provenienz der Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin Preussischer Kulturbesitz: 4. - 12. Jahrhundert, Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz. Kataloge der Handschriftena_ bteilung: Reihe 3. Illuminierte Handschriften; Bd. 2, T. 1-2. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1999, vol. I pp. 114-116.

References & Further Bibliography

Bustamante Costa, J. (1996). Arabismos Botánicos y Zoológicos en la Traducción Latina (s. XII) del Calendario de Córdoba”. Cádiz: Universidad de Cádiz.
Christys, A. (2002). Christians in Al-Andalus, 711 – 1000. Richmond, Surrey: Curzon Press, pp. 108-135.
Dozy, R. (ed.) 1873. Le Calendrier de Cordoue de l’année 961. Texte arabe et ancienne traduction latine. Leiden: Brill.
Dozy, R. (1866). ‘Die Cordovaner ‘Arīb b. Sa‘d der Secretär und Rabī‘ b. Zaid der Bischof’. Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft 20, pp. 595-609.
Forcada, M. (1998). ‘Books of anwā’ in al-Andalus’. In: Fierro, M. & Samsó, J. (eds.). The Formation of al-Andalus: Part 2 [The Formation of the Classical Islamic World 47], pp. 305‑328.  Aldershot: Ashgate Variorum.
García Sanchez, E. (ed.) (1990). Ciencias de la naturaleza en al-Andalus. Textos y Estudios 1. Granada: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Escuela de Estudios Árabes.
López y López, A.C. (1990) ‘Vida y obra del famoso poligrafo cordobes del siglo X, ‘Arīb Ibn Sa‘īd’. In: García Sánchez, E. (ed.). Ciencias de la Naturaleza en al-Andalus. Textos y Estudios 1, pp. 317-347. Granada: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas.
López y López, A.C. (1994). ‘Estudio particular de las especies botánicas que se citan en el Calendario de Cordóba de ‘Arīb ibn Sa‘d’. In: García Sánchez, E. (ed.). Ciencias de la Naturaleza en al-Andalus. Textos y Estudios 3, pp. 43-78. Granada: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas.
Martínez Gázquez, J. (1981). ‘Santoral del calendario del s. xiii contenido en el Liber Regius del museo episcopal de Vis’. Revista Catalana de Teologia 6, pp. 161-174.
Martínez Gázquez, J. & Samsó, J. (1981a). ‘Algunas observaciones al texto del Calendario de Córdoba’. Al-Qanara 2, pp. 319‑344.
Martínez Gázquez, J. & Samsó, J. (1981b). ‘Una nueva traducción latina del calendario de Córdoba (siglo XIII)’. In: Vernet (ed.). Textos y Estudios sobre Astronomía Española en el Siglo XIII, pp. 8-78. Barcelona: Universidad de Barcelona.
Pellat, Charles (ed.) (1961). Le Calendrier de Cordoue publié par R. Dozy. Nouvelle edition accompagnée d’une traduction française annotée. Leiden: Brill.
Sezgin, Fuat (1967-). Geschichte des arabischen Schrifttums. Leiden: Brill. (quoted Gesch. I, II, etc.)
Vajda, G. (1953). Index Général des Manuscrits Arabes Musulmans de la Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris (Publications de l'Institut de Recherche et d'Histoire des Textes 4). Paris: Éditions du Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique.
Vernet, Juan (ed.) (1981). Textos y estudios sobre astronomía española en el siglo XIII. Barcelona: Facultad de Filosofía y Letras, Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona.