Ibn al-Bannā’

Kitāb al-anwā’ / Risāla fī al-anwā’

The well-known Maghribi mathematician and astronomer Abū al-‘Abbās Aḥmad ibn Muḥammad ibn al-Bannā’ (‘son of the architect’), or Abū al-‘Abbās Aḥmad ibn Muḥammad ibn Uthmān al-Azdī al-Marrākushī, was born in Marrakech (although some authors, following Casiri, say he was a native of Granada) on the 3rd or 4th Dhū’l-ḥijja 654/29th or 30th December 1256 and died there on 26th Jumādá al-thānī 721/31st July 1321. He is known to have studied with a great many teachers, mainly in Marrakech and Fez, and he in turn taught arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and astronomy in the madrasa al-‘Aṭṭārīn in Fez (Vernet 2008, n.p.). He also, most probably, worked as astrologer to the Marīnid sultan Abū Sa‘īd, although in his later life he apparently wrote a work directed against the practice, despite the fact that he had penned a number of astrological treatises in his earlier years. Ibn al-Bannā’ authored some 74 works, half of which are treatises on mathematics and astronomy, while the other half comprises works on Qur’anic commentary, Islamic law and theology, rhetoric and logic, but also medicine and magic. His mathematical works remained popular until the last century, when commentaries on them were still being composed (cf. Samsó, 2007).

The only work of Ibn al-Bannā’ of some agricultural interest is his Kitāb al-anwā’ (known also as Risālah fī al-anwā’), an astronomical calendar in the almanac tradition based on the heliacal rising of stars or constellations and the acronychal setting of their opposites and the meteorological conditions, especially rainfall, associated with them. In it he quotes mainly from ‘Arīb ibn Sa‘īd/Sa‘d (probably his 10th century ‘Calendar of Cordoba’) but refers also to other scholars and their works such as Al-Khaṭīb al-Umawī (11th century), ‘Abd Allāh ibn Ḥusayn ibn ‘Āṣim (12th century), Ibn al-‘Awwām’s Kitāb al-filāḥa and a Kitāb al-nabāṭ, possibly that of Abū Ḥanīfah al-Dīnawārī (Rénaud, 1948, p. 6f.). Despite the Moroccan origin of the author, it seems that some of the astronomical data (length of longest day, etc.) correspond to the coordinates of Cordoba and have been taken without modification from the ‘Calendar of Cordoba’. Instead of the Christian saints’ days and other Christian holidays listed in the ‘Calendar of Cordoba’ however, Ibn al-Bannā’s work notes the death dates of Muslim martyrs such as ‘Alī and Al-Ḥusayn, the death anniversaries of Hebrew prophets recognized by Islam, Nawrūz, the Coptic Easter festival, etc. On the other hand, references to astrology, occult meanings of letters, and natural magic seem to be related to the author’s own Moroccan cultural background (cf. Rénaud, 1948, pp. 8-19). In spite of the brevity and relative paucity of farming notes given by Ibn al-Bannā’, his Kitāb al-anwā’ is nevertheless one of the very few sources we have on medieval agriculture in the Maghreb and North Africa outside Egypt.


Ibn al-Bannā’s Kitāb al-anwā’ follows the format of the ‘Calendar of Cordoba’ and other previous Arabic almanacs. The text consists of a short introduction followed by twelve chapters, one for each month. Under each month, the author mentions the number of days, the zodiacal sign, the mansions and important planetary data as well as the Syrian name of the month and the approximate length of the day. This is followed by a list of important dates in the respective month, mentioning important meteorological and climatic data as well as giving advice on agricultural works that should be carried out on particular days, etc. At the end of each month is a summary of recommendations on farming, health, diet, etc. For example, for January, Ibn al-Bannā’ gives the following agricultural notices:

1st of January: festival of the Messiah’s circumcision, a fatal day, there is always much wind on that day. 
4th of January: favourable naw’, but if it doesn’t rain, this will remain the same throughout the year and the harvest will be deficient; if rain falls during the naw’ of Jabha ... the year will be excellent. If there is thunder on that day, it is a sign of abundance and of an excellent year. The sap begins to flow in the wood.
9th January: one begins to prune the vines.

14th January: one begins to plant trees and vines.

15th January: the sap reaches its full force in the trees, the birds appear. This is the end of the 40 longs nights of cold in winter.

17th January: the naw’ of Nathra begins; if it thunders, it is a sign of an abundant year.

18th January: that which is planted on this day will not be successful.

28th January: the beginning of spring according to the system of the Nabataean agriculture...

It is beneficial to prune the vines this month in order to remove that which is without power, and to remove vine leaves and leaves from trees in general that appear to be faded and dry. One chooses for this the bright hours of the day, avoiding the beginning and the end of the day. ... in this month, the water of the rivers warms and steam rises from the earth...

Similarly, the author explains that on the 19th of February one plants roses and jasmine, while the 25th marks the first of the seven days of cold winds. A slightly different type of information is presented e.g. in the statement that on the 23rd of May a wind arises that should be feared for the sake of the produce. In similar fashion, June 26th is declared to be a fatal day, although fruits ripen on this day. On the other hand, every tree planted on August 24th is said to blossom by the grace of God. Other general agricultural information includes the planting of figs and almonds in September, which is also the month when the ostriches begin to lay their eggs, and the advantage of planting vines in November, if one wishes them to blossom quickly and to give excellent produce.

Published Editions & Translations

  • Rénaud, H.P.J. (ed.) (1948). Le Calendrier d’Ibn al‐Bannâ de Marrakech (1256–1321 J. C.). Texte arabe inédit, établi d’après 5 manuscrits, de la Risâla fi’l‐anwâ’, avec une traduction française annotée et une introduction par H. P. J. Rénaud. Paris: Larose.


  • Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris, no. 6020.
    Eastern script, 15 folios, 22 x 15 cm, 21 lines per page (cf. Rénaud, 1948, p. 6f, p. 6 n. 4).
  • Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris, no. 4764, folios 162r – 175r.
    The ms. is in clear, though quite often defective, maghribī script; 17 lines per folio; this ms. which includes a number of treatises was copied by a single scribe, Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad al-Maghribī al-Fāsī and complete on 28th Ramaḍān 1038/22nd May 1629 (Rénaud gives as date 1088/1677).  The text is identical to ms. no. 6020, but has a number of additions in the months of August and December drawn from the Calendar of Cordoba (cf. Attié Attié, 1969, p. 256; Carabaza Bravo/ García Sánchez / Llavero Ruiz, 1991, p. 1122f.; Rénaud, 1948, p. 7 n. 3).
  • Bibliothèque Nationale d’Alger, no. 941.
    Incomplete, stops in July; 2.5 folios, 26 x 19 cm, Maghribī script, 35 lines  per page, copy from 18th century.
  • Bibliothèque Nationale d’Alger, no. 1468.
    7 folios, 25 x 17 cm, Maghribī script, 28 lines per page, close to Paris ms. no. 4764, copy from 18th century.
  • Originally from Salé, Morocco (no number), private copy?
    8 folios, 19 x 24 cm, Maghribī script, 21 lines per folio, 18th century? (cf. Rénaud, 1948, p. 7 n. 5).


Attié Attié, B. (1969). ‘Les manuscrits agricoles arabes de la Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris’. Hespéris‑Tamuda 10 (3), pp. 241-261.
Carabaza Bravo, J.M., García Sánchez, E. & Llavero Ruiz, E. (1991). ‘Obras manuscritas de los geoponos andalusies (siglos X-XII)’. In: Emilio Molina et al. (eds.). Homenaje al Profesor Jacinto Bosch Vila, vol. 2, pp. 1115-1132. Granada: Universidad de Granada.
Forcada Nogués, M. (1992). ‘Les sources Andalouses du calendrier d’Ibn al-Banna’. In: Historia, ciencia y sociedad: actas del II Coloquio Hispano-Marroquí de Ciencias Históricas, [celebrado en] Granada, 6-10 noviembre de 1989. Granada, pp. 183-196.
Ibn al-Bannā’, Aḥmad ibn Muḥammad (1948). Le Calendrier d'lbn al-Bannā’ de Marrakech (1256‑1321 A.D). Edited with French translation and notes by H.P.J. Renaud. Paris: Larose.
Samsó, J. (1978). ‘La tradición clásica en los calendarios agrícolas hispanoárabes y norteafricanos’. In: Actas del II Congreso Internacional de Estudios sobre las Culturas del Mediterráneo Occidental, Barcelona, pp. 177-186.
Samsó, J. (2007). ‘Ibn al‐Bannā’: Abū al‐’Abbās Aḥmad ibn Muḥammad ibn ‘Uthmān al‐Azdī al‐Marrākushī’. In: Thomas Hockey et al. (eds.) The Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers. New York: Springer, 2007, pp. 551-552. (http://islamsci.mcgill.ca/RASI/BEA/Ibn_al-Banna%27_BEA.htm)
Vernet, J. (2008). ‘Ibn Al-Bannā Al Marrākushī’. In: The Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. 2008. Encyclopedia.com. (May 05, 2011). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2830900255.html