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Arab Agricultural Revolution

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Arabs transformed agriculture during the Golden Age of Islam by spreading major crops and techniques such as irrigation across the Old World.
The Arabs transformed agriculture during the Golden Age of Islam by spreading major crops and techniques such as irrigation across the Old World.

The Arab Agricultural Revolution is the transformation in agriculture from the 8th to the 13th century in the Islamic region of the Old World. The agronomic literature of the time, with major books by Ibn Bassal and Abū l-Khayr al-Ishbīlī, demonstrates the extensive diffusion of useful plants to Medieval Spain (al-Andalus), and the growth in Islamic scientific knowledge of agriculture and horticulture. Medieval Arab historians and geographers described al-Andalus as a fertile and prosperous region with abundant water, full of fruit from trees such as the olive and pomegranate. Archaeological evidence demonstrates improvements in animal husbandry and in irrigation such as with the sakia water wheel. These changes made agriculture far more productive, supporting population growth, urbanisation, and increased stratification of society.

The revolution was first described by the historian Antonio Garcia Maceira in 1876.[1] The name[a] was coined by the historian Andrew Watson in an influential[6][8] but at the time controversial 1974 paper. However, 40 years on, it has proven useful to historians and has been supported by findings in archaeology and archaeobotany.[8]

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  • ✪ The Agricultural Revolution: Crash Course World History #1
  • ✪ Ibn al-ʿAwwām (ابن العوام) The Great Agriculturist
  • ✪ The Medieval Islamicate World: Crash Course History of Science #7
  • ✪ World History-ប្រវត្តិសាស្ត្រពិភពលោក#2 Agricultural-revolution which led to creation of first state
  • ✪ औद्योगिक क्रांति - Industrial Revolution in Hindi - World History for IAS/UPSC/PCS


Hello, learned and astonishingly attractive pupils. My name is John Green and I want to welcome you to Crash Course World History. Over the next forty weeks together, we will learn how in a mere fifteen thousand years humans went from hunting and gathering... Mr. Green, Mr. Green! Is this gonna be on the test? Yeah, about the test: The test will measure whether you are an informed, engaged, and productive citizen of the world, and it will take place in schools and bars and hospitals and dorm-rooms and in places of worship. You will be tested on first dates; in job interviews; while watching football; and while scrolling through your Twitter feed. The test will judge your ability to think about things other than celebrity marriages; whether you'll be easily persuaded by empty political rhetoric; and whether you'll be able to place your life and your community in a broader context. The test will last your entire life, and it will be comprised of the millions of decisions that, when taken together, make your life yours. And everything — everything — will be on it. I know, right? So pay attention. [Intro] In a mere fifteen thousand years, humans went from hunting and gathering to creating such improbabilities as the airplane, the Internet, and the ninety-nine cent double cheeseburger. It's an extraordinary journey, one that I will now symbolize by embarking upon a journey of my own ... over to camera two. Hi there, camera two ... it's me, John Green. Let's start with that double cheeseburger. Ooh, food photography! So this hot hunk of meat contains four-hundred and ninety calories. To get this cheeseburger, you have to feed, raise, and slaughter cows, then grind their meat, then freeze it and ship it to its destination; you also gotta grow some wheat and then process the living crap out of it until it's whiter than Queen Elizabeth the First; then you gotta milk some cows and turn their milk into cheese. And that's not even to mention the growing and pickling of cucumbers or the sweetening of tomatoes or the grinding of mustard seeds, etc. How in the sweet name of everything holy did we ever come to live in a world in which such a thing can even be created? And HOW is it possible that those four-hundred and ninety calories can be served to me for an amount of money that, if I make the minimum wage here in the U.S., I can earn in ELEVEN MINUTES? And most importantly: should I be delighted or alarmed to live in this strange world of relative abundance? Well, to answer that question we're not going to be able to look strictly at history, because there isn't a written record about a lot of these things. But thanks to archaeology and paleobiology, we CAN look deep into the past. Let's go to the Thought Bubble. So fifteen thousand years ago, humans were foragers and hunters. Foraging meant gathering fruits, nuts, also wild grains and grasses; hunting allowed for a more protein-rich diet ... so long as you could find something with meat to kill. By far the best hunting gig in the pre-historic world incidentally was fishing, which is one of the reasons that if you look at history of people populating the planet, we tended to run for the shore and then stay there. Marine life was: A) abundant, and B) relatively unlikely to eat you. While we tend to think that the life of foragers were nasty, brutish and short, fossil evidence suggests that they actually had it pretty good: their bones and teeth are healthier than those of agriculturalists. And anthropologists who have studied the remaining forager peoples have noted that they actually spend a lot fewer hours working than the rest of us and they spend more time on art, music, and storytelling. Also if you believe the classic of anthropology, NISA, they also have a lot more time for skoodilypooping. What? I call it skoodilypooping. I'm not gonna apologize. It's worth noting that cultivation of crops seems to have risen independently over the course of milennia in a number of places ... from Africa to China to the Americas ... using crops that naturally grew nearby: rice in Southeast Asia, maize in in Mexico, potatoes in the Andes, wheat in the Fertile Crescent, yams in West Africa. People around the world began to abandon their foraging for agriculture. And since so many communities made this choice independently, it must have been a good choice ... right? Even though it meant less music and skoodilypooping. Thanks, Thought Bubble. All right, to answer that question, let's take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of agriculture. Advantage: Controllable food supply. You might have droughts or floods, but if you're growing the crops and breeding them to be hardier, you have a better chance of not starving. Disadvantage: In order to keep feeding people as the population grows you have to radically change the environment of the planet. Advantage: Especially if you grow grain, you can create a food surplus, which makes cities possible and also the specialization of labor. Like, in the days before agriculture, EVERYBODY'S job was foraging, and it took about a thousand calories of work to create a thousand calories of food ... and it was impossible to create large population centers. But, if you have a surplus agriculture can support people not directly involved in the production of food. Like, for instance, tradespeople, who can devote their lives to better farming equipment which in turn makes it easier to produce more food more efficiently which in time makes it possible for a corporation to turn a profit on this ninety-nine cent double cheeseburger. Which is delicious, by the way. It's actually terrible. And it's very cold. And I wish I had not eaten it. I mean, can we just compare what I was promised to what I was delivered? Yeah, thank you. Yeah, this is not that. Some would say that large and complex agricultural communities that can support cities and eventually inexpensive meat sandwiches are not necessarily beneficial to the planet or even to its human inhabitants. Although that's a bit of a tough argument to make, coming to you as I am in a series of ones and zeros. ADVANTAGE: Agriculture can be practiced all over the world, although in some cases it takes extensive manipulation of the environment, like y'know irrigation, controlled flooding, terracing, that kind of thing. DISADVANTAGE: Farming is hard. So hard in fact that one is tempted to claim ownership over other humans and then have them till the land on your behalf, which is the kind of non-ideal social order that tends to be associated with agricultural communities. So why did agriculture happen? Wait, I haven't talked about herders. Herders, man! Always getting the short end of the stick. Herding is a really good and interesting alternative to foraging and agriculture. You domesticate some animals and then you take them on the road with you. The advantages of herding are obvious. First, you get to be a cowboy. Also, animals provide meat and milk, but they also help out with shelter because they can provide wool and leather. The downside is that you have to move around a lot because your herd always needs new grass, which makes it hard to build cities, unless you are the Mongols. [music, horse hooves] By the way, over the next forty weeks you will frequently hear generalizations, followed by "unless you are the Mongols" [music, hooves]. But anyway one of the main reasons herding only caught on in certain parts of the world is that there aren't that many animals that lend themselves to domestication. Like, you have sheep, goats, cattle, pigs, horses, camels, donkeys, reindeer, water buffalo, yaks, all of which have something in common. They aren't native to the Americas. The only halfway useful herding animal native to the Americas is the llama. No, not that Lama, two l's. Yes, that llama. Most animals just don't work for domestication. Like hippos are large, which means they provide lots of meat, but unfortunately, they like to eat people. Zebras are too ornery. Grizzlies have wild hearts that can't be broken. Elephants are awesome, but they take way too long to breed. Which reminds me! It's time for the Open Letter. Elegant. But first, let's see what the Secret Compartment has for me today. Oh! It's another double cheeseburger. Thanks, Secret Compartment. Just kidding, I don't thank you for this. An Open Letter to elephants. Hey elephants, You're so cute and smart and awesome. Why you gotta be pregnant for 22 months? That's crazy! And then you only have one kid. If you were more like cows, you might have taken us over by now. Little did you know, but the greatest evolutionary advantage: being useful to humans. Like here is a graph of cow population, and here is a graph of elephant population. Elephants, if you had just inserted yourself into human life the way cows did, you could have used your power and intelligence to form secret elephant societies, conspiring against the humans! And then you could have risen up, and destroyed us, and made an awesome elephant world with elephant cars, and elephant planes! It would have been so great! But noooo! You gotta be pregnant for 22 months and then have just one kid. It's so annoying! Best wishes, John Green. Right, but back to the agricultural revolution and why it occurred. Historians don't know for sure, of course, because there are no written records. But, they love to make guesses. Maybe population pressure necessitated agriculture even though it was more work, or abundance gave people leisure to experiment with domestication or planting originated as a fertility rite - or as some historians have argued - people needed to domesticate grains in order to produce more alcohol. Charles Darwin, like most 19th century scientists, believed agriculture was an accident, saying, "a wild and unusually good variety of native plant might attract the attention of some wise old savage." Off topic, but you will note in the coming weeks that the definition of "savage" tends to be be "not me." Maybe the best theory is that there wasn't really an agricultural revolution at all, but that agriculture came out of an evolutionary desire to eat more. Like early hunter gatherers knew that seeds germinate when planted. And, when you find something that makes food, you want to do more of it. Unless it's this food. Then you want to do less of it. I kinda want to spit it out. Eww. Ah, that's much better. So early farmers would find the most accessible forms of wheat and plant them and experiment with them not because they were trying to start an agricultural revolution, because they were like, you know what would be awesome: MORE food! Like on this topic, we have evidence that more than 13,000 years ago humans in southern Greece were domesticating snails. In the Franchthi Cave, there's a huge pile of snail shells, most of them are larger than current snails, suggesting that the people who ate them were selectively breeding them to be bigger and more nutritious. Snails make excellent domesticated food sources, by the way because A) surprisingly caloric B) they're easy to carry since they come with their own suitcases, and C) to imprison them you just have to scratch a ditch around their living quarters. That's not really a revolution, that's just people trying to increase available calories. But one non-revolution leads to another, and pretty soon you have this, as far as the eye can see. Many historians also argue that without agriculture we wouldn't have all the bad things that come with complex civilizations like patriarchy, inequality, war, and unfortunately, famine. And, as far as the planet is concerned, agriculture has been a big loser. Without it, humans never would have changed the environment so much, building dams, and clearing forests, and more recently, drilling for oil that we can turn into fertilizer. Many people made the choice for agriculture independently, but does that mean it was the right choice? Maybe so, and maybe not, but, regardless, we can't unmake that choice. And that's one of the reasons I think it's so important to study history. History reminds us that revolutions are not events so much as they are processes; that for tens of thousands of years people have been making decisions that irrevocably shaped the world that we live in today. Just as today we are making subtle, irrevocable decisions that people of the future will remember as revolutions. Next week we're going to journey to the Indus River Valley - whoa - very fragile, our globe, like the real globe. We're going to travel to the Indus River Valley. I'll see you then. Crash Course is produced and directed by Stan Muller. Our script supervisor is Danica Johnson. The show is written by my high school history teacher, Raoul Meyer, and myself, and our graphics team is Thought Bubble. If you want to guess at the phrase of the week, you can do so in comments. You can also suggest future phrases of the week. And if you have a question about today's video, please leave it comments where our team of semi-professional quasi-historians will aim to answer it. Thanks for watching, and as we say in my hometown, Don't Forget To Be Awesome.


Medieval Islamic agronomy

Medieval Islamic arboriculture: Ibn Bassal and Abū l-Khayr al-Ishbīlī described in detail how to propagate and care for trees such as olive and date palm.
Medieval Islamic arboriculture: Ibn Bassal and Abū l-Khayr al-Ishbīlī described in detail how to propagate and care for trees such as olive and date palm.

The first Arabic book on agronomy to reach al-Andalus, in the 10th century, was Ibn Wahshiyya's al-Filahat al-nabatiyya (Nabatean Agriculture), from Iraq; it was followed by texts written in al-Andalus, such as the Mukhtasar kitab al-filaha (Abridged Book of Agriculture) by Al-Zahrawi (Abulcasis) from Cordoba, around 1000 AD.[9]

The eleventh century agronomist Ibn Bassal of Toledo described 177 species in his Dīwān al-filāha (The Court of Agriculture). Ibn Bassal had travelled widely across the Islamic world, returning with a detailed knowledge of agronomy. His practical and systematic book both gives detailed descriptions of useful plants including leaf and root vegetables, herbs, spices and trees, and explains how to propagate and care for them.[10]

Village scene with poultry, sheep and goats from a copy of the Maqamat al-Hariri illustrated by al-Wasiti, 1237
Village scene with poultry, sheep and goats from a copy of the Maqamat al-Hariri illustrated by al-Wasiti, 1237

The twelfth century agronomist Abū l-Khayr al-Ishbīlī of Seville described in minute detail in his Kitāb al-Filāha (Treatise on Agriculture) how olive trees should be grown, grafted, treated for disease, and harvested, and gave similar detail for crops such as cotton.[11]

Medieval Islamic agronomists including Ibn Bassal and Abū l-Khayr described agricultural and horticultural techniques including how to propagate the olive and the date palm, crop rotation of flax with wheat or barley, and companion planting of grape and olive.[9][11] These books demonstrate the importance of agriculture both as a traditional practice and as a scholarly science.[9] In al-Andalus, there is evidence that the almanacs and manuals of agronomy helped to catalyse change, causing scholars to seek out new kinds of vegetable and fruit, and to carry out experiments in botany; in turn, these helped to improve actual practice in the region's agriculture.[12] During the 11th century Abbadid dynasty in Seville, the sultan took a personal interest in fruit production, discovering from a peasant the method he had used to grow some exceptionally large melons—pinching off all but ten of the buds, and using wooden props to hold the stems off the ground.[12]

Medieval Islamic animal husbandry

Arab sheep herders, by Antonio Leto
Arab sheep herders, by Antonio Leto

Archaeological evidence from the measurement of bones (osteometry) demonstrates that sheep in southern Portugal increased in size during the Islamic period, while cattle increased when the area became Christian after its reconquest. The archaeologist Simon Davis assumes that the change in size signifies improvement by animal husbandry, while in his view the choice of sheep is readily explained by the Islamic liking for mutton.[13]

Medieval Islamic irrigation

The ancient Bahr Yussef canal connects the Fayyum depression to the River Nile some 25 km away.
The ancient Bahr Yussef canal connects the Fayyum depression to the River Nile some 25 km away.

During the period, irrigated cultivation developed due to the growing use of animal power, water power and wind power.[14] Windpumps were used to pump water since at least the 9th century in what is now Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan.[15]

The Islamic period in the Fayyum depression of Middle Egypt, like medieval Islamic Spain (al-Andalus), was characterised by extremely large-scale systems of irrigation, with both the supply, via gravity-fed canals, and the management of water under local tribal control.[16] In the Islamic period in al-Andalus, whose rural parts were equally tribal,[16] the irrigation canal network was much enlarged.[17] Similarly, in the Fayyum, new villages were established in the period, and new water-dependent orchards and sugar plantations were developed.[16]

The animal-powered sakia irrigation wheel was improved in and diffused further from Islamic Spain.
The animal-powered sakia irrigation wheel was improved in and diffused further from Islamic Spain.

The sakia[b] or animal-powered irrigation wheel was likely introduced to Islamic Spain in early Umayyad times (in the 7th century). Improvements to it were described by Hispano-Arabic agronomists in the 11th and 12th centuries. From there, sakia irrigation was spread further around Spain and Morocco.[18] A 13th century observer claimed there were "5000" waterwheels along the Guadalquivir in Islamic Spain; even allowing for medieval exaggeration,[19] irrigation systems were certainly extensive in the region at that time. The supply of water was sufficient for cities as well as agriculture: the Roman aqueduct network into the city of Cordoba was repaired in the Umayyad period, and extended.[19][20]

Medieval accounts of Islamic Spain

Medieval Andalusian historians such as Ibn Bassam, Ibn Hayyan, and Ibn Hazm, and geographers such as al-Bakri,[21][22] al-Idrisi,[23] and al-Zuhri, described Islamic Spain as a fortunate entity.[24][25] Indeed, the tenth-century Jewish scribe Menahem Ben Saruq wrote to the Khazar king "The name of our land in which we dwell ... in the language of the Arabs, the inhabitants of the land, al-Andalus ... the land is rich, abounding in rivers, springs, and aqueducts; a land of corn, oil, and wine, of fruits and all manner of delicacies; it has pleasure-gardens and orchards, fruitful trees of every kind, including ... [the white mulberry] upon which the silkworm feeds".[25] al-Maqqari, quoting the ninth-century Ahmad Ibn Muhammad Ibn Musa al-Razi, describes al-Andalus as a rich land "with good, arable soil, fertile settlements, flowing copiously with plentiful rivers and fresh springs."[25] Al-Andalus was associated with cultivated trees like olive and pomegranate. After the Christian reconquest, arable farming was frequently abandoned, the land reverting to pasture, though some farmers tried to adopt Islamic agronomy.[26] Western historians have wondered if the Medieval Arab historians were reliable, given that they had a motive to emphasize the splendour of al-Andalus, but evidence from archaeology has broadly supported their claims.[27][1]

A revolution in agriculture

Agricultural scene from a mediaeval Arabic manuscript from al-Andalus (Islamic Spain) c. 1200
Agricultural scene from a mediaeval Arabic manuscript from al-Andalus (Islamic Spain) c. 1200

In 1876, the historian Antonia Garcia Maceira argued that where the Romans and then the Goths who farmed in Spain made little effort to improve their crops or to import species from other regions, under "the Arabs", there was an agricultural "revolution" in al-Andalus caused "by implementing the knowledge that they acquired through observation during their peregrinations,[c] and the result was extensive agricultural settlement."[1]

In 1974, the historian Andrew Watson published a paper[2] proposing an extension of Garcia Maceira's hypothesis of agricultural revolution in Al-Andalus.[28][d] Watson argued that the economy established by Arab and other Muslim traders across the Old World enabled the diffusion of many crops and farming techniques throughout the Islamic world, as well as the adaptation of crops and techniques from and to regions outside it. Crops from Africa, such as sorghum, from China, such as citrus fruits, and from India, such as mango, rice, cotton and sugar cane, were distributed throughout Islamic lands, which he believed had not previously grown these plants.[2] He listed eighteen such crops.[29][e] Watson suggested that these introductions, along with an increased mechanization of agriculture and irrigation, led to major changes in economy, population distribution, vegetation cover,[30] agricultural production and income, population, urban growth, distribution of the labour force, industries linked to agriculture, cooking, diet and clothing in the Islamic world.[2]

Irrigating by hand in the 20th century
Irrigating by hand in the 20th century

In 1997, the historian of science Howard R. Turner wrote that Islamic study of soil, climate, seasons and ecology "promoted a remarkably advanced horticulture and agriculture. The resulting knowledge, transmitted to Europe after the eleventh century, helped to improve farming techniques, widen the variety of crops, and increase yields on the continent's farmlands. In addition, an enormous variety of crops was introduced to the West from or through Muslim lands".[31]

The historian of Islam Salah Zaimeche stated in 2002 that the "accepted wisdom" that agriculture was not improved until the last few centuries in Europe had been overturned by work by Watson, Thomas Glick[32] and L. Bolens[33] among others.[11]

In 2006, James E. McClellan III and Harold Dorn stated in their book Science and Technology in World History that Islam had depended as much on its farmers as its soldiers, and that the farmers had helped to create a "scientific civilisation": "in what amounted to an agricultural revolution they adapted new and more diversified food crops to the Mediterranean ecosystem: rice, sugar cane, cotton, melons, citrus fruits, and other products. With rebuilt and enlarged systems of irrigation, Islamic farming extended the growing season and increased productivity."[34] They stated further that the importance of these efforts was indicated by the "uninterrupted series" of books on agriculture and irrigation; another indication was provided by the many books on particular animals of importance to Islamic farming and government, including horses and bees. They ascribed the population growth, urbanisation, social stratification, centralisation of politics and state-controlled scholarship to the improvement in agricultural productivity.[34]

Islamic Golden Age innovation: the Moors brought a new architecture, including gardens with water engineering, as in the Alhambra's Generalife Palace, to Al-Andalus.
Islamic Golden Age innovation: the Moors brought a new architecture, including gardens with water engineering, as in the Alhambra's Generalife Palace, to Al-Andalus.

By 2008, the archaeozoologist Simon Davis could write without qualification that in the Iberian peninsula "Agriculture flourished: the Moslems introduced new irrigation techniques and new plants like sugar cane, rice, cotton, spinach, pomegranates and citrus trees, to name just a few... Seville had become a Mecca for agronomists, and its hinterland, or Aljarafe, their laboratory."[13]

In 2011, the Arabist Paulina B. Lewicka [pl] wrote that in Medieval Egypt, the Arab Agricultural Revolution was followed by a "commercial revolution" as the Fatimids (in power 909-1171) made Egypt a major trade centre for the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean, and in the more cosmopolitan and sophisticated society that resulted, a "culinary revolution" which transformed Egyptian cuisine.[35]

Early scepticism

Watson's work was met with some early scepticism, such as from the historian Jeremy Johns in 1984. Johns argued that Watson's selection of 18 plants was "peculiar", since the banana, coconut, mango and shaddock were unimportant in the Islamic region at the time, detracting from the discussion of the staple crops. Johns further noted that the evidence of diffusion of crops was imperfect, that Watson made "too many minor slips and larger errors" such as getting dates wrong or claiming that a 1439 document was Norman, and had failed to make best use of the evidence that was available, such as of the decline of classical agriculture, or even to mention the changing geomorphology. Johns however concluded that "The hypothesis of an 'Abbasid agricultural revolution is challenging and may well prove useful".[36][37]

The historian Eliyahu Ashtor wrote in 1976 that agricultural production declined in the period immediately after the Arab conquest in areas of Mesopotamia and Egypt, on the limited basis of records of taxes collected on cultivated areas.[38] In a 2012 paper focusing on the Sawād area of Iraq, Michele Campopiano concluded that Iraqi agricultural output declined in the 7th to 10th century; he attributed this decline to "competition of the different ruling groups to gain access to land surplus".[39]

Diffusion not revolution

In 2009, the historian Michael Decker[42][g] stated that widespread cultivation and consumption of four staples, namely durum wheat, Asiatic rice, sorghum and cotton were already commonplace under the Roman Empire and Sassanid Empire, centuries before the Islamic period.[42] He suggested that their actual role in Islamic agriculture had been exaggerated, arguing that the agricultural practices of Muslim cultivators did not fundamentally differ from those of pre-Islamic times, but evolved from the hydraulic know-how and 'basket' of agricultural plants inherited from their Roman and Persian predecessors.[43] In the case of cotton, which the Romans grew mainly in Egypt, the plant remained a minor crop in the classical Islamic period: the major fibre was flax, as in Roman times.[44] Decker further asserted that the advanced state of ancient irrigation practices "rebuts sizeable parts of the Watson thesis," since for example in Spain, archaeological work indicated that the Islamic irrigation system was developed from the existing Roman network, rather than replacing it.[45] Decker agreed that "Muslims made an important contribution to world farming through the westward diffusion of some crops", but that the introduction of "agronomic techniques and materials" had been less widespread and less consistent than Watson had suggested.[42] Furthermore, there is clear evidence that agricultural devices such as watermills and waterwheels, shadufs, norias, sakias, water screws and water pumps were widely known and applied in Greco-Roman agriculture long before the Muslim conquests.[46][47]

Revolution driven by social institutions

The main trade of [Seville] is in [olive] oils which are exported to the east and the west by land and sea. These oils come from a district called al-Sharaf which extends for 40 milles and which is entirely planted with olives and figs. It reaches from Seville as far as Niébla, having a width of more than 12 milles. It comprises, it is said, eight thousand thriving villages, with a great number of baths and fine houses.—Muhammad al-Idrisi, 12th century[23]

D. Fairchild Ruggles rejected the view that the medieval Arab historians had been wrong to claim that agriculture had been revolutionised, and that it had instead simply been restored to a state like that before the collapse of the Roman Empire. She argued that while the medieval Arab historians may not have had a reliable picture of agricultural knowledge before their time, they were telling the truth about a dramatic change to the landscape of Islamic Spain. A whole new "system of crop rotation, fertilization, transplanting, grafting, and irrigation" was swiftly and systematically put into place under a new legal framework of land ownership and tenancy. In her view, therefore, there was indeed an agricultural revolution in al-Andalus, but it consisted principally of new social institutions rather than of new agronomic techniques.[1] Ruggles stated that this "dramatic economic, scientific, and social transformation" began in al-Andalus and had spread throughout the Islamic Mediterranean by the 10th century.[12]


Looking back over 40 years of scholarship since Watson's theory, the historian of land use Paolo Squatriti[h] wrote in 2014 that the thesis had been widely used and cited by historians and archaeologists working in different fields. It "proved to be applicable in scholarly debates about technological diffusion in pre-industrial societies, the 'decline' of Islamic civilization, the relations between elite and peasant cultural systems, Europe's historical Sonderweg in the second millennium CE, the origins of globalization, [and] the nature of Mediterraneity." Squatriti noted that Watson had originally trained in economics, and applied this interest to his historical studies. Squatriti described Watson's paper as concise and elegant, and popular for its usefulness in supporting the theses of many different historians. He observed that Watson's thesis did not depend on claims of new introductions of plants into any region, but of their "diffusion and normalization", i.e. of their becoming widely and generally used, even if they were known from Roman times. Calling Watson's "philological" approach "old fashioned", and given that Watson had worked "virtually without archaeology", Squatrini expressed surprise that recent research in archaeobotany had failed to "decisively undermine" Watson's thesis.[8]


  1. ^ The Arab Agricultural Revolution[2] has also variously been called the Medieval Green Revolution,[3][4] the Muslim Agricultural Revolution,[5] the Islamic Agricultural Revolution[6] and the Islamic Green Revolution.[7]
  2. ^ Glick uses the term noria, but states that it is animal-powered,[18] for which sakia is the more usual name.
  3. ^ However "mythical"[1] the idea of the wandering Arab, Ibn Bassal was indeed widely travelled and wrote from his own observations.[10]
  4. ^ In Paolo Squatriti's view, Watson's thesis also recalled the Belgian economic historian Henri Pirenne's 1939 view of the way that a seventh century Islamic maritime power in the Mediterranean had prevented Europe from trading there.[8]
  5. ^ Decker wrote: "In support of his thesis, Watson charted the advance of seventeen food crops and one fiber crop that became important over a large area of the Mediterranean world during the first four centuries of Islamic rule (roughly the seventh through eleventh centuries C.E.)"[29] The food crops named by Watson were rice, sorghum, durum wheat, sugar cane, watermelon, aubergine (eggplant), spinach, artichoke, taro, sour orange (pomelo), lemon, lime, banana, plantain, mango, and coconut; the fibre was cotton.
  6. ^ The webste 'Alcazar of the Christian Monarchs' explains: "The most plausible hypothesis points to an Almoravid construction from 1136-1137. The structure was later reused in the Almohad period to supply the lower part of the Alcazaba with water. The watermill was operational up until the end of the fifteenth century, when, according to tradition, Queen Isabella the Catholic ordered it to be taken down because the noise it produced prevented her from sleeping."[41]
  7. ^ Decker wrote "Nothing has been written, however that attacks the central pillar of Watson's thesis, namely the 'basket' of plants that is inextricably linked to all other elements of his analysis. This work will therefore assess the place and importance of four crops of the 'Islamic Agricultural Revolution' for which there is considerable pre-Islamic evidence in the Mediterranean world."[42]
  8. ^ Squatriti is known for works on medieval land use such as Landscape and Change in Early Medieval Italy, Cambridge University Press, 2013.


  1. ^ a b c d e Ruggles 2000, pp. 31–32.
  2. ^ a b c d Watson 1974, pp. 8–35.
  3. ^ Watson 1981.
  4. ^ Glick 1977, pp. 644–650.
  5. ^ Idrisi 2005.
  6. ^ a b Decker 2009.
  7. ^ Burke 2009, p. 174.
  8. ^ a b c d Squatriti 2014, pp. 1205–1220.
  9. ^ a b c Ruggles 2008, pp. 32–35.
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