From: Thomas Hockey et al. (eds.). The Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers, Springer Reference. New York: Springer, 2007, pp. 948-949

Courtesy of

Qusā ibn Lūqā al‐Baʿlabakkī

Elaheh Kheirandish

Alternate name

Costa ben Luca

BornBaʿlabakk, (Lebanon), probably circa 820

Died(Armenia), probably circa 912–913

Qusā ibn Lūqā (Constantine, son of Loukas), a scholar of Greek Christian origin working in Islamic lands in the 9th century, did work in astronomy that included translations of Greek astronomical works and original compositions. In addition, he composed and translated mathematical, medical, and philosophical works. Qusā's scholarly reputation extended far and wide, and he was noted for his scientific achievements (especially in medicine, where his authority surpassed unayn ibn Isāq according to the bibliographer Ibn al‐Nadīm [died: circa 990]). He reportedly collected Greek scientific manuscripts from Byzantine lands; his translations and revisions of these formed an important part of his scholarly activities. Qusā was fluent in Greek (as well as Syriac), as demanded by his scientific translations, and he also mastered Arabic, a language in which he produced many original scientific compositions. Qusā's scholarly career, which was centered in Baghdad, is notable for his association with numerous patrons, who are particularly important for establishing his biography as well as the chronology of his work. These include various members of the ʿAbbāsid caliphal family, government officials, and a Christian patriarch; the most likely interpretation of the evidence places the bulk of his work in the second half of the 9th century.

The scientific works of Qusā include several astronomical compositions, which cover both the theoretical and the practical aspects of astronomy. The best known are:


Kitāb fī al‐ʿamal bi‐ʾl–kura al‐nujūmiyya (On the use of the celestial globe; with some variations as to title), which contains 65 chapters and was widely disseminated through at least two Arabic recensions as well as Latin, Hebrew, Spanish, and Italian translations;


the extant astronomical work, Hayʾat al‐aflāk (On the configuration of celestial bodies; Bodleian Library MS Arabic 879, Uri, p. 190), which is one of the earliest compositions in theoretical (hayʾa) astronomy;


Kitāb al‐Madkhal ilā ʿilm al‐nujūm (Introduction to the science of astronomy – astrology);


Kitāb al‐Madkhal ilā al‐hayʾa wa‐arakāt al‐aflāk wa‐ʾl‐kawākib (Introduction to the configuration and movements of celestial bodies and stars);


Kitāb fī al‐ʿamal bi‐ʾl‐asurlāb al‐kurī (On the use of the spherical astrolabe; Leiden University Library MS Or. 51.2: Handlist, p. 12); and


Kitāb fī al‐ʿamal bi‐ʾl‐kura dhāt al‐kursī (On the use of the mounted celestial sphere).

The two introductory astronomical titles (3 and 4), reported in the lists of Ibn al‐Nadīm's Fihrist and Ibn Qifī (died: 1248), respectively, are not extant, unless the latter is the same as the theoretical work mentioned in (2). F. Sezgin suggests that these two works are the same; however, they are listed as two distinct titles by Ibn Abī Uaybiʿa (died: 1269). Work (5) is sometimes questioned as a work by Qusā but seems to represent a variation in title of (1). Although E. Wiedemann (1913) treats (6) as an independent work, it also seems to be a variation in title of (1). This leaves Qusā with at least four distinct astronomical compositions, two of which (1 and 2) are extant.

Qusta's works also include translations of the so called Little Astronomy or “Intermediate Books” (Kutub al‐mutawassiāt), texts studied after Euclidean geometry in preparation for Ptolemaic astronomy. Extant among these are the Arabic versions of Theodosius's Spherics (Kitāb al‐Ukar) and Autolycus's Rising and Setting [of Fixed Stars] (Kitāb al‐ulūʿ wa‐ʾl‐ghurūb). In addition to other extant translations, such as Hero of Alexandria's “On the Raising of Heavy Objects” (Fī rafʿ al‐ashyāʾ al‐thaqīla), Qusā is associated with Arabic versions of Aristotle's Physics as well as the later commentaries of Alexander of Aphrodisias and Philoponus on certain of their books. This dual translation program fits well with his statements about the “cooperation” of natural philosophy and geometry in optics as a mixed mathematical science, a genre to which astronomy and mechanics also belong.

Selected References

Brockelmann, Carl (1943). Geschichte der arabischen Litteratur. 2nd ed. Vol. 1, pp. 222–223. Leiden: E. J. Brill. (Contains lists of manuscripts for Qustā's works including five astronomical titles. Entries i, k, g, and f in Section I correspond to nos. 1, 2, 5, and 6 above.)

Browne, E. G. (1902). A Literary History of Persia. 2 Vols, Vol. 1, p. 278. London: T. F. Unwin. (Contains an 11th‐century Persian poem referring to Qusṭā ibn Lūqā.)

Gabrieli, G. (1912). “Nota bibliographica su Qusṭā ibn Lūqā.” Atti della R. Accademia dei Lincei: Rendiconti, classe di scienze morali, storiche e filologiche 21: fasc. 5–6 : 341–382. (Contains a list of 69 of Qusṭā's compositions and 17 translations, including six astronomical titles [nos. 1–6 above, numbered respectively as nos. 40, 37, 54, 37, 67, 40], with references to historical and modern sources and manuscript copies and titles [pp. 348–350; p. 348: no. 40: Q. N. is problematic].)

Gutas, Dimitri (1998). Greek Thought, Arabic Culture: The Graeco–Arabic Translation Movement in Baghdad and Early ʿAbbāsid Society (2nd4th/8th10th centuries). London: Routledge. (Contains a section on the problematic question of Qusṭā's early patrons.)

Harvey, E. Ruth (1975). “Qusā ibn Lūqā al‐Baʿlabakkī.” In Dictionary of Scientific Biography, edited by Charles Coulston Gillispie, Vol. 11, pp. 244–246. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. (Contains a list of Qusṭā's works including four of the astronomical titles listed above [nos. 1, 2, 3, and 5] with reference to relevant manuscripts, reference works, and secondary sources up to 1975, with the exception of the important article of Wiedemann in the first edition of the Encyclopaedia of Islam.)

Hill, D. (1986). “usṭā b. Lūkā al‐Baʿlabakkī.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam. 2nd ed. Vol. 5, pp. 529–530. Leiden: E. J. Brill. (Contains references to some of Qusṭā's works, including two on astronomy [with English titles, apparently nos. 1 and 3 above], and a short bibliography.)

Ibn Abī Uaybiʿa (1882–1884). ʿUyūn al‐anbāʾ fī abaqāt al‐atibbāʾ, edited by August Müller. 2 Vols, Vol. 1, pp. 144–245. Cairo‐Königsberg. (Contains a list of over 60 of Qusṭā's works including three astronomical titles [nos. 1, 3, and 4 above].)

Ibn al‐Nadīm (1970). The Fihrist of al‐Nadīm: A Tenth‐Century Survey of Muslim Culture, edited and translated by Bayard Dodge. 2 vols, Vol. 1, p. 295; Vol. 2, pp. 694–695. New York: Columbia University Press. (Contains a list of over 30 of Qusṭā's compositions including 2 astronomical titles [nos. 1 and 3 above].)

Kheirandish, Elaheh (1999). The Arabic Version of Euclid's Optics (Kitāb Uqlīdis fī Ikhtilāf al‐manāẓir). 2 Vols. New York: Springer‐Verlag. (Contains discussions of Qusṭā's optical work, with reference to relevant sources and discussions [“Intermediate Books”, mixed mathematical sciences, etc.].)

al‐Qiftī, Jamāl al‐Dīn (1903). Taʾrīkh al‐ḥukamāʾ, edited by J. Lippert, Vol. 1, pp. 262–263. Leipzig: Theodor Weicher. (Contains a list of over 20 of Qusṭā's works including two astronomical titles [nos. 1 and 4 above].)

Ragep, F. J. (1993). Naīr al‐Dīn al‐ūsī's Memoir on Astronomy (al‐Tadhkira fī ʿilm al‐hayʾa). 2 Vols. New York: Springer‐Verlag. (Contains as part of its exhaustive treatment of Ṭūsī and his important astronomical work, al‐Tadhkira, discussions on several aspects of ʿilm al‐hayʾa [“cosmography, configuration”].)

Rashed, Roshdi (1997). Oeuvres philosophiques et scientifique d'Al‐Kindī. Vol. 1, L'optique et la catoptrique. Leiden: E. J. Brill. (Contains the Arabic text and French translation of Qusṭā's Kitāb fī ʿilal mā yaʿridu fī al‐marāyā min ikhtilāf al‐manāẓir.)

Saliba, George (August 2001). “The Social Context of Islamic Astronomy.” In Proceedings of the Conference: Islam and Science. Amman: Royal Institute for Inter‐Faith Studies, forthcoming. (Contains a discussion of Qusṭā's Hayʾat al‐aflāk [composition date given as 860].)

Sezgin, Fuat Geschichte des arabischen Schrifttums. Vol. 3, Medizin (1970): 270–274; Vol. 5, Mathematik (1974): 285–286; Vol. 6, Astronomie (1978): 180–182. Leiden: E. J. Brill. (Contains a list of the manuscripts of Qusṭā's works including four astronomical titles [nos. 1, 2, 3, and 4 above], the last three suggested as possibly referring to the same work.)

Wiedemann, E. (1913). “osā b. Lūā, al‐Baʿalbakkī.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam. 1st ed., Vol. 4, pp. 1081–1083. Leiden: E. J. Brill. (Contains, in addition to a biography, references to his works including four astronomical titles [nos. 1, 3, 5, and 6 above, listed as separate works], with reference to the problems involved, including the attribution of no. 6 to Qusṭā [pp. 1082–1083], with a short bibliography.)

Wilcox, Judith (1985). “The Transmission and Influence of Qusta ibn Luqa's ‘On the Difference between Spirit and the Soul.'” Ph.D. diss., City University of New York.

——— (1987). “Our Continuing Discovery of the Greek Science of the Arabs: The Example of Qusṭā ibn Lūqā.” Annals of Scholarship 4, no. 3: 57–74. (Contains a more recent account of Qusṭā's scientific and philosophical works and relevant sources.)

Worrell, W. H. (1944). “Qusta ibn Luqa on the Use of the Celestial Globe.” Isis 35: 285–293. (Contains, in addition to relevant references, a useful list of six variant Arabic titles often assumed as representing different works [including nos. 1 and 6 above], an English summary and discussion based on the manuscript copy in Michigan.)