From: Thomas Hockey et al. (eds.). The Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers, Springer Reference. New York: Springer, 2007, pp. 1161-1162

Courtesy of

ʿUrī: Muʾayyad (al‐Milla wa‐) al‐Dīn (Muʾayyad ibn Barīk [Burayk]) al‐ʿUrī (al‐ʿĀmirī al‐Dimashqī)

Petra G. Schmidl

Bornprobably ʿUr between Palmyra and Ruāfa, (Syria), circa 1200

DiedMarāgha, (Iran), circa 1266

ʿUrī was one of the major figures of Islamic astronomy in the 13th century, and participated in a number of important scientific innovations and developments. Sometime before 1239, ʿUrī moved to Damascus, where he worked as an engineer, a teacher of geometry. and, possibly, of astronomy as well. In 1252/1253, as he says in his Risālat al‐Rad, he built the socalled perfect instrument for al‐Malik al‐Manūr, Lord of im. In the 1250s Naīr al‐Dīn al‐ūsī asked him to come to Marāgha in Azerbaijān (now in northwest Iran) to help in the building of an observatory under the patronage of the Mongol ruler Hülegü. The observatory, one of the most important ever built in the Islamic world and arguably the first full‐scale observatory in the modern sense, was founded in 1259, and ʿUrī arrived in Marāgha in that year (or shortly before). He took part in building the observatory outside the city and erected special devices and water wheels to raise the water to the observatory hill; he also participated in the construction of a mosque and a special building for Hülegü's residence. At the observatory in Marāgha, ʿUrī probably joined in the observations for ūsī's Īlkhānī Zīj and was mentioned in this treatise. Though a noted astronomer and instrument maker, his participation in the observatory was limited to its early years, in as much as he constructed instruments there only before 1261/1262. Several instruments for which ʿUrī tells us he prepared models were actually seen by later visitors, further suggesting that he was not the only instrument maker at Marāgha. His son Muammad, also a member of the observatory staff, made a copy of his father's Kitāb al‐Hayʾa and constructed a celestial globe, now preserved in Dresden, which was used at the observatory. ʿUrī, as well as ūsī, was a member of the so called School of Marāgha, which also included Qub al‐Dīn al‐Shīrāzi and a number of other astronomers.

ʿUrī's Risāla fī Kayfiyyat al‐arād (or simply Risālat al‐Rad) is a rich and informative treatise on observational instruments, preserved in a unique manuscript in Paris. Some of the instruments mentioned in this treatise were well known, others were invented by ʿUrī himself. The treatise mentions the instruments built before and up to 1261/1262. The introduction describes the determination of the meridian by means of an “Indian circle.” ʿUrī tells us the place and time of the erection of the instruments, and he also outlines his relationship to ūsī. The following instruments are mentioned: a mural quadrant, that seems to be used in general for altitude measurement, as well as for a careful determination of the latitude of Marāgha and the obliquity of the ecliptic; an armillary sphere for the measurement of the ecliptic longitude and latitude; a solstitial armilla for the determination of the obliquity of the ecliptic; an equinoctial armilla for the determination of the entry of the Sun into the equatorial plane and the path of the Sun at the equinoxes; a so called dioptrical ruler of Hipparchus for the measurements of the apparent diameters of the Sun and the Moon and the observation of eclipses; an azimuth ring for the determination of the altitude and the azimuth; and several other rulers and instruments, such as the “perfect instrument” for the measurement of the azimuth. ʿUrī ends with a critique of the parallactical ruler described by Ptolemy. As for the size of the instruments, ʿUrī remarks that the instruments should be as large as possible to have the required division of the scales.

ʿUrī's Kitāb al‐Hayʾa, written sometime before ʿUrī reached Marāgha in 1259, is a work on theoretical astronomy that includes a critique of Ptolemy's Almagest and his Planetary Hypotheses. There exist two versions of ʿUrī's treatise: an earlier one compiled sometime between 1235 and 1245 and a later version in which he edited whole chapters of his original text to make the arguments more consistent. In the Kitāb al‐Hayʾa ʿUrī introduces the reader to Ptolemaic astronomy and then explains the difficulties arising from some of Ptolemy's methods and techniques. He then presents his own astronomical models as an alternative. For ʿUrī, as well as for other astronomers of the so called School of Marāgha, the main problem in Ptolemaic astronomy was the lack of consistency between the mathematical models and the principles of natural philosophy. Examples occurred in the prosneusis point for the Moon, the deferent in the lunar model, the equant in the model for the superior planets, the inconsistencies in the planetary distances, and the inclination and deviation of the spheres of Mercury and Venus that were meant to account for latitude. In ʿUrī's opinion, these inconsistencies violated the essential consistency between the theoretical mathematical models and the accepted natural and physical axioms. ʿUrī held to the basic principles of Greek astronomy, especially the circular and uniform motion of the heavenly bodies, and the Earth as the unmovable center of the Universe; he also appreciated the validity of the Ptolemaic planetary observations as quoted in the Almagest. But he objected to the mathematical models that Ptolemy had devised to describe the motions of the planets. ʿUrī tried to find astronomical models that would preserve Ptolemy's observations, and which would also be consistent mathematically as well as physically. To this end, he devised the ʿUrī lemma, a developed form of the theorem by Apollonius that transformed eccentric models into epicyclic ones. ʿUrī stated that if we construct two equal lines on the same side of any straight line so that they make two equal angles with that straight line, be they corresponding or interior, and if their endpoints are connected, then the line resulting from connecting them will be parallel to the line upon which they were erected (Kitāb al‐Hayʾa, p. 220). The new technique of bisecting the Ptolemaic eccentricity allowed him to preserve Ptolemy's deferent, while preserving the uniform, circular motions of the celestial orbs that revolve on their own centers, thus avoiding the apparent contradictions in Ptolemy's model. ʿUrī's Kitāb al‐Hayʾa was written within a tradition of astronomical literature that was critical of Ptolemy, but it apparently did not depend upon the work of ūsī, who also presented alternative models in several of his works (many of which were based upon the ūsī couple that transforms circular motion into linear motion). ʿUrī's work was quoted by Ibn al‐Shāir, and influenced Bar Hebraeus and Qub al‐Dīn al‐Shīrāzī. Furthermore, there are many similarities to Nicholaus Copernicus's work. ʿUrī's technical alternative to Ptolemy's model for the upper planets is essentially the same as that in Copernicus's De revolutionibus.

ʿUrī also wrote some minor treatises: a commentary on Kharaqī's astronomical treatise Kitāb al‐Tabira fī ʿilm al‐hayʾa, that closely follows Kharaqī's wording (extant in a unique manuscript in Madrid); a supplement to a problem in the Almagest, probably preserved in Mashhad and Ankara; a short treatise on the determination of the solar eccentricity, preserved in Ankara and Istanbul; and a Risālat al‐ʿAmal fī al‐kura al‐kāmila on the armillary sphere, mentioned in ʿUrī's Risālat al‐Rad as well as in his Kitāb al‐Hayʾa, which seems no longer extant. In addition, ʿUrī himself, or his son, copied in 1252/1253 the recension of the Almagest by ūsī, which is preserved in Cairo.

Both of ʿUrī's main works, the Risālat al‐Rad and the Kitāb al‐Hayʾa, are characterized by improvement and refinement. On the one hand, he tried to make precise instruments – some standard, others of his own invention – that would result in the best observations possible. The Risālat al‐Rad gives the reader a rare insight into the equipment of a medieval Islamic observatory. On the other hand, he attempted to make the Ptolemaic astronomy more consistent by developing new and highly sophisticated planetary theories, some of them mathematically identical to Copernicus's non‐Ptolemaic models.

Selected References

Drechsler, Adolph (1873). Der Arabische Himmels‐Globus angefertigt 1279 zu Maragha von Muhammed bin Muwajid Elardhi zugehörig dem Königl. Mathematisch‐physikalischen Salon zu Dresden. Dresden: Königl. Hofbuchhandlung von Hermann Burdach. (2nd edition reprinted in Sezgin, Astronomische Instrumente, Vol. 4, pp. 215–241; (reprinted in Sezgin, School of Marāgha, Vol. 1, pp. 261–289; and reprinted in Sezgin, Astronomical Instruments, Vol. 4, pp. 215–241.) (On the celestial globe made by ʿUrī's son.)

Frank, Josef (1929). “Review of ‘Hugo J. Seemann, Die Instrumente der Sternwarte zu Marâgha nach den Mitteilungen von al‐ʿUrdî.'” Zeitschrift für Instrumentenkunde 49: 356–367. (Reprinted in Sezgin, Astronomische Instrumente, Vol. 6, pp. 130–141; reprinted in Sezgin, School of Marāgha, Vol. 2, pp. 194–205; and reprinted in Sezgin, Astronomical Instruments, Vol. 6, pp. 130–141.) (On ʿUrī's Risālat al‐Rad.)

Saliba, George (1979). “The First Non‐Ptolemaic Astronomy at the Maraghah School.” Isis 70: 571–576. (Reprinted in Saliba, History of Arabic Astronomy, pp. 113–118.)

——— (1979). “The Original Source of Quṭb al‐Dīn al‐Shīrāzī's Planetary Model.” Journal for the History of Arabic Science 3: 3–18. (Reprinted in Saliba, History of Arabic Astronomy, pp. 119–134.)

——— (1985). “The Determination of the Solar Eccentricity and Apogee According to Muʾayyad al‐Dīn al‐ʿUrī (d. 1266 A.D.). ” Zeitschrift für die Geschichte der Arabisch–Islamischen Wissenschaften 2: 47–67. (Reprinted in Saliba, History of Arabic Astronomy, pp. 187–207.)

——— (1987). “The Height of the Atmosphere According to Muʾayyad al‐Dīn al‐ʿUrī, Qub al‐Dīn al‐Shīrāzī, and Ibn Muʿādh.” In From Deferent to Equant: A Volume of Studies in the History of Science in the Ancient and Medieval Near East in Honor of E. S. Kennedy, edited by David A. King and George Saliba, pp. 445–465. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. Vol. 500. New York: New York Academy of Sciences.

——— (1987). “The Rôle of Maragha in the Development of Islamic Astronomy: A Scientific Revolution before the Renaissance.” Revue de synthèse 108: 361–373. (Reprinted in Saliba, History of Arabic Astronomy, pp. 245–257.)

——— (1989). “A Medieval Arabic Reform of the Ptolemaic Lunar Model.” Journal for the History of Astronomy 20: 157–164. (Reprinted in Saliba, History of Arabic Astronomy, pp. 135–142.)

——— (1990): The Astronomical Work of Muʾayyad al‐Dīn al‐ʿUrī (Kitāb al‐Hayʾa): A Thirteenth Century Reform of Ptolemaic Astronomy (in Arabic with English introduction). Bayrūt: Markaz dirāsat al‐wahda al‐ʿarabiyya. (On ʿUrdī's Kitāb al‐Hayʾa.)

——— (1991). “The Astronomical Tradition of Marāgha: A Historical Survey and Prospects for Future Research.” Arabic Sciences and Astronomy 1: 67–99. (Reprinted in Saliba, History of Arabic Astronomy, pp. 258–290.)

——— (1994). A History of Arabic Astronomy: Planetary Theories during the Golden Age of Islam. New York: New York University Press.

Sayılı, Aydın (1960). The Observatory in Islam. Ankara: Turkish Historical Society.

Seemann, Hugo J. (1928). “Die Instrumente der Sternwarte zu Marâgha nach den Mitteilungen von al ʿUrdî.” Sitzungsberichte der Physikalisch–medizinischen Sozietät zu Erlangen 60: 15–126. (Reprinted in Sezgin, School of Marāgha. Vol. 2, pp. 81–192 and reprinted in Sezgin, Astronomical Instruments. Vol. 6, pp. 17–129.)

Sezgin, Fuat (ed.) (1990/91). Astronomische Instrumente in orientalistischenStudien. Vol 4 and 6. Frankfurt: Institute for the History of Arabic‐Islamic Science.

Sezgin, Fuat (ed.) (1998). The School of Marāgha and Its Achievements. Vols. 1 and 2. Islamic Mathematics and Astronomy. Vols. 50 and 51. Frankfurt.

——— (1998). Astronomical Instruments and Observatories in the Islamic World. Vols. 4 and 6. Islamic Mathematics and Astronomy. Vols. 88 and 90. Frankfurt.

Tekeli, Sevim (1970). “‘The Article on the Quality of Observations' by al‐ʿUrdī.” Araztima 8: 157–169.