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3 Brothers From Baghdad and Their Remarkable 9th-Century Book of Inventions


A prescient relic of the Islamic Golden Age.

magine leafing through an old book and discovering some blueprints, in the form of a clearly labeled diagram. They depict a rudimentary face covering, attached to a pipe with a set of bellows at the end. And there’s a simple but effective flap valve there to ensure that the mask is only supplied with fresh air. Anyone wearing the mask would be able to breathe safely in a toxic environment, provided someone else could work the bellows. Around the 19th century, European firefighters were beginning to make use of such things. But this book is far older than that. The gas mask is just one of a hundred amazing inventions laid out all the way back in A.D. 850 in the Book of Ingenious Devices, written in Baghdad by three scholars known as the Banū Mūsā brothers.

Practically every page of the book contains something just as impressive as the gas mask. There are designs for a self-filling lamp, a set of hot and cold water taps, and even entertaining automata. The plans are brief, each one a page of text alongside a diagram or two, but their simplicity belies the extraordinary prescience of the Banū Mūsā. The book represents an early high point in medieval engineering—compiling both inventions from ancient Greece, India, Syria, and Persia with the brothers’ original creations. It was truly a document representing the open approach to learning and the pursuit of knowledge that characterized the era in which it was written—the Islamic Golden Age.

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Tags: #bagdad, #history, #islam, #middleeast, #science
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