Gundeshapur

Gundeshapur

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Gundeshapur was the intellectual center of the Sassanid empire and the home of the Academy of Gundishapur
Academy of Gundishapur
The Academy of Gondishapur , also Jondishapur , was a renowned academy of learning in the city of Gundeshapur during late antiquity, the intellectual center of the Sassanid empire. It offered training in medicine, philosophy, theology and science. The faculty were versed in the Zoroastrian and...

.

Founded in 271 CE by the Sassanid king Shapur I
Shapur I
Shapur I or also known as Shapur I the Great was the second Sassanid King of the Second Persian Empire. The dates of his reign are commonly given as 240/42 - 270/72, but it is likely that he also reigned as co-regent prior to his father's death in 242 .-Early years:Shapur was the son of Ardashir I...

, Gundeshapur was home to a teaching hospital, and also comprised a library
Library
In a traditional sense, a library is a large collection of books, and can refer to the place in which the collection is housed. Today, the term can refer to any collection, including digital sources, resources, and services...

 and an centre of higher learning. It has been identified with extensive ruins south of Shahabad, a village 14 km south-east of Dezful
Dezful
Dezful is a city in and the capital of Dezful County, Khuzestan Province, Iran. At the 2006 census, its population was 228,507, in 55,711 families.The city houses a bridge that dates back to 300 BC.In 2006, the city had 235,819 inhabitants.-History:...

, to the road for Shush, in the present-day province of Khuzestan, southwest Iran
Iran
Iran , officially the Islamic Republic of Iran , is a country in Southern and Western Asia. The name "Iran" has been in use natively since the Sassanian era and came into use internationally in 1935, before which the country was known to the Western world as Persia...

.
It is not an organised archeological place today, and except of the ruins it is full of remainings like broken ceramics.

Gundeshapur or Jondi Shapour, was a renowned academy of learning in the city of Jondi Shapour during late antiquity, the intellectual center of the Sassanid Empire. It offered training in medicine, philosophy, theology, and science. It has been a center for training scientists for centuries. Iranian, Greek, Indian, and Roman scientists conducted studies and scientific research there. The faculty was versed not only in the Zoroastrian and Persian traditions, but in Greek and Indian learning as well. According to The Cambridge History of Iran, it was the most important medical center of the ancient world during the 6th and 7th centuries. Will Durant has lauded the Iranian civilization for having built such an academy. Einstein has praised his disciple, Professor Hesaby
Mahmoud Hessaby
Sayyed Mahmoud Hessaby was a prominent Iranian scientist, researcher and distinguished professor of University of Tehran...

, for having belonged to a country where an academy had been built 1,700 years ago..

In the Achaemenid era, there were numerous physicians in Iran (Persia) whose knowledge was used by Greek scientists, as well as those from many other nations. An important part of medical knowledge in that age and even in the Median period before it and the periods after, was based on the Avestan sciences. During the Sassanian era, scientists from various countries, one of whom was Diogenes, studied different fields, including medicine, at the academy in Gondi Shapur.

Despite the fame, recently, some scholars have called Gundeshapur's overall historical importance, specifically, the existence of its hospital, into question.

The Rise of Gundeshapur


Gundeshapur was one of the major cities in Khuzestan province of the Persian empire. The name Gundeshapur (Pahlavi Gund-ī Shāpūr) comes from the compound term Gund-ī Shāpur "Army of Shapur". Gundeshapur's administrative district included the neighboring towns of Susa
Susa
Susa was an ancient city of the Elamite, Persian and Parthian empires of Iran. It is located in the lower Zagros Mountains about east of the Tigris River, between the Karkheh and Dez Rivers....

 and Mihrijanqadaq, the latter which was actually in a different province. Most scholars believe Shāpur I, son of Ardeshir (Artaxexes), to have founded the city after defeating a Roman army led by Emperor Valerian
Valerian (emperor)
Valerian , also known as Valerian the Elder, was Roman Emperor from 253 to 260. He was taken captive by Persian king Shapur I after the Battle of Edessa, becoming the only Roman Emperor who was captured as a prisoner of war, resulting in wide-ranging instability across the Empire.-Origins and rise...

. Gundeshapur was a garrison town and housed many Roman prisoners of war.

Shāpur I made Gundeshapur his capital. Shāpur's wife, the daughter of Aurelian, lived in the capital with him. She brought with her two Greek physicians who settled in the city and taught Hippocratic medicine. Shāpur also encouraged scholars from Persia and India to settle in his capital.

In 489, the Nestorian
Nestorianism
Nestorianism is a Christological doctrine advanced by Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople from 428–431. The doctrine, which was informed by Nestorius's studies under Theodore of Mopsuestia at the School of Antioch, emphasizes the disunion between the human and divine natures of Jesus...

 theological and scientific center in Edessa
Edessa, Mesopotamia
Edessa is the Greek name of an Aramaic town in northern Mesopotamia, as refounded by Seleucus I Nicator. For the modern history of the city, see Şanlıurfa.-Names:...

 was ordered closed by the Byzantine emperor
Byzantine Empire
The Byzantine Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire during the periods of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, centred on the capital of Constantinople. Known simply as the Roman Empire or Romania to its inhabitants and neighbours, the Empire was the direct continuation of the Ancient Roman State...

 Zeno
Zeno (emperor)
Zeno , originally named Tarasis, was Byzantine Emperor from 474 to 475 and again from 476 to 491. Domestic revolts and religious dissension plagued his reign, which nevertheless succeeded to some extent in foreign issues...

, and transferred itself to become the School of Nisibis
School of Nisibis
The School of Nisibis , for a time absorbed into the School of Edessa, was an educational establishment in Nisibis, modern-day Turkey. It was an important spiritual center of the early Syriac Orthodox Church, and like Gundeshapur, is sometimes referred to as the world's first university. The...

 or Nisibīn, then under Persian rule with its secular faculties at Gundeshapur, Khuzestan. Here, scholars, together with Pagan philosophers banished from Athens
Athens
Athens , is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, as its recorded history spans around 3,400 years. Classical Athens was a powerful city-state...

 by Justinian in 529, carried out important research in medicine, astronomy, and mathematics".

It was under the rule of the Sassanid monarch Khusraw I (531-579 CE), called Anushiravan "The Immortal" and known to the Greeks and Romans as Chosroes, that Gundeshapur became known for medicine and erudition. Khusraw I gave refuge to various Greek philosophers, Nestorian
Church of the East
The Church of the East tāʾ d-Maḏnḥāʾ), also known as the Nestorian Church, is a Christian church, part of the Syriac tradition of Eastern Christianity. Originally the church of the Persian Sassanid Empire, it quickly spread widely through Asia...

 Assyrians
Assyrian people
The Assyrian people are a distinct ethnic group whose origins lie in ancient Mesopotamia...

 fleeing religious persecution by the Byzantine empire
Byzantine Empire
The Byzantine Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire during the periods of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, centred on the capital of Constantinople. Known simply as the Roman Empire or Romania to its inhabitants and neighbours, the Empire was the direct continuation of the Ancient Roman State...

.

The king commissioned the refugees to translate Greek and Syriac texts into Pahlavi. They translated various works on medicine, astronomy, astrology, philosophy, and useful crafts.

Anushiravan also turned towards the east, and sent the famous physician Borzouye
Burzoe
Borzūya was a Persian physician in the late Sassanid era, at the time of Khosrow I.He translated the Indian Panchatantra from Sanskrit into the Middle Persian language of Pahlavi. But both his translation and the original Sanskrit version he worked from are lost...

 to invite Indian and Chinese scholars to Gundeshapur. These visitors translated Indian texts on astronomy, astrology, mathematics and medicine and Chinese texts on herbal medicine and religion. Borzouye is said to have himself translated the Pañcatantra
Panchatantra
The Panchatantra is an ancient Indian inter-related collection of animal fables in verse and prose, in a frame story format. The original Sanskrit work, which some scholars believe was composed in the 3rd century BCE, is attributed to Vishnu Sharma...

from Sanskrit into Persian as Kelile væ Demne.

Many Syriacs
Syriacs
Syriac may refer to:* Syriac alphabet* Syriac language* Syriac Christians* Syriac Christianity, the churches using Syriac as their liturgical language* Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac people, adherents of Syriac Christianity-See also:...

 settled in Gundeshapur during the Fifth century. The Syriacs
Syriacs
Syriac may refer to:* Syriac alphabet* Syriac language* Syriac Christians* Syriac Christianity, the churches using Syriac as their liturgical language* Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac people, adherents of Syriac Christianity-See also:...

 were most of all medical doctors from Urfa, which was during that time, home to the leading medical center. Teaching in the Academy was done in Syriac until the city fell to Muslim Arab armies.

Gundeshapur under Muslim rule


The Sassanid dynasty fell to Muslim Arab armies in 638 CE. The academy survived the change of rulers and persisted for several centuries as a Muslim institute of higher learning. It was later rivalled by an institute established at the Abbasid
Abbasid
The Abbasid Caliphate or, more simply, the Abbasids , was the third of the Islamic caliphates. It was ruled by the Abbasid dynasty of caliphs, who built their capital in Baghdad after overthrowing the Umayyad caliphate from all but the al-Andalus region....

 capital of Baghdad
Baghdad
Baghdad is the capital of Iraq, as well as the coterminous Baghdad Governorate. The population of Baghdad in 2011 is approximately 7,216,040...

. In 832 CE, Caliph
Caliph
The Caliph is the head of state in a Caliphate, and the title for the ruler of the Islamic Ummah, an Islamic community ruled by the Shari'ah. It is a transcribed version of the Arabic word   which means "successor" or "representative"...

 al-Ma'mūn
Al-Ma'mun
Abū Jaʿfar Abdullāh al-Māʾmūn ibn Harūn was an Abbasid caliph who reigned from 813 until his death in 833...

 founded the famous Baytu l-Hikma, the House of Wisdom
House of Wisdom
The House of Wisdom was a library and translation institute established in Abbassid-era Baghdad, Iraq. It was a key institution in the Translation Movement and considered to have been a major intellectual centre during the Islamic Golden Age...

. There the methods of Gundeshapur were emulated; indeed, the House of Wisdom was staffed with graduates of the older Academy of Gundeshapur. It is believed that the House of Wisdom was disbanded under Al-Mutawakkil
Al-Mutawakkil
Al-Mutawakkil ʻAlā Allāh Jaʻfar ibn al-Muʻtasim was an Abbasid caliph who reigned in Samarra from 847 until 861...

, Al-Ma'mūn's successor. However, by that time the intellectual center of the Abbasid Caliphate had definitively shifted to Baghdad, as henceforth there are few references in contemporary literature to universities or hospitals at Gundeshapur.

Gundeshapur, in this time, became a major link between Islamic and Greek medicine, because of its previous practices of combining the Greek, Indian, and Iranian medical traditions. Gundeshapur was a site where the traditions of Galen
Galen
Aelius Galenus or Claudius Galenus , better known as Galen of Pergamon , was a prominent Roman physician, surgeon and philosopher...

 and Hippocrates
Hippocrates
Hippocrates of Cos or Hippokrates of Kos was an ancient Greek physician of the Age of Pericles , and is considered one of the most outstanding figures in the history of medicine...

 had been preserved, therefore the transition from ancient to Islamic tradition was more coherent. This combination "foreshadowed the synthesis that was to be achieved in later Islamic medicine."

The significance of the center gradually declined. The 10th century writer Muqaddasi described Gundeshapur as falling into ruins

Recent academic doubts


Some scholars have cast doubts on the existence of the hospital at Gundeshapur by claiming that there are no known surviving Persian sources "that would corroborate the claims that [Gundeshapur] played a crucial role in medical history". It has been assumed that a medical center at Gundeshapur would have resembled the School of Nisibis
School of Nisibis
The School of Nisibis , for a time absorbed into the School of Edessa, was an educational establishment in Nisibis, modern-day Turkey. It was an important spiritual center of the early Syriac Orthodox Church, and like Gundeshapur, is sometimes referred to as the world's first university. The...

. What is more likely is there existed a seminary, like the one in Nisibis, where medical texts were read, and an infirmary, where Galenic medicine was practiced.

Additionally, Gundeshapur's reputation may have been conflated with that of Susa
Susa
Susa was an ancient city of the Elamite, Persian and Parthian empires of Iran. It is located in the lower Zagros Mountains about east of the Tigris River, between the Karkheh and Dez Rivers....

, a city to the west of Gundeshapur and with which Gundesahur was administratively linked. Ath-Tha 'ālibi, a scholar with access to Sassanian royal annals, says of pre-Islamic Persia:
Thus, the people of [Susa] became the most skilled in medicine of the people of Ahwāz and Fārs because of their learning from the Indian doctor [who was brought to Susa by Shāhpur 1] and from the Greek prisoners who lied close to them; then [the medical knowledge] was handed down from generation to generation. In the other hand, the same source might be another confrmation of the medical reputation of Gundeshapur as Susa
Susa
Susa was an ancient city of the Elamite, Persian and Parthian empires of Iran. It is located in the lower Zagros Mountains about east of the Tigris River, between the Karkheh and Dez Rivers....

 may represent the whole local region which included Gundeshapur (as they were administrativly linked). This is enforced by the fact that Ahwāz and Fārs, mentioned in the quote for comparison to Susa
Susa
Susa was an ancient city of the Elamite, Persian and Parthian empires of Iran. It is located in the lower Zagros Mountains about east of the Tigris River, between the Karkheh and Dez Rivers....

, were regions as well, an indication that regions were being compared.

Sources

  • Elgood, Cyril. A Medical History of Persia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1951.
  • Frye, Richard Nelson
    Richard Nelson Frye
    Richard Nelson Frye is an American scholar of Iranic and Central Asian Studies, and Aga Khan Professor Emeritus of Iranian Studies at Harvard University...

    . The Golden Age of Persia. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1975.
  • Frye, Richard Nelson
    Richard Nelson Frye
    Richard Nelson Frye is an American scholar of Iranic and Central Asian Studies, and Aga Khan Professor Emeritus of Iranian Studies at Harvard University...

    , ed. The Cambridge History of Iran. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975.
  • Piyrnia, Mansoureh. Salar Zanana Iran. Maryland: Mehran Iran Publishing, 1995.
  • Hill, Donald. Islamic Science and Engineering. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1993.

See also

  • Science in Persia
  • List of hospitals in Iran
  • School of Nisibis
    School of Nisibis
    The School of Nisibis , for a time absorbed into the School of Edessa, was an educational establishment in Nisibis, modern-day Turkey. It was an important spiritual center of the early Syriac Orthodox Church, and like Gundeshapur, is sometimes referred to as the world's first university. The...

  • Sarouyeh
    Sarouyeh
    Sarouyeh was a large library in ancient pre-Islamic Iran. The 10th century chronicler Ahmad ibn Rustah refers to it as "Sarough" . The Fars Nameh of Ibn Balkhi calls it Haft Halkeh ....