The Peacock Clock and the Beauty of Engineering

Introduction

[This entry was posted more than five years ago in “IR HAOSHER” [in Hebrew] and is the beginning of my journey in the footsteps of al-Jazari, this is an updated version]

Modern machines are designed to be functional, reliable, and inexpensive. No one in the Technion (Israel Institute of Technology) ever talked to me about the beauty of Engineering. Sometimes when I look at a machine or its parts, there is something breathtaking beautiful as art. Can I capture this beauty? What terms should I use? These questions resurface when my friend, Dr. Oved Kedem, retired and I looked for a present for a man who loves science and history of science.

A water clock or clepsydra (from Greek “to steal water”) is a clock where time is measured by the regulated flow of water into or out from a vessel. Water clocks, along with the sundials, are the oldest instruments for measuring time. It is not known when and where they were invented. There is evidence for the use of water clocks in the Middle East, ancient Egypt around the 16th century BC and evidence of early water clocks also in other regions of the world, including India and China. I was looking for an exciting water clock, and so I went on a journey that started at the Weizmann Institute of Science, Through Kafr Qara (كفر قرع), Istanbul and Washington and is still going. I chose to build the water clock of the peacocks.

The Peacock water clock, Topkapi Manuscript,1206

How does it work?

The technical explanation, as always, will be colored in blue, so anyone who is not interested in a scoop wheel and a tipping bucket can skip those bits

A drawing of the mechanism with my captions

The clock was built in the wall of a pool with a fountain in the center. The main tank is getting water from the pool, at a rate approximately equal to the water flow to the tipping bucket. I wrote about tipping buckets, for example here and I will do a full mathematical analysis in the future. The latter is the heart of the clock, and when it fills up, once every half an hour, the center of gravity change and the vessel tilt on its axis and discharges its water on the scoop wheel which drives all the clock’s components.  On the copper ball (see diagram above) a peacock made from copper, his tail raised, revolves. The two peacock chicks in the second miḥrāb (محراب)‎) are moving toward each other like they are quarreling. The peahen in the top miḥrāb moves from right to left. The commotion of the peacocks is happening every half an hour, and the glass roundels are colored in red, or lit in the night, to count the passing hours.

The Beauty of Science and Technology

The mechanical drawings by al-Jazari look like Turkish miniatures. My love M.has a treasure chest where she keeps postcards from our travels worldwide, although we have not sent a postcard in ages. When I showed her the Peacock Clock, she searched her collection and found a postcard from our journey to Istanbul twenty years ago, chosen by its merits as a picture without knowing anything about the book or the author.

Despite the narrative break, we should stop here for a moment to contemplate:

A Hidden claim here is that beauty is beauty is beauty. The beauty of the postcard has nothing to to do with the machine and the way it works; it’s just beautiful postcard because of its composition, the colors and other questions for art-lovers. Weizmann Institute “agrees.” In the “Beauty of Science” exhibition, images of experimental results that look beautiful and aesthetic to the eye without any relation to the science behind them. I chose as an example of an image from research by Dr. Einat Vitner. Obviously, the resemblance to Matisse caught the attention of the researcher and the viewers, but I don’t know anything about the scientific significance, or its connection to the elusive concept of beauty in science or engineering.

The Beauty of Science, “Dance of Astrocytes,“ Dr. Einat Vitner, 2011

Is The Peacock Clock beautiful without being a machine?

During my work, I went to Kafr Qara كفر قرع) ) to meet with Dr. Ibrahim Yehia, Director of  TRDC( a Regional Research Center). I wanted to talk to him about his work in the village with active science groups but during the conversation I found, to my surprise, that he got al-Jazari’s book in Arabic, and has a deep interest and knowledge on the subject.  He was a student of Prof. Fuat Sezgin, a professor of History of Science at the Goethe University in Frankfurt, and the founder of both Islam science museums in Frankfurt and Istanbul. The museum exhibits the significant role played by medieval Muslim scientists, inventors, and physicians. Almost all of the items on display are reconstructions of historical instruments and tools that were built by the University of Frankfurt’s Institute of Arabic and Islamic Sciences. Although I am a very rational person with no tendency to mysticism, I thought the way al-Jazari ‘s work permeates into my life is surprising,  a bit strange and attractive. In the same year, I  went to Istanbul to see the Museum. The Museum is located in Gülhane Park which was once part of the garden of Topkapı Palace and is beautiful. It has a beautiful collection of Sextants (navigation) and fascinating maps. Medical instruments from the period in which Islam was at the forefront of science and technology, but the objects designed by al-Jazari seemed like pale folkloristic copies of the book I love:

The elephant clock, right the drawing from the book, left, the model from the Museum.

It can be argued that the Museum artists failed to transfer the two-dimensional beauty of the drawing to a three-dimensional model, but I think there’s a lot more than that. The issue is related to the beauty of machines. Meanwhile, I found out about the exhibition entitled – 1001 Inventions the National Museum in Washington., enter it manually with Sir Ben Kingsley in the role of al-Jazari (a little long ~ 13 min)

The exhibition was launched in 2006 at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester and quickly became an international attraction. It was introduced in the British Parliament in London, in the European Parliament in Brussels and the United Nations building in New York. In January 2010 the 1001 Inventions launched at the world-famous London Science Museum to be followed by Istanbul, New York, Dubai, San Francisco and Washington, where I saw it with my son Noah.

The exhibition uses al-Jazari as a role model of technology in the Islamic golden age, with two water clocks: The Elephant water clock and the Scribe water clock. Despite dealing with science and technology, the exhibition is proposing a different narrative: the middle ages are not a dark period in-between the decline of the Roman Empire and the Renaissance, but also the golden age of Islam.  As a result, the items themselves (“elephant clock”, “pumping facility” and so on) are great designs without running water, gears or any working mechanism at all. This is a very decorated but empty shell. Despite the investment, I do not think that none of the objects is even close to original beauty.

I think there is something inside us that identifies and responds to beauty. When it comes to science and engineering, this beauty is related to precision and correctness. In the past seven years, I have taught high school student “computational science,” and it is easy to say a software solution is “beautiful,” and when it is cumbersome and forced. The beauty, in this case, is not purely aesthetic but has to do with simplicity and strength.

Simplicity

To explain the connection between simplicity and beauty, I want to stand on the shoulders of giants. Aristotle believed that the Earth was the center of the universe and the Sun, Moon, planets are attached to transparent, rotating spheres surrounding the Earth. More astronomical observations were difficult to fit in the model and by the time of Ptolemy(2nd century AD),  the model included a system of two spheres per planet: one called its deferent; the other, its epicycle. The final model was so complicated, Alfonso X, king of Castile called the Wise (Spanish: el Sabio) who gained considerable scientific fame based on his deep interest  in astronomy said: “If the Lord Almighty had consulted me before embarking on creation thus, I should have recommended something simpler.”

Picture of the world according to Ptolemy, the most complete and detailed description of the geocentric model following Aristotle

in the evolution of the scientific model of the movement of celestial bodies there are more heroes, Copernicus is perhaps the best known of them all, but I would like jumped straight to Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) who replaced this complicated  system with three simple rules:

  1. Elliptic orbit: The orbit of a planet is an ellipse with the Sun at one of the two foci.
  2. The law of increasing velocity: The planet travels faster when closer to the Sun, and then slower when farther from the Sun. Kepler wrote this law mathematically enabling calculations and predictions.
  3. The harmonic law – The Square of the orbital period (the time it takes for the planet to circle the Sun and we call it “year”) is directly proportional to the cube of the semi-major axis of its orbit.

The summary of Kepler laws is maybe too concise, but I think everyone could see the beauty in the ability to explain the complex movement of the night sky using three simple rules that require mathematics of middle school. The simplicity and elegance of Kepler’s model help us to be convinced but do not make it right. Like any scientific or engineering theory, it should be repeatedly tested and verified. Astronomical observations are numerous and contain deviations and mistakes. The regularity is not simple. Kepler spent many years analyzing the data. As the scientific model consists of simple rules, as the rules explain more phenomena, sometimes seemingly unrelated, there is a sense of logical harmony, echoing within us as more beautiful.

Power

From time to time, there is an engineering achievement, such as the telephone or the electric bulb that makes us truly believe in the power of human invention to improve the lives of humanity. What makes an engineering or scientific solution powerful beyond its success? It tried to look at an example:

The wheel is such an old invention that we have no way of knowing who or where it originated. Depictions of a wheeled vehicle appeared between 3500–3350 BCE in the Bronocice clay from southern Poland. The wheel helps to bridge distances and ease transportation of objects and goods. To my surprise, the benefits of transportation were limited for thousands of years due to a lack of roads and infrastructure.

However the wheel was still used for many purposes, Stone mills powered by water, Distaff and a spinning wheel, pulleys to lift the weight, toothed wheels to change the speed, torque, and direction of a power source which allowed ancient civilizations to create complex machines as al-Jazari demonstrated so gracefully.

The index of power asks how elaborate is the engineering solution and how many layers it includes. I think it’s similar, but different, from the beauty of subtext, when the contents of a book or movie, which was not transferred to us explicitly, becomes understood as the book/movie unfolds. This is not just the complexity, but the integration and the consolidation, The beauty of how the various components fit together; the water fill the tipping bucket carefully designed so that it will tilt every half hour, rotating the scoop wheel, a little bit like our enjoyment of Rube Goldberg’s  machine :

Rube Goldberg self-operating napkin

In this respect, when the machine lost its function and made just a design is losing its power and simplicity, and hence its beauty, even if its shape is intact. With the crew of the workshop of the Clore Science Garden, we built a prototype of the Peacocks Clock:

The fountain that changes its shape and the controversy with the Banu Musa

“Allah has promised the believing men and believing women gardens beneath which rivers flow, wherein they abide eternally.”

Qur’an 9:72

The fountain with two tipping buckets, Topkapi manuscript, 1206

Introduction

The Muslim paradise is called Jannah ( جنّة), literally “garden.”  Every time heaven is mentioned in the holy book of Qur’an, there is a description of flowing water and fruit-bearing trees. This is not surprising because Islam came from the desert, hot and arid lands. I would like to ignore the other attributes of al-Jannah such as houris; splendid companions of equal age, lovely eyed and virgins, who will accompany the faithful. My only focus is on the scenery. Like Garden of Eden in the Bible, there are four rivers in Jannah, the Euphrates flows according to both books, but the other rivers are different, and they have a common source named Salsabil (سلسبيل).

Gardens were significant to Islam from its inception. The garden landscaping has a spiritual meaning which exceeds the human need for shade and water. They are perceived as a place of rest and contemplation, an earthly equivalent to life in heaven. This metaphor reached its peak in Chahar-bagh, (چهارباغ), in which the garden was divided into four parts by water channels; the four water channels being the four rivers of paradise with a fountain in the center of a pool, representing Salsabil. I think that al-Jazari’s deep interest in fountains is related to the importance of gardens in Islam. 

A miniature of paradise from the 16th century

How does the fountain work?

The fountain of al-Jazari is installed in a pool. For an hour the fountain shoots up from the main orifice and then for one hour it emits six curving jets from six nozzles, and the process repeats itself. Today it is a trivial task for any engineer, but in the 12th century, with no electronics or electric valves, it was almost a miracle. The technical explanation, as always, will be colored in blue, so anyone who is not interested in early control systems can skip those bits.

At some distance from the pool, al-Jazari built a high house into which the water flowed. This section does not appear in the drawing. The water from the high house flew into the copper bowl welded to a pipe with four openings. This is the same drawing as above, but with my captions.

At the bottom of the titling pipe, al-Jazari welded a ring which is seated on an axle so that the pipe is like a kids seesaw. The right side is slightly heavier, and therefore it tilts to the right, and the water comes from both openings on the right. The main opening fills the tank and the narrow pipe which shoots the water up in the air. The secondary opening is much smaller, and it slowly fills the tipping bucket (in red). In the drawing, the tipping bucket is almost full. After one hour, the weight of the water at the front-end is heavy enough to make the tipping bucket swing, and the black rod will push the tilting pipe upward so the seesaw would tilt to the left and water fill the other tank, the wide pipe around the narrow pipe and comes out in six jets. The process repeats itself.

Banū Mūsā

Al-Jazari opens the fourth Category “On fountains which change their shapes at known intervals and on perpetual flutes” with a brief statement:

“I did not follow the system of the Banū Mūsā, may God have mercy upon them, who in earlier times distinguished themselves in the matters covered by these subjects.”

The Banū Mūsā brothers are the predecessors of al-Jazari and are important to understanding his work. Banū Mūsā, the sons of Moses, is the name shared by three scholars, brothers from the ninth-century, sons of Mūsā ibn Shākir, a Persian astronomer. At a young age, they join the famous House of Wisdom, a library and a translation center in Baghdad. It is known that the brothers wrote together more than 20 books, but most have been lost over the years. Their most famous book and only two copies survived is The Book of Ingenious Devices (كتاب الحيل Kitab al-Hiyal( which al-Jazari is referring. The book was commissioned by the Abbasid Caliph of Baghdad, Abu Jafar al-Ma’mun ibn Harun (786–833), who instructed the Banu Musa to acquire all of the Hellenistic texts that had been preserved during the decline and fall of Roman civilization. This rescue operation has cultural importance, which exceeds by far the current post. Some of the devices described in their Book were inspired by the works of Hero of Alexandria and Philo of Byzantium, as well as ancient Persian, Chinese, and Indian engineering. However, many of the other devices described in the book were original inventions by the Banu Musa brothers. Donald Hill, who translated this book, as well as al-Jazari’s book, wrote:

“The Banu Musa went “well beyond anything achieved by Hero or Philo.” Their preoccupation with automatic controls distinguishes them from their Greek predecessors, including the “use of self-operating valves, timing devices, delay systems, and other concepts of great ingenuity.”

The book describes the construction of 100 devices, including seven automatic fountains.

What is the Controversy?

Al-Jazari did not specify which fountain he is referring to, but he did write:

“They made the alternation [fountain water shapes] with vanes turned by wind or by water so that the fountains were changed at every rotation, but this is too short an interval for the change to appear [to the full effect]. Then in two designs they used a pipe like an almost horizontal balance arm. The water flowed through it …”

It is clear that this is the fountain he is referring to:

A fountain that alternates water shapes by use of a balance from
The Self Changing Fountain of Banu Musa bin Shakir by Prof. Salim T S Al-Hassani

He concludes: ” I do not know whence this confusion [came], from the original or from the copy.”

For those who really want to dive into the details, you can see here the fountains the Banu Musa. There could be no argument that al-Jazari borrowed key concepts from the Banu Musa, including the placement of a narrow pipe within a wide pipe, the concept of two water tanks and variable feeding with time. His main disagreement is over the control method. In his opinion, the intervals were too short, and the result could be erratic. He’s probably right. Al-Jazari explains what’s wrong with the design, but the details are of little importance. The technology changed so dramatically that the historical techniques to control the timing are only an odd puzzle of how we can control timing before we had, electronics and electric valves. However, curiosity and skepticism are the best guides for every engineer today, just like eight centuries ago.

Curiosity and Doubts

Anybody who taught high school or Bachelor’s degree in science or technology knows that academic success is no guarantee for curiosity, healthy doubts, or critical thinking in general. Excellent students can answer the questions in the exam but find it difficult to ask questions about a scientific paper or engineering presentation, to test if the assumptions are robust and can stand rigorous evaluation, if there is an alternative explanation or if there can be another model. Many excellent and feel uncomfortable with the new requirements so different from their previous experience in school. In parenthesis, as an educator, I have to say that this is not a decree of fate and schools can do a lot, but that’s another discussion. My encounter with al–Jazari is limited to his book, but beyond is high of engineering capabilities, it is clear he was curious and had a healthy measure of inquisitiveness and skepticism. He checked the water regulator attributed to Archimedes and found it insufficient, he read the Banu Musa and had his doubts regarding the control method. Beyond the benefit of the healthy engineering skepticism, as he adds question marks, I like him more.

 

The pump and the Crankshaft

Introduction

The fourth machine for raising water is a pump based on a slider-crank mechanism. A more detailed explanation about crank, its history, and why is it interesting will follow. Since the drawing by al-Jazari is difficult to understand, I will present the revised drawing by Dr. Donald R. Hill, The book translator, and annotator. This is a good opportunity to write a few words about Hill, who was instrumental in bringing this book to us and in understanding al-Jazari and his importance to the history of Engineering.

Machine for raising water from a pool, Chester Beatty Library in Dublin probably 15th century from Iran or Iraq

Donald Rutledge Hill (1922-1994)

Hill was born in London. He joined the English army engineering unit during World War II until he was wounded in action in Italy. Back in England, he studied Engineering at the London University, obtaining his engineering degree in1949. He later worked for the Iraq Petroleum Company in Lebanon, Syria, and Qatar. Hill was gifted in languages, and before arriving at the Middle East, he was already fluent in French, German, Spanish and Italian. The move allowed him to add spoken Arabic but also to master literary Arabic. In 1964 he completed an M.Litt in the history of Islam and 1970 a Ph.D. from the University of London. His impressive accomplishments are a result of the unique combination of engineering knowledge and mastery of Arabic as well as Orientalism at its best, the study of the Arabic culture rather than a romantic perception or in contrast to the West. His main contributions are the translations of “The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices,” by al-Jazari, which is the sole purpose of this blog. He also translated the “Banu Musa” mentioned here more than once, and “On the Construction of Water Clocks” attributed to Archimedes. His contribution far exceeds the traditional role of a translator and includes annotations, drawings and writing several books on the history of engineering and technology that helped reinstate the technology in the golden age of Islam to its proper place.

How does it work?

The technical explanation, as always, will be colored in blue, so anyone who is not interested in Cranks (Are you series? Without Cranks we would not have locomotives or cars!) Or toothed wheels can skip those bits

An ox, in the upper room, is rotating the system. If you are confused after the fake cow, in the previous post, this is an actual animal, and without it, the pump would not work. The part of the gears and the conversion of the rotary movement to a linear one is difficult to understand (for me and others), and it looks like al-Jazari drawing is in error. I bring side by side the original illustration by al-Jazari and the drawing by Hill, and I added captions.

Combined drawing, al-Jazari, and Hill

The Ox, in the top room, rotates the horizontal tooth-wheel, which in turn rotates a vertical tooth-wheel, much like the classic sāqīya already explained here. The difference is that the vertical tooth wheel is attached to a slider-crank. We met this mechanism in the water wheel pump where it converted circular motion to linear motion and possibly vice versa. This is an essential component in engines and pumps till this very day. This is an animation of the pump, and you can see the slider-crank mechanism clearly:

It is easy to see that when the wheel rotates the crank moves within the slot and since the ladle is anchored at the axle it will raise the water and empty them later. In al-Jazari drawing( in contrast to the text which is quite clear) it seems that the vertical tooth-wheel is in 900 and the crank is in an odd angle relative to the slot. Hill’s drawing is correcting all these problems and explains well how it worked. Large engines are usually multicylinder to reduce pulsations from individual firing strokes, with more than one piston attached to a complex crankshaft:

Flat-plane crankshaft (red), pistons (gray) in their cylinders (blue), and flywheel (black)

Crankshaft

Many internet sites consider the crank as an invention of al-Jazari, for example here:

“In 1206, al-Jazari invented an early crankshaft, which he incorporated with a crank-connecting rod mechanism in his twin-cylinder pump. Like the modern crankshaft, al-Jazari’s device consisted of a wheel setting several crankpins into motion, with the wheel’s motion being circular and the pins moving back-and-forth in a straight line. The crankshaft described by al-Jazari transforms continuous rotary motion into linear reciprocating motion and is central to modern types of machinery such as the steam engine, internal combustion engine, and automatic controls. “

Before I expand a little on the evolution of the crank, it is important to note that the concept of an individual inventor is, in most cases, excessive romanticizing. It is inordinate when we have a definite inventor and more so for the Middle Ages or before that.  Take, for example, James Watt, who invented the steam engine in 1769 and issued a patent for it. A few children’s books suggest the idea of the steam engine came at the age of 12 while young James sat in the kitchen with his aunt, staring at a teakettle. The water was boiling so hard that the lid of the tea kettle began to jump up and down. This is simply not true. Watt invented the steam engine while fixing Newcomen’s steam engine for the University of Glasgow. This engine was invented in 1712 and was considered a great success. More than 100 such engines were installed as water pumps in mines in England and Wales. Also, the Newcomen engine is not the first steam engine, and there are predecessors from the 16th and 17th centuries. Don’t get me wrong, James Watt is entirely worthy of his glory, his improvements (the separate steam condenser and later the double-action engine) were very significant and the industrial revolution, for better or worse, is the consequence of the improvements by Watt.

The electric light bulb was invented by Edison, and the airplane was invented by the Wright brothers, but their story is not very different from the story of James Watt. Without diminishing their impotent contributions, their inventions, just like Watt’s steam engine, are a link in a long chain.

Manual cranks appeared in China during the Han dynasty (202 BC-220 AD), and we find ceramic models in the tombs of the period. However, the potential of the crank of converting circular motion into reciprocal motion never seems to have been fully realized in China. There are manual cranks examples from Europe and the Middle East. For example this picture of Roman iron crank for an unknown purpose from the 2nd century AD

roman crank

A Roman iron crank dating to the 2nd century AD was excavated in Augusta Raurica, Switzerland.

The crank appears in the book by the Banu Musa from the 9th century, which al-Jazari new and quoted. However, in their version, the crank did only a partial rotation which wouldn’t allow for significant power transfer.  Al-Jazari did not write, as he did in his fountain [in Hebrew], for example, that he looked at design by the Banu Musa and decided that it requires improvement and does not refer to the originality of his design.

330px-Steam_engine_in_action

Steam Engine, Wikipedia

What is so beautiful about this door? (Cast brass door for the Artuqid Palace in Diyarbakir)

Introduction

The sixth and final category in the book contains five dissimilar designs. The first and most grand of all is the Artuqids Palace door in Diyarbakir, Eastern Anatolia. Al-Jazari opens this chapter with some enthusiastic message very unusual for him:

It is the masterpiece; to view it saddles are strapped on. Truly it is the pearl, the orphan, a priceless possession.”

This passionate text surprised me because this door, engineering speaking, is quite simple and doesn’t contain the inventions and surprises included in most of al-Jazari works. The beauty is not in engineering, but in the art and the craft. Donald Hill, translator, and interpreter of the book, Engineer by heart, was interested mainly in the casting technology: “Of particular importance, also, is the first unequivocal description of metal casting in closed mould-boxes with green sand, a method not used in the West until the end of the fifteenth century.” Casting is a manufacturing process in which a liquid metal (al-Jazari used copper, brass, and bronze) is poured into a mold with the desired shape. “Green” sand is used even today. The name is a bit confusing as the sand is not green color at all. Instead, the sand is called “green” because it is “wet” sand, which contains water and organic bonding compounds much like we say “green wood” in carpentry.

I have two very different questions:

  • Sorry, what is so beautiful about this door? Or at least why al-Jazari admired his work?
  • How is it possible that military considerations are not part of the design? What does it say about al-Jazari as an engineer?

Description of the door and its beauty

It is a door with two leaves which rise to the height of about four and a half meters (originally 18 spans ( شِبْر) ) and the width of each leave is a meter and a half.

The Palace door, Topkapi Manuscript, 1206

The Palace door, Topkapi Manuscript, 1206

In the center of each leave, there is a complex geometric pattern that includes Hexagram (Star of David) and Octagram. It is interesting to note that both these shapes belong to the family of Magic stars. A magic star is a star polygon in which numbers are placed at each of the n vertices and n intersections, such that the four numbers on each line sum to the same magic constant: M=4n+2. The solutions I know to magic stars are only from the 20th century, but the use of the two was very common in the Muslim world. Is it possible that al-Jazari sensed mathematical beauty without knowing the math?

Since it is a relatively complicated pattern, I colored the drawing to see Magic Stars:

Islamic art makes frequent use of geometric patterns which were developed over the centuries. There is  “artistic unity” across time and place. I bring three pictures of three doors with different geographical, cultural and historical background, both Shi’ite and Sunni Islam

The left door is a Turkish door from the14th-century. The middle door is a Grand Palace in Fez in Morocco from the 13th-century. The wooden door from Iran on the right is not dated.

The Islamic aesthetic shift toward complex geometric structures is attributed to the prohibition in the Qur’an of figurative images to avoid becoming objects of worship. Geometric structures are abstract, emphasized symmetries, and suggested infinity and therefore reminding Muslims the idea of the infinite nature of Allah. This explanation does not satisfy me since the second commandment :

” Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them”

Did not yield a similar tradition in Jewish art. I don’t see anything that would justify the special enthusiasm from the geometric patterns of al-Jazari. However, if any of my readers find some special beauty or a hidden message, please comment as I would love to learn.

The pattern was bounded by brass plates a which carried Kufic((كوفي ) inscriptions and leaf motif decorations. This reads “the dominion is God’s, the One, the Conqueror”

Kufic is the oldest calligraphic form of the various Arabic scripts. Kufic developed around the end of the 7th century in Kufa, Iraq, from which it takes its name, and other centers. Kufic was prevalent in manuscripts from the 7th to 10th centuries. In the late 12th century, when the door was made, it was less used, and I do not know if this choice has a special meaning?

The calligraphy is surrounded by  bronze plates which were decorated with red copper leaves:

The process is relatively complex; firstly, he casted bronze panels. Using a scalpel, he carved the leaf template and poured melted red copper.

In the drawing, there are no brass domes, but in the text, there is a detailed explanation and diagram of a dome. I took the liberty to add this to the original drawing by al-Jazari:

I did not cover every detail, but I cannot ignore the door’s knockers from cast brass in the shape of two connected serpents, their heads facing each other. Their mouths are open as if they wished to devour the lion between them.   The door did not survive (I am convinced it was built, and not just designed, because of the richness and the details in the text). It is interesting to note that very similar Bronze door-knockers from the Great Mosque in Cizre are now in the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts in Istanbul. To my surprise, pretty similar versions have found their way to Copenhagen and Berlin museums.

We will never know what caused al-Jazari to be that happy with this door. Maybe he enjoyed his geometric patterns and thought particularly beautiful, Maybe He enjoyed his success in the complex casting or his work with various metals, brass, copper, and silver, maybe he was happy the amount and richness of the details and possibly it was a combination of all.

 

Military engineers and engineering history

Engineering has existed since ancient times, the invention of a pulley, the construction of the Egyptian pyramids or the copper production process are all “Engineering” according to all modern definitions but only in the 14th century was the first use of the term engine’er. The origin of the word is from Latin words “in generare” meaning “to create” but relating to the designing or creating engines of war like the catapult or assault towers. For many years all the engineers were military engineers. Archimedes, a gifted mathematician and scientist had a major role in the Second Punic War. He improved the power and accuracy of the Catapult, He designed a giant claw to destroy Roman ships, and the peak of his inventions was burning the Roman fleet using mirrors.  Leonardo da Vinci engineering career included military chapters as evident from his letter to Ludovico Sforza, ruler of Milan. He wrote:

“I have plans for very light, strong and easily portable bridges with which to pursue and, on some occasions, flee the enemy.. Also, if one cannot, when besieging a terrain, proceed by bombardment either because of the height of the glacis or the strength of its situation and location, I have methods for destroying every fortress.”

The Faculty of engineering at the Technion is still called “civil engineering,” to be separated from military engineering, although the former has become almost a non-issue in the modern world of engineering.

It is somewhat surprising that there is no military engineering chapter al-Jazari’s work and even when he builds the door for the Palace, no considerations of strength or defense capability are mentioned, not even a single word. Two possible explanations:

  1. The principality in Diyarbakir was so peaceful that there was no need for a military engineer.
  2. The expectations from the Court engineer in Diyarbakir were different.

 

A change in Diyarbakir and al-Jazari as an “engineering magician.”

The dynasty was founded by Artuk Bey, a general under the Seljuq emir of Damascus. In 1086 he was appointed the governor of Jerusalem, a surprising twist to a story about a Muslim dynasty which ruled in Diyarbakir Anatolia. We need to remember that the Middle East map in the 11th and 12th centuries is very different from the map we know today. After Artuk death in 1091 his sons, Sökmen and Ilghazi were expelled from Jerusalem by the Fatimid vizier and set themselves up in Diyarbakır and Mardin in Anatolia.

This door was installed at the Artuqid Palace in Diyarbakir where al-Jazari was the court engineer. The Palace was built within the walls of Diyarbakir during the reign of Salih Nasreddin Mahmud (1200-1222) Artuqid king who employed al-Jazari like his father and brother before him. The Palace was excavated in the 1960s, but most of it is still buried under the mound, and I have a fantasy that the site will be excavated a second time and we will find some of the remains of al-Jazari’s work. In the 12th century, there were a few battles with the Crusaders, with Georgia and clashes of within the Muslims. I don’t think a peaceful period is the explanation of the absence of the military aspect in al-Jazari’s work.

The Artuqids are a Turkmen dynasty which started as a warrior tribe, and its original power was military. In the 12th century, they were settling in the old cities of Amida (the previous name Diyarbakir ) and Mardin. These are ancient cities with urban culture since the Assyrians. The population is diverse and includes veteran Christian and newcomer Turkmen population as well as other migrants from Iran and other places that continued through the 13th century. Beyond the monumental Al- Jazari book, there was probably a workshop for copying and illustrating manuscripts. Rachel Ward identified two other illuminated manuscripts that were produced there. There were new architectural designs, Sharon Talmor as part of her graduate work at the University of Tel Aviv found three which mark a new era in Islamic architecture. As a part of the assimilation of a warrior tribe into the urban setting, there was probably a need for a change, and there was a thirst for cultural and artistic activities. I’d love to hear other suggestions too, but this is a possible explanation for the absence of military engineering.

So the circle closes. The question of the beauty of the door is connected to the role of al-Jazari. As we step into the book, I think we will be more convinced of his role as  “a magician of engineering”  the man who harness science and technology to create and beauty and astonishment.

 

The Pump with the Fake Cow

Introduction

The third raising water machine described by al-Jazari is clearly an attraction in the King Palace and not a solution to irrigation problems in Diyarbakir. It’s not just the fake cow(!) made of wood, and I will elaborate on this later on, but the text speaks for itself:

“[The one described here] is beautiful to behold, with upper wheels, splendid craftsmanship, elegant shapes, and handsome design. The ropes are silken, the jars delicate and painted with various colors, as are the wheels, the cow and the disc.”

In this respect, he reinforces the concept of the palace Engineer as a “magician.” I wrote about this briefly here [in Hebrew], and I will use the third pump to expand. This design is based on the saqiya (Arabic ساقية‎‎), an ancient device for raising water that can still be seen today. In the following paragraphs, I will explain the saqiya and the similarities and differences from al-Jazari’s pump.

The third water raising device, 13th-century manuscript, SÜLEYMANIYE LIBRARY, Istanbul

How does it work?

The technical explanation, as always, will be colored in blue, so anyone who is not interested in Scoop wheel or Sindi wheel can skip those bits

Al-Jazari device is relatively complex, and only the top part is visible to the observer. This is the original drawing by al-Jazari with my captions:

The center of the device is a square pool with a bottom copper plate, and its sides made of marble. The water flows into the pool and down through an opening on a scoop wheel which is hidden in a chamber below the pool, not visible to the observer. The scoop wheel rotates toothed wheels that transmit the movement to a vertical axle. The axle is hidden within a copper pillar with a copper disc. A wooden cow is standing hairsbreadth above the disk, light as possible and supported by a wooden rod attached to the axle. In this way, it looks like the cow is operating the traditional saqiya. (Pictures and explanations of the saqiya will follow).Toothed wheels turn the Sindi wheel which has the jars on it. Thus raising the water and dispenses the water into the irrigation system of the Palace’s garden (not in the drawing).

It is interesting to note that al-Jazari calls the wheel of the Saqiya “Sindi wheel,” Sindh is in the western corner of South Asia, bordering the Iranian plateau in the west, today in Pakistan. So at least in his time, it was assumed that this is the “origin” of the saqiya.

 sāqīya (ساقية)‎ 

A Photograph from Spain of a Saqiya, Wikipedia

This was the most effective device for raising water used from Spain in the West to India in the East at least from Roman times to the insertion of motorized pumps. An animal (Ox or a donkey) turns a horizontal wheel, which is engaged with the vertical wheel and so causes it to turn. This causes the belt of buckets or jars to circulate and lift water from the well or the stream.  There is no knowledge about the origin of the device. Some claim it was ancient Egypt, 4th century BC, some claim Persia and al-Jazari, and his contemporaries thought Sindh. Regardless of the history, it was very common throughout the Muslim world during the middle ages.

There are many testimonies to the early saqiya here in Israel. The most ancient one in Tel Dor. A saqiya also appears in “The Picturesque Palestine” published in the early 1880s by Charles William Wilson:

The Saqiya is five times more efficient than the Shaduf, which was explained here. It can pump 10-25 cubic meters of water per hour. The unusual version of al-Jazari did not use animal power but water energy. The use of water power for pumping and industrial use, for instance, in the paper industry was known at the time of al-Jazari. The most common device was Noria(ناعورة), which consists of a large water wheel of wooden containers, as shown in the photograph below:

Three norias of Hama on the Orontes River in Syria. Originally to irrigate the City Gardens and now a tourist attraction.

Al-Jazari did not use the noria but the scoop wheel, I may write on this choice in the future. I am more intrigued by the wooden cow.

 Why a wooden cow? Or the engineer as a Magician

The wooden cow of al-Jazari contradicts all engineering logic. First of all, it has no contribution to the water raising secondly it loads the pump and reduces its efficiency. Funny that Wikipedia writer wrote:

“A manuscript by Ismail al-Jazari featured an intricate device based on a saqiya, powered in part by the pull of an ox walking on the roof of an upper-level reservoir, but also by water falling onto the spoon-shaped pallets of a water wheel placed in a lower-level reservoir.

An observer in the 12th century would not make this mistake. The dimensions of the wooden cow are not specified, but the copper disc is about two spans or ~ a half meter. The central axle that connects all the toothed wheels is 12 spans or approximately 3 meters. Even if the image isn’t to scale, it is obvious that the cow was a decoration and was not intended to mislead the observer. Why al-Jazari did this?

My love, M.  thinks it is the handicap principle. The handicap principle is a hypothesis originally proposed in 1975 by Israeli biologist Amotz Zahavi with his wife Avishag Zahavi to explain strange phenomena in nature. Their book is called “peacocks, altruism, and handicap principle” (in Hebrew). The amazing colorful peacock’s tail requires physiological resources to build and maintain, attracts the attention of predators, and hinders the peacock’s ability to escape. At the same time the heavy tail signal peahens that the peacock is very sure of himself and has an impressive set of genes, thus improving his chance to find a spouse. In some paradoxical way, the colorful tail of the Peacock also manages to deter potential predators. In the 1970s, there was broad opposition to the handicap principle because it contradicts the principles of evolution, but today it is widely accepted. Did al-Jazari want to show that an unneeded wooden cow doesn’t bother him to raise water with joy?

I prefer another explanation. We perceive engineers as professionals who analyze data to design and build machines, structures, or materials to achieve the objectives, taking into account the product requirements and limitations, including regulations, cost, safety and more. Al-Jazari was working in a different environment with far fewer limitations and no regulation at all, but his concept of engineering and his role were different. Engineers are hiding mechanisms for any number of reasons, but why Al-Jazari chose to hide the mechanism? Did the tiny wooden cow stress the lack of the usual animal in the saqiya?

I suggest that in al-Jazari’s perception, the engineer is a little bit a magician. It is certainly true for the Magic Pitcher or some of the automata, and it is true for this pump. The hidden mechanism and wooden cow are used to make the riddle more intriguing. It makes no sense to ask a magician about the efficiency of his act, and likewise, there is no sense to ask Al-Jazari why a cow? His goal was not an effective pump, but the wonder of the beholders. Elly Truitt wrote an interesting book called “Medieval Robots” about the transition of Western Europe between the perception of automata as magical to science and technology approach. Truitt tells of a 12th-century book “Chansons de geste, le Voyage de Charlemagne” (Songs of Deeds, the travels of  Charles the Great”). The story is about the visit of Charlemagne to King Hugo’s court in Constantinople. Charlemagne and his barons were astonished by an automaton of a rotating palace mimic the circular motion of the celestial sphere. When the west wind blew the Palace turn, and two copper children blew their ivory horns with heavenly music. Charles’s court thought that this automaton was so expressive that they would have believed they were actually alive. Charles and his barons were unfamiliar with the technology, lost their footing once the palace began to turn. This story is fictional. Charlemagne didn’t make this expedition to Jerusalem and didn’t stop in Constantinople on his way. It is true that there were remarkable automata in the courtyard of Byzantium in the 9th century and a people from the west who had no technological know-how, thought that magic and sorcery are involved. Al-Jazari is the magician but with no magic but hidden scoop wheel and clever use of toothed wheels.

 

Two Scribes and Bloodletting

Introduction

This is the second basin of al-Jazari for blood-letting, “from which the quantity of blood which it holds can be ascertained.” Its mechanism is almost identical to “The Basin of Monk,” explained here with some additional background on the history of bloodletting. The main difference is in the design; two scribes are sitting on a raised platform, one writer rotates, and his pen indicates the amount of blood collected in the same manner as the monk. The other scribe has a writing pad that rises so that his pen, which does not move, indicates the amount of blood. We have plenty of information, medical and images which documented bloodletting. There is no precursor bloodletting tool before al-Jazari and all bloodletting tools after his time are simply bowls with marking. And the question is why?

The basin of the two scribes. Detached folio from a Manuscript,1315

How Does it work?

The mechanism is almost identical to the basin of Monk. The differences are so tiny, if the readers are interested in them, he or she probably do not need my mediation. Still, for the comfort of my readers, I provide my adaptation of the modern drawing by Donnell Hill, the book translator and annotator. If there are any errors, the responsibility is all mine. The technical explanation, as always, will be colored in blue, so anyone who is not interested in pulleys or balancing weight can skip those bits.

Both scribes are sitting on an elevated platform on four columns. The scribe to the left sits on the main pulley and is holding a pen which is an indication of the amount of blood collected so far. Two ropes are connected to the main pulley through the hollow columns and two small pulleys. At one end there is a float, and the other end has a balancing weight. The ropes are tight before the beginning of the bloodletting, and the pen is indicating zero. The blood goes to the basin and the drain and is collected in the container where the float is located. As a result, the float goes up and release rope through the pulley, the weight continues to pull down, and the main pulley with the scribe on it would rotate. The float is also connected to a rod with a writing pad at the end. As the amount of blood accumulates, the writing pad will rise as well. The fixed pen in the hand of the second scribe would also indicate the amount of the blood.

 

Bloodletting tools throughout history

I don’t know if there are any other medical procedure as bloodletting that got so many medical or artistic expression. This is just a small sample:

Pictures from right to left:

  • A drawing of bloodletting on a Greek vase from the fifth century BC
  • A Bowl with a scene of bloodletting from Iran, the first half of the 13th century, Islamic Art Museum, Berlin.
  • Caricature of bloodletting by James Gillray, 1804.

Pictures from right to left:

  •  A Physician is letting blood, 13 century, Aldobrandino of Siena. British Library, London.
  •  A surgeon binding up a woman’s arm after bloodletting. Oil painting by Jacob Toorenvliet, 1666.
  • Photo of bloodletting from 1860, one of three known photographs of the procedure.

In all these photos and many others, the blood is collected in a bowl.  In 1979 the Smithsonian Museum published an impressive catalog of bloodletting tools. The catalog is available online and is full of great information including an article summarizing the topic and plenty of images of bloodletting instruments; there is nothing more than a bowl with graduated marking:

Bleeding bowl with graduated markings to measure the amount of blood. Made by John Foster of London after 1740.

How do we explain al-Jazari choice?

Quite a bit of al-Jazari work relies on his predecessors. Al-Jazari himself was the first one to reference previous scholars as I showed in the Castle Clock or in The Fountain of the Two Tipping Buckets (in Hebrew). Sometimes the technological leap forward is very large, for example, water wheel pump and sometimes less significant as in all the fountains. But not only that there is no precedent to al-Jazari’s designed for measuring blood there is no ” sequel”; no one used al-Jazari ideas. It is worth mentioning his book was quite popular; there are not many manuscripts from the 12th century with 15 remaining copies and bloodletting continued for about 700 more years.

Surprising?  Maybe not. Al-Jazari solution is complicated and requires a lot of work. There is no comparison between the serial production of a ceramic bowl even in the 12th century, and fine mechanics. The materials are more expansive, the basin is made out of brass, and the scribes are made of copper. All this raised the final cost. Also, al-Jazari’s solution is much more difficult to clean and maintain, and offers only one clear advantage: it is more fun and allows the patient to track the amount of blood easily.

I have no evidence in the text, but I am convinced that al-Jazari understood the cost of material, the amount of work and the complexity of maintenance as well as I do. So why did he chose as he did? I have two proposals, and you are welcome to offer your own.

  1. I discussed this question with my young son. He said that if I were asking him in sixth grade to invent a tool that measures the amount of blood during bloodletting, he would look for a solution like this (he added a lot of limitations due to what he knew at that time) because it’s much more “cool.” Al-Jazari was an engineer serving in the Palace in Diyarbakir. The cost was no consideration for his employers, and there was no shortage of servants and slaves. However, his love for automatons constantly sought surprising solutions to the problems around him. This combination of an engineer “crazy” for automatons without constraints won’t be back.
  2. My love M. turned my attention to the Linguist Roman Jakobson and his much-cited article “Linguistics and Poetics” which maps the language to its essential function. For example, The referential function corresponds to the factor of Context, and its role is to transmit information. Some say that this is the main function. I want to focus on the poetic function; it focuses on the message himself, rather than the addresser (sender) or addressee. I took the liberty to take a post of her (in Hebrew) “One Great Illustration and Ora Eitan” and modify it slightly:

“According to the linguist Roman Jakobson” The primary intent of the message as such [in our case, the message is the automaton itself, the way it fulfills its purpose. AG] is the poetic function of language. In Jakobson words: The set (Einstellung) toward the message as such, focus on the message for its own sake, is the POETIC function of language.”

In these terms, al-Jazari is a poet or at least a poet of automata.  In this respect, the discussion on price or maintenance misses the point completely because it treats poetry with traditional engineering tools.

Two Automatons and Iconoclasm

Introduction

Two automatons, an automaton of a man holding a goblet and a bottle and an automaton of two shaykhs upon a dais, are very similar in their mechanism but also, unfortunately, similar because all the faces of the characters were damaged (thanks to Galia Levy-Grad who brought this to my attention) more on this topic below:

An automaton of a man holding a goblet and a bottle on the right, and an automaton of are two shaykhs upon a dais, on the left. Topkapi manuscript, 1206

How does it work?

The technical explanation, as always, will be colored in blue, so anyone who is not interested in a tipping bucket or a siphon can skip those bits.

Both automatons have very partial drawings. Donald Hill, the book translator, did not add a modern schematics as he did with most machines in the book. The reason is Al-Jazari own words: “construction of the figure was described in the previous chapter [here] so there is no need to explain it.” This is my drawing, based on the text and previous drawings:

The mechanism of a man holding a goblet and a bottle

This is a mechanical slave made of copper; the head and neck are a wine reservoir slowly dripping into a tipping bucket. The tipping bucket is partially hidden by his hand. You can see a tipping bucket more clearly in drawing below of the two shaykhs or here (in Hebrew). After seven and a half minutes the tipping bucket would be full of wine and would tilt on its axis and pour twenty dirhams, sixty cubic centimeters of wine which would flow through the pipe to the silver bottle. The top of the goblet is covered; wine would flow directly through the hollow arm to the arm tank. The latter becomes heavy, and the arm would move upward about the axle in the elbow, imitating the motion of drinking. When the tank is full, the siphon ­­­will empty the arm tank, and the hand would descend to its original position.

The automaton of two shaykhs sitting cross-legged on a dais, each holding a bottle and a silver goblet is a duplication of the mechanism just explained. The reservoir is full of water which slowly dripped through an onyx to a tilting pipe. At the bottom of the pipe, a ring was welded, so the pipe is like a “children teeter.” The right side is slightly heavier, and therefore the pipe tilts to the right and water come out on the right. It would take about seven and a half minutes to the tilting bucket to fill (the drawing is just before it overturns) and then water would flow into the pipe inside the column. The rod at the side of the tilting bucket would push the tilting pipe to the left, and the water would flow to the tilting bucket B. After seven and a half minutes it would tilt, and water would flow to other Sheikh’s goblet. This is a drawing of the mechanism with my captions:

Mechanism of the automaton of the two shaykhs

Iconoclasm

In both illustrations, the faces were erased. This is not accidental damage; there are numerous illustrations in the Topkapi manuscript with damage to the face, without comparison to the number of illustrations which have a different kind of damage. I think this is a case of iconoclasm (from Greek: εἰκών image, κλάστειν break) – the destruction of icons or images for religious or political reasons. Although the contemporary contexts (Taliban, or ISIS) Iconoclasm is an ancient phenomenon starting with Abraham, the father of the Jewish people but also important to Christians and Muslims. In Genesis Rabba (Hebrew: בְּרֵאשִׁית רַבָּה) a religious text from Judaism’s classical period, probably written between 300 and 500 CE it is told:

“So he [Abraham] took a stick and broke all the idols, and put the stick in the hand of the largest.

When his father returned he demanded: What have you done to them?

Abraham said to him: I cannot conceal it from you, a woman came with a plateful of fine meal and requested me to offer it to them, and I did. One [idol] claimed: I must eat first, while another claimed: I must eat first. Thereupon, the largest arose, took the stick and broke them.

His father said: Why are you fooling with me? Have they any knowledge?

Abraham replied: Should your ears hear what your mouth has said?!”

Genesis Raba 38, my translation

I will expand about Iconoclasm and Islam below, but Christianity also had its part. In the 8th century, there were heated arguments, sometimes violent, about iconography. The issue was the interpretation of the second commandment: “thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.” What appears to some Christians as proper worship, perceived by other Christians as idolatry. These arguments led to the smashing of icons. It is interesting to note that this is an example of government-led iconoclasm with the banning the use of icons by the Byzantine Emperor Leo III in 730 AD.

Those who think Iconoclasm characterizes fanatic religions will be disappointed to learn that enlighten ideologies, at least in the eyes of their believers, supported massive iconoclasm. For example, the French Revolution, the origin of the declaration of the rights of man, is one of the darkest periods of iconoclasm. For three years France was destroying art, It began with the smashing of statues of the Kings of France, and continued in methodical destruction of religious icons, engravings, paintings and burning artifacts from the feudal past. The following quote is from a law from 1792:

“Whereas the sacred principles of liberty and equality will not permit the existence of monuments raised to ostentation, prejudice, and tyranny to continue to offend the eyes of the French people, whereas the bronze in these monuments can be converted to cannons for the defense of the homeland …

All monuments containing traces of feudalism, of whatever nature that remains in churches, or other public places, or even those in private homes, shall, without the slightest delay, be destroyed by the communities. “

The opposition to figural representation in Islam is not based on the Qur’an, but on traditions contained within the Hadith ( الحديث). This is a collection of stories about Muhammad and his words and advice regarding various topics. Within Islam, the authority of Hadith ranks second only to that of the Quran. The two principal objections to figuration are a concern with not taking over the divine creative power and a fear of shirk (شرك), a term that came to mean polytheism and idolatry but originally meant believing in other gods. This duality is similar in my mind to what I learned during my studies at the Mandel School for educational leadership: “thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.” does not ban on idolatry because it was already said “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” and the ten commandments are “the essence” of faith and contain no repetitions. Hence the second part forbids the use of material representation of God and demand spirituality. Either way, there’s consensus Hadith forbidding all representations that have shadows, whose defacement is obligatory. Some schools of Islamic thought go so far as to see all artists that depict living being (animals and humans) as polytheists.

Over the years, some people who interpret this as permission and possibly an imperative to destroy artworks, in many cases as their initiative. A good example is described by the Ottoman writer Evliya Celebi. In an auction in Eastern Anatolia in 1655 potential bidders were allowed to inspect the goods in their quarters at night, and one of them took the manuscript of Shah-Nama, the Persian Book of Kings, and when he saw it contains miniatures, painting being forbidden according to his belief, he took his Turkish knife and poked their and rubbed the color in their faces with his saliva(?).

The offender was eventually lashed and stoned(?) by the orders of Pasha of Bitlis as a punishment for defacing the manuscript. Clearly, his faith was not accepted by the authorities, or maybe the Pasha was annoyed because of the damage value of the goods.

I couldn’t find any material on iconoclasm in the Topkapi manuscript, and I don’t know if the name of the vandal and the time are known. This  is a partial collection of defacing in the manuscript:

I’d like to close this post with something more optimistic, so I wish the world would be less violent or fanatic, and we will not experience any more iconoclasm because of the Christian, Islamic or Jewish faiths nor by any other ideology.

Automaton of a slave pouring water and the Artuqid court

Introduction

This is a slave made of jointed copper. In his outstretched right hand, he holds a pitcher decorated with a bird. His left hand is raised and in the palm is a towel, a mirror and a comb(not seen in the picture). This copper slave assists the king in Wuḍū – his ritual ablutions.  This is one of five chapters in the book where the King is mentioned explicitly. I went to learn a bit more about the Artuqids and the Palace in Diyarbakır.

Automaton of a slave pouring water, Topkapi manuscript, 1206.

 How did it work?

The technical explanation, as always, will be colored in blue, so anyone who is not interested in siphons, floats, and pulleys can skip those bits. Essentially the mechanism is very similar to the Automatic Pitcher with a few additions, typical of al-Jazari. I modified the original drawing by al-Jazari and added captions to help follow the mechanism:

A modified drawing by al-Jazari with my captions, Topkapi manuscript, 1206.

In the beginning, a human servant removes the copper slave’s hat and pours water with a funnel into the water tank in the slave chest. In the drawing, the tank is half full. At the bottom of the tank, there is a rotary valve (in red). The servant brings the automaton to the King and rotates the hidden valve rod (in grey) near the neck. Water starts to flow through the pipe to the pitcher. There is a partition in the pitcher and the Pitcher spout, designed in the shape of a peacock’s neck, is a Siphon almost touching the partition. When the water rises they will block the airway through the spout, and the air only way out is through the whistle which will make a whistling sound. This is the part that was forgotten in the “Automatic Pitcher.” The siphon, spout, the partition, and even the rotary valve are identical to the “Automatic Pitcher”. The hand holding the pitcher is hardwired and will not move. The hand with the towel consists of an arm and forearm with an axis at the elbow and is free to move. The float is connected through the pulley to the elbow and would sink as the water exit, pulling the arm so that copper slave will offer the towel to the king.

For whom Al-Jazari designed his machines?

In the first chapter, “the Castel Water Clock” al-Jazari wrote :

” This is the basis of the work. Individual parts may be omitted or added according to the place for which it is constructed. For mosques and shrines it may be limited to what is necessary for telling the hours; for the palaces of kings, what may be fitting, such as pictures and other things.”

Naturally, I assumed that all al-Jazari machines were designed for the King and his court, after all, al-Jazari was the court engineer. But when I inspected the book carefully it turns out that the King was mentioned explicitly only in five chapters, including the current “Automaton of a slave pouring water” In only two chapters the  King is mention by his name King Salih, i.e. Salih Nasreddin Mahmud who ruled in Diyarbakir during the years 1200-1222. There are nine more chapters like Category VI chapter one, “the Palace Door” (only in Hebrew) or Category II, chapter four, ” A boat placed on a pool during a drinking party ” (also only in Hebrew) where the King is not mentioned, but from the description and the circumstances the machine was clearly designed for the Royal Court. There are thirty-six chapters which are machines with an unspecified designation. Nobody knows where the Elephant Clock or the Perpetual Flute were located at the time. They could be in the central square, the Palace itself or in some magnificent mosque. I don’t want to pretend that al-Jazari was an engineer in the service of the public. All he did was probably with the Artuqid King blessing. I set out to learn more about Artuqids and their court.

Artuqid kings

Al-Jazari had served three Artuqid kings. Only one of them is mentioned in the book by name: Salih Nasreddin Mahmud who ruled Diyarbakir 1200-1222.

Before him, al-Jazari served his brother Quṭb al-Dīn Sukmān II in the years  1185-1200 years, and he started his service in the Artuqid court for their father  Nūr al-Dīn Muḥammadin in 1181. All three are pretty minor figures in the history of the 12th and 13th centuries. Carole Hillenbrand, Professor Emeritus of History, University of Edinburgh wrote the book: “A Principality in Crusader Times Is: The Early Artuqid State” and several articles, but they contain mainly information about battles and alliances and less about the cultural life. I think if we remember the Artuqid is mainly due to its cultural enterprise. Twenty years or so before al-Jazari the Artuqid court hosted Usama Ibn Munkidh, a Muslim poet, author and knight who wrote كتاب الاعتبار‎ translated a to English as “The Book of Contemplation” which is probably the best-known Muslim source for the Crusader period. Upon the request of the Artuqid king, almost thirty years after the death of al-Jazari, al-Jawbari (الجوبري ) wrote “Book of Selected unveiling of Secrets.”This is a concise encyclopedia of tricks, practices, and devices used by fraudulent Ṣūfīs, false alchemists, jugglers, and quacks. To the best of my knowledge this was not translated to English (unfortunately!). You can add a new architectural language in Artuqid mosques explained in the Thesis of Sharon Talmor Sol(TAU) and Rachel Ward’s paper which present evidence for a workshop for copying manuscripts the Artuqid court. What was the cause of this cultural flourishing?

It is certainly not the size. The title “King” is perhaps a bit excessive. This is the map in the 12th century:

Map of the Principality of the Artuqids in 1200. Wikipedia.

The Artuqid Principality, as you can see, was tiny. Most of Turkey’s territory was controlled by the Byzantine Empire and the Sultanate of Rum. The later is what remained of the Seljuk Empire that controlled, at its prime, a vast area stretching from India to Antioch and from the Arabian Peninsula to Azerbaijan and contained most of the Muslim territories in Asia. However, by the 12th century, the Seljuk Empire was in decline, enabling the existence of small Principalities like the Artuqids. It’s not just the modest territory. Saladin, Sultan of Egypt and Syria, the founder of the Ayyubid dynasty in Cairo took Diyarbakir by storm in 1183 the Artuqids ruled by his grace. It is interesting to note that on the southern wall of the Palace in Diyarbakir appears الله اَلملك واحدي which means Allah is the ruler and drawing of Trebuchet. The Trebuchet is a powerful siege engine which uses a swinging arm to throw a projectile towards besieged city walls. In the second half of the 12th century, the Trebuchet was significantly improved, and those improvements appeared in a military manual written for Saladin. The drawing of the Trebuchet on the walls of Diyarbakir is unique, as far as I know. It can be interpreted as a quality assurance like “this wall would survive a barrage of Trebuchet” or it can be to commemorate the siege by Saladin as “Remember my siege and the horrendous Trebuchet I brought on your heads ” and maybe there is a different explanation altogether?

Picture of the Trebuchet on the southern wall of the fortress in Diyarbakir. Photographed by Lorenz Korn, 2008.

The historical information about the Artuqids doesn’t help me to understand or think about the book. There’s something very optimistic and perhaps even wonderful how this tiny Principality produced such a significant cultural-engineering heritage “It is impossible to overemphasize the importance of Al-Jazari’s work in the history of engineering, it provides a wealth of instructions for design, manufacture, and assembly of machines” Donald Hill in the History Engineering. From the foreword by Donald Hill.

I am adding two pictures of the Palace in Diyarbakir. This is the view from the palace of the  Valley of the Tigris. In Hebrew, the river is called ” Ḥîddeqel” following the ancient Akkadian name ” Idigina”. Most languages in the world follow the old Persian name, Tigrā:

Photo of the Tigris Valley view from the Palace.

Below is the Ulu Beden Tower, a black basalt stone tower in Diyarbakır. It was built in 1208, two years after the death of al-Jazari at age 70.

Ulu Beden Tower, Diyarbakir palace.

The double-headed eagle, the winged beasts and the beautiful Kufic inscription are, in my mind, related to the book. The double-headed eagle also appears on a coin of dirham minted by Mahmoud Nasreddin (the King of Al-Jazari):

A Dirham, 1218, minted in Ḥiṣn Kaifā where the Artukids court was before Diyarbakir.

Some claim that the double-headed Eagle is a Byzantine icon, and one head is facing Rome, and the other one is facing Constantinople. However, the double-headed Eagle symbolizes power and control from the time of Hittites and has countless appearances before and after Byzantium. Are the Tower, the currency, and the view of the Tigris valley helping you see al-Jazary at work? You decide.

The Mechanical Bartender, Cocktails and Rodeo

Introduction

The official definition of a “cocktail” according to Webster Dictionary is “an iced drink of wine or distilled liquor mixed with flavoring ingredients.” However, we refer to almost any mixed drink as a cocktail. According to Wikipedia, the history of cocktails begins in 1806, but my readers will be surprised to learn that al-Jazari thought about it already in the 12th century. The drink-selector is a man riding a cow. To the best of my knowledge cows are not used in any culture for riding. The nearest exception is bull riding in the Rodeo, and the bulls look like they are not too happy with the idea. This post is a strange combination of all three (al-Jazari, Cocktail, and Rodeo). Let’s Hit the road.

The Wine pitcher, Manuscript from Syria 1315, Calligrapher: Farrukh ibn `Abd al-Latif

How does it work?

The technical explanation as always will be colored in blue, so anyone who is not interested in patents of pouring and extracting wine can skip those bits. Al-Jazari took a large brass pitcher and welded a handsome cow made from cast-bronze. In the center of the cow, there is a valve in the shape of a man riding the cow and his stretched hand points to a circular disk (not seen in the drawing). The pitcher is divided into five containers. In the first tank, there is an aromatic wine, in the second tank, there is a rose-colored wine(Rosé). The third has a yellow wine. I guess he meant what we call today white wine, but I could not find any support for my assumption. In the forth tank there is red wine, and the last one is full of water. The disk has each liquor markup:

Drawing of the disk, Topkapi manuscript, 1206

The rider is a sophisticated valve and when rotated to a point one get his chosen wine, or you can produce different mixes, and al-Jazari proposed a few options. The following drawing helps to understand how did it work. This is a combination of a drawing by the book translator and illustrator Donald Hill with a drawing by al-Jazari, and I added captions:

Integrated drawing of the book translator and annotator Donald Hill with a drawing by al-Jazari.

In the beginning, a servant lifts the cover and pours aromatic wine. The wine enters only the appropriate tank and fills it. The wine doesn’t get anywhere else (except maybe negligible amounts) because the way to the other containers is through the higher pipes. When the tank is full the float in the cage will rise and push the seal upward, blocking the tank. The purpose of the cage is to keep the float in place, allowing only vertical movement. I added the detailed drawing by al-Jazari how to build the cage for the float. Next, the servant would pour the Rosé. The wine will accumulate above the partition until it would pass the height of the pipe and flow into the Rosé tank. Since the pipe opening is lower from the bent in the siphon and the water pipe (please look in the drawing) and the white wine pipe (not in the drawing) No Rosé will flow into any other tank. Only when the Rosé tank is full, the float would seal it in the same way as explained before.  The same logic continues to fill all the remaining tanks. Each of the containers has a pipe which comes out of the cow mouth through the valve. When you turn the selector to one of the six points, the appropriate pipe is connected, and the selected wine comes out.

Cocktail

Cocktail is a drink prepared by mixing alcohol with alcohol or a soft drink. Al-Jazari proposed to mix all four wines, or to mix wine and water, half in half or third wine and two-thirds water. I think it falls under the definition of a cocktail. There is plenty of evidence for mixing alcoholic beverages throughout history but the first time it was mentioned explicitly by the name “cocktail” is in 1806 in the American magazine The Balance and Columbian Repository: “Cocktail is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters (alcoholic drink flavored with botanical matter).” I found the picture at the Museum of the American Cocktail in New Orleans (it’s not a Museum of my invention, and they even have an educational program?):

The newspaper where the term “cocktail” was first used.

The more interesting question is where this weird name cocktail = Rooster tail originated? One story is that the victor in a cockfight was toasted by his fellows with a special drink crowned with feathers, one for each of them left on the winning rooster’s tail. Another version claims that  Betsy Flanagan, a tavern keeper, served French soldiers a drink in 1779 garnished with tail feathers of her neighbor’s rooster. In other stories, the “Cocktail” has nothing to do with roosters but is a modification of some other word. Two options are: “Cocktail” was derived from the French term for egg cup, coquetel. One  Antoine Amedie Peychaud of New Orleans who mixed his Peychaud bitters into a stomach remedy served in a coquetel. Not all of Peychaud’s customers could pronounce the word, and it became known as a cocktail. The last story is that this was the name of a Mexican Princess named Xochitl. The name means flower in Aztec(?) and some claim it’s the name of an Aztec goddess. Either way, the princess served drinks to American soldiers as part of the celebration of a Peace Treaty signed between Mexico and the United States in the 18th century. “Cocktail” is just a wrong spelling of her name. There are plenty of other stories. The number of colorful stories makes me think they were invented in an evening of too many cocktails and I doubt them all.

It is interesting to note that the myth that drinking a cocktail or even mixing between various drinks (for example drinking beer with a shot of vodka) is the cause of drunkness, or at least a bad headache the next morning is just nonsense. Actual drunkenness and hangover are caused by the amount of alcohol and have nothing to do with mixing or the order of the drinks.

Rodeo

Al-Jazari doesn’t explain why the wine-selector is a man riding a cow? To my knowledge, there is no culture where people rode cows. Oxen were used regularly to pull heavy wagons or for grinding grains in mills and we have the wonderful Minoan art depicting acrobatics on bulls. We think it was a central part of Minoan worship, but to my understanding, we know very little:

The Bull-Leaping Fresco from the palace at Knossos.

The closest thing to riding cows is the Rodeo. It is a popular sport that originated in Spain and Mexico and spread to the United States and elsewhere. During the Rodeo, the rider must stay atop the bull for eight seconds with the use of one hand gripped on a bull rope and the other hand is in the air. I saw it only in the movies, and it’s a pretty sure way to end badly bruised or worse. It certainly doesn’t explain why al-Jazari chose the cow rider as the wine selector?

Cocktails are relatively sophisticated drinks and Rodeo, at least in my mind, is a much more popular sport that goes well with a beer or manly drinks.  To my surprise I  found that  there are quite a few cocktails associated with Rodeo, for example:

Two ounces of Reno Rodeo Legacy Vodka, juice from 1 lemon, 1-ounce triple sec, .5 ounce limoncello, and a splash of simple syrup to sweeten! Add all ingredients into a shaker with ice, shake vigorously, and pour into chilled martini glass. Let’s raise our glasses to al-Jazari, brave bull riders, and tasty cocktails!

Automatic Wuḍūʾ (الوضوء‎) Pitcher and Errors by Engineers

Introduction

Al-Jazari opens this chapter with the wish of King Salih Nasreddin Mahmud, the third Artuqid king that al-Jazari was serving:

“King Salih disliked a servant or slave-girl pouring water on to his hands for him to perform his ritual ablutions and he wished me to make [something]for pouring water onto his hands for his ritual ablutions.”

The specific reference to ” a servant or slave-girl ” is a bit odd but al-Jazari responded to the challenge and made an “automatic” pitcher.

“Automatic” Pitcher, Topkapi manuscript, 1206.

A servant brings the pitcher and put it on a pedestal; it is a relatively large handsome pitcher. The duck whistles then the water begins to flow from the spout. There are quite a few whistling systems in al-Jazari designs, but this pitcher has no mechanism for the whistling which was probably forgotten. It made me look into error in the book and think about proofreading and editing.

How does it work?

The technical explanation, very minimal this time, will be colored in blue, so anyone who is not interested in siphons can skip those bits. Below is a drawing by the book translator and annotator Donald R. Hill that I edited and attached captions, all remaining errors are my own.

A drawing by the book translator and annotator Donald R. Hill

 

The pitcher is divided into two horizontally, the bottom part until the partition (orange al-Jazari original drawing) and top from the partition till the pitcher’s neck. The Pitcher spout, designed in the shape of a duck’s neck, is a Siphon almost touching the partition. A Siphon is a tube in an inverted ‘U’ shape, which causes a liquid to flow upward with no pump but powered by the pull of gravity. I wrote quite a bit on siphons, for example here. The atmospheric pressure pushes the liquid up in the tube only if the pipe is full of water. In the beginning, the servant pours water until the float submerges. The water level is too low, below the curve in the duck’s neck and no water will come out of the spout. The cover is also divided into two, and the top is separated from the bottom with a valve and a rotating plug. The servant pours water to the top part of the cover, put the pitcher on the pedestal and rotates the knob. The plug has a pipe through and when rotated will allow water down to the tipping bucket. The latter, when full will tip and release its water so the water level will rise into the neck and the ritual ablution begins. Al-Jazari wrote that the pitcher would whistle to notify the King that the purification is starting, but there is no indication, in the drawing or the text of a whistle. You should be aware that al-Jazari made frequent use of whistles based on compressed air and an intelligent engineer should not have difficulty to implement one here.

 

Errors and Proofreading

The missing whistle is not the only error in the book. For example, in the Elephant Water Clock al-Jazari writes that the two chains from the float upward connect to a single ring. This is clearly wrong because each chain is connected to another Dragon. There are probably more mistakes. Also, I’m just beginning to study Arabic and cannot detect errors in spelling or grammar.

The issue of errors in the text is on my mind because when I translate my post to English, I always find some errors in the original text. It can be minor typos, it can be real errors. Sometimes I think that mistakes (typing, proofreading, and essence) are like socks, whatever you’re doing, there’s always missing socks in the laundry, and unlike many pieces of advice online the socks are neither behind the washing machine nor inside the bed covers but simply disappeared forever. Despite the proofing, efforts and the goodwill there are always some individual errors that find their way into the text. My love M. read this text and told that the analogy is not working because socks disappear and errors remain. I think that in my head the two are connected because they are an impudent violation of the law of conservation of mass which states that for any closed system, the mass of the system must remain constant over time. Well, socks disappear, and errors appear from thin air.

I know some people are gifted editors or proofreaders, I think it takes a different set of characteristics than the qualities of good engineers. Obviously, a good editor who has deep knowledge of the language and understands the content can see what is clear and what is not and ask questions that help reveal errors. Engineers’ education does not emphasize the choice of words (what you say) nor style (how you say it) and writing quality, in general, is overlooked. Most engineers are more proficient in mathematical clarity rather than writing with clarity. The editor and the proofreader are naturally very skilled readers, and sometimes writers in their own right. There are certainly engineers who read literature although in my experience not that many. Additional attributes, required for an editor or the proofreader, are less obvious to me, and I don’t know how I can learn them. You need a great eye for errors. I read very fast, because of the ability to distinguish between what is important and what is less so. I’m not exactly flipping pages but I “correct” the text as I read and therefore ignore errors. I think patience in reading is required to see the existing version as well as alternative formulations. This is quite the opposite of the education of an engineer which is more directed to purposeful reading and extracting the meaning. Any good text needs a committed editor and meticulous proofreader. I certainly am not both, and I doubt they were available in Diyarbakir. If this is true no one need to wonder about errors the remained in al-Jazari’s book but to remove his hat in awe because they are so few of them.