The history of anatomy in Persia

Mohammadali Mohajel Shoja, R. Shane Tubbs

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

82 Scopus citations

Abstract

The study of human anatomy can be found throughout the rich history of Persia. For thousands of years, morphological descriptions derived from this part of the world have contributed to and have helped form our current anatomical knowledge base. In this article we review the major influential Persian periods and the individuals who have contributed to the development of anatomy. We have divided the history of Persia into five eras: (1) the period of the Elamites, Medes, early Persians and Babylonians (10th millennium to 6th century BC); (2) following the establishment of the Persian Empire (6th century BC) to the 7th century AD; (3) after the Islamic conquest of Persia to the ascendency of Baghdad (7th to 13th century AD); (4) from the Mongol invasion of Persia to the foundations of modern anatomy (13th to 18th century AD); and (5) modern Persia/Iran (18th century AD to present). Evidence indicates that human dissection was commonplace in the first era, which led to a disciplined practice of surgery in the centuries leading to the foundation of the Persian Empire. By the emergence of Zoroastrianism in the Persian Empire, the microcosm theory was widely used to understand internal anatomy in relation to the external universe. The world's first cosmopolitan university and hospital were built in Gondishapur, south-western Persia, in the third century AD. Greek and Syriac knowledge influenced the second era. With the gradual ruin of Gondishapur and the foundation of Baghdad following the Islamic conquest of Persia (637-651 AD), a great movement took place, which led to the flourishing of the so-called Middle Age or Islamic Golden Age. Of the influential anatomists of this period, Mesue (777-857 AD), Tabbari (838-870 AD), Rhazes (865-925 AD), Joveini (?-983 AD), Ali ibn Abbas (930-994 AD), Avicenna (980-1037 AD) and Jorjani (1042-1137 AD) all hailed from Persia. There is evidence in the Persian literature as to the direct involvement of these scholars in human dissection. Syro-Indian, Byzantine, Greek, Chinese and Arabic knowledge all influenced the third era. In the fourth period, the first colour illustrated anatomical text (by Mansur, 14th century AD) was compiled. Chinese and Indian anatomical styles were embraced, though there was a strong religious siege of anatomy late in this era. By the 19th century, Persia had entered a new era of modernizing movements and academic contact with the West through the reforms of Mirza Tagi Khan Amir Kabir. Knowledge of anatomy for this region in the 20th century was greatly influenced by Europe and America.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)359-378
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Anatomy
Volume210
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 1 2007
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Iran
  • Medicine
  • Middle East
  • Morphology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Histology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Developmental Biology
  • Cell Biology

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