I recently heard a big claim from a Muslim, that the Italian Renaissance was largely caused by the positive Islamic influence on Europe via Spain or Al Andalus.

I have my doubts about this claim, traditionally historians give most credit to the Greco-Roman past of Europe as the inspiration for the age.

Can someone elaborate on this topic because the Renaissance is pretty much the catalyst for the modern world.

I have heard the claim from my Muslim friends and most recently on a YouTube video called "The iphone 6 and the prophet Muhammad".

  • 8
    Where did you hear the claim? Who made that claim? What did the original source actually say? – Semaphore Mar 4 '15 at 13:12
  • 1
    There is something about it in Pirenne's "A History of Europe". – o0'. Mar 4 '15 at 14:45
  • 4
    The renaissance required sufficient mass of wealth, ability to share ideas, and margin in time and resource to work on them. Much of the art and music of the Renaissance is about "man as the measure" and is against Sharia. A catholic scholar friend of mine asserts that the crusades enabled the renaissance by keeping the wars of Islam away from European mainland. He argues that outside that window of time all Europe fought against itself with great hate, but fear of what Islam did in spain gave them unity against Invasion. – EngrStudent Mar 4 '15 at 17:35
  • 4
    The theory that was in my textbooks was that one of the reasons was the Fall of Contastinople, who led to the emigration of many Greek subjects, some of them artists and literate people, some of them carrying classic books and art. – SJuan76 Mar 4 '15 at 20:16
  • 3
    The Italian Renaissance was triggered by the transformation from a diffuse agrarian population to urbanized city-states. – TheMathemagician Sep 29 '16 at 9:03

"Islam influence"? "Italian Renaissance was caused by Islamic influence?" Of course these statements are incorrect.

There was some influence of SCIENCE which was cultivated by scholars living in Islamic countries. Not the influence of Islam itself. More precisely, this influence was the following:

  1. During the Dark Age in Europe, most of the writing of ancient scholars was lost in Europe. Scholars in Islamic countries preserved some of this literature, and further developed some of this science, mostly mathematics and astronomy, but also chemistry. So when the demand in Europe appeared again, these books could be translated from Arabic.

  2. When the Osman Turks conquered Constantinople, some scholars moved to Europe, and brought their books with them.

Consider this example. Some scholars working in Soviet Union made substantial contribution to physics and mathematics. Will you state this fact as: "Communist ideology contributed to development of physics and mathematics"? Sounds ridiculous, does not it?

EDIT. However one cannot deny some indirect influence. Communist ideology (and communist system) somehow had positive attitude to science and science education, and one cannot deny that the education system in Soviet Union in 1960-1980 was very good (in math and sciences at least). This system generated some excellent physicists/mathematicians.

Similarly, early Islam, at least in some places was much more tolerant to science and in general to the cultural heritage of antiquity than Christianity was during the Dark Age. Because of this tolerance, ancient books were copied in Islamic countries, and some science existed, while in Europe (and in Byzantine empire) it was completely dead. So one can say that some Islamic rulers helped to preserve the heritage of antiquity. Mainly because of more tolerance than European rulers had at that time.

EDIT2. And of course the attitudes of different rulers was different. The final destruction of the library of Alexandria happened during the Muslim conquest, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Destruction_of_the_Library_of_Alexandria#Muslim_conquest_of_Egypt

  • 5
    @Brendan Long: Communism was also a government in Soviet Union, not just an ideology. – Alex Mar 4 '15 at 19:39
  • 2
    @Brendan Long: And in many places where Islam holds sway, it is still indistguishable from government. – jamesqf Mar 4 '15 at 21:02
  • 2
    If you removed that old herring about Omar buring the library in Alexandria your answer would be a lot better. By the way, Baghdad was founded about a century after the death of Omar. – fdb Mar 4 '15 at 23:22
  • 4
    "while in Europe (and in Byzantine empire) it was completely dead." - this is just plain wrong. Italy was always the leading country in the world for the number of book issued (even before the printing press), issuing more books than the whole world except Germany combined. Also, the most of the ancient books were translated during Renaissance from Greek rather than Arabic or Persian. – Anixx Dec 16 '16 at 15:19
  • 2
    I think your post could use rewriting/structuring @Alex. You mention science but then in #1 mention literature, which is not the same as science, and then later downplay the role of Europe and the Byzantine Empire. Yet it is thanks to the Byzantines that many works - or at least excerpts - of Greek authors, for example, survived. And as you noted correctly, when Constantinople fell those same Byzantine scholars brought with them the literature and books they had been enjoying for centuries. The Renaissance was much more than just scientific. Art & literature also played a large role. – SeligkeitIstInGott Jul 10 '17 at 2:42

The two claims are not incompatible. There was certainly a very large Islamic influence on the Italian Renaissance. Many classical texts are largely known to us through transmission via the Islamic world. For example, see Wikipedia's article on the Transmission of the Greek Classics. Interpretations of the classical texts, like those of Aristotle, were heavily influenced by Islamic thinkers such as Averroes (his latinzed name). According to Wiki:

Averroes had a greater impact on Christian Europe: he has been described as the "founding father of secular thought in Western Europe"and was known by the sobriquet the Commentator for his detailed emendations to Aristotle. Latin translations of Averroes's work led the way to the popularization of Aristotle.

Averroes spent most of his life in Spain, but his influence was felt in Italy, according to no less than Dante:

Averroes is named by Dante in The Divine Comedy along with the thinkers and creative minds of ancient Greece and Rome whose spirits dwell in "the place that favor owes to fame" in Limbo.

The Islamic world had also made original scientific advances, which influenced the Renaissance. But your question focuses on the Greco-Roman inheritance, so I'll leave those aside.

There's a definite influence of the Islamic world on the Italian Renaissance, but it's going too far to say that Islam "caused" or is "responsible" for it. Big events like the Renaissance have many, many causes.

  • Averroes and indeed most of the Arab transmission of Greek classical thought to western Europe would usually be seen as being earlier than the Renaissance – Henry Jan 4 '18 at 18:54

There is an element of truth to what your friend told you.

Civilization, so to speak, as manifested by the Italian Renaissance was sparked by a Spanish influence, however, the transfer was largely Christian in character. In other words, what kind of happened is that the Arabs invaded Spain and instituted a culture, then the Europeans defeated them, absorbed their cultural ideas and those ideas were transported to Italy where they contributed to the Renaissance.

For example, the mathematical science of "Algebra".

As one tiny example of this take Ruy Lopez (1530-1580), the greatest chess player in the world at one time. He was a Christian friar in Spain, but he learned chess out of the Arab tradition. Ruy Lopez's spiritual successor was Greco, the Calabresian master. So, even in chess, as in mathematics and chemistry, there is sort of a Spanish first, Italy afterwards progression.


Lets not get over zealous here in bashing Islam. Yes Islam played a great role in "our" renaissance.

Science survived due to the Islamic civilization. they invented our numeric system, the zero, decimal system.

They were the first who developed universities, in fact part of our university system is based on the Islamic system.

They conserved and further developed a lot of the science from ancient Greece an Rome, while we were busy burning books.

In the ninth century, the library of the monastery of St. Gall was the largest in Europe. It boasted 36 volumes. At the same time,the library of Cordoba, which was Muslim by that time, contained over 500,000!

Do not forget a big slice of the middle east was part of the Greece and Roman influence. Remember Cleopatra and Alexander the great? In fact our "Christian culture" was based in the middle east. The superhero of Christian Culture, Jesus himself came from Palestine.

Al Rhazes, a Muslim Doctor is considered to be the one who discovered the origin of smallpox and found that one could only acquire it once in his/hers life, thus showing the existence of the immune system and how it worked. He was an early proponent of experimental medicine and is considered the father of paediatrics, in addition to being a pioneer in neurosurgery and ophthalmology.

George Sarton, the father of the history of science, wrote:

"Rhazes was the greatest physician of Islam and the Medieval Ages."

I am not a scholar, but I think that, without Muslim research, development an science, our Renaissance never would have happened and we would have continued to burn books and convict heretics.

  • Yes, exactly. The the books of the pagan Greek and Roman technology and science were burned by the Church through out the high middle ages. These sciences were foundational to the Renaissance. They were not only reintroduced to Europe from the Middle East, They had been magnified and expanded. New ideas and work had been done in astronomy, mathematics, medicine, physics, metallurgy, art, literature, and textiles all were introduced/reintroduced from the Moslem Empire and became the basis of the European Renaissance. – JMS Nov 11 '17 at 21:31

The Arabs, specifically, the Moors, had a significant impact on the Northern Italian Renaissance alongside the Greco-Byzantines-(as I had discussed in a previous posting).

During my pre-collegiate years, when I was taught about the Middle Ages, specifically, "The Dark Ages"-(476 AD/CE-1050 AD/CE), I was taught that continental Europe, more specifically, lands and countries to the NORTH AND WEST of Rome, were intellectually stagnant and primitive.....essentially, a "Dark Age", bereft of creative light ingenuity and sophistication. (The phrase, "Dark Ages", was actually coined by the Northern Italian Renaissance Poet Petrarch).

Even though this was widely considered to be an accurate description of Northern and Western Europe 1000-1500 years ago, it was, as you can see, geographically and demographically limited in its description. It failed to contrast the so-called "Dark Ages" of Northern and Western Europe with the culturally advanced civilizations of Southern Europe........specifically, the Greco-Byzantine Christian civilization based in Constantinople-(present-day Istanbul), as well as greater Byzantine Greece and in particular, Muslim Spain, specifically, the cities of Toledo and Cordoba-(The Capital of the Medieval Iberian Caliphate).

The Islamic world during the Middle Ages had thriving intellectual and academic cities, such as Cairo, Baghdad-(yes.......the same beleaguered city you hear about in the news), Bukhara, Fez, Toledo and Cordoba. Its intellectual and academic influence was multi-continental and lasted throughout much of the Middle Ages-(including the so-called, "Dark Ages"). Arguably, the most advanced centers of Islamic arts, letters, sciences and Classical scholarship, were the Castilian city of Toledo and particularly, the Andalusian city of Cordoba.

The city of Cordoba, like its Medieval counterpart, Constantinople, was a massive Metropolis with hundreds of thousands of residents-(including, Jewish and Christian residents.......though admittedly, with less religious and legal equality). The city was a major urban Capital with great wealth; it had a Palace, splendid buildings, its famed Mezquitta/Mosque, a Library, as well as a University.......(and that's just a limited description). Though it was the vibrant intellectual life of the city which made it distinguishable from the rest of continental Europe-(Constantinople, as well as Charlemagne's capital Aachen in Northwest Germany, being the exceptions). Ancient Greek scientific, medical, mathematical and especially, philosophical/metaphysical works, were translated into Arabic-(with great assistance from Jewish Translators and Scribes). The writings of Plato, Aristotle-(in particular), Euclid, Archimedes, Hippocrates-(just to name a few), were translated into Arabic throughout Medieval Muslim Spain, though its Epicenter, was Cordoba and its most learned resident, was Ibn-Rushd/Averroes.

Although Aristotle's writings were well preserved and commented on by the Greco-Byzantines, it was actually Averroes who rejuvenated the centuries old Greek Philosopher......so much so, that the study of Averroes' Aristotelian commentaries and writings would later be described by the West as, "Averroeism".

The writings of Averroes, as well as the sizable collection of Arabic translations of Ancient Greek texts from Medieval Muslim Spain, would actually have a profound impact on The European Late Middle Ages-(1050 AD/CE-1400 AD/CE), which of course precedes, the Northern Italian Renaissance. These Ancient Greek "classics", were translated into Latin from either Medieval Byzantine Greek copies from Constantinople or from Medieval Muslim Arabic copies from Toledo and particularly, Cordoba.

Galileo-(the Great intellectual Titan of the Northern Italian Renaissance), studied Italian-(and possibly Latin) copies of Aristotle, Archimedes, as well as the Ancient Greco-Alexandrian Scientists and Mathematicians. However, there is a very good chance, that those Italian-(and/or Latin) copies may have been Medieval Greek or in all likelihood, Arabic translations from Toledo or Cordoba.
Galileo's school, The University of Padua in the Veneto-(Northeast Italy), had, during his time, the most prestigious Medical School in Europe-(and perhaps the world). The process of Surgery and dissection were taught at The University of Padua; though such a supposedly novel process and approach was directly influenced and preceded by the earlier writings of various Medieval Arab Physicians. Galileo's famed telescope could not have existed without the early pioneering work of Medieval Arab Opticians and their research into the anatomy of the eye, as well as the Science of Lens crafting.

The early Modern Universities and Libraries of Europe-(which include, The University of Padua), were certainly influenced by the older Medieval European Universities. However, the Medieval European Universities and Libraries were preceded by the earlier Medieval Universities and Libraries of Constantinople, Cordoba and Fez-(which exists to this day).

One can find examples of Medieval Arab Andalusian architectural influence in some of the public buildings, stucco and pastel designs, narrowly paved lanes and yes even some religious buildings throughout Tuscany and the Veneto-(the Epicenters of the Northern Italian Renaissance). Of course many of these above mentioned examples were deeply rooted in Roman civil architecture and engineering. However, it was the Muslim Moors who, (along with the Greco-Byzantines from Constantinople), picked up where the Romans ended and in turn, helped to shape the memorable and long lasting brilliance, ingenuity and aesthetic beauty..........of The Northern Italian Renaissance.


Japan is well known for being a highly industrialised and technologically sophisticated East Asian country; if one was to say that Japan owed its technology to the Greco-Roman influence of Europe this would miss out the large contribution that modern Europe has made to both science and technology; likewise with Islam in relation to Europe.

Karen Glasner wrote the following in her introduction to Averroes Physics:

The great 12th C Muslim philosopher Abu al-Walid Muhammed Ibn Rushd, known in Latin as Averroes, has the reputation of having been Aristotles most faithful interpreter and has been referred to as 'the Commentator'. He was viewed as being a bold philosopher in teaching Aristotles philosophy in Islamic society, but not so much as an original thinker in the Aristotelian tradition. He was usually regarded as a competent, didactic exegete rather than an original creative thinker, and was sometimes depicted as a 'slavish follower' of Aristotle. At least as far his physics is concerned this picture is far from true ... [he played] a major role in the history of atomism.

She goes on to say

Since Duhem, historians of science have realised that the new science of the 16th & 17th C owes more to medieval Scholastic thought than earlier generations of scholars had acknowledged. Aristotelianism was still a major frame of reference well into the 17th C.

And also

Annaliese Maier has shown the significance of scholastic theories of minima naturalia and forma fluens - that included some 'mildly atomistic' elements - for early modern thought on matter and motion. The contribution of Muslim philosophy, however, has not yet been duly acknowledged.

and she then adds:

according to the commonly accepted narrative, for example, the theory of minima naturalia was developed by Scholastic scholars from a few preliminary remarks from Aristotle. I will show that the theories of minima naturalia and of motion as forma fluens had been crafted by Averroes into a systematic, thoughtfully elaborated new physics. He developed these theories further than his predecessors did, and further than many of his followers were to do later.

To place these comments by Glasner into context one should recall Feynmans advice in the introduction to his Lectures in Physics, where he said if he had to encapsulate for future generations the whole of physical science in one sentence he would say 'everything is made of atoms'.

Also, Glasner points out the role of the commentary as a genre as to why Avveroes physics as a contribution to physics per se has been overlooked; I'd also point out along with Edward Said the role of the Orient as the playing the role of the Other in European thinking and such an Other could not be, even indirectly, responsible for the content that inspired Europes fascination for the natural philosophy, aka the physical sciences.

  • To the down-voter: I'm curious as to why my answer isn't sufficiently well-motivated, please feel free to explain why. – Mozibur Ullah Sep 11 '17 at 16:22

Yeah, no really. Nothing comes from nothing. Its not "partially" correct, it 100% correct. The Renaissance would have been a nonstarter without the arabs. They were far in advnace in terms of literature, science, and maths and had preserved the Greek literature. Its not a partial correct answer, it is the only answer. Its no coincidence the Crusades which allowed the information transfer years before.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.