What Was the Islamic Golden Age?

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

The Islamic Golden Age, also known as the Islamic Renaissance, is a period of cultural and intellectual growth and activity that persisted throughout the Islamic world (from Morocco and Spain in the west to Afghanistan and Pakistan in the east) between the 8th and 13th centuries, though a few scholars assert it continued until the 16th century. This age began when the Abbasid Caliphate, followers in the tradition of Muhammad, transferred its capital from Damascus in Turkey to Baghdad in Iraq.

Trade caravans connected cities across North Africa and the Middle east during the Islamic Golden Age.
Trade caravans connected cities across North Africa and the Middle east during the Islamic Golden Age.

The leaders of the Abbasid Caliphate were lovers of knowledge and they encouraged the establishment of numerous academic and public institutions to further that knowledge. In a “House of Wisdom,” Arabic scholars translated ancient Iraqi, Roman, Chinese, Indian, Persian, Greek, Byzantine, and North African works into their native language and preserved them for posterity. Around this time, the secret art of papermaking, obtained from Chinese prisoners in 751, became known to the followers of Islam, who subsequently built large paper mills in their capital cities. Unlike the Chinese, who preferred to use brushes for writing, the Arabs used pens.

Many of the minarets that were built throughout Afghanistan were erected as enduring symbols of Islamic conquest in the region.
Many of the minarets that were built throughout Afghanistan were erected as enduring symbols of Islamic conquest in the region.

Some institutions founded during the Islamic Golden Age include the public hospital, psychiatric hospital, public libraries, academic degree-granting universities, and the astronomical observatory as a research institute. Today, the University of Al Karaouine in Fez, Morocco is regarded as the world’s oldest degree-granting university, founded in 859. The first full-fledged university, Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt, was founded in 975. These universities were populated by polymaths, scholars who excelled in a variety of secular and religious subjects. The Islamic Golden Age had a high standard of literacy and education.

By the 10th century, key Islamic cities such as Baghdad, Tripoli, Cairo, and Cordoba had huge libraries with between 600,000 and 3 million books, many of which were destroyed in subsequent centuries. The corpus of knowledge generated during this time exceeds the combined works of ancient Greece and Rome, and represents the first scientific works in history. Fundamental findings in optics, mechanics, physics, agriculture, chemistry, mathematics, astronomy, and thousands of other fields were achieved during this time. Improvements in agriculture and industrial growth increased the size of the population that could be supported by a fixed amount of farmers.

The wide range of achievements reached during the Islamic Golden Age are difficult to summarize in a short article, during which hundreds or thousands of modern disciplines and industries were initially founded. The backdrop of the Islamic Golden Age is represented today in fictional works like Arabian Nights, which consists of over a thousand stories circulating at the time brought together in a unified work. The image of a huge golden-domed mosque or palace is representative of the era.

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

Michael is a longtime wiseGEEK contributor who specializes in topics relating to paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism. In addition to being an avid blogger, Michael is particularly passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. He has also worked for the Methuselah Foundation, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and the Lifeboat Foundation.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


There never was a Golden Age of Islam, and neither were there any Muslim inventions.

What happened is that Islam conquered vibrant Christian and Jewish nations, enslaved their people with the unbeliever Jizya tax system and the unbeliever Covenant of Dhimmitude, and sucked these regions dry. And then they claimed any inventions, past or present, to be Muslim inventions, when they were nothing of the sort.

See the paper entitled: "Islamic inventions were Roman and Greek."


Was Damascus really in Turkey at that time?


I was raised to believe that Irish monks held much of the knowledge of the ancients away in Ireland, isolated from the disasters of the continent, and brought it back to Europe in missions. I think this had a lot to do with the resurgence of knowledge in Europe, in addition to the Abbasid caliphate.


Charlemagne repelled early Abbasid incursions into France, and established his own educated culture. Unfortunately, his sons were not as wise with this empire and it eventually collapsed, plunging the illiterate European layman into an age of confined knowledge and alchemy. It is fortunate that much of the wisdom of the ancients was preserved by the Islamic world.


Interesting, thank you for your help.

Post your comments
Forgot password?