One of the most famous authors to write in Arabic about falconry was Us?ma ibn Munqidh (1095-1188), a Syrian nobleman whose remarkable memoirs have survived in a single manuscript to the present day. Like his father, Us?ma loved falconry and recorded his observations for posterity. His world was that of the Eastern Mediterranean, a region at the time contested among Muslims of different political and religious communities as well as the Crusaders. Among Muslims, the Ayyubid dynasty was the most powerful force. Their most famous representative, Saladin, had ended Fatimid rule over Egypt in 1171 and defeated the Crusaders in the Battle of Hattin in 1187. Sixty years after Us?ma died, another force entered this area. Originally brought to the Middle East as enslaved bodyguards and soldiers, the Mamluks rose swiftly into higher positions of power until they assumed rule over Egypt in 1250. Their authority, just like that of the Ayyubids, relied to a large extent on a combination of military skill and pious patronage. The imprint of Mamluk architecture on the urban landscapes of the Middle East is visible until the present day.
For a long time, the Mamluk era has been considered a period of decline in Islamic history, their military competence having come at the expense of intellectual curiosity. During the last decades, however, it has become obvious that science and literature indeed rather flourished under Mamluk rule. The same can be observed in the field of falconry literature. New texts were written and Mamluk book production was critical for the survival of older Arabic literature on the subject. The manuscript catalogued in the Bodleian Library in Oxford as Marsh 148 illustrates this well.
The manuscript contains two texts on falconry, a copy of the book of Adham and al-Ghi?r?f and a short treatise about hawks. The category of literature these texts belong to is typically concerned with classifications of birds of prey, their training and qualities as trained birds, but especially the diagnosis and treatment of diseases. It is hard to establish the precise age of the book of Adham and al-Ghi?r?f, the most popular Arabic manual on falconry in the premodern Middle East. One of two preserved versions, the al-?ajj?j version, recounts some of the history of the text and mentions several people involved in it. (Oxford Marsh 148 preserves one of about a dozen copies of this version.) One of the individuals who played a role in the history of this book is the keeper of the trained hunting animals of the caliph. This man, al-Ghi?r?f, had already served the late Umayyad caliphs before he joined the Abbasid court after this dynasty had taken over in 749 and moved the capital of the Islamic empire from Damascus to Baghdad in 762. His expertise outlasted the replacement of patrons and authorities.
It is unclear at what point exactly Muslim rulers became interested not only in hunting and having experts take care of their animals, but also having the corresponding knowledge recorded in writing and acquiring books on the subject from other places. The history of the book of Adham and al-Ghitrif in Arabic may only go back to the early Abbasid caliphs. The preface mentions earlier sources which have been integrated into the book, presumably not in Arabic, but rather in Greek, Persian and perhaps other languages which may point to an older history, but this account has not been verified. Either way, as an example of Arabic scientific literature which at least claims to integrate non-Arabic traditions, this is a somewhat typical, but also early example. Under Abbasid rule, a substantial body of scientific and philosophical literature in Greek, Persian and Sanskrit was translated into Arabic. The reference to non-Arabic scientific literature is thus a common feature of falconry literature and other branches of knowledge. Likewise, in terms of the medical theory and pharmacology reflected in diagnoses and treatments of birds, the book of Adham and al-Ghi?r?f fits neatly into a larger picture of Islamic science in the early Abbasid period. Unlike the other sciences, however, the direct involvement of rulers in the described activities indicates that falconry had a somewhat different status than mathematics, for example. The Abbasid caliphs, just like the local rulers who belonged to Us?ma ibn Munqidh’s family or the much more powerful Mamluks, were not only patrons of falconers. They were also falconers themselves.
As for the second part, there is very little in the anonymous F? tadb?r al-buz?t which allows us to date this text. The attribution to philosophers or a Greek philosopher and the text’s appearance alongside ninth- and tenth-century texts might suggest an early date, but this remains uncertain.
Excerpt from chapter 35 on how to improve the response of the raptor if it does not respond well
Those with knowledge about hunting agree that when responding, in swooping flight, when having flown far and when being greedy [or: flying in circles], there is nothing a raptor responds faster to than a white dove. Therefore, falconers should always carry in their bags wings of a large white bird as well as living white doves and the raptor should become used to eating on it. If the raptor flies away from the falconer, he should call him with the wing, and if the raptor turns away from him, he should release the dove towards him which is tied to a rope. The raptor will descend upon it swiftly. If the raptor does not respond well, feed it sweet basil (Arabic: ?awl or ?awk), which is also known as b?dar?j which has been dried and crushed. Or give it three pieces of yellow iris, or take some cattle salt (or: rock salt), which is red like pistachios. Give it to the bird and feed it some of it on meat, and it will spit out what makes it ill and its manner will improve.
Excerpt from chapter 44 on expedited moulting
Give them some snakeskin or three small frogs. When they eat that and their feathers start to fall out, you should pour every day on the meat that you feed them some sesame oil so that the oil enters their body and makes their (new) feathers supple and lubricates them so that they do not come out dry and break or break in their bodies whenever something hits them.