The Maragha Observatory Complex in Ilkhanid Iran

The Maragha Observatory Complex in Ilkhanid Iran

Hadi Jorati


A manuscript of Jami al-Tawarikh at BNF. Bibliothèque nationale de France. Département des Manuscrits. Division orientale. Supplément persan 1113

While in residence at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, I am undertaking a microstudy of the enterprise of the Maragha observatory. The Maragha observatory project, which was envisioned by the scholar Naṣīr al-Dīn Ṭūsī and proposed to the Mongol prince, Hülegü Khan, was founded in 1259 in northwest Iran. This happened already before the end of the Mongol campaign in Syria, and was originally conceived as an institution tasked with producing an updated series of astronomical tables (Zīj-i Īlkhānī) to be used in astrological prognostication as the needs of the court might occasion. However, it grew into a huge project, covering not only the building of new observational instruments and carrying out entirely new observations of the planets to update the tables, but also building a complex to host resident and visiting scholars from a wide variety of backgrounds and topics of intellectual investigation. This research institute of sorts hosted not only mathematicians and philosophers, but also theologians and jurists, and even poets, for long-term and short-term residencies. The observatory complex also offered education for young scholars, in particular in mathematics and astronomy.

Previous studies on the Maragha observatory have focused solely on the mechanics of the new mathematical theories developed by the resident scholars or, on occasion, archaeological investigations focusing on the physical constructions, such as buildings and observational instruments. Little attention has been paid thus far to the social make-up of the observatory complex, which is the new line of investigation in this project. The project, which constitutes major parts of my upcoming monograph on the social background to the career of Nasir al-Din Tusi, examines the line of patronage sought by the founder of the observatory and the networks of patronage that situate this project and its founder against the background of the expansion of Mongol Empire in West Asia.