Abu Musa Jabir ibn Hayyan

Abu Musa Jabir ibn Hayyan

date of birth : 722 AD | date of death : 815AD
Born on 722 AD, Tous, Iran, Philosopher, Physician, Scientist , His name was Latinized as "Geber" in the Christian West and in 13th-century Europe an anonymous writer, usually referred to as Pseudo-Geber, produced alchemical and metallurgical writings under the pen-name Geber.

Birth, Birthplace, Time of birth:

It is believed that Jabir ibn Hayyan was born in Tus, Khorasan in Iran around 721 or 722 AD.

Father's name: Hayyan
Mother's name: -
Brother: -
Sister: -
Spouse: -
Children: -

Reputation, fame, nickname:


Personal Information:

Religion: Shiite Muslim
Influenced by: Ja'far al-Sadiq, Alchemy, Harbi al-Himyari
Influenced: Al-Kindi, Alchemy, Chemistry

Life events:

Life and background

Abu Musa Jabir ibn Hayyan, one of the fathers of chemistry, was a Shiite Muslim polymath. His expertise included chemistry, alchemy, astronomy, astrology, engineering, philosophy, pharmacy and medicine. Twentieth century scholar E.J. Holmyard attempts to piece together a life of Jabir from a variety of early sources and knowledge of the history of the times. According to Holmyard, Jabir Ibn Hayyan was born in 721 or 722, in the town of Tus, in Khorasan, not far from the city of Meshed in modern Iran. His father, Hayyan, was of the Al-Azd tribe, originally of south Arabia, some members of which had resettled in Kufa. Hayyan became enmeshed in the political intrigues of his time, and was executed shortly after Jabir's birth. Jabir's family fled to Arabia, where Jabir studied under the scholar Harbi al-Himyari.

Later years and Theories

In later years, he became the disciple of Jafar al-Sadiq, a shi'ite imman connected with the Abbasids, who, under the caliphate of Harun al-Rashid, later assumed power in the region. Because his father had died supporting the Abbasids, Jabir was able to form a close association with the Barmecides, who acted as the caliph's ministers. He was thus able to practice medicine under the protection of the caliphate. In one of his works, Jabir relates that he cured a handmaid belonging to the household of Yahya ibn Khalid, a Barmecide, by administering a specially prepared potion. For the caliph himself, Jabir wrote an alchemical work, The Book of the Blossom, which included information on experimental techniques. He also is said to have facilitated the acquisition of copies of Greek and Latin authors for translation into Arabic. Jabir kept a working laboratory in Kufa, the ruins of which were discovered two hundred years after his death. In 803, Jafar ibn Yahya was put to death and the Barmecides were banished after earning the disfavor of the Caliphate. Jabir fled to Kufa, where he is said to have lived long enough to persuade the succeeding Caliph, Al-Ma'mun, to nominate a successor of Jabir's choice. According to this tradition, Jabir would have died only after the naming of the successor, Ali al-Rida, in 917.


In Yemen Jabir studied the Koran, mathematics and other subjects under a scholar named Harbi al-Himyari. After Jabir went back to Kufa, in Kufa he became a student of the Islamic teacher and sixth Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq.

Occupation and Career:

Jabir ibn Hayyan was a prominent polymath: a chemist and alchemist, astronomer and astrologer, engineer, geographer, philosopher, physicist, and pharmacist and physician.
His distinguished career began in medicine, but ventured off into his other interests and expertise over the course of the years. Jabir ibn Hayyan's work paved the way for several other Muslim alchemists such as Razi, Tughrai, and al-Iraqi. His books strongly influenced medieval European alchemists and stressed the need for experimentation. His final years were spent in house arrest as a result of his political alliances. During his distinguished career, Jabir ibn Hayyan developed several chemical instruments that are still used in modern day chemistry. He discovered that by distilling various salts, he could form nitric acid and hydrochloric acid. Then by combining the nitric and hydrochloric acids, Jabir invented aqua regia, which is one of the few substances that can dissolve gold. Jabir also discovered citric acid, tartaric acid and acetic acid. His contributions to chemistry went beyond the discovery of new instruments he also improved on several manufacturing processes. Some of his contributions to manufacturing include making steels and other metals, preventing rust, engraving gold, dyeing and waterproofing cloth, tanning leather and chemical analysis of pigments and other substances. Jabir ibn Hayyan also developed the use of manganese dioxide in glassmaking to counteract the green tinge produced by iron. He also paved the way for Al-Razi's discovery of ethanol by noting that by boiling wine, one released a flammable vapor.

Awards /Honors:

Jabir is held to have been the first practical alchemist.
Abu Musa Jabir ibn Hayyan was one of the fathers of chemistry.


The writings of Jabir Ibn Hayyan can be divided into four categories:

  • The 112 Books dedicated to the Barmakids, viziers of Caliph Harun al-Rashid. This group includes the Arabic version of the Emerald Tablet, an ancient work that is the foundation of the Hermetic or "spiritual" alchemy. In the Middle Ages it was translated into Latin (Tabula Smaragdina) and widely diffused among European alchemists.
  • The Seventy Books, most of which were translated into Latin during the Middle Ages.
  • The Ten Books on Rectification, containing descriptions of "alchemists" such as Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle.
  • The Books on Balance, this group includes his most famous Theory of the balance in Nature.

Works ascribed to Jabir under his Latinized name, Geber, include:

  • The Sum of Perfection
  • The Investigation of Perfection
  • The Invention of Verity
  • The Book of Furnaces
  • The Testament

The consensus among scholars who have studied the body of work attributed to Jabir is that they could not all have been written by him. Some argue that one man could not have written that much material even in a lifetime. Others note stylistic differences between Jabir's work in Arabic, and the Latin works of Geber. The content of the Gerber works are said to reflect a state of knowledge closer to the end of the fourteenth century than to the eighth and ninth centuries, when Jabir is thought to have been active. The modern criticism of this body of work was begun by Berthelot in the late nineteenth century, and has continued to the present. Holmyard expressed a dissenting opinion, in that he believed the question of whether the Latin works were by Jabir should be left open.


Hobbies and personal interests:

His main interests were Alchemy and Chemistry, Astronomy, Astrology, Medicine and Pharmacy, Philosophy, Physics, philanthropist.

Death, place of death, Time of death, place of burial:

The year of his death is disputed, but it is believed that he died in either 808 AD or 815AD.


Whether there was a real Jabir in the 8th century or not, his name would become the most famous in alchemy. He paved the way for most of the later alchemists, including al-Kindi, al-Razi, al-Tughrai and al-Iraqi, who lived in the 9th–13th centuries. His books strongly influenced the medieval European alchemists and justified their search for the philosopher's stone. In the Middle Ages, Jabir's treatises on alchemy were translated into Latin and became standard texts for European alchemists. These include the Kitab al-Kimya (titled Book of the Composition of Alchemy in Europe), translated by Robert of Chester (1144); and the Kitab al-Sab'een (Book of Seventy) by Gerard of Cremona (before 1187). Marcelin Berthelot translated some of his books under the fanciful titles Book of the Kingdom, Book of the Balances, and Book of Eastern Mercury. Several technical Arabic terms introduced by Jabir, such as alkali, have found their way into various European languages and have become part of scientific vocabulary. Max Meyerhoff states the following on Jabir ibn Hayyan: "His influence may be traced throughout the whole historic course of European alchemy and chemistry." The historian of chemistry Erick John Holmyard gives credit to Jābir for developing alchemy into an experimental science and he writes that Jābir's importance to the history of chemistry is equal to that of Robert Boyle and Antoine Lavoisier. The historian Paul Kraus, who had studied most of Jābir's extant works in Arabic and Latin, summarized the importance of Jābir to the history of chemistry by comparing his experimental and systematic works in chemistry with that of the allegorical and unintelligible works of the ancient Greek alchemists. The word gibberish is theorized to be derived from the Latinised version off Jābir's name, in reference to the incomprehensible technical jargon often used by alchemists, the most famous of whom was Jābir. Other sources such as the Oxford English Dictionary suggest the term stems from gibber; however, the first known recorded use of the term "gibberish" was before the first known recorded use of the word "gibber".

Quotes and Memoirs:

  • "The first essential in chemistry, is that you should perform practical work and conduct experiments, for he who performs not practical work nor makes experiments will never attain the least degree of mastery."
  • "My wealth let sons and brethren part. Some things they cannot share: my work well done, my noble heart — these are mine own to wear."