Akhawayni; a Persian neuropsychiatrist of the 10th century A.D.

The renown in medicine in the Islamic Golden Age is indebted to Persian scholars including Haly Abbas (949–982 AD), Rhazes (865–925 AD), Avicenna (980–1032 AD) etc. Muslims, mostly Persians, translated foreign medical manuscripts from Persian, Greek, Indian and Syriac into Arabic, the Linga Franca of that period. Medical schools (from ancient Persia and other civilizations under the rule of Muslims including Jundishapur) also enjoyed renown and the scientific atmosphere of the period as well as the notable works of Muslim physicians enriched medical sciences in early medieval times in Islamic territories. Among the prominent figures of medicine from this period was Akhawayni, a great physician who made numerous observations in neurology and psychiatry and became famous as ‘Physician to the Insane’.


Akhawayni (who was called as Joveini in Latin) was born in Bokhara, a city in the north east of Old Persia, in early 10th century AD and thus became known as Al-Bokhari. Bokhara was a great and important city, located on the Silk Road. Persia at that time was ruled by the Samanid dynasty, the first Persian kingdom that rose after the Muslims defeated, in 637 AD, the Sassanid Empire, the last ancient Persian dynasty.

Akhawayni lived and worked in Bokhara and also in Tus (a city in eastern Iran). He studied medicine under Abu al-Qasem Maqanei Razi who was the student of Rhazes, the renowned Persian physician and chemist. He documented his 20 years’ experiments of medicine in four manuscripts, Kitab al-Nabz (the book on the pulse), Kitab al-Tashrih (the book on anatomy), Qarabadin (pharmacopeia) and Hida¯yat al-Muta’allimin fi al-Tibb (The Students’ Handbook of Medicine, the only book surviving today). Hida¯yat is the first medical textbook written in Persian in the Islamic era. In the Islamic Golden Age most of the scientific writings were in Arabic, the Franca Lingua of that period. But Akhawayni broke this tradition and wrote in his native Persian (Farsi). The book includes 184 chapters (Bab) covering wide aspects of medicine.

It seems his main interest in medicine was psychiatry and especially melancholy, thus becoming known as Pezeshk-e-Divanegan (Physician to the Insane). He died around 983 AD and was buried in his hometown.

Akhawayni’s works on neurology and psychiatry

In Hida¯yat Akhawayni wrote comprehensive chapters on psychiatry and neurology including anatomy, describing the brain and nervous system functions, neuropsychiatric disorders (diagnosis, signs, and symptoms) and treatment, and also his own experiments on his patients.

He gathered and categorized available knowledge on neuropsychiatry. In his book we can see citations to Galen, Dioscorides, Tabari, Rhazes, etc. He also added his own findings, including novel works and observations in neuropsychiatry. He was the first to describe sleep paralysis and nightmares and suggested pragmatic rather than supernatural treatment.

He is mentioned as the first person to describe the Circle of Willis circle and to present the fever cure in the history of medicine. He also described meningitis (Lisarghos in Hida¯yat), mania, psychosis (Malikhulia), dementia (Ghotrab) and other conditions with thoughts that are close to current concepts. Beside neurology and psychiatry, Akhawayni wrote novel works in other medical fields.

(Source: “Akhawayni (?–983 AD): A Persian neuropsychiatrist in the early medieval era (9th–12th Century AD)”, by Arman Zargaran et al.)


Research-Selection for NovoScriptorium: Maximus E. Niles

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