Name of Object:

Manuscript on surgery


Damascus, Syria

Holding Museum:

National Museum of Damascus

About National Museum of Damascus, Damascus

Museum Inventory Number:


Material(s) / Technique(s):

Red and black ink on paper.


Length 20 cm, width 15 cm, depth 3 cm


This manuscript is a copy of a book on medicine and surgery with the transliterated Arabic title of Al-Tasrif li-man 'ajiza 'an al-ta'lif (“The arrangement [of medical knowledge] for one who is unable to compile [a manual for himself]”) by the Andalusian physician Abu al-Qasim Khalif ibn al-'Abbas al-Zahrawi (d. after AH 400 / AD 1009).
The book is divided into 30 sections according to treatments and illnesses. Every section gives the recommendations of a physician with an established reputation for the successful treatment of a particular illness. It describes the treatments and the instruments the physician would need to carry out the procedures, and also illustrates various medical instruments, explaining how they are to be used. Such instruments include hypodermic needles, cupping glasses, cauterisation tools, bone saws, scissors, scalpels and pincers for extracting teeth.
The largest sections are sections one, two and 30 which discuss, respectively, essential medical concepts, symptoms and remedies for 325 ailments, and how to perform operations. They comprise over half of the book, while the other 27 sections discuss various aspects of prescribing and concocting different drugs. Some of the ideas in the book are completely original, and it is thought that this tome is the first to contain illustrations of medical instruments.
The book had a huge impact in the Arabic- and Turkish-speaking worlds, as well as in Europe. It was translated into Latin by Gerard of Cremona (d. AD 1187) and influenced scholars like Guy the Chauliac (d. AD 1370) and his successors.
An example of one section of the book is shown here. It records the advice of Paulus of Aegina with respect to cauterising gout and joint pain. The title of each section is recorded in red, and precedes the description that follows it. It illustrates the cauterising instrument to be used. In addition the author, al-Zahrawi, delineates the areas of the feet that may be cauterised, and finally shows how post-treatment feet should be dressed and looked after.

View Short Description

This medical manuscript gives instructions for conducting surgery and dentistry and includes illustrations of the instruments required. It is an early copy of a book written by the Andalusian physician Abu al-Qasim Khalif ibn al-'Abbas al-Zahrawi.

How Object was obtained:

Presented as a gift by Khurshid al-Jarkasi in 1924.

Selected bibliography:

Abu al-Faraj al-Ush, M., A Concise Guide to the National Museum of Damascus, Damascus, 1969, p.216.
Savage-Smith, E., “al-Zahrawi, Abu'l Kasim Khalaf b. al-'Abbas,” Encyclopaedia of Islam, Vol. XI, Leiden, 1979, pp.398–9.

Citation of this web page:

Mona al-Moadin "Manuscript on surgery" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2020.;ISL;sy;Mus01;31;en

Prepared by: Mona Al-Moadin
Translation by: Hilary Kalmbach (from the Arabic)
Translation copyedited by: Mandi GomezMandi Gomez

Amanda Gomez is a freelance copy-editor and proofreader working in London. She studied Art History and Literature at Essex University (1986–89) and received her MA (Area Studies Africa: Art, Literature, African Thought) from SOAS in 1990. She worked as an editorial assistant for the independent publisher Bellew Publishing (1991–94) and studied at Bookhouse and the London College of Printing on day release. She was publications officer at the Museum of London until 2000 and then took a role at Art Books International, where she worked on projects for independent publishers and arts institutions that included MWNF’s English-language editions of the books series Islamic Art in the Mediterranean. She was part of the editorial team for further MWNF iterations: Discover Islamic Art in the Mediterranean Virtual Museum and the illustrated volume Discover Islamic Art in the Mediterranean.

True to its ethos of connecting people through the arts, MWNF has provided Amanda with valuable opportunities for discovery and learning, increased her editorial experience, and connected her with publishers and institutions all over the world. More recently, the projects she has worked on include MWNF’s Sharing History Virtual Museum and Exhibition series, Vitra Design Museum’s Victor Papanek and Objects of Desire, and Haus der Kulturen der Welt’s online publication 2 or 3 Tigers and its volume Race, Nation, Class.

MWNF Working Number: SY 43


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