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The second volume of the “Canon of Medicine” by Ibn Sina

UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register

The Memory of the World Register is a list of documentary heritage that has been approved by the International Consultation Committee (ICC) and ratified as such by UNESCO’s Director General within the context of the Memory of the World Programme (MoW). Through its recognition, the documentary heritage becomes protected and distributed as such. 

The Institute of Manuscripts of the Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences has a collection of 390 early medical documents, which include 363 manuscripts dating from the 9th century. Most are written in Arabic - the literary script of the day. Of these, 70 are in the Arabic language, 71 in Turkic languages (Turkish, Tatar, Kumyk, Uzbek), and the rest in Persian. 

On July 29, 2005, UNESCO officially included three medieval medical manuscripts from the Institute of Manuscripts of the Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences in the list of the Memory of the World Register, which comprises the written monuments of world significance and outstanding universal value. The Certificate confirming that decision was presented to the Institute of Manuscripts by UNESCO Director-General Koichiro Matsuura. 


The Institute of Manuscripts of Azerbaijan is fortunate to have some real treasures in its collection. For example, it preserves one of the oldest copies of the second volume of the “Canon of Medicine” (1030 AD) by Ibn Sina, known in the West as Avicenna (980-1037 AD). The manuscript was copied in 537 Hijra (1143 AD) in Baghdad.

This second volume is primarily devoted to pharmacology. It contains pharmaceutical descriptions of hundreds of natural medicines: plants, minerals and animal substances. The manuscript is unique in that it is one of the oldest manuscripts of “Canon” in existence, and was copied only 106 years after the author’s death. Avicenna's manuscript is considered the most reliable in the world. The second volume of “Canon of Medicine” was translated into Uzbek and Russian from the abovementioned Baku manuscript (Tashkent, 1982).6

Avicenna, born in the town of Afshana nearby Bukhara (of Old Persia, at the present-day Uzbekistan), carried out many of his medical observations later, in Persia and Azerbaijan. "Canon", an encyclopaedic work in Arabic, is considered the single most famous book in medical history, both in the East and in the West (as cited in the Encyclopedia Britannica).

During the Middle Ages, the “Canon of Medicine” influenced the development of medical sciences in the whole Muslim World and Christian Europe. In the 12th century AD, the Canon was translated from Arabic into Latin by Gerard of Cremona (1140-1187 AD) and used as a medical textbook in European universities. The book was held in such reverence that Michelangelo was recorded as saying: "It is better to be mistaken following Avicenna than to be true following others".

The manuscript is written on thick white paper. The text is black, and the titles are written in red ink; the format: 18x20 cm, number of leaves: 186.