Use of Ice in Middle East
- Originally sent to Bogdan, now to the whole list:
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A long time ago this came up and i said i'd try to find more info.
A friend and i were chatting yesterday about using ice in the Middle
East in SCA period. She had written a paper about "water" in the
Middle East (obviously a bit more focused than that), so she
remembered reading about ice transport and ice making during her
research. She just sent me this.
Islamic Technology: an illustrated history
Ahmad Yusuf al-Hassan and Donald R. Hill
Cambridge University Press, 1986
ISBN 0-521-42239-6, paperback
Originally published UNESCO.
"One instance of the efficiency of transport was the carriage of ice
from Syria to Egypt during the summer months. This service was in
operation in Fatimid, Ayyubid and Mamluk times (fourth to tenth
centuries AH/tenth to sixteenth centuries AD). Five camel loads were
sent every week; these were destined for the Sultan's palace and were
paid for out of state funds."
"Fruit was stored from season to season in fresh condition; there
were instructions on the proper storage of fresh apples, pomegranates
and grapes among others, so that they could last without
deterioration for several months until the next season. Cold storage
was utilised, water-melons from Transoxiana being transported to
Baghdad packed in lead ice-boxes. Indeed, the method was applied to
ice itself, which was transported to Baghdad and Cairo and then
stored to be used throughout the year by the wealthier classes."
The book has a bibliography, but no footnotes, so we don't know where
the authors got their information.
Additionally, yesterday she showed me photos of a traditional "ice
house" (in Iraq, IIRC), a not quite pointed dome-shaped stone
building in which one can make ice using the fact that there's a
steep and fairly rapid temperature drop in desert areas between day
and night. The process makes small amounts of very thin ice most
nights, which is gathered and stored in a lined pit - every morning
or so one can add a little bit more. The technology is simple enough
that it could go back to SCA-period, although at this point we cannot
guarantee that it does.
We're still looking for more sources and verification...
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And from a later message to Bogdan:
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You asked about the use of ice in the Middle East during a
conversation on the Authentic list (i think in relation to a scene in
"Kingdom of Heaven"), and on 18 August 2005 i sent you some
information from a book that was not-well footnoted.
My friend, from whom i got the information, and i did not teach our
class at the Fall Collegium, but continue to do research for Spring
I have recently come across some well-footnoted data on transport
using ice and ice houses in SCA period Near/Middle East. Below is
much excerpted and there is a great deal more information in _Social
Life Under the Abbasids_ than i am willing to type in here.
The sources are all in Arabic, which i do not read, so i must trust
the scholars who cite them.
I will have to leave off the diacritical marks, as these rarely
transfer well in e-mail.
The Encyclopedia of Islam II
Entry: ghidha' (nourishment)
entry by Maxime Rodinson
"...Preservation by cold storage was known; melons from Transoxania
were transported to Baghdad packed in ice inside lead boxes
(al-Tha'alibi, Lata'if al-ma'arif, ed. P. De Jon, Leiden 1867, p.
It is possible that there is more information on ice technology in
The Encyclopedia of Islam in another article that i haven't read yet.
_Social Life Under the Abbasids_
Muhammad Manazir Ahsan
Longman, London and New York
Librairie du Liban
The Abbasids ruled for some time after they murdered all the Umayyads
in the mid-8th century, except 'abd al-Rachman who escaped and
founded his dynasty in al-Andalus. Not too long after murdering the
Umayyads, they moved the capital of Dar al-Islam from Damascus Syria
to Baghdad 'Iraq. While they continued for many centuries - nearly
until the end of SCA period - to be the Caliphate, they ended up
under the control of the Mamluks (1250-1517), kept in Cairo and
trotted out on important religious holy days. They ceased to exist
when the Ottomans declared themselves to be the Caliphate]
Also, dates of authors given in Anno Hajj (AH) - add about 632 years
to get dates CE
Chapter Three - Food
"The vessel barrada, as the name shows, was used for cooling water by
placing mugs (kizan) on it (fn 492) According to Ahmad Taymur a
barrada was an earthenware vessel which was exposed to wind for
cooling water. (fn 493) The use of mugs, along with other post for
cooling, is mentioned by Ghazuli, who writes: "Kafur [the Fatimid
General] was averse to the use of ice, so mugs were placed on the
barrada and water thus cooled was used by him for drinking. This
saved him from harm associated with the use of ice while giving him
water just as cold" (fn 494) In Sabi's Kitab al-Wuzara' another
water-cooler known as thaljiyya is mentioned [Urtatim notes that the
root for this word is the same as the root for the word ice], and it
deserves special notice. (fn 495) We do not know definitely whether
it was a sort of contraption used for making ice or was just an
ordinary pot for keeping water cool. A passage in Ibn Abi 'Usaybi'a's
'Uyun al-Anba', where a prescription from an earlier source for
freezing (solidifying) water even in June or July is reproduced, (fn
496) suggests that the Abbasids were not unfamiliar with the art of
ice-making. This it is reasonable to assume that the word thaljiyya
indicates a pot used for making ice rather than an ordinary cooling
jar, or a vessel used to keep ice."
fn 492 Nishwar, i, p. 264; Jahiz, Bukhala', p. 73; Lane s.v. barrada
fn 493 Ahmad Taymur, RAAD, iii (1930), pp. 269-70
fn 494 Gazuli, Matali, ii. p. 71
fn 495 Sabi, Wuzara', p. 239
fn 496 'Uyun al-Anba', i, p. 83; cf. also Ahmad Taymur, RAAD, iii
(1930), p. 269
"Ibn al-Jawzi quotes a price of ice in Baghdad for an unspecified
year, when 1 to 1-1/2 ratl of ice sold at 1 dirham. (fn 643) This
price would seem a reasonable one, as ice was brought to Baghdad from
far-off lands. (fn 644)"
fn 643 Humaqa, p. 75
fn 644 Muq. pp. 160, 181. An exceptionally high price of ice in the
10th century AD Baghdad has been given by Tanukhi (cf. Nishwar, i,
pp. 63-64; also Muntazam, vi, 118-119).
"The water carriers (saqqa') moved from street to street to sell
their iced water." (fn 680)
fn 680 - Hamadani, Maamat, p. 67; Ibn al-Jawzi, Akhbar al-Ziraf, 31)
Chapter Four - Housing
"In addition to such means of avoiding heat in summer, wealthy people
of Abbasid society had another method of bringing down the
temperature of their rooms, a method which gave more comfort but
entailed a large expense. Big slabs of ice were placed in the dome
(qubba) of the central room of the house and fanned by porters; this
considerably lowered the temperature of the house. (fn 129) Sometimes
khaysh-canvas was also used in this cooling process... (snip anecdote
from the 'Uyun al-Anba') ...By this method one could cool other rooms
as well without incurring any extra expense, for the proximity of the
central room and the cold wind passing through the doors and windows
made the adjoining rooms quite cool and comfortable. (fn 131)"
"...The idea of using ice slabs is said to have come to the Abbasids
from the Persians, (p. 184) who took their siesta in a room with
double walls, the intervening space being filled with ice. (fn 134)
fn 129 Ibn Abi 'Usaybi'a, 'Uyun al-Anba', i, p. 139; cf. also Tabari,
pp. 418, 536; Lata'if, p. 19
fn 131 'Uyun al-Anba', i, p. 139
fn 134 Tabari, iii, p. 418; Lata'if, p. 19; cf. also Mez, Renaissance
of Islam, p. 380)"
Nishwar = Nishwar al-Muhadara written by al-Tanukhi, d. 384 AH;
Bukhala' = al-Bukhala', by Amr ibn Bahral-Jahiz, d. 225 AH;
Lane = E.W. Lane, Arabic-English Lexicon, 1863-93
RAAD = Majallat al-Majma' al-'Ilmi al-'Arabi (a periodical)
Gazuli, Matali = Matali al-Budur fi manazil al-Surur, by al-Ghazuli,
died 815 AH;
Sabi, Wuzara' = al-Wuzara, by al-Sabi, d. 448 AH
'Uyun al-Anba' = 'Uyun al-Anba', by Ibn Abi 'Usaybi'a, died 668 AH;
Humaqa = Akhbar al-Humaqa wa'l-mughaffalin, by Abu'l-Faraj ibn
al-Jawzi d. 597 AH;
Muq. = Ahsan al-Taqasim by al-Muqaddasi, died 375 AH;
Muntazam = al-Muntazam fi Ta'rikh al-muluk wa'l-umam, by al-Jawzi, d. 597 AH;
Tabari = Ta'rikh al-Rusul wa'l-Muluk, by Muhammad ibn Jarir
al-Tabari, died in 310 AH;
Lata'if = Lata'if al-ma'arif by al-Tha'alibi, died in 429 AH.
Add about 632 years to AH dates to make them AD
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Now, this does not document the use of ice and snow for preservation
or cooling in Europe, just in Syria, Egypt, and Iraq. I have also
read about some similar usages in Iran - which was a close neighbor
and sometimes ally of TransOxania - but have not been able to find
the darn book it was in - and i should look in the Encyclopedia
Iranica as well.
Urtatim (that's err-tah-TEEM)
the persona formerly known as Anahita