2016-08-12 18.51.18

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laboratory apparatus of 3rd and 4th century alchemist Zosimos

Muslim websites often falsely claim this is an illustration of Geber’s apparatus, but notice that the description is in Greek, not Arabic.

The Romans in the 3rd century, produced sodium hydroxide. (Sodium hydroxide might have also been made in pre-Islamic times by the soap manufacturers of what is now Syria).

Greeks of the 3rd and 4th century AD had recipes for soaking pebbles, glass and metals into mordants (to make the dyes stick) and then dying them.

In the Roman colony of Alexandria, manganese dioxide had been added to glass to remove the green tint.

Around the year 300, the Byzantine Empire Christian mystic Zosimos of Panopolis wrote about transmutation of common metals into gold and silver, and illustrated his alchemy book with drawings of laboratory apparatus similar to what would later be used by Geber.
A poem on how to transmutate base metals into gold has been attributed to the 7th century Byzantine alchemist Stephen of Alexandria. According to an ancient legend, a Byzantine monk taught alchemy to the caliph Yazid I (647 – 683).

Pre-Islamic Egyptian alchemists used a process for making precipitated sulfur. It likely consisted of boiling sublimed sulfur in Ca(OH)2 lime water and then adding sulfuric acid.

Jafar al-Sadiq  (702 – 765) was the 6th Imam. In addition to teaching sharia law, he also taught what the Greeks knew about science and alchemy. The 6th Imam lived shortly before the split between what would become the Shia Seveners (who believed in science and reason) and what would become the Shia Twelvers (who believed in revealed knowledge from the Quran). The alchemist Geber probably was one of the students of the 6th Imam.

Image from 15th century Byzantine Greek manuscript “Parisinus graces”, republished by Marcellin Berthelot (1827 – 1907), via Wikimedia Commons.
image credit

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