Cranial Nerve Anatomy in As-Safwa by Abu Nasr Al-Masihi

Hael Abdulrazeq, Mousa Hamad, Aisha Obeidallah, Hebah Najib, Peter Carmel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: Knowledge of cranial nerve anatomy has evolved over centuries, from the writ-ings of Galen in the second century, who described 7 nerves, to Versailles in the 16th century, to our current 12-nerve anatomical understanding adopted under Soemmerring in the 18th century. The Arabic golden age of medical transcription is often overlooked, given that little of that period re-mained after the end of Islamic rule. Here we translate a chapter found in the medical text As-Safwa by Iraqi Physician Al-Masihi, as seen in the Wellcome Online Library. Methods: The manuscript of As-Safwa by Abu Nasr Al-Masihi, obtained from the Arabic Manuscripts Collection of the Well-come Library (London), was reviewed, and the primary author translated relevant chapters on neu-roanatomy of the cranial nerves. A transcript of the chapter was included as it is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Results: Abu Nasr S Al-Masihi was a physician who resided in Baghdad in the 13th century. He was known for having treated the Abbasid Caliph Al-Nasir li-Din Allah. Like what was commonly taught by his contemporaries, Al-Masihi described in "As-Safwa" seven cranial nerves. He disregarded the olfactory tract in his discussion and began with a discussion of the optic nerve. He singled out this nerve in describing its texture, as did Galen. Conclusion: The transcription of As-Safwa was completed decades following the fall of the Abbasids. Al-Masihi likely contributed to the House of Wisdom's efforts of medical knowledge documentation due to their association with the Royal families, which had sponsored the accumula-tion of scientific texts in Baghdad's libraries. However, the contributions of many of the physicians of their time will, unfortunately, remain unknown.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalPalestinian Medical and Pharmaceutical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Pharmacology, Toxicology and Pharmaceutics


  • History of Medicine
  • Islamic Medicine
  • Neuroanatomy


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