Part 3

Only a strong royal authority is able to construct large cities and high monuments

by Ibn Khaldun Icon

The size of monuments is proportional to the importance of the various dynasties.

The construction of cities can be achieved only by united effort, great numbers, and the co-operation of workers. When the dynasty is large and far-flung, workers are brought together from all regions, and their labor is employed in a common effort.

Often, the work involves the help of machines, which multiply the power and strength needed to carry the loads required in building. (Unaided) human strength would be insufficient. Among such machines are pulleys 12 and others.

Many people who view the great monuments and constructions of the ancients, such as the Reception Hall of Khosraw (Iwan Kisra), the pyramids of Egypt, the arches of the Malga (at Carthage) and those of Cherchel in the Maghrib, think that the ancients erected them by their own (unaided) powers, whether (they worked) as individuals or in groups.

They imagine that the ancients had bodies proportionate to (those monuments) and that their bodies, consequently, were much taller, wider, and heavier than (our bodies), so that there was the right proportion between (their bodies) and the physical strength from which such buildings resulted.

They forget the importance of machines and pulleys and engineering skill implied in this connection. Many a traveled person can confirm what we have stated from his own observation of building (activities) and of the use of mechanics to transport building materials among the non-Arab dynasties concerned with such things.

The common people call most of the monuments of the ancients found at this time, ‘Adite monuments, with reference to the people of ‘Ad. The common people think that the buildings and constructions of ‘Ad are so big because the bodies of (the ‘Adites) were so big and their strength many times greater (than our strength). This is not so.

We have many monuments of nations whose body measurements are well known to us. These monuments are as big or bigger than such famed monuments such as the Reception Hall of Khosraw (Iwan Kisrd) and the buildings of the Shi’ah ‘Ubaydid(-Fatimids) in Ifriqiyah, or those of the Sinhajah, whose monument, still visible to this day, is the minaret of Qal’at Banu Hammad.

The same applies to the building (activity) of the Aghlabids in the Mosque of al-Qayrawan, and of the Almohads in Rabat (Ribat al-Fath), and to the 40 years building (activity) of Sultan Abul-Hasan in al-Mansurah, opposite Tlemcen.13

It also applies to the arches supporting the aqueduct by means of which the inhabitants of Carthage brought water to their city, and which are still standing at this time. There are also other buildings and monuments (hayakil), the history of whose builders, whether ancient or recent, is known to us, and we can be certain that the measurements of their bodies were not excessive.

This belief is founded solely upon (the tales of) storytellers who eagerly tell stories about the people of ‘Ad and Thamud and the Amalekites. In fact, we find the houses of the Thamud still existing at this time in Petra, where they are cut into the rock. It is established by (the sound tradition of) the Sahih that those houses actually were theirs.14 The Hijazi (pilgrim) caravan has passed by them for very many years, and it has been observed that thosehouses are not larger than usual inside, nor in size and height (generally)

In their belief that (the ancients had excessively large bodies, the storytellers) exaggerate so much that they believe that Og, the son of Anak, one of the Amalekites (or Canaanites), 15 used to take fish fresh out of the water and cook them in the sun.

They have that idea because they think that the heat of the sun is greater close to it. They do not know that the heat of the sun here among us is its light, because of the reflection of the rays when they hit the surface of the earth and the air.

The sun itself is neither hot nor cold.

  • It is a star of an uncomposed (substance) that gives light as mentioned in Chapter 2. The size of the monuments of dynasties is proportionate to their original power.

4. Very large monuments are not built by one dynasty alone

The reason for this is the afore-mentioned need for cooperation and multiplication of human strength in any building activity.

Sometimes, buildings are so large that they are too much for (human) strength, whether it is on its own or multiplied by machines, as we have (just) stated. Therefore, the repeated application of similar strength is required over successive periods, until (the building) materializes.

One ruler starts the construction.

He is followed by another and (the second by) a third. Each of them does all he can to bring workers together in a common effort. Finally, (the building) materializes, as it was planned, and then stands before our eyes.

Those who live at a later period and see the building think that it was built by (but) a single dynasty.

In this connection one should compare what the historians report about the construction of the Dam of Ma’rib. Its construction was (started by) Saba’ b. Yashjub.

He caused seventy rivers to flow into it. Death prevented him from completing it, and it was then completed by the Himyarite rulers who succeeded him. Something similar has been reported with regard to the construction of Carthage, its aqueduct, and the ‘Adite arches 19 supporting it.

The same is the case with most great buildings. This is confirmed by the great buildings of our own time.

We find one ruler starting by laying out their foundations. Then, if the rulers who succeed him do not follow in his steps and complete (the building), it remains as it is, and is not completed as planned.

Another confirmation of our theory is the fact that we find that (later) dynasties are unable to tear down and destroy many great architectural monuments, even though destruction is much easier than construction, because destruction is return to the origin, which is non-existence, while construction is the opposite of that. 20 Thus, when we find a building that our human strength is too weak to tear down, even though it is easy to tear something down, we realize that the strength used in starting such a monument must have been immense and that the building could not be the monument of a single dynasty.

This is what happened to the Arabs with regard to the Reception Hall of Khosraw (Iwan Kisra). Ar-Rashid had the intention of tearing it down. He sent to Yahya b. Khalid, who was in prison, and asked him for advice. Yahya said= “O Commander of the Faithful, do not do it! Leave it standing! It shows the extent of the royal authority of your fore-fathers, who were able to take away the royal authority from the people who built such a monument.”

Ar-Rashid, however, mistrusted Yahyi’s advice. He said that Yahya was motivated by his affection for the non-Arabs and that he (ar-Rashid) would indeed bring it down. He started to tear it down and made a concerted effort to this effect. He had pickaxes applied to it, and he had it heated by setting fire to it, and he had vinegar poured upon it.

Still, after all these (efforts), he was unable (to tear it down). Fearful of the disgrace (involved in his inability to demolish the monument), he sent again to Yahya and asked him for advice, whether he should give up his efforts to tear it down. Yahya replied= “Do not do that!

Get on with it, so that it may not be said that the Commander of the Faithful and ruler of the Arabs was not able to tear down something that non-Arabs had built.”

Thus, ar-Rashid recognized (his disgrace) and was unable to tear it down. 21The same happened to al-Ma’mun in (his attempt) to tear down the pyramids in Egypt.

He assembled workers to tear them down, but he did not have much success.

The workers began by boring a hole into the pyramids, and they came to an interior chamber between the outer wall and walls farther inside.

That was as far as they got in their attempt to tear (the pyramid) down. Their efforts are said to show to this day in the form of a visible hole. Some think that al-Ma’mun found a buried treasure between the walls.

The same applies to the arches of the Malga (at Carthage, which are still standing) at this time.

The Tunisians need stones for their buildings, and the craftsmen like the quality of the stones of the arches (of the aqueduct). For a long time, they have attempted to tear them down. However, even the smallest (part) of the walls comes down only after the greatest efforts. Parties assemble for the purpose. (They are) a well-known (custom), and I have seen many of them in the days of my youth.


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