ABŪ AḤMAD YAḤYĀ B. ʿALĪ B. YAḤYĀ B. ABĪ MANṢŪR ABĀN AL-MONAJJEM (241/855-56 to 13 Rabīʿ I 300/29 October 912), literary historian, music theorist, poet, and Muʿtazilite, boon companion to caliphs Mowaffaq, Moʿtażed, and Moktafī. He was one of the Banu’l-Monaǰǰem, a family of Iranian descent associated with the ʿAbbasid court for more than two centuries. His great-grandfather, Abān, while still a Zoroastrian, established himself as Manṣūr’s astronomer (sc. astrologer). His grandfather, Yaḥyā b. Abī Manṣūr (d. 216/831), was the noted astronomer of Maʾmūn, who converted him to Islam. Abū Aḥmad’s father, ʿAlī b. Yaḥyā (d. 275/888), was an accomplished boon companion (nadīm), with a rare versatility in most of the arts and sciences of his day. His library (ḵezānat al-ḥekma “treasure-house of wisdom”), counted among the largest of his time. His learning was transmitted to his four sons, but especially to Abū Aḥmad Yaḥyā, who distinguished himself in the sciences of the Arabs and the non-Arabs (ʿolūm al-ʿarab wa’l-ʿaǰam).

Abū Aḥmad is remembered mainly for his Resāla fi’l-mūsīq ī (“Treatise on music”) written for Moʿtażed (279-89/892-902). It is the earliest extant monograph on the musical system of the old Arabian school and a principal source for explaining the technical musical terms used in Eṣfahānī’s Aḡānī. In the Resāla (ed. Z. Yūsof, p. 17) he alludes to a previous book he wrote on singing. Moreover, Aḡānī mentions a Ketāb al-naḡam (“Book on notes”). Yet the citation from Ketāb al-naḡam (Aḡānī 3 VIII, p. 374) corroborates the contents of Resāla fi’l-mūsīq ī (ed. Yūsof, p. 24), thus supporting Farmer’s thesis that the two books may be identical (H. G. Farmer, History of Arabian Music, London, 1929, p. 168).

Equally important was Abū Aḥmad’s literary contribution in his Ketāb al-bāher fī aḵbār šoʿarāʾ moḵażramī al-dawlatayn (“The Splendid book: stories of the poets who lived in both Omayyad and ʿAbbasid times”), a compilation of biographies with some poetry. His son, Abu’l-Ḥasan Aḥmad (d. 327/938), added to the work (Fehrest, pp. 143-44). Aḡānī mentions two other books: Aḵbār Esḥāq b. Ebrāhīm al-mawṣelī (Aḡānī 3 V, p. 376), probably part of al-Bāher, and al-Eḵtīār al-wāṯeqī (Aḡānī 3 III, pp. 18, 44), probably a reworking of the songs collected by Esḥāq Mawṣelī for the caliph Wāṯeq (cf. Fleischhammer, “Reste,” pp. 80-81). Some modern scholars (Brockelmann, GAL II, pp. 375, 439) ascribe to him a Ketāb al-bāreʿ (or al-bāher) fī aḵbār al-šoʿarāʾ al-mowalladīn, although Ebn al-Nadīm (Fehrest, p. 144) and Ebn Ḵallekān (III, p. 38; IV, p. 182) clearly attribute a Ketāb al-bāreʿ fī aḵbār al-šoʿarāʾ al-mowalladīn (or al-moḥdaṯīn) to his brother Hārūn. At any rate, Abū Aḥmad’s writings were a major source for Aḡānī (273 citations; cf. Fleischhammer, “Reste,” p. 78) and for Marzobānī’s Moʿǰam and Mowaššaḥ (indices).

Abū Aḥmad achieved prominence as poet and critic (he was highly praised by Marzobānī, Moʿǰam, p. 494). He had a sophisticated knowledge of Arabic (see his discussion with the famous grammarian al-Zaǰǰāǰ in Yāqūt, Odabāʾ I, pp. 55-56). He was an active Muʿtazilite and headed, in the presence of Moktafī, a maǰles (assembly) of the most important scholars and theologians of Baghdad (Ebn al-Mortażā, Ṭabaqāt, p. 88). He is said to have written many books, the names of which have not been preserved, except perhaps a Resāla elā Qosṭā b. Lūqā wa Ḥonayn b. Esḥāq (see Brockelmann, GAL S. I, pp. 225, 366).


Resāla fi’l-mūsīq ī : 1. B.M. Supp. 823, Or. 2361 (236b-238b, 1073/1662-63); ed. M. B. al-Aṯarī in Maǰallat al-maǰmaʿ al-ʿelmī al-ʿerāqī I, 1950, pp. 113-24.

2. Rampur 3097 (25b-28a, 9th/15th cent.?); ed. Z. Yūsof, Cairo, 1964.

3. Rīāż (in an omnibus vol., 1270/1853-54).

Resāla elā Qosṭā b. Lūqā wa Ḥonayn b. Esḥāq:see Brockelmann, GAL S. I, pp. 225, 366.

For some of his verses and anecdotes, see Masʿūdī, Morūǰ, index; and Aḡānī 3 III, V, VIII, and index. Marzobānī, Moʿǰam al-šoʿarāʾ, Cairo, 1960, pp. 423-34, 493-94; Mowaššaḥ, Cairo, 1965, index; Nūr al-qabs, ed. R. Sellheim, Wiesbaden, 1964, pp. 339-40.

Fehrest, pp. 143-44. Ṣūlī, Ašʿār awlād al-ḵolafāʾ, ed. J. Heyworth-Dunne, Cairo, 1936, index.

Taʾrīḵ Baḡdād XIV, p. 230.

Ebn Ḵallekān (Cairo), no. 773.

Yāqūt, Odabāʾ VII, pp. 287-88; V , pp. 459-77.

Ebn al-Qefṭī, Taʾrīḵ al-ḥokamāʾ, ed. J. Lippert, Leipzig, 1903, pp. 122, 364.

H. G. Farmer in EI1 IV, pp. 1244-45. Sezgin, GAS I, pp. 375-76; II, pp. 439-40.

M. Fleischhammer, “Die Banu l-Munağğim, eine Bagdader Gelehrtenfamilie aus dem 2.-4.

Jahrhundert d. H.” and “Reste zweier Dichterbücher im Kitāb al-Agānī,” in Wissenschaftliche Zeitschrift der Universität Halle, Gesellschafts- und Sprachwissenschaftliche Reihe, 12/3-4, 1963, pp. 215-20; 17/2-3, 1968, pp. 77-83.

(A. E. Khairallah)

Originally Published: December 15, 1983

Last Updated: July 19, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. I, Fasc. 3, pp. 251-252

Cite this entry:

A. E. Khairallah, “ABŪ AḤMAD MONAJJEM,” Encyclopædia Iranica, I/3, pp. 251-252; an updated version is available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/abu-ahmad-yahya-b (accessed on 26 January 2014).