Al-Nuwayrī, full name Shihāb al-Dīn Ahmad bin 'Abd al-Wahhāb al-Nuwayri (Arabic: شهاب الدين أحمد بن عبد الوهاب النويري‎, born April 5, 1279 in Akhmim, present-day Egypt – died June 5, 1333 in Cairo) was an Egyptian Muslim historian and civil servant of the Bahri Mamluk dynasty. He is most notable for his compilation of a 9,000-page encyclopedia of the Mamluk era, titled The Ultimate Ambition in the Arts of Erudition (نهاية الأرب في فنون الأدب, Nihāyat al-arab fī funūn al-adab), which pertained to zoology, anatomy, history, chronology, amongst others.[1] He is also known for his extensive work regarding the Mongols' conquest of Syria. Al-Nuwayri started his encyclopedia around the year 1314 and completed it in 1333.[2]

Shihab al-Din al-Nuwayri
أحمد بن عبد الوهاب النويري
BornApril 5, 1279
DiedJune 5, 1333(1333-06-05) (aged 54)


The name Al-Nuwayri is a nisba referring to the village of Al-Nuwayra in present-day Beni Suef Governorate. Al-Nuwayri was born April 5, 1279 in Akhmim, Egypt.[3] For most of his childhood, he lived in Qus in Upper Egypt, where he studied with Ibn Daqiq al-'Id.[4] He later studied at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, specializing in the study of the hadith and the sira, in addition to history. Skilled in calligraphy, he reportedly made a copy of Sahih al-Bukhari which he sold for 1000 dinars. He worked as a civil servant in the administration of Sultan An-Nasir Muhammad starting at age of 23, serving in various roles including property manager for the Sultan and superintendent of army finances in Tripoli.[5] At some point after 1312, he retired from government service and took a job copying manuscripts in order to support himself while compiling his encyclopedia. He died on June 5, 1333 in Cairo.[6]


Al-Nuwayri's encyclopedia, The Ultimate Ambition in the Arts of Erudition, was divided into five sections (books):[7]

  1. Geography and astronomy
  2. Man, and what relates to him
  3. Animals
  4. Plants
  5. History

The first four subjects comprised 10 volumes, while the last filled 21 volumes.

ِAl-Nuwayri based his encyclopedia on several earlier works. In fact, the only wholly original portions are the discussion of financial secretaryship in book two, and some of the historical material in book five.[8] The rest of the work was a compilation of a number of texts including Delightful Concepts and the Path to Precepts (Mabahij al-fikar wa manahij al-'ibar) by Jamal al-Din al-Watwat [ar] and Avicenna's Canon of Medicine.[9]


  1. ^ Collison, Robert L. "The Arab World". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 10 June 2015.
  2. ^ Armstrong, Lyall. "The Making of a Sufi: al-Nuwayri's Account of the Origin of Genghis Khan" (PDF). Middle East Documentation Center. University of Chicago. Retrieved 10 June 2015.
  3. ^ Al-Nuwayri, Shihab Al-Din (2016). The Ultimate Ambition in the Arts of Erudition. Penguin Books. pp. XV. ISBN 978-0-14-310748-4.
  4. ^ Muhanna, Elias (2017). The World in a Book: Al-Nuwayri and the Islamic Encyclopedic Tradition. Princeton University Press. p. 13. ISBN 9780691175560.
  5. ^ Muhanna, pp. 13-14.
  6. ^ Muhanna, p. 14.
  7. ^ Muhanna, p. 32.
  8. ^ Muhanna, p. 65.
  9. ^ Muhanna, pp. 43, 69.

Further readingEdit

  • The Historiography of Islamic Egypt (c. 950-1800), "Al-Nuwayrī as a historian of the Mongols", p. 23 and seq. Reuven Amitai. Online