al-Jazari Automatons

Image by Wikipedia

We might think robots are a modern invention. But al-Jazari created amazing automatons in the thirteenth century. Today we would call him a maker.

If Ibn al-Razzaz al-Jazari were alive today, we would call him a maker. Originally from modern day Cizre in southeast Turkey, al-Jazari lived from 1136-1206, during the Islamic golden age. He was a scholar, mathematician, inventor, mechanical engineer, craftsman, and artist. He built water systems, clocks, and automatons, mechanical robots that amazed people who saw them. In 1206, al-Jazari wrote a book, The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices, to describe 100 devices he had built with instructions how to build them. He illustrated his book with beautiful intricate paintings of his work.

Many consider him the da Vinci of the Muslim world (and da Vinci the al-Jazari of the European world). Imagine if al-Jazari had lived today with sensors, LEDs, Pis and Arduinos, soldering irons, and all the tools we use to make things.

Musical Robot Band

This boat with four musicians floated on a lake to entertain guests. It used water flow and pegs to bump levers to play a drum machine.

Elephant Clock

A clock that used water weight to track time, the elephant moved and made sounds every half hour. The clock also included a human automaton, as well as a dragon and phoenix. There are two modern examples of this clock you can see in Dubai and Mardin, Turkey.

Candle Clocks

al-Jazari improved on the ability of candles to burn at a steady rate, for example, removing burnt wax and using the weight of the remaining unburnt candle to push it up at a constant speed to track time. His clocks also used dials to display time.

Castle Clock

Eleven feet (3.3 meters) high, this clock kept time and tracked the transit of the zodiac signs, sun, and moon. A crescent moon acted as a pointer which travelled across the top of the clock, causing doors to open every hour and reveal mannequins. The clock also tracked varied length of days and nights over the year.

Learn More


Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices

Elephant Clock

1001 Inventions

An award=winning science and cultural heritage organization that raises awareness of the golden age of Muslim civilization, including the creations of al-Jaziri.


  • Tim Slavin

    Tim is an award-winning writer and technologist who enjoys teaching tech to non-technical people. He has many years experience with web sites and applications in business, technical, and creative roles. He and his wife have two kids, now teenagers, who are mad about video games.

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