In this blog post, I would explore medicine during the High Middle Ages by using a similar format as that of my previous blog post, which focused on three general regions–Europe, the Middle East and China.
Medicine during the High Middle Ages
The expansion and consolidation of power of the kings of France, Spain and England gradually stabilized Europe, restoring vitality to medicine and other fields of study.
The study of anatomy was revisited due to the new law that permitted dissections of human bodies for the purpose of education. From then on, medicine in Europe moved away from practices such as bloodletting performed by barber surgeons to more systematic approaches backed by knowledge based on anatomical studies.
In the 9th century, the first school of medicine in Europe–Scuola Medica Salernitana— was established in Salerno– a city in southern Italy. This pioneering institution set a high standard for future medical colleges by integrating Greek and Roman theories as well as Jewish and Arabic traditions into the curriculum. Philosophy, religion, law and ethics were essential components. Students completed 3 years of study followed by 4 years of hands-on medical training.
Medicine in the Middle East maintained its momentum in development throughout the High Middle Ages. It was regarded as the most sophisticated medical tradition in the world at that time. As mentioned in the previous blog post, religion played a crucial role in the rapid advancement of Islamic medicine.
The Qur’an placed great importance on the pursuit of medical knowledge, for Allah created diseases as well as cures. Doctors were considered healers sent by Allah.
Madrassas–Islamic religious schools– were built alongside mosques to impart medical knowledge. Much like the modern-day residents and interns, medical students often visited patients in affiliated hospitals, gaining hands-on experience in addition to textbook knowledge.
In the 10th century, new technique to remove cataracts via suction using a hollow syringe was developed, which bears a certain amount of similarity to Modern-day cataract surgeries.
In addition to surgical techniques and disease treatments, Islamic medicine placed great emphasis on wellness. Bathing was popularized as people believed that it opened pores and extracted excessive humors. General hygiene was thus improved.
Around 960 AD, China was reunified under the Song Dynasty. Despite constant threats imposed by the “barbarians” from all sides, the economy boomed. Chinese medicine was at a period of rapid growth.
The improvement in woodblock printing contributed to the increase in publication and production of medical texts. The Song Dynasty government promoted compilation of medical texts in the Imperial Medical Academy.
The system of acupuncture channels and points was reorganized by Weiyi Wang– a renown official in the academy. He invented mannequins with as many as 657 acupuncture points that were used in standardized testing for doctors.
Xi Yuan Ji Lu–the first comprehensive text on autopsy was produced. It covers knowledge in anatomy, dissection, emergency treatments for poisoning and examination of crime scenes.
The Song Government also encouraged medical research, which contributed to the specialization of doctors as well as the development of pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology.
In addition, the public welfare and health care system experienced great improvement, including the establishment of pharmacies, hospitals and orphanages in big cities.
The next blog post would conclude my research on medicine during the Middle Ages. Before moving with the timeline, I would want to explore in depth several important physicians whose works have guided the development of medicine up until the 15th century.
This Crash Course video provides a brief overview of ancient and medieval medicine in various traditions around the world, their foundational theories and influential figures.
Beeden, Alexandra, et al., editors. The Definitive Illustrated History. New York, DK, 2016.
Goldiner, Sigrid, editor. “Medicine in the Middle Ages.” Metropolitan Museum of Art, Jan. 2000, www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/medm/hd_medm.htm.
Palleja De Bustinza, Victor. “How Early Islamic Science Advanced Medicine.” National Geographic, National Geographic Society, www.nationalgeographic.com/archaeology-and-history/magazine/2016/11-12/muslim-medicine-scientific-discovery-islam/?user.testname=none.
Ranhel, André Silva, and Evandro Tinoco Mesquita. “The Middle Ages Contributions to Cardiovascular Medicine.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 Apr. 2016, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5062728/.
“What is European Medieval & Renaissance Medicine?” Medical News Today, Healthline Media UK, www.medicalnewstoday.com/info/medicine/medieval-and-renaissance-medicine.php. Accessed 5 Jan. 2016.
“神农氏” [“Shen Nong”]. 神农, June 2003, www.shen-nong.com/eng/history/index.html.