Medicine in the Late Middle Ages– Yuchen

Continuing from my last blog post on medicine during the High Middle Ages, this blog post still follows the similar format, covering medicine during the Late Middle Ages in Europe, the Middle East and China. While doing my research, I was surprised by the extent of which Islamic Medicine influenced Western medicine. Therefore, a significant portion of this blog post is about medicine in the Middle East.

Late Middle Ages


As a lasting influence of the Crusades, trade and communication between the European world and the Middle East increased drastically. The wisdom of Islamic medicine (the science as well as the philosophies) from translated medical texts was incorporated into mainstream Western medicine.

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Flagellants in the Netherlands scourging themselves in atonement, believing that the Black Death is a punishment from God for their sins, 1349.

Despite various advances achieved earlier in the High Middle Ages, in the year 1347, Europe was heavily struck by the deadly disease: the Black Death (or the bubonic plague). Spread by infected flea, this deadly contagious disease wiped out more than half of the European population. One contributing factor to the spread of the disease was the unsanitary condition of medieval cities– a cause that was not well-understood by doctors at that time, resulting in ineffective treatments such as diet modification, usage of essential oils and prescription of elixirs attempting to cure the contagious disease. Because of the lack of medical understanding of the disease, people panicked and turned to religion. (Medical)


Middle East–

Medicine in the Islamic world continued to develop and expand, making significant contributions to the field of medicine during the Islamic Golden Age.

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Imaginary Portrait of Ibn Al-Nafis

Ibn Al-Nafis, an Arab physician, is considered “the Father of Circulation/ Circulatory Physiology for his important writings and anatomical discoveries. In his most famous book– Sharah al Tahreeh al Qanoon (Commentary on anatomy of the Canon of Avicenna), he made detailed description of the pulmonary circulation of blood which  contradicted Galen’s widely accepted description that the blood is passed from the left to the right ventricle through invisible pores in the septum.

Ibn Al-Nafis believed that the blood flows from the right ventricle through the pulmonary artery to the lungs, then flows through the pulmonary vein to reach the left ventricle. His pioneering discovery contributed to later development in the understanding of the circulatory system and was 300 years before the observation of William Harvey in Europe, who had previously been credited with the discovery of pulmonary circulation. (Akmal)(“Ibn”)

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Galen’s Cardiopulmonary System

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Explanatory Drawing of Ibn Al-Naifs of Pulmonary Circulation of Blood













A large number of Bimaristans, or hospitals, were built in Islamic cities. Surgeries such as those to remove cataracts and treat trachoma, cauterization as well as various sutures were frequently performed. The structure and concepts of these hospitals closely resemble those of modern hospitals, having separate wards for males and females, an organized system of medical records as well as standard protocols for institutional and personal hygiene (Majeed). Medieval Islamic doctors also went above and beyond merely treating the physical. General wellness and dermatology were given considerable attention. Bathing culture continued to be an essential component of people’s social life and an important contributing factor to the improvement of general hygiene. (Williams)



Under the umbrella of the Song Dynasty, Chinese medicine continued to thrive, making new progress, especially in the fields of pediatrics and gynecology. At the same time, exchange of medical knowledge between the East and West reached its peak. Medical texts and materials from Korea, Japan, Southeast Asia and the Middle East were frequently exchanged via trade routes, resulting in the incorporation of foreign knowledge and practices into Traditional Chinese Medicine and the other medical traditions’ adoption of Traditional Chinese Medicine practices. (“神农氏”)

In Islamic Medicine, herbal drugs imported from China via the Silk Road were frequently prescribed to patients.

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This article explores in-depth the interactions between several traditions of medicine such as Traditional Chinese Medicine, Traditional Arabic and Islamic Medicine, Ayurveda and Kampo–tradition of medicine with basis in Traditional Chinese Medicine but adapted to Japanese culture (Azaizeh).

This temporarily concludes my research on medieval medicine in three representative regions. Overall, medieval medicine in Europe experienced a stagnant state during the Dark Ages and revitalized during the High Middle Ages before being heavily struck by the Plague, while Islamic and Chinese medicine were able to develop under relative stability and prosperity.

In the next blog post, I will look at medicine during the Renaissance era, specifically the influence of the arrival of the printing press on publication of medical texts in Europe and the decline of the Islamic Golden Age.

This video is about Ibn Al-Nafis, the forgotten physician mentioned previously in my blog post. The rediscovery of his manuscript describing pulmonary circulation strengthened my belief that history is never a static field of study. It is constantly updated by new and surprising discoveries.


Works Cited

Akmal, M., et al. “IBN NAFIS – A FORGOTTEN GENIUS IN THE DISCOVERY OF PULMONARY BLOOD CIRCULATION.” US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health,

Azaizeh, Hassan, et al. “Traditional Arabic and Islamic Medicine, a Re-emerging Health Aid.” US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health,

Beeden, Alexandra, et al., editors. The Definitive Illustrated History. New York, DK, 2016.

Bivins, Roberta E. Alternative Medicine?: A History. E-book, Oxford, Oxford UP, 2010.

D., Mitchell P., et al. “Anatomy and Surgery in Europe and the Middle East during the Middle Ages.” Apollo- University of Cambridge Repository,

Goldiner, Sigrid, editor. “Medicine in the Middle Ages.” Metropolitan Museum of Art, Jan. 2000,

Keys, Thomas E. “The Earliest Medical Books Printed with Movable Type: A Review.” The Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy, vol. 10, no. 2, 1940, pp. 220–230. JSTOR,

“Late Medieval and Early Modern Medicine.” U.S. National Library of Medicine,

M, Loukas, et al. “Ibn al-Nafis (1210-1288): the first description of the pulmonary circulation.” US National Library of Medicine National Institute of Health,

Majeed, Azeem. “How Islam changed medicine Arab physicians and scholars laid the basis for medical practice in Europe.” S National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, 24 Dec. 2015,

Medical News Today Editorial Team, and Daniel Murrell, editors. “What is European Medieval & Renaissance Medicine?” Medical News Today, Healthline Media UK, Accessed 5 Jan. 2016.

Palleja De Bustinza, Victor. “How Early Islamic Science Advanced Medicine.” National Geographic, National Geographic Society,

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,

“Silk Road.” Encyclopedia Britannica,

Siraisi, Nancy G. History, Medicine and the Traditions of Renaissance Learning. E-book, U of Michigan P, 2010.

Williams, Elizabeth. “Baths and Bathing Culture in the Middle East: The Hammam.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (October 2012)

Wood, Clair G. “A History of Healing Therapies: Western, Eastern and Alternative Approaches.” Bibliographic Essay, PDF ed.

“神农氏” [“Shen Nong”]. 神农, June 2003,


“Explanatory Drawing of Ibn Nafis.” Muslim Heritage,

“Flagellants in the Netherlands Scourging Themselves in Atonement.” Britannica,

“Galen’s Cardiopulmonary System.” Muslim Heritage,

“Imaginary Portait of Ibn Al-Nafis.” Muslim Heritage,

“Section of the Arab Text from the Commentary on Anatomy in Avicenna’s Canon by Ibn Al-Nafis.” Muslim Heritage,

“Trade Caravans on the Silk Road.”


“Ibn al-Nafis ابن النفيس – the Medical Genius who the world forgot.” Youtube, uploaded by ILM FILM,


3 thoughts on “Medicine in the Late Middle Ages– Yuchen

  1. Alina Zhao

    Hey Yuchen, I really like that you combine the general history of medicine in each time period with specific discoveries and people that are worth noting. It really puts these events into context. I know I have said this before, but it really amazes me how the European countries were so far behind in terms of their medical development and advancement compared to the Middle Eastern countries and China. It is crazy to think that Europe came to exceed the latter two by so much in such little time.

  2. ninayichenwei

    Great progress on your exploration of medicines in the Late Middle Ages! I love how you focused on an important physician besides the general history, which indeed added more specificity to your post. The video you linked also provides a helpful summary of Ibn al-Nafis that reminds the audiences of important aspects of his contributions to the medical field. I think you could maintain the current layout of your post with research in the beginning and reflection at the end. I am looking forward to reading your next post on medicine in the Renaissance era.

  3. nscavalieri

    I think that the way that you go into such great detail without getting lost and losing track of the overall statement is very impressive. I also like how you incorporate so many useful pictures is another very strong element to your post. The last thing that I like is the insertion of some sort of multimedia link. The video is on topic and very complimentary to your writings.


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