Medieval Jewish Medicine

Jewish practitioners participated in the exchange of knowledge between Christian and Muslim writers and practitioners. The Book of Remedies, the earliest medical text written in Hebrew, to Asaph the Jew, dates to the seventh or eighth century.[1] The text comprises four parts; a story of the transmission of medicine from God to mankind, a medical[…]

Texts, Tools, and Methods in Ancient Egyptian Medical Practice

Ancient Egyptians valued hygiene and proper medical care. Introduction Medical practice in ancient Egypt was so advanced that many of their observations, policies, and commonplace procedures would not be surpassed in the west for centuries after the fall of Rome and their practices would inform both Greek and Roman medicine. They understood that disease could[…]

Ancient Egyptian Medicine

The Greek historian Herodotus visited Egypt around 440 BCE and wrote extensively of his observations of their medicinal practice. Introduction The medicine of the ancient Egyptians is some of the oldest documented. From the beginnings of the civilization in the late fourth millennium BC until the Persian invasion of 525 BC, Egyptian medical practice went[…]

Dr Williams’ Pink Pills for Pale People: TB Quackery in the 19th Century

The international success of the worthless pills was due to the marketing skills of a Canadian politician. Tuberculosis (TB) is a disease that has been around since antiquity. It has gone by many names: phthisis (the original Greek name), consumption, the white plague – and many treatments have been offered over the years. One example[…]

Treatments for Hoarseness since the Early Modern World

Syrups and electuaries were popular remedies for throat complaints from the 17th century onwards. Here are some herbal remedies from the past for sore throats. It seems that many plants offered some form of relief for a sore throat– once the curative ingredient had been extracted, distilled, emulsified, dissolved with wine and sugar and then[…]

Speaking of Trotula: A Woman in Medieval Medicine

Medicine had become highly professionalized by the late Middle Ages and was patriarchal, but women like Trotula persisted. Many students of the Middle Ages now know that ‘Trotula’ is the title of a compendium of three texts on women’s medicine composed in southern Italy in the 12th century, not a woman’s name. What they may[…]

What Archaeology Can Tell Us about Medieval Medical Care

They had sophisticated medical treatments at their fingertips – from preventative hygiene to prosthetics. Introduction The conventional view of medical historians is that curative treatment in medieval infirmaries was based primarily around prayer and a nourishing diet. But a new archaeological study reveals that more active therapeutic technologies were used in medieval monastic healing. In[…]

Petrarch’s Plague: Love, Death, and Friendship in a Medieval Time of Pandemic

How he chronicled, commemorated, and mourned his many loved ones who succumbed. This article, Petrarch’s Plague: Love, Death, and Friendship in a Time of Pandemic, was originally published in The Public Domain Review under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0. If you wish to reuse it please see: https://publicdomainreview.org/legal/ The Italian poet and scholar Francesco Petrarch lived through[…]

Healing with Animals in the Medieval and Early Modern Levant

Since ancient times animals have been the source of medicinal substances used in various cultures. Abstract Animals and products derived from different organs of their bodies have constituted part of the inventory of medicinal substances used in various cultures since ancient times. The article reviews the history of healing with animals in the Levant (The[…]

A Brief History of Veterinary Medicine Since the Ancient World

It can be dated to 12,000-10,000 BCE though most accounts – especially concerning the dog – date this event much earlier. Introduction The English word ‘veterinarian’ as defining one who provides medical care to animals, comes from the Latin verb veheri meaning “to draw” (as in “pull”) and was first applied to those who cared for “any[…]

Contagion and Recovery in the Ancient Hittite Empire

The Hittites recognized that disease was transmitted by contagion from one person to another. In the late 14th century BCE, an epidemic disease afflicted the kingdom of Hatti, located in central Anatolia (present-day Turkey).  Mursili II, King of Hatti, pleaded with the gods to make the plague stop, in a series of prayers that were written down[…]

Jan Baptist Van Helmont: Toxicology in the Middle Ages and Renaissance

Van Helmont was an heir of Paracelsus’s thought and movement who went to lengths in later years to distinguish himself. Introduction This article discusses Jan Baptist Van Helmont’s (1579-1644) views on poison in light of his medical alchemy. First, it argues that his approach was fundamentally influenced by the theories of ‘universal poison’ and ‘potent[…]

Missteps in Hamburg during the 1892 Cholera Outbreak

The German city-state was run by merchant families who put trade and economy above residents’ welfare. As British scholar Richard Evans researched the history of pandemics for a book more than 30 years ago, he was struck by the uniformity of how governments from different cultures and different historical periods responded. “Almost every epidemic you[…]

The First Cholera Epidemic in St. Petersburg, 1823

The wide dissemination of the disease was brought about by the poor sanitary conditions of the city. By Kseniya Barabanova In 1823, a new disease—cholera—visited the Russian Empire for the first time. It was initially discovered in the south of the Empire, in Astrakhan. In 1830, the epidemic broke out in Moscow, and it reached[…]

Waging Health: Women in Medicine in Nineteenth-Century American Wars

The nineteenth century is a decisive time in the development of medicine and the medical profession in Europe and North America. Thinking of war from a U.S.-American perspective will almost immediately evoke associations of male soldiers fighting heroic battles for a good cause such as democracy and/or the liberation of people from dictatorships, tyrannies, and[…]

Dr. Benjamin Rush: Medical Quackery in the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793

The contradiction in his character is particularly well illustrated by his behavior during the Philadelphia yellow fever epidemic of 1793. By Dr. Robert L. NorthFormer Professor of Internal MedicineThe University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas Introduction Benjamin Rush, MD (1745–1813), was not only the most well known physician in 18th-century America, he was[…]

Russia and the Medical Drug Trade in the Seventeenth Century

Examining what drugs were available in Russia and the great diversity of drugs traded in early modern Europe. Summary This article deals with the trade in medicines into Russia in the seventeenth century. Both the early modern medical drug trade, and Russian medicine, have previously received substantial attention, but no work has thus far been[…]

Talisman and Amulets as ‘Protective Gear’ in Medieval Islam

From magic bowls to holy shirts, Muslim cultures used various devices to protect the user from harm starting in the 11th century. Introduction From the 11th century until around the 19th century, Muslim cultures witnessed the use of magic bowls, healing necklaces and other objects in hopes of warding off drought, famine, floods and even[…]

When Religion Sided with Science during Plague in the Medieval Islamic World

Looking at how people thought about science and religion in the past can inform the contemporary world’s approach. Plagues – A Fact of Life Plagues were a fact of life in ancient and medieval worlds. Personal letters from the Cairo Geniza – a treasure trove of documents from the Jews of medieval Egypt – attest[…]

Nurses and Doctors Treating the Wounded on the Front Lines in World War I

World War One created thousands of casualties from physical wounds, illness, and emotional trauma. Introduction The First World War created thousands of casualties. New weapons such as the machine gun caused unprecedented damage to soldiers’ bodies. This presented new challenges to doctors on both sides in the conflict, as they sought to save their patients’[…]

A History of Nurses Fighting Disease on the Front Lines

Nurses have always been at the forefront during war, epidemics, and other times of disaster. May 12 was International Nurses Day, which commemorates the birthday of Florence Nightingale, the first “professional nurse.” The World Health Organization also named this year the “Year of the Nurse” in honor of Nightingale’s 200th birthday. To nurses everywhere, this[…]

The ‘Dog Doctors’: Veterinary Care in Edwardian London

The first historical account of Edwardian London’s elite canine veterinarians in the early 20th century. Introduction Previous historiography identifies increasing veterinary interest in dogs as a mid-twentieth century phenomenon. Despite tension with the mainstream profession, however, an earlier group of specialist veterinarians provided sophisticated canine medical care to London society. Their activities included the policing[…]

We’re Never Far from Where We Were: The 1918 Flu Pandemic in Pictures

A little over a century ago, a different pandemic rattled the world when a third of the world’s population contracted the H1N1 influenza virus. A Dark Sense of Humor In this haunting photo, a man in Australia poses with a painted skull-and-crossbones on his mask. Straining the Medical System Military pathologists believe that a British[…]

A History of Quinine Drug Hype Since the 19th Century

The purpose was to sell more quinine and to remind the world that the Dutch empire was the provider of indispensable medicine. Big pharmaceutical companies have long over-promised the efficacy of their antimalarial drugs. This started a century ago, when European antimalarial producers began aggressively touting the curative effects of quinine on all manner of[…]

Smallpox and After: An Early History of the Treatment and Prevention of Infections

Introduction The scientific work that led to the discovery of the causes of infections was possibly the major biomedical advance of the nineteenth century. From it was derived the aseptic technique of Lister, the use of antitoxins and immunisation, and the ultimately successful search for chemicals selectively toxic to bacterial cells. The conquest of most[…]

Responses to the ‘Russian Flu’ in 1889

Information was scarce, conflicting, and often exaggerated. In November 1889, a rash of cases of influenza-like-illness appeared in St. Petersburg, Russia. Soon, the “Russia Influenza” spread across Europe and the world. During the 1889 outbreak of the so-called Russian Influenza, the media was overwhelmed by reports on the spread of the flu. In these early[…]

A History of the Yellow Fever Vaccine

The close of the 19th century also witnessed dramatic discoveries in the new science of bacteriology that would transform medicine forever. Introduction After failed attempts at producing bacteria-based vaccines, the discovery of a viral agent causing yellow fever and its isolation in monkeys opened new avenues of research. Subsequent advances were the attenuation of the[…]