This project (2018-1-ES01-KA203-050606) has been funded with support from the European Commission.
This web site reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

This project has been funded with support from the European Commission.
This web site reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

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Educational Material

Unit 5 - The Middle Age: Byzantine, Arabic and European Medicine

Universidad Complutense de Madrid (ES)

1.1 Topic Description
The medical history of the Middle Age is characterized by two relevant events: the consolidation of the Galenism and the affirmation of the Judaeo-Christian tradition in all the Mediterranean countries. The interaction of these two aspects contributed to the development of new attitudes toward illness and patient and influenced consistently the patient's care and medical practice. The duty of care sick people comes from the The Gospel Book and became a reason for the approximation between the medieval monasticism and medicine. Several Medieval hospitals in Europe born in or close to a monastery, nevertheless the role of hospital in the Middle Age is essential to promote the secularization of medicine and open the way to the medicine of Renaissance.

The distinction between hospitals and monastic infirmaries can be considered the first step for the integration of science in medicine, because consent the contamination between monastic medicine and Arabic medicine. But in term of improvement of medical education, the hospitals’ organization represents a great opportunity to define a standard of medical practice. The regulation of medical education promoted by hospitals contributed to the definition of the modern professionalism of medicine and designed a new and independent role for doctor in Western society.

The Middle Age medicine assures the continuity between the ancient and modern medicine, through the Byzantine and the Arabic medicine, the last one essential to spread the legacy of the inestimable patrimony of the Alexandrian tradition. Medical history of the Middle Age represents one of the most important attempts of integration between different medical traditions.

In order to develop this unit we integrated two different historiographical traditions, one from Spain represented by the work of Pedro Lain Entralgo, one of the most significant historian and anthropologist of medicine, other from England and represented by Roy Porter, a British historian of medicine who directed one of the biggest institution promoting medical humanities in United Kingdom, the Welcome Institute for the History of Medicine, and which History of Medicine represents a reference for the Anglo-Saxon tradition in the English speaking world. Their books Historia de la medicine (Salvat, Barcelona, 1978) and The Greatest benefit to mankind: a medical history of humanity from antiquity to the present (Harper Collins, London, 1997) represents the exclusives sources of this unit.

The unit is structured around three different cultural and medical traditions: the Byzantine, the Islamic and the Western European. The attention is at first focused on the big influence of the monotheistic religion on medicine, the concepts of illness and health, the cosmovision of the believers and its impact on the doctor-patient relationship.

The Unit starts with a presentation of the impact of Christianism in the Middle Age culture and establishes a relationship between the rituality of primitive Christianism and medicine. The influence of Galen in the Middle Age medicine is explored through the role of Greeks doctors in Byzantine Roman Empire and the difference with Latin doctors in Western Roman Empire. Exploring the impact of Galenism the Unit splits the medieval medicine in three different areas of influence: Greek tradition, Arabic tradition and Latin tradition. The material starts describing the characters and the structure of Byzantine medicine and establishes a distinction between two different stages: Alexandrian and Constantinopolitan stage.

The Arabic medicine is presented through the introduction of the essential aspects of Islam and the cosmovision promoted by the Islamic culture; attention is due to the concept of man and the illness in the Islamic world. The practice of medicine in the Arabic civilization is explored through its relationship with the Greek medicine and all the others external influences.

The third block of the Unit explores the evolution of Galenism in the Christian and Latin-speaking Europe influenced by the Roman tradition. The medical practice is explored from the traditional historiographical division in High (V-XI) and Low Middle Age (XI-XV) medicine. The last part of the Unit explores with a monographic approach the health care of Medieval medical history assigning to significant topics an illustrative and descriptive function: the role of hospitals and their impact on care, medical education and professionalism.

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