Like reading Thackeray edited by Elmore Leonard

10 Things You Didn't Know About Medicine in the Byzantine Era

  1. The Byzantine Empire lasted from about 400 AD to 1453, when Constantinople fell to the Turks. At its height it stretched from present day Greece, through Turkey and all the way down the East Mediterranean to include Egypt. Their medical ideas were based on those of their Greco-Roman predecessors, such as Galen and Hippocrates. They also absorbed ideas from Jewish and Arab medicine, and added their own original contributions.
  2. One of their main contributions was to create textbooks of the current thinking. This was long before the invention of the printing press, so everything was written out by hand. They were elaborately decorated with many fine illustrations of particular ailments.
  3. One of the first ‘textbooks’ (now known as the Vienna Dioscurides) was that created in about 515 for the daughter of the Emperor Olybrius. Such books were very valuable and were handed down from father to son, or to a particularly favoured pupil. A doctor would be willing to pay a scribe a good fee for copying such a book, or better, get two copies, keep one and sell the other!
  4. Perhaps the most famous textbook was The Medical Compendium in Seven Books, written by Paul of Aegina in the late seventh century. It remained in use for 800 years
  5. Another Byzantine treatise, that of the 13th century Nicholas Myrepsos, remained the principal pharmaceutical code of the Parisian medical faculty until 1651. Long before the fall of Constantinople the Byzantine Empire had shrunk to little more than the city, so many of the men of ideas had left and taken their wisdom to the West.
  6. The Emperor Justinian (527-565) subsidised private physicians for six months of the year, for the benefit of the poor.
  7. Early in the 12th century, John II Comnenus (1118-1143) founded, in Constantinople, two hospitals, one for men and one for women. Each contained 10 wards, of 50 beds each. The staff had 12 male doctors, one woman doctor, as well as a woman surgeon. Each of the male doctors was given 12 qualified assistants and 8 helpers, but the women doctors had 4 assistants and 2 helpers
  8. Of course, better to prevent disease than to have to treat it, so the wearing of amulets was common, even though the Church tended to frown upon the practice. These amulets were usually worn around the neck and contained Biblical illustrations or passages.
  9. Almost all the medicines given were herbal. To dispel headaches one could take tinctures of roses, violets, calamint or water-lilies. Myrtle was said to be good for impotence.
  10. And the Byzantine women did not neglect keeping a trim figure. Slimming aids included garlic, onions, leeks, mustard, oregano, mint, hyssop, pennyroyal and Cretan thyme. Also included were small birds, freshwater fish, and deep sea fish such as stingray; succulent fruits, as well as dried figs with walnuts, and pistachios, and honey vinegar, and – believe it or not – cream!