In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Medicine

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies
  • Historiography
  • Surveys of Manuscripts
  • Catalogues of Manuscripts
  • Medical Images
  • Collections of Papers
  • Biographies
  • Texts in English Translation
  • Hospitals
  • Diseases and Disability
  • Medicine and Society
  • Religion and Medicine

Medieval Studies Medicine
Peter Murray Jones
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 December 2010
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 December 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0051


Medieval medicine in Europe from 500 to 1500 was not an enclosed world; intellectual influences—as well as diseases—came from the Islamic world and from the Greeks in the Byzantine Empire. Epidemic diseases followed trade routes from east to west. The heritage of ancient classical medicine was passed to the West through translation from Greek and Near Eastern materials. This bibliography will focus primarily on the reception of this material in the West, and on Europe rather than Asia or Africa. Medicine was unusual among the medieval disciplines in being both art and science. Also it was not easily separable from the occult arts and sciences in the Middle Ages. Magic, alchemy, and astrology all had close links with medicine, but these subjects will not receive attention here. Instead, the focus will be on the art of healing and the science of medicine, together with the social matrix and disease environment within which they flourished. Religion, on the other hand, cannot be left out: medieval Christianity was closely bound to medicine, embracing as it did the notion of Christus Medicus (Christ the healer) and the healing miracles of the Virgin Mary and the saints. National traditions of medicine in the Middle Age are not treated here (with an exception for England), unless publications on particular traditions have a broader European resonance.

General Overviews

There are a number of good modern surveys that provide orientation and a starting point for further research. Pormann and Savage-Smith 2007 introduces the Islamic traditions that were to be so strong an influence on Western medicine, while Jacquart and Micheau 1990 traces in detail the relations between the two. Siraisi 1990 is still the definitive introduction to the Western medieval culture of medicine, while Park 1992 places that culture within its social background. Grmek 1998 introduces central themes of medieval medical thought. For an encyclopedic approach to names and themes in medicine, see Glick, et al. 2005.

  • Glick, Thomas F., Steven J. Livesey, and Faith Wallis, eds. Medieval Science, Technology, and Medicine: An Encyclopedia. Routledge Encyclopedias of the Middle Ages 11. New York: Routledge, 2005.

    Alphabetical entries including names and subjects. Up to date surveys by expert authors, includes bibliography.

  • Grmek, Mirko D., ed. Western Medical Thought from Antiquity to the Middle Ages. Translated by Antony Shugaar. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998.

    Chapters 5 through 11 focus on the medieval period. Includes charity, medical Scholasticism, the concept of disease, drug and surgical therapies, and regimens of health. Authoritative surveys.

  • Jacquart, Danielle, and Françoise Micheau. La médecine arabe et l’Occident médiéval. Paris: Maisonneuve et Larose, 1990.

    Describes the range of Arabic medicine culminating in Avicenna’s Canon, introduced by Italian and Spanish translators to universities. Impact on medical practice is assessed, as well as the gaps in Western knowledge of this tradition.

  • Park, Katharine. “Medicine and Society in Medieval Europe, 500–1500.” In Medicine in Society: Historical Essays. Edited by Andrew Wear, 59–90. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

    Assesses the changing disease background, the relations of religious and secular healing, the development of medical institutions, and different forms of medical practice, including civic responses to disease.

  • Pormann, Peter E., and Emilie Savage-Smith. Medieval Islamic Medicine. Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh Press, 2007.

    Emergence and cross-pollination of medieval Islamic medicine with other cultures; theoretical medical framework; physicians and society; case histories and medical practice; role of magical therapies and religious invocations; “afterlife” in European medical tradition.

  • Siraisi, Nancy G. Medieval and Early Renaissance Medicine: An Introduction to Knowledge and Practice. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.

    The single most important introductory textbook, but also a masterly summary of the state of knowledge of medieval medicine at the time of publication. Contains a guide to further reading and to selected primary sources available in English translation.

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