Hall of Fame

Meet ten men and women who had a last­ing im­pact on medicine in the me­dieval world

All About History - - CONTENTS -

Marvelous Me­dieval medics

Avi­cenna was a poly­math who wrote on an ex­ten­sive num­ber of top­ics in­clud­ing alchemy, psy­chol­ogy, math­e­mat­ics and po­etry


Paul was one of the most prom­i­nent physi­cians of the Byzan­tine pe­riod. He stud­ied medicine in Alexan­dria, Egypt and was also ex­posed to Ara­bic medicine through his trav­els to the Mid­dle East. He wrote The Epit­ome of Medicine, com­pris­ing of seven books on var­i­ous sub­jects in­clud­ing hy­giene and tox­i­col­ogy, com­bin­ing the work of Hip­pocrates and Galen with new med­i­cal pro­ce­dures, such as cau­ter­i­sa­tion. It was highly in­flu­en­tial and re­mained as the stan­dard guide for medicine and surgery for 800 years.


Widely hailed as ‘the father of modern surgery’, Al-zahrawi was the great­est sur­geon of the Is­lamic Golden Age. In roughly the year 1000, he com­pleted his 30-vol­ume il­lus­trated med­i­cal en­cy­clopae­dia

Al-tas­rif, which was in­tended for med­i­cal stu­dents. Doc­u­ment­ing Al-zahrawi’s al­most 50 years of med­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence, it dis­cussed hu­man anatomy and the pathol­ogy of dis­eases among other top­ics. It was in­flu­en­tial on the de­vel­op­ment of both Is­lamic and Euro­pean medicine and surgery, re­main­ing as the stan­dard text­book in med­i­cal uni­ver­si­ties for

500 years. Aside from his en­cy­clopae­dia, Al-zahrawi holds the dis­tinc­tion of in­tro­duc­ing around 200 new sur­gi­cal in­stru­ments to the me­dieval world.


Byzan­tine princess Anna Komnene stud­ied medicine from an early age, even­tu­ally de­vel­op­ing a rep­u­ta­tion as a good physi­cian. Her father, Em­peror Alex­ios I, placed Komnene in charge of a large hos­pi­tal, as well as an or­phan­age, in the cap­i­tal Con­stantino­ple. While in this role, it is be­lieved that she treated thou­sands of pa­tients and she was also known to teach medicine in var­i­ous other hospi­tals. In­ter­est­ingly, Komnene was deemed to be an ex­pert in gout and treated per­son­ally treated her father when he suf­fered at­tacks.


Reg­u­larly cited as one of the most sig­nif­i­cant physi­cians of the Is­lamic Golden Age, Avi­cenna wrote hun­dreds of works, many of which were ded­i­cated to medicine. His most fa­mous was the en­cy­clopae­dia The Canon O Medicine, which re­mained in use un­til the 17th cen­tury as one of the world’s most au­thor­i­ta­tive and fa­mous med­i­cal text­books. Avi­cenna was in­flu­enced by the work of Greek physi­cian Galen, com­bined with Per­sian and In­dian medicines. Although the ma­jor­ity of it has now been de­bunked by modern med­i­cal science, Avi­cenna pro­vided great in­sight to ar­eas such as anatomy and symp­toms, and is of­ten touted as a founder of pre­ven­tive medicine.


Ibn Zuhr was con­sid­ered the most renowned physi­cian of Mus­lim Spain. Born into a fam­ily of physi­cians, he trained in medicine from an early age and was in­tro­duced to the works of Hip­pocrates and Galen by his father, who made him swear the Hip­po­cratic oath. He no­tably wrote the Kitab al-taysi, fo­cus­ing on clin­i­cal de­scrip­tions and di­ag­no­sis of dis­eases, at the re­quest of his con­tem­po­rary Aver­roes, to serve as a com­pan­ion the lat­ter’s med­i­cal en­cy­clopae­dia, Col­liget. Also known for in­tro­duc­ing an­i­mal test­ing to eval­u­ate new med­i­cal pro­ce­dures, Ibn Zurh’s work con­trib­uted greatly to the de­vel­op­ment of surgery in the me­dieval world.


First ex­posed to medicine while liv­ing in Morocco from 1160 to 1165, Mai­monides’s rep­u­ta­tion as a physi­cian earned him a place as the court physi­cian to the sul­tan of Egypt, Sal­adin. In­flu­enced by

Greek and Ara­bic medicine, cou­pled with his own ex­pe­ri­ences, Mai­monides wrote at least ten med­i­cal trea­tises, dis­cussing con­di­tions such as asthma and pneu­mo­nia. His work is cred­ited with spread­ing med­i­cal knowl­edge amongst the Jew­ish com­mu­nity dur­ing the Mid­dle Ages.


Hilde­gard was a Bene­dic­tine nun who was known for her holis­tic ap­proach heal­ing and herbal reme­dies. She was the au­thor of the nine vol­ume

Physcia and the five vol­ume Causae et Cu­rae, which be­tween them cov­ered a range of top­ics in­clud­ing hu­man phys­i­ol­ogy, the medic­i­nal prop­er­ties of plants and herbal treat­ments. While it re­mains un­known ex­actly where Hilde­gard stud­ied medicine, her writ­ing sug­gests that she was fa­mil­iar with folk medicine, Ara­bic medicine and the work of Galen.


Ibn al-nafis made one of the big­gest med­i­cal dis­cov­er­ies of the Me­dieval world when he cor­rectly de­scribed pul­monary cir­cu­la­tion, with blood mov­ing from the right side to the left side of the heart through the lungs. This con­tra­dicted the tra­di­tion­ally ac­cepted view of Galen, where blood seeped from the right to the left ven­tri­cle through the cham­ber walls – it would take Euro­pean schol­ars an­other three cen­turies to prove Ibn al-nafis cor­rect. He also pre­dicted the ex­is­tence of coro­nary and cap­il­lary cir­cu­la­tions, 400 years be­fore they were dis­cov­ered, prov­ing that he was a physi­cian far ahead of his own time.


Aver­roes, a physi­cian at the royal Al­mo­had court, was cel­e­brated for his in­sight and knowl­edge in the field of medicine. He cre­ated a num­ber of med­i­cal works, the most im­por­tant of which was his first, the en­cy­clopae­dia Book of Gen­er­al­i­ties

About Medicine, which he wrote in 1162. Also known by its Latin name, Col­liget, it was split into seven books which dis­cussed a range of top­ics, in­clud­ing anatomy, hy­giene and ther­apy. The Col­liget was fo­cused on the the­o­ret­i­cal bases of medicine and sum­marised the work of Galen, earn­ing Aver­roes

recog­ni­tion in the Latin med­i­cal world.


Af­ter study­ing medicine in Mont­pel­lier, Paris and Bologna, Chau­liac prac­ticed as a physi­cian in Lyon and served as the per­sonal sur­geon to three Popes of the Avi­gnon Pa­pacy.

He wrote the Chirur­gia Magna, in which he dis­cussed a va­ri­ety of med­i­cal treat­ments and sur­gi­cal pro­ce­dures, largely in­flu­enced by the work of Galen. The Chirur­gia Magna quickly be­came one of the most im­por­tant sur­gi­cal text­books in the Me­dieval world and re­mained as such for al­most 400 years.

Dur­ing the out­break of the Black Death, Chau­liac was the first to dis­tin­guish the dif­fer­ences be­tween pneu­monic and bubonic plague

Komnene was a very in­tel­li­gent and am­bi­tious woman

Paul’s work has been trans­lated into mul­ti­ple lan­guages

Avi­cenna’s The Canon Of Medicine is still used in tra­di­tional Unani medicine

Al-zahrawi served as the court physi­cian to Al-hakam II, the sec­ond caliph of Cor­doba

Aver­roes was also a renowned philoso­pher in Europe

Mai­monides de­voted much of his life to treat­ing oth­ers

Hilde­gard served as the in­fir­mar­ian at her monastery

Ibn al-nafis was known to have per­formed nu­mer­ous hu­man dis­sec­tions

Chau­liac’s Chirur­gia Magna has seven vol­umes in to­tal

Ibn Zuhr had a keen in­ter­est in phar­ma­col­ogy

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