Wednesday, September 30, 2015

1095: Crusaders return medicine to Europe

People of all classes joined the crusades for various reasons:
some to take Jerusalem back, some to be freed from landlords,
some to make money, and some to be freed from sin.
Photo from
Most people don't realize this, but the Christian crusades that took place during much of the 8th, 9th, and 10th centuries were peaceful. Christians believed the trek would absolve them from their sins, and the Muslims welcomed the Christians. This was a great thing as far as our medical history is concerned, as the Christians returned to Europe, they brought with them medical wisdom.  (1, page 106)

This all went fine and dandy until the 10th century when the caliphs of Palestine imposed a tax on those seeking to visit the Holy Land.  It was this tax that ultimately lead to war between the Christians of Europe and the Muslims of Palestine. This was fine for Pilgrims with money, although the poor pilgrims often had to wait at the gates of Jerusalem for some rich person to pay their tax.  (1, page 106)

Historian Thomas Bradford explained what happened next: 
The sum from this tax was a mine of wealth to the Moslem governors of Palestine. At the close of the 10th century it was thought that the end of the world was at hand, the thousand years of the Apocalypse was near completion, and Jesus Christ would descend upon Jerusalem and judge mankind. Panic seized the weak, the credulous, and the guilty; forsaking their homes, kindred and occupation, they hastened to Jerusalem to await the coming of the Lord, imagining that their pious pilgrimage would free them from sin. The road from the West of Europe and Constantinople became a great highway of pilgrims and beggars; the monks, the almsgivers of the times, were obliged to refuse aid to the hordes; many lived upon berries that ripened on the roadways. Swarms besieged the Holy Land; the Turks were annoyed by the number that overran their country . . . they plundered them, beat them with stripes, and kept them for months at the Holy Gates in lieu of the golden bezant for admission. The day of judgment did not come, and so pilgrims a few at a time returned to Europe and told of their sufferings. These cruelities became the wrongs of Christendom. Fresh hordes now hastened on the difficult journey, sure of gaining the favor of heaven by visiting the holy sepulchre. (1, pages 106-107)
So you can see that the crusades were not an attempt by Christians to force their religion on the Muslim people.  It was merely an attempt to continue visiting the Holy land, something that the Muslims had no problem with for over 300 years.

It was these events that incited the wars.  Bradford said:
In 1095 there appeared one Peter the Hermit, a man enthusiastic, chivalrous, bigoted, and probably crazy. He had been a monk of Amiens, and previous to this a soldier. He had visited Jerusalem and was filled with indignation at the cruel persecutions inflicted on the Christian pilgrims. He returned to his home and began a crusade of wild preaching against the abominations of the infidels and their defilement of the Holy Places of Jerusalem and Palestine. He called upon the people to arm against the infidels, incited the clergy, and aroused the enthusiasm of the people and nobles. Musing in Palestine he planned to rouse the powers of all Christendom to rescue the Christians of the East from the thraldom of the Mussulmen, and the sepulchre from the infidel. Peter told his views to Simeon, Patriarch of the Greek church at Jerusalem, and this good prelate sent letters to the pope and to the monarchs of Christendom telling of the sorrows of the Christians of Jerusalem and urging that arms be taken up in their rescue. Peter now hastened to Italy. Pope Urban II. sat on St. Peter's throne. He listened to the sad story and read the letters and appeals. At the Council of Clermont Urban gave Peter full powers to go forth and preach his holy war to the Christian nations of the world. (1, page 107-108)
The crusade had now become an effort to help the Christians who feared that they would not be saved if they did not reach the Holy Land.  Bradford continued: (1, pages 108-109)
The nations were aroused; eternal rewards were promised to all who assumed the red cross; halt and lame, women and children, the pious, the fanatic, the needy, the dissolute, all enrolled themselves in this remarkable army. Walter the Penniless set out with the first army in the spring of 1096; each one was his own leader. Soon other bands were formed. It is said that 300,000 men, women and children of the lowest of Europe spread themselves over Hungary and Germany. (1, page 108)
They robbed and murdered, and in self defense the Hungarians were obliged to fight with them. Walter straggled on to Constantinople with his horde. Peter the Hermit was not far behind him. He led another rabble, and riot and rapine went with him. It was everywhere; all Europe was mad. This rabble did not conquer the Holy City, but a more orderly and soldierly expedition was organized under certain noble knights, among whom was Godfrey of Bouillon, duke of Lorraine, and count Raymond of Toulouse. Several armies were raised and marching by different routes united at Constantinople. He besieged several cities, among which was Antioch; at this place, when the Christian host were worn and tired, Peter had a vision in which he saw the lance that pierced the side of Christ, and telling where to dig they found it. He had another vision and was directed to carry the spear at the head of the army. Dreaming became contagious; other monks had dreams. So time passed; Antioch was taken, battles were fought, disruptions were prevalent. At last Godfrey set fire to his camp at Archas and set forward in the night. After a march of several hours the sun rose, and before our army lay the sun kissed towers of the holy city. The soldiers knelt upon the ground exclaiming, "Jerusalem, Jerusalem," in pious joy. After a long and bitter siege, on July the 15th, 1099, the city was taken, the Christians were free. (1, pages 108-109)
Bradford said these crusades had a very important impact on medicine.  To take care of the sick and wounded, hospitals were set up, and many were staffed by Jewish and Christian physicians from Europe. After the war many of the crusaders became free from serfdom, and for this reason many "devoted themselves to liberal arts, commerce, science and medicine." (1, page 109)

As the wars came to a close physicians returned to Europe, only they had increased their knowledge of medicine.  With them they brought medical books that were written by ancient Greek and Roman physicians, although these now needed to be interpreted back into European languages. (1, page 109)

Along with better medical knowledge, and better medicine, the profession of pharmacology made its way to Europe.  Evidence of early apothecaries can be seen in England in the 12th century, said Bradford.  Prior to this time physicians of Europe prescribed the medicine and made the medicine. (1, page 110)

Initially, however, apothecaries weren't much of an improvement, as, according to Bradford, "for the most part, the pharmacies were the places in the cloisters where the monkish physicians stored their drugs and simples."  (1 page 110)

When Constantinople fell to the Turks in 1493, this is credited by many as the beginning of the Renaissance, a time when a dark ages of medicine occurred in the east, and the light started to shine again in the west. When this occurred, many other Greek classics made their way from Byzantine to Europe, thus opening the minds of Europeans. (2, page xxi)

  1. Bradford, Thomas Lindsley, writer, Robert Ray Roth, editor, “Quiz questions on the history of medicine from the lectures of Thomas Lindley Bradford M.D.,” 1898, Philadelphia, Hohn Joseph McVey
  2. Brock, John, "Galen on the natural faculties," 1916, London, New York, William Heinemann, G.P. Putnam's Sons
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