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Military Medicine in the Crusaders’ Kingdom of Jerusalem

Military Medicine in the Crusaders’ Kingdom of Jerusalem

By Eran Dolev and Nachshon Knoller

The Israeli Medical Association Journal, Vol.3 (2001)

Introduction: The Crusades represent one of the most fascinating adventures in western history. Inspired by Pope Urban II at the Council of Clermont on 27 November 1095, thousands of Europeans made their way to the East to liberate the Holy Land from the reign of Islam. After capturing Jerusalem on 15 July 1099 they established a Crusaders’ Kingdom in the Holy Land that ruled the country or parts of it for about 200 years, until the fall of Acre on 15 May 1291.

The conquest of the Holy Land and other territories in the Middle East led to an ongoing encounter with the local heterogeneous population. These encounters, which took place in peacetime as well as on various battlefields, left their mark on both societies ± the European and the native. Commercial, economic and agricultural relations influenced the daily life and the entire social infrastructure of the area.

Medicine was probably the sphere in which the European immigrants benefited most from their contacts with the East, with the Latins (as the Europeans were called) acquiring medical knowledge from the local practicing physicians.

The main development of European medicine during the Middle Ages began in the eleventh century at the Salerno Medical School in southern Italy. In 1076 the area was conquered by the Normans, which further contributed to the development of this school. As a result of contact with the Arabs of North Africa and Spain, classic Greek medicine returned to Europe. The influence of the medical school at Salerno was the dominant factor in the development of European medicine from the tenth until the sixteenth century. However, during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the era of the Crusaders’ Kingdoms, Islamic medicine practiced in the East was in many respects superior to western medical practice. Muslim surgery also largely impacted upon surgical practice at Salerno. Albucasis’ Altasrif: a treatise on the practice of surgery, became the standard textbook of surgery taught at Salerno and remained so for a long time. Byzantine medicine, which derived from Nestorian medicine in the fourth century, was later influenced by advances in the neighboring Muslim countries. It attained its height during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, influencing in turn various aspects of medical practice in the Crusaders’ Kingdom, especially military medicine.

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