Monday, August 13, 2012

The Edict of Salerno

Salerno, located on the lower "shin" of Italy's southwest coast, has been occupied continuously since pre-historic times, frequently changing hands due to the many wars in the peninsula. Despite the changing political landscape, however, at least one feature of Salerno rose to a prominence that it held for several centuries, through several political shifts.

We don't know precisely when the Schola Medica Salernitana (Medical School of Salerno) was founded, but at some point, the dispensary of a 9th century monastery became a focal point for medical study and earned the title of the first medical school in history. Because of the fame of the school, Salerno became known as the "Town of Hippocrates."

The School today.
One of its unique qualities for the time was that it not only was well-versed in the Greco-Roman traditions of Hippocrates, Galen, Dioscorides and others. Its proximity to North Africa and Sicily gave it access to Arabic learning (Sicily was under Arab control from 956 until 1072). In fact, it was the arrival in 1077 of the Tunisian Muslim merchant-turned-monk Constantinus Africanus that started a Golden Age at the school. He compiled the Liber Pantegni (Book of All Arts).  It was (as is typical for the time) largely a collection of the work of others, but it drew together Greek and Arabic medical knowledge in what is called the earliest surviving Western medical treatise [source].

Salerno produced other medical texts as well. A 12th century pair named Johannes and Matthaeus Plantearius wrote the Liber de Simplici Medicina (Book of Simple Medicine). Several books on gynecology and cosmetics were created by the most famous woman doctor of the time.

Salerno thrived, even after Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II declared the Edict of Salerno. The Modern Age would approve of the Edict: it created a legal separation between physicians and apothecaries. Physicians could no longer prescribe medicines that they themselves prepared and sold. The Edict also fixed prices to prevent overcharging the sick. Over time, this Edict was copied throughout Europe, and we have reason to be glad that similar regulations exist today.

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