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MEDICINE DURING THE MIDDLE AGES
The greatest contribution to medical science during the Middle Ages was made by the Arabs following the spread of Islam during the 7th and 8th century C.E. The Roman influence gradually declined and the Muslim empire expanded rapidly. Along with the expansion, Arabic learning too spread to these places. By the first half of the 8th century, entire Egypt, Arabia, Syria, Iraq, North African coast and parts of Spain came under the influence of Islam. The empire spread from Cordova in Spain right up to Baghdad on the Tigris. The language that bound this large empire was Arabic and it was comparable to the spread of Hellenistic Greek during the conquest of Alexander the great.
Arabic learning was widespread in areas such as alchemy, agriculture, algebra and medicine. The emirs and caliphs were enlightened enough to appreciate the contributions to learning by the Jews, Christians and Hindus. They liberally interacted with scholars of different cultures and translated many important works into Arabic. In fact, following the collapse of the Roman Empire, the great contributions of GALEN were found in the Arabic translation of his work.
Amongst the great number of scholars in different disciplines, it was the works of the physician ABU-BAKR-AL-RAZI who was the most famous. He is known popularly in the western world by the name RHAZES. Rhazes was a practitioner in Baghdad who did pioneering work in treating small pox and measles. He was also a very talented chemist who contributed greatly to medical chemistry and the organization of a pharmacy. Another great scholar was IBN-SINA who is popularly known as AVICENNA. His magnum-opus was the CANON which was a compendium of medicine which became the standard textbook for medical studies in the universities of Europe.
The other great contribution was the establishment of St.Bartholomews hospital in London. Established in 1137 C.E. it continues to exist even today and is credited with the creation and maintenance of the first medical record department. There are manuscripts edited by Sir Norman Moore which contains 28 original case histories. During the reign of King Henry VII in the 16th century regulations were promulgated for maintaining confidentiality of medical records.
Despite the popular perception of a stagnant intellectual activity in medieval time, these developments indicate that it was not as dark as it is made out to be.