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Detail from The Maintenance of Health, Ibn Butlan, 11th century (larger version).
Some of the most influential writers from the Arab world were physicians. Their writings on medicine, disease, and how to live a healthy lifestyle were studied in European universities into the 17th century. They commented on Greek and Roman authors, and added their own theories and observations.
Ibn Butlan was an eleventh century physician who originally practised in Baghdad. His book, The Maintenance of Health, discussed hygiene, diet and exercise and emphasized the importance of a balanced lifestyle.
Detail from an earthenware flask, which were widely used to hold medicinal preparations and ingredients in apothecaries’ shops (larger version). Credit: Science Museum, London.
Importing medical plants and herbs from the ‘Arabick’ world goes back to the 12th century, but the foundation of the Levant Company gave it a new impetus. Merchants, diplomats and clergymen sent back bulbs and plants like the famous St John’s Wort herb, with descriptions of how they were grown and used.
Doctors who practiced in the Levant benefited from the long-established tradition of Islamic pharmacy and sent back dried specimens of medical herbs with descriptions and drawings.
Detail from Alexander Russell's The Natural History of Aleppo, 1756 (larger version).
Alexander Russell, and his brother Patrick, were Scottish physicians who travelled to Aleppo in the 18th century as official doctors for the Levant Company. When Alexander returned to England he wrote a popular and very detailed book about Aleppo, which gave detailed information about local flora and fauna, social customs, and diseases prevalent at the time (particularly the plague). Patrick sent his brother information about small-pox inoculation in Aleppo.
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