Strange as it may seem, and quite contrary to the usual impressions in the matter, the most interesting department of the history of the medical science during the Middle Ages is that of surgery. Because of this fact we have to divide the subject into two chapters, one for the surgery of Italy, the other for the surgery of the rest of Europe.
We have two series of medieval textbooks which treat largely of surgical subjects in a thoroughly scientific and professional way. The first of these comes to us from the earlier centuries of the Middle Ages, when Greek classic influence on medicine and the medical sciences was on the wane; and the other set comes to us from the later Middle Ages, when the earlier Renaissance of Greek influence was just making itself felt in Europe. Both sets of books serve to show very well that the men of these times were not only deeply interested in the affections for which surgery can provide the only 88 relief possible, but that they had reached very definite, indeed sometimes ultimate, solutions of a large number of the constantly recurring problems of surgery.
The greatest surprise of the whole range of medical history is that these medieval surgeons of both periods anticipated not a few of the surgical advances that we have been accustomed to think of as having been reserved for our time to make. Our knowledge of these details of the work of the medieval surgeons not only of the sixth and seventh centuries, but also of the thirteenth and fourteenth, is not founded on tradition, nor on a few scattered expressions which a modern medievalist might exaggerate, but on actual textbooks, which fortunately for us were reprinted as a rule during the Renaissance period, and have been preserved for us usually in a number of rather readily available copies. Most of them have been reprinted during the past generation, and have revolutionized our knowledge of the history of surgery; for these textbooks exhibit in detail a deep knowledge of surgical affections, a well-developed differential diagnosis, a thoroughly conservative treatment, and yet a distinct effort to give the patient every possible surgical opportunity for his life, compatible with reasonable assurance of successful surgical intervention. As I have pointed out, the surgical history of the old Crusades was as interesting and almost as valuable for civil surgery as that of our own Great War.*
Three writers whom we have already mentioned (Early Medieval Medicine)—Aetius, Alexander of Tralles, and Paul of ^Egina—were, as we have seen, all of them interested in surgery, and wrote very interestingly on that subject. It is, however, from the end of the Middle Ages—that is, from the writers of the twelfth century down to the end of the fifteenth—that surprising contributions were made to surgical knowledge. This surgery of the end of the Middle Ages began its development at Salerno. The first great textbook was that of Roger—known also as Rogero and Ruggiero, with the adjective Parmensis or Salernitanus, of Parma or Salerno—who wrote his work about 1180. It is of this that Gurlt, in his " History of Surgery," vol. i., p. 701, says: "Though Arabian works on surgery had been brought over to Italy by Constantine Africanus a hundred years before Roger's time, these exercised no influence over Italian surgery in the next century, and there is scarcely a trace of the surgical knowledge of the Arabs to be found in Roger's works." He insisted, further, that Arabisms are not found in Roger's writings, while many Grsecisms occur. The * International Clinics, vol. iii., series 28.
Salernitan School of Surgery drank, then, at the fountain-head of Greek surgery.
After Roger comes Rolando, his pupil, who wrote a commentary on his master's work, and then the combined work of both of them was subsequently annotated by the Four Masters. It is this textbook, the work of many hands and the combined experience of many great teachers, that is the foundation stone of modern surgery. Some of the expressions in this volume will serve to give the best idea of how thoroughly these surgeons of the later medieval period studied their cases, how careful they were in observation, and how well they solved many problems that we are inclined to think of as having come up for serious consideration only much later than this time. After studying their chapter on Injuries of the Head, it is easy to understand why Gurlt should declare that, though there is some doubt about the names of the authors, this volume makes it very clear that these writers drew their opinions from a rich experience.
They warn about the possibility of fracture of the skull even when there is no penetrating wound of the scalp, and they even suggest the advisability of exploratory incision when there is some good reason for suspicion of, though no evident sign of, fracture. In " Old-Time Makers of Medicine," I quoted some of the details of this teaching as to head surgery that may serve to illustrate what these surgeons taught on this important subject.
There are many warnings of the danger of opening the skull, and of the necessity for definitely deciding beforehand that there is good reason for so doing. How carefully their observation had been made, and how well they had taken advantage of their opportunities, which were, of course, very frequent in those warlike times when firearms were unknown, hand-to-hand conflict common, and blunt weapons were often used, can be appreciated very well from some of the directions. For instance, they knew of the possibility of fracture by contrecoup. They say that " quite frequently, though the percussion comes in the anterior part of the cranium, the cranium is fractured on the opposite part." They even seem to have known of accidents such as we now discuss in connection with the laceration of the middle meningeal artery. They warn surgeons of the possibilities of these cases. They tell the story of " a youth who had a very small wound made by a thrown stone, and there seemed no serious results or bad signs. He died the next day, however. His cranium was opened, and a large amount of black blood was found coagulated about his dura mater".