Seminar CCXIII: doctors in one place, lords in many

Since 1984 (I understand) there has been a peripatetic seminar series shared between the medievalists of the universities of Chester, Keele, Lancaster, Liverpool, Manchester and Manchester Metropolitan Universities (presumably not all of those initially), which is now known as the M6 North-West Medieval Seminar, because of the six participant medieval departments and also the arterial road that links the north-west of Britain to its neighbouring regions. The papers often look really interesting, but from Cambridge or Oxford I could never have got back from it before the transport ran out for the night, and it wasn’t till 12th November 2014, when the seminar swung down to its southernmost point at Keele, that I could even attempt it from Birmingham. Even then it was a bit of an adventure, with a forty-minute bus ride through the dark from the nearest station and so on. There was a certain amount of surprise to see me! But I did, at last, make it to the M6 Seminar, and the blog backlog now crunches round to reporting on it. There were two papers, and they were “Medical Practitioners before Medical Schools: the evidence from Salernitan charters, ss. VIII-XI”, by Luca Larpi, and “Lords of the North Sea: comparative approaches to the aristocracies of the tenth and eleventh centuries” by Anthony Mansfield.

Medieval illustration of doctors attending a patient

As the below will make clear, having three doctors in attendance at once like this was probably out of reach for the early Middle Ages as far as we can document it. Speaking of documentation, I wish I knew where the University of Aberdeen got this image but their site isn’t saying so all I can do is link…

Luca is the lead researcher in a project I’d been hearing about for years by this time, trying to amass what information we have about the existence of professional doctors in the early Middle Ages by going through charters looking for them. This is my kind of work, but I’d already had to tell them long ago that I knew of none from Catalan materials prior to 1030. This is not surprising, though; even now, the database (which is online) contains the gleanings of 17,000 documents, and in those 17,000 documents they found 178 references to 109 medici, so their hit rate is either side of 1%, and most of it is from Italy and more than anywhere else from the monastery of Cava di Terreni, where 1787 pre-eleventh-century documents gave them 45 references to 22 doctors.1 That’s not really enough to process statistically, although Luca opined that most of the people we can see hang out with the kind of people that suggest they were high-status indiviudals, and more empirically 16 of the 22 were ecclesiastics. But the particular concentration in this archive is interesting, because it covers Salerno, which would (I had to find out later, so basic a fact was it for Luca) later come to boast a major medical school famous throughout Europe.2

Medieval illustration of the Scuola Medica di Salerno, from a manuscript of the Canons of Avicenna

And here is a medieval image of that school! “ScuolaMedicaMiniatura“. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

So, does this mean the school was sort of there before it was a school, and if so, why? Characterising the sample led us down very quickly to individuals: only one Jew; an ecclesiastical kindred providing three of whom one, Bishop Pietro of Salerno, was son of the first, the Abbot of San Massimo; and a number of people associated with the harbour church of Santa Maria de Domno. From 989 that organisation shared pastoral care of the city with the cathedral and ran a hospital, for which purpose it at three points in the eleventh century retained doctors as part of its community, on terms that meant they couldn’t leave for more than two years and had to perform mass regularly when present (but not necessarily, apparently, treat people). Duke Gisulf of Salerno also retained a Sicilian doctor for the city in the 1060s. So there was a lot of medical traffic here, although Luca thought that the school only came into being on the back of the translation of Arabic scientific texts. But that ‘lot’ is still relative: at times, in the tenth and eleventh centuries, we can say that Salerno boasted two professional doctors, perhaps because of an ephemerally-attested drug trade. I can’t help remembering one charter of Obarra I blogged about once where two magistri witness, utterly without context and never appearing again. Two or three such charters mentioning medici at, say, Trier or Clermont (and at the latter it could happen, since unpublished charters survive there) and this picture would change quite sharply. Such is the thin sample we sometimes have…

Early modern pen drawing of the Chateau de Guines

Early modern pen drawing of the Chateau de Guines

Mr Mansfield’s paper, which came from his ongoing doctoral research, was more dogmatic, demanding that we try to stop seeing regional aristocracies as loyal, grudging or rebellious with respect to the centre and instead view their political choices in the context of their regions. The regions he picked for this were Essex in England, Guines in Flanders and Trøndelag in Norway, all of which areas he noted were delimited by water although as he was forced to admit in questions, some of those waters were pretty easy to cross; in one case one could jump it, though my notes annoyingly don’t name it. In all these places, argued Mr Mansfield, our texts show us the existence of a regional identity which must always have been those places’ lords’ first concern, because without support within the region they could do nothing, whether helpful to the centralising court or not. Much of the thinking here emerged in questions, and I imagine thateven by now the project is much further on, but for early work it was demandingly theorised and I suppose that many of the questions came from a feeling that evidence would probably bend the theory once there was enough of it in play.

Castell de Cabrera, Santa María de Corcó, by Ricardo Ballo

The obligatory Catalan counter-example, the Castell de Cabrera in Santa María de Corcó, Osona, where an outsider lineage very happily ruled an area with no clear identity beyond its name, though that’s not to say there wasn’t one. Photo by Ricardo Ballo.

For me, of course, the key question is how lords such as these are induced to take part in the enterprise of the centre, so it’s not that I don’t think they were there, quite the reverse; I’m not sure, however, that coercive lordship was getting enough consideration at the regional, rather than the supraregional level, to match with what I see in Catalonia where the local independents still don’t show much sign of participating in a wider community of their region.3 Nonetheless, it made me think, and as you can tell still is doing. And the gathering contained many people I’d otherwise only see once a year at conferences if that, so it was good to be there for many reasons and I got back all right. Whether I can make it again, even from Leeds, we shall see, but it should in theory now be easier! That hasn’t stopped me missing all this term’s papers, but I intend on being here a while, so watch out…

1. The publication of the charters of Cava is an ongoing effort with a long and painful history. There is Michele Morcaldi, Mauro Schianni & Silvano Di Stephano (edd.), Codex Diplomaticus Cavensis (Napoli & Milano, 1873-1970), 10 vols, but I gather that this is only about two-thirds of what there is and that work on the remainder since 1970 has met many difficulties.

2. This does, admittedly, from a literature search look like something that is mainly known by those writing in Italian. An introduction for others might be Paul Oskar Kristeller, “The school of Salerno: its development and its contribution to the history of learning” in his Studies in Renaissance Thought and Letters, Storia e letteratura: Raccolta di studi e testi 54, 166, 178 & 193 (Roma, 1956-1996) 4 vols, III pp. 495-551.

3. Jonathan Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia 880-1010: pathways of power (Woodbridge 2010), pp. 144-148.

2 responses to “Seminar CCXIII: doctors in one place, lords in many

  1. Victoria Kent Worth

    Wondering if you have come across any references to nurses or nursing nuns from Anglo-Saxon sources?

    • Anglo-Saxon England is only a teaching competence for me, I’m afraid; by and large, if it’s not in English Historical Documents I or II I don’t know about it. And no nurses there, as far as I recall. I suppose that I would start by looking for references in secondary works on women or nuns in Anglo-Saxon England… but I can’t do that for you, I’m afraid! Sorry not to be more help.

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