Ancient & Medieval Medicine: Crash Course History of Science #9

We’ve seen how, from around 400 BCE to CE
1300, ideas in astronomy, math, and engineering were traded all the way from Beijing to Delhi,
and from Baghdad to Constantinople. In the next episodes, we’re going to dive
into how some specific kinds of knowledge evolved over time. First up: healing. The history of medicine is about two of our
big questions: one, what is life? What makes it so special, so fragile, so…
goopy!? Two, how do we know what we know? Why should I take my doctor’s advice? Why are deep-fried Oreos bad for me? It may be tempting to look at medicine as
a science that has simply progressed over time—that medicine used to be bad, and its
history is a story of how it got better. And don’t get me wrong: we love modern medicine! You’ll have to take my word for it until
“Crash Course: Deep-Fried Everything” drops, but the science behind lipid transport
is just fascinating. Focusing on progress, though, obscures what
worked in the past. Ancient and medieval medicine worked for millions
of people. They understood their bodies as bounded by
rules. And regardless of what worked, early medical
systems allowed people to make sense of bodies and health. You may think that medicine is a technē,
or practically oriented knowledge. But today, we’re going to focus on systems
of medicine as world-ordering theories, or epistēmē. These theories were built up into a textual
tradition, in which doctors wrote down what they saw and cited earlier doctors when explaining
their treatments. So let’s turn to medical education. What textbooks would a would-be doctor read
in a given place and time? [Intro Music Plays] Let’s say you lived in Song Dynasty China:
you’d study machine-printed textbooks on traditional Chinese medicine, or TCM. In this system, humans are small pieces of
one vast organism called the Entire Dang Universe. All things within this system are composed
of five elements: fire, earth, metal, water, and wood. In TCM, health means a balance between two
forces, yin and yang, representing dark and light, femininity and masculinity, hot and
cold, and so on. Disease means imbalance. Thus healthcare means restoring balance, in
TCM, by manipulating the energy that flows through living bodies, called qi. You, the would-be doc, would learn all about
how to move qi around using acupuncture and acupressure, herbal therapies, exercise, and
prescription diets. If you lived in Gupta Dynasty India, you’d
also get down with a five-element theory of matter. But you would study the science of life, Ayurveda. You’d probably pick up the popular textbook
Charaka Samhita, or one of the other samhita—or “collections”—that could help you memorize
hundreds of named body parts. In addition to anatomy, the samhitas would
also teach you etiology, or what causes different diseases, and symptomatology, or what diseases
look like. When it came to treatment, your samhita would
have information on the eight specialites: the diseases of children, those of the elderly,
mental diseases, diseases of the sense organs, surgery, poisons and antidotes, and aphrodisiacs. You would learn the five karmas or actions
that were used for removal of toxins from body tissues. And, to prepare treatments, you’d learn
a lot about plants, minerals, and animals. But treating patients is only part of Ayurveda. The science of life concerns healthful living
in general, including how to prevent disease and influence hygiene and diet. What if you lived in, say, fourteenth-century
Bologna, Italy—home to one of the oldest universities in the world, which opened in
CE 1088! You would attend lectures, and you’d have
a hand-copied textbook, not made by a press as in Song China. The medical theories in your textbook would
be founded on Aristotelian biology and physics. Bodies are composed of four special bodily
humors. Each of these corresponds to one of the four
elements of Empedocles: blood, made of air, phlegm, made of water, yellow bile, made of
fire, and black bile, made of earth. Illness is an imbalance in the humors. Too much black bile, for example, causes depression. Treatment means restoring the right humoral
balance—like, with bloodletting. When too much of one humor built up in the
body, one way to restore a balance was to let some of the excess drain off. But the most common treatment, then as now,
was simply offering good dietary advice. Aristotle linked the four elements with the
humors, but he wasn’t a doctor. The oldest nuggets of humoral wisdom in Western
Eurasian medical textbooks were attributed to a physician named Hippocrates of Cos, which
means “Gregory House” in classical Greek. We know something of his life—he died when
Aristotle was in his teens—but we don’t have many surviving works by him. What we do have is a collection of texts of
various age and unknown authorship called the Hippocratic corpus. According to the corpus, Hippocrates I was
a fan of the Pythagoreans. (Remember, the secret math cult?) But his skepticism—or doubt that certain
knowledge is possible—set Hippocratic medicine apart from a lot of Greek natural philosophy. Hippocrates emphasized reason, observation,
and medical prediction. He emphasized that diet and the environment
influence health, not the direct will of the gods. And his oath—“do no harm”—still underpins
medical education. Hippocrates was the Jimi Hendrix of Eurasian
and North African medicine, innovating a new style that challenged traditional ideas. But Hippocratic physicians had to compete
among many schools of healers. It was a Roman named Galen who became medicine’s
Michael Jackson—the popularizer of a standard humorism that would last until the 1800s. Galen’s system absorbed the smaller, uneven
Hippocratic corpus. Galen was born around CE 130 in Pergamon. But he made his career in Rome, treating gladiators. This gave him lots of experience peeking into
the body while sewing up wounds. Eventually he got the offer of a lifetime:
court physician to Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who was a battle-hardened general, Stoic philosopher,
and all-around hardcore dude. Galen wrote a huge number of influential texts—supposedly
five hundred! Though only eighty-three survive today. These show that Galen built on the systems
of Hippocrates and Aristotle, but also made detailed notes on human anatomy drawn from
experience. He accurately observed how the larynx works
and demonstrated the the lungs fill up with air. Oh ya, and he innovated cataract surgery. But Galen definitely got some things wrong. One reason is that human dissection was illegal
in imperial Rome and the states that succeeded it. So a lot of anatomy was still guesswork based
on observations of animals. For example, dissecting sheep heads, Galen
identified a circulatory organ called a rete mirabile or “wonderful net” that is found
in animals like sheep and dolphins… but doesn’t actually exist in humans. After Galen, the most notable medical theorists
in the Greater Mediterranean weren’t Greeks or Romans, but Arabs or Persians who had access
to both Greek and Indian sciences. First among was the Persian polymath Abū
Bakr al-Rāzī —whose name also means “Gregory House.” Born in CE 854, al-Rāzī was prolific: he
wrote dozens of books, including detailed accounts of his cases. He is considered by many historians to be
one of the founders of several disciplines, from psychology to opthamology. And he was the first to describe smallpox
and measles as distinct diseases. Al-Rāzī also wrote for general audiences,
educating them about health and disease. Many of his works were encyclopedias based
on Greek humoral medicine and natural philosophy. His big one, al-Hawi al-Kabir or The Virtuous
Life, was a large, influential medical encyclopedia. Al-Rāzī was a unique dude who did exactly
what he wanted. Although he was one of the most scientific
doctors of his time, he also wrote works of Islamic prophetic medicine, al-tibb al-nabawi. This discipline, an alternative to the Hippocratic–Galenic
system, advocated traditional medical practices mentioned in the Qur’an. Al-Rāzī also influenced medicine by becoming
the first fan of Greco-Roman humoral medicine to beef with Galen! He wrote a book called Shukuk ‘ala alinusor—Doubts
About Galen—in which he said that his own observations contradicted some of Galen’s
claims. Remember nullius in verba—“on the word
of no one”—the motto of the Royal Society of London, founded in 1660? Al-Rāzī advocated this approach to medicine
circa the year 900, over seven hundred years earlier! But, if you were really a medieval Italian
medical student, the book you’d read probably wouldn’t be by Hippocrates, Galen, or al-Rāzī. Instead, you’d read a translated encyclopedia
featuring all of them. In doing so, you’d participate in the scientific
wonder called Scholasticism—or learning through close readings of approved texts that
recorded the observations and theories of earlier thinkers. Take it away, Thought Bubble! One of the all-time greatest hits of medical
education was al-Qānūn fī al-Ṭibb, or The Canon of Medicine. The Canon was written by another Persian polymath,
Ibn Sina, born in 980. Ibn Sina was widely seen as the best writer
to summarize and comment on the Greco-Roman doctors. His Canon became one of the most important
medical textbooks—and introductions to Aristotle’s physics—for six hundred years. Your textbook is really a mashup of several
different books. Each page is like an onion: at its heart,
one punctum or big idea by Aristotle, or Hippocrates or Galen. These are surrounded by layer upon layer of
annotatio, or notes, by famous physicians from distant cities such as Baghdad. Your main throughline are the summaries by
Ibn-Sina, whose name has been latinized as “Avicenna”. But there are notes by Latin translators such
as Gerard de Cremona or Constantinus Africanus, plus outer layers of notes by other medical
students. Maybe you even jot down your own. Thus—way before WebMD—you’re in conversation
with doctors from all across space! And time! In universities such as Bologna or Salerno,
you might also have access to another textbook, this one by… wait for it… a lady! Trota of Salerno wrote Practical Medicine
According to Trota and Treatments of Women, one of books of the The Trotula Ensemble. This group of three texts from around 1200
traveled widely throughout medieval Europe. The Trotula became foundational to gynecology
and all other topics related to women’s health. But you might not know that this foundational
text on women’s health was written by a woman, because her identity was systematically
written out of history until the late twentieth century. Because of course it was. Thanks Thought Bubble! So what was “life” for many educated people
in Asia and North Africa between roughly 400 BCE to CE 1300? Life was a universal property of which humans
were just interesting examples. Life was linked to the movements of special
fluids, which were the objects of medical treatments. Life was ultimately built out of a smaller
number of elements, and good health meant balancing fluids and elements in the right
way. How did we know what life is? For some physicians in classical Greece or
imperial Rome, careful observation and comparison to animals were crucial methods. Persian doctors, influenced by both Greek
and Indian ideas, synthesized earlier ideas, expanded evidence for them, and challenged
and reworked them. Why did you, medieval citizen, trust this
information? Because books told you to! And with that, dear student, we leave you
to deal with… the Black Plague of 1347. Bummer! Next time—we’ll deep-dive into the eternal
question of “what is stuff” with a group of thinkers who tried to “science” lead
into gold—the alchemists. Crash Course History of Science is filmed
in the Dr. Cheryl C. Kinney studio in Missoula, Montana and it’s made with the help of all
this nice people and our animation team is Thought Cafe. Crash Course is a Complexly production. If you wanna keep imagining the world complexly
with us, you can check out some of our other channels like Scishow Psych, Animal Wonders,
and The Art Assignment. And, if you’d like to keep Crash Course
free for everybody, forever, you can support the series at Patreon; a crowdfunding platform
that allows you to support the content you love. Thank you to all of our patrons for making
Crash Course possible with their continued support.

Comments 100

  • Why was the top right shelf's left side wiggling?

  • You should really do a "becuase patriarchy" montage, instead of just saying "becouse, of course"

  • Oldest university is nalanda u diversity in Bihar india

  • medicine was based on luck

  • Twice in the last week I drove through Missoula on may way to and from Helena to visit beloved nieces and great-niblings. I so thought of you as I did. The trip was mostly to see my great-niece graduate from high school, cum laude. She'll be attending UM in Missoula in the fall. Her name is Kathryn, so please treat her well if she comes your way – she's a righteous woman raised by a righteous woman.

  • I try to show my friends these vids and they die from boredom. I find that sooooo crazy.

  • I know these videos are free but I'm gonna complain anyway.
    One major problem I have with this series is that the videos are too short for the things they are talking about. Sure, it's Crash Course but the least you could do is make 20-25 min videos like in the History series narrated by your brother.

  • U haven't talked about surgery and even medicines . It was just "books"…

  • Swell analogies Hank!

  • Glorifies non-western cultures, down plays importance of western cultures. Did I predict it correctly?

  • From my understanding, I took a ancient medicine course, it was more dry-wet-hot-cold rather than earth-water-fire-air, according to some "authors" of the corpus. They are related but in Hippocrates time it was more about the former and like u said, how diet and environment affected said elements or as the corpus calls them, "qualities". It was also pointed out in the corpus at one point that this was not an exhaustive list of variables, just the most important ones, to their belief (others mentioned were sweetness, sourness, hardness, etc).

  • Hank Green reading all those Arabic names in his accent is the cutest thing ever ♥

  • Is there a japanese medecine?

  • University of baloney hihi

  • Youtubes way of doing videos is really annoying me. I can't even watch a series sequentially.

  • Is the room that this is filmed in not sound dampened? Just sounds lil echoy at times.

  • Its pronounced medcine, not me-di-cine

  • Please make a CC Deep Fried Everything T-shirt!!!!

  • I love you guys, and I know you're trying your hardest as you do with everything, but *man*… that Arabic name pronunciation.

  • Aight, fess up, who’s the AtLA geek on the team? 😉

  • could you please make video about pharmacology or pharmacy?)

  • We want references for the claims that Abu Bakr Al Razi and Hippocrates of Kos both mean Gregory House!

  • crash course do love their avatar the last airbender reference. i approve.

  • From Baghdad to Constantinople… It was the other way around!

    Byzantine medicine influenced Islamic medicine as well as fostering the Western rebirth of medicine during the Renaissance. Sad to see that they haven't mentioned nothing about Byzantine medicine. Constantinople stood out as a center of medicine during the Middle Ages, which was aided by its crossroads location, wealth, and accumulated knowledge.

    But of course, since they were christians, crash course had to pass by and mention only negative things like Trotula's identity being written out.

    Sad to see that this series are biased.

  • I think you guys should do a series on medicine

  • the A:TLA references are real

  • I love knowledge. I guess what drives me crazy about these "educational series" is that its garbage education. These are just bogus educational videos by pretentious hacks.

  • You forget to mention Vesalius.

  • It would be interested to know a little more about pre colonial medical technology

  • To: Crash Course
    From one hoosier to another, happy freedom day you glorious hoosier basterds!

    From: A fellow hoosier

  • The theme at the begining always reminds of Zappa's St. Alfonzo's Pancake Breakfast.

  • Fangirling intensifies over the fact that you used the A:TLA-element-symbols <3

  • I love your work Mr. green, but your Arabic pronunciation is really funny :'D

  • One of the Thought Bubble's Italies between the fetuses and the uteri doesn't move. Also, that was a fun exercise in pluralization.

  • What about Al-Zahrawi?

  • The inventor of cataract surgery was Sushruta, the father of Surgery.

  • What do I search to find the hilarious medical parable?

  • "We look for medicine to be an orderly field of knowledge and procedure. But it is not. It is an imperfect science, an enterprise of constantly changing knowledge, uncertain information, fallible individuals, and at the same time lives on the line. There is science in what we do, yes, but also habit, intuition, and sometimes plain old guessing. The gap between what we know and what we aim for persists. And this gap complicates everything we do."

    ― Atul Gawande, Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science

  • There is no medicine in quraan..teb nabawi is how prophet dealt with disease and it is what Arab used to use not a quraanic medicine

  • 5 elements were described in ancient Indian texts

  • panchakarma is very much useful


  • Ay, can you all make a Crash Course for video editing?

  • You talk very fast

  • so that's why when I leave my textbook out in the sun for too long it starts sprouting little white hairs

  • Ancient Medicine without the mention of Sushruta is not at all comprehensive.

  • Here's what's freaking amazing about crash course (all of them)
    it destroys and preconcieved notions of separation between human being and human culutres. its what we need please keep not forgeting to be awesome

  • We're still waiting for that Deep Fried episode…

  • 8:53 I think that 'al-qanun' means 'the law'. This would mean that the name of the book would 'the law in the medicine', rather than 'the canon of medicine'. Just a hypothesis = )

  • Textbooks are definitely onions, and not parfaits. No one likes them

  • canon in Arabic means the law

  • interestingly, TCM stands for "Traditional Chinese Medicine" which is the form of medical system Mao created in the Great Leap Forward. He also killed many practitioners of classical Chinese medicine. Some practitioners escaped to Taiwan, but most of the practice we call TCM today isn't actual "traditional," but more of the biomedical model Mao created to westernize.

  • Duh. There was evidence of cataract surgery performed in the 8th century in India

  • "A woman figuring out how a woman's body works? That's just silly! Let's just write her out of this history book."

  • CrashCourse helped me maintain A's in every subject besides math and gym all through high school ?. Great work as always.

  • Ibn Sina and El-Razi were actually Turk scientists who were born in Persian lands. Just so you know

  • Ancient Pharmacist used to create medicine

  • Leeches

  • There's a movie about Ibn Sina and medieval medicine called The Physician. It's an interesting movie worth checking out.

  • So many countries contributed to medicine! I barely can remember these theories

  • very scientific

  • What about Hildegard von Bingen?

  • Even in modern days with modern scientific medicine methodology, studying those traditional medicine can be useful. Since I am Chinese, I have two Chinese examples for this: 1) Modern diagram of human nervous system and ancient acupuncture diagrams agree to a high degree, and 2) Chinese herbal medicine can be used as a way to direct the search of medicinal molecules, and a Chinese female scientist Tu Youyou got a Nobel for that.

  • And then we got the modern prescription drug, with more side effects than the actual cure. How about another med for that side effect?

  • Aristotle wasn't a doctor, but his father was, and he was studying to be a doctor, career he abandoned to enter Plato's Academy.

  • 6:00
    Marcus Aurelius was not a wise man.
    He spoke to Commodus first.

  • I love it when people undo the idea that ancient and medieval people were inherently inferior to us simply because they lived in the past

  • Ibn Zohr, Ibn Nafis, Ibn Redwan, Azzahrawi…

  • I see a lot of stolen ATLA art here .

  • I remember in 9th or 10th grade there was an assignment we did in one class asking us about historical figures we were influenced by and I remember writing down Hippocrates and for some reason that shocked my teacher that I knew who that was, now though thanks to crashcourse and others that don't talk down to kids and actually TRY to make learning fun that'll hopefully change.

    Actually I know it has 'cause gen z seems to be more willing to embrace certain aspects of the past like music and literature then most other generations who during their time were only interested in the present or far flung future. At least that's what it looks like to me, but I'm not from that generation.

    Don't know why I decided to ramble about that.

  • This is really good content, I just cringe every time you use "science" or any of its derivatives to describe anything pre-19th century. It's really not good history to do that…

  • Abu Bakr al-Razi did not write about prophetic medicine Ibn al-Qayyim wrote

  • Why didn’t I know about this crash course series yet?!? Bad YouTube algorithm. Bad.

  • modern times medicine just want money nature can prevent most, we just need modern for emgergency

  • Did you really use ATLA element symbols omg I can't

  • Nice little doctor who easter egg you did there.

  • What is with these elements in medieval times?

  • I'm so looking forward to Crash Course: Deep Fried Everything! XD

  • God that was boring. I was hoping for some fun facts about the technology of the time and ending up with a bunch of names and definitions. 3/10 wouldn’t recommend

  • The woman thing is wrong. She was only one of 3 others and her name was changed due to time. Idk where you got the idea that she somehow was systematically cast out

  • what is deep-fried oreo? I'm from Malaysia, among the largest Palm Oil producing countries and we never EVER deep fried an oreo. you sick…

  • this theme song is so much less stressful

  • The Entire Dang Universe

  • the history of medicine is such a vague thing!

  • You say Hippocrates was the Jimmy Hendrix of medicine, but Hendrix played the guitar left handed, while the animation has Hippocrates playing it right handed. Please correct this.

  • I'm actually wondering now if names have a prophetic affect on future careers. Hear me out: if I want my kid to grow up to become a doctor, then apparently I name him Gregory, if I want him to become a butler, I name him Jeeves, and if I want him to become a landscaper, apparently I name him José. Coincidence? I think not!

  • Once again with this "whitewashing" of history! IMHOTEP of Egypt (a black African…yes, the original Egyptians were BLACK) was the "real" father of Medicine. He laid the foundation for the standard of treatment we see today! He was around 2,000 yrs. before Hippocrates was even born! in fact Hippocrates studied at one of his schools! IMHOTEP was written out of European history, so that Hippocrates can get the credit for most of IMHOTEP's genius. Don't get me wrong, Hippocrates was a very good "Student" of Medicine, and should be regarded as the "SON" of modern day Medicine. But the "FATHER" of modern day medicine, is IMHOTEP all day! Look him up…do your own research.

  • Deep fried oreos are awesome but so incredibly rich that its hard to have more than one of them at a time

  • Galen didn't invent cataract surgery it was sushruta who wrote sushruta Samhita invented cataract surgery

  • I don't understand why mention China here?? Bodhidharma was the most important person for China..if this person didn't visit China ,,means there is no such kungfu self defense or medicine would exist in China..i see very clearly that how people use media to spread good bad fake anything that will make them benefit..make the truth disappear and thinking they had successful destroy the such thing that dharma would let wrong doing win over ..stop dream ..absolutely no way..time comes it will make it work..

  • 5:21 if he is Jimi Hendrix shouldn't he be playing a lefty guitar?

  • He mentioned how ayurveda also uses five elements, but left out the fact that the elements aren't the same.

  • the five "elements" in TCM are NOT elements, but phases of change.

  • I consult the Voynich Manuscript when I need medical advice.

  • Avicenna is boss

  • I have a passion for medical history and the evolution of medical architecture. I struggle to find good learning resources hhh.

  • I don't undrestand what gives him and the people who are commenting in a funny way the right to make a mockery of what the ancients invented ! You just don't have the right to do so, we currently live in a world which medicine is no longer a nobel art intended to cure the sick and discover about our lives instead is a meritocracy aiming to make millions of dollars to the gouverment and pharmaceutical industry.. never in the history of man kind we had such neurological diseases (Parkinson, adhd…) our brains are damaged by sodium florid and electromagnetic waves, our nervous systems are disrupted by halides, and you guys make fun of healing !! The elements he was talking about whether in western tradition such as in alchemy or greek tradition or in the east in Ayurveda serve as an allegory for both physical and psychological aspects such as intuition and feelings… all of this is important cause our bodies are not only organs and blood and bones we're also energy and when energy is unbalanced we are exposed to illness and disease. ancient medecine worked wonders and we should appreciate it and learn from it and apply it let along mock it

  • You forgot to mention the most important Arab physician Al-Zahrawi, who invented modern surgery and some of his works are still used today in surgery, and even important is that from reading his books, Europe slowly began to borrow books on medicines from the east in masses and slowly began to come out of the dark ages.

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