The School at Salerno: Origin of the European Medical University

The School at Salerno: Origin of the European Medical University

The School at Salerno: Origin of the European Medical University

By Amber Stelmaschuk

The Proceedings of the 10th Annual History of Medicine Days, edited by W. A. Whitelaw (Calgary, 2001)

Abstract: Despite oppression of scientific learning through the Dark Ages, the medical school at Salerno emerged in the ninth century, reviving the tradition of the Ancient schools. How is it that a school founded by monks was able to flourish, promoting the development of future European Universities?

Three important factors determined the success of the Salernitan School: first, medical education in Salerno began in the Benedictine monasteries, resulting in association between medical learning and hospitals of the Church. Connection with the monastery at Monte Casino and Benedictine traditions promoted intellectual development in a liberal atmosphere, which enabled students of all backgrounds, including women, to attend the school.

The mild climate in Salerno was the second factor contributing to the development of the medical school. Salerno was considered a health resort, where travelers and nobility came to recuperate from various ailments. Aggregation of the sick at Salerno attracted Greek, Arabic and Jewish physicians. In addition, collections of literary material preserved in the monasteries drew students of medicine from all over Europe, Spain and Asia Minor.

The third factor that promoted the success of the school was geographic location in Southern Italy. The school was located in the middle of an elevated valley, overlooking the town of Salerno, southeast of Naples. Proximity to surviving remnants of Greek culture promoted learning of Ancient Masters, such as Hippocrates and Aristotle.

In addition, Islamic influence persisted despite conflict arising from the Crusades. Salerno was also a favorite stopping place for Crusaders on the way to and from Asia Minor. In fact, a famous work of the School, the Regimen Sanitatis Salernitanum, was written for the benefit of one such Crusader, Robert Duke of Normandy.

See also our Feature on the Medieval University

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