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The school of Salerno: 10th century

Medieval Europe's first college of higher learning is founded, probably in the 10th century, at Salerno. It is a medical school. It will be a long time before the medical education on offer at Salerno results in any new discoveries, for the prevailing mood is uncritical veneration of every word written by Galen - even when his theories seem directly opposed to practical experience.

But Salerno is significant not only in the history of medicine. It is also the start of Europe's university tradition.

Surgeon and dentist in Spain: c.1000

An Arab doctor, Abul Kasim, is court physician to the emir of Cordoba. He writes Al-Tasrif, the first illustrated manual of surgery. It is widely copied and used throughout the Middle Ages.

He is also the first surgeon to take an informed interest in dental matters. Chapters in Al-Tasrif give Advice to dentists on basic procedures such as extraction of teeth, but also deal with much more modern concerns - including the removal of plaque.

An anaesthetic of the 13th century

A manuscript of about 1265 contains the first detailed description of an anaesthetic, though similar mixtures are believed to have been used in the Alexandrian school of medicine 1000 years earlier.

The doctor should mix in a brass vessel specific proportions of opium, hemlock and the juice of mandragora, ivy and unripe mulberry. The mixture is to be boiled with a sponge, until all has been reduced and soaked up. The sponge should then be applied to the nostrils of the patient. When the time comes to wake the patient up again, after the surgery, a sponge full of vinegar should be applied to his nose.

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