Exploring the History of Medicine, Part 21: Florence, Part 1

July 1, 2022



Florence (Firenze in Italian) is the central city of the Tuscany region.

The origins of this city date back to ancient Roman times, around the era of Julius Caesar.

In the 1st century BCE, the Romans built a city here called Florentia (in Latin, "city of flowers" or "prosperous city").

Its name is derived from the Roman mythology figure Flora, the goddess of flowers, spring, and abundance.

With a history spanning 2,000 years from ancient Rome, the entire city is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In the 15th century, Florence became the epicenter of the Renaissance.

Renowned figures such as Dante, Boccaccio, Leonardo da Vinci, and Michelangelo flourished in this city.

The Renaissance, meaning "rebirth" or "revival," was a major intellectual, artistic and cultural movement that emerged in Florence around the 15th century.

Its characteristics included the revival of classical Greco-Roman culture, a focus on scientific inquiry, respect for humanism, and the liberation of individual expression.

The Renaissance took place in the 1400s, known in Italy as the Quattrocento, meaning the 400s.

But why did the Renaissance flourish in Italy?

It began with the Byzantine Empire seeking help from Western Europe against the pressure from the Ottoman Empire.

In the late 14th century, the Byzantine Emperor visited Europe, seeking assistance.

Among his entourage was a scholar who imparted knowledge of the Greek language to intellectuals in various parts of Italy.

Florence, in particular, showed great interest, marking the beginning of attention to Greek civilization.

The enthusiasm for the Greek language grew, drawing attention to Greek philosophy and art.

A new interpretation of Plato's works, known as Neoplatonism, emerged and captivated intellectuals in Florence, including Cosimo de' Medici (Cosimo I).

Recognizing the importance of Greek literature, Cosimo I established Platonic Academy  (Accademia Platonica) at his own expense.

In the 15th century, Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks, leading to the demise of the Byzantine Empire.

Then, Italian merchants flocked to Constantinople, acquiring Greek manuscripts and literature related to Greece.

Thus, cities in Italy, especially Florence, became centers for the study and revival of Greek civilization.

In essence, the Renaissance was a Greek civilization boom and a Plato boom that occurred in Italy.

Simultaneously, Arabic medicine, which inherited the legacy of ancient Greek medicine, was introduced to Western Europe.

The Renaissance led to the revival of ancient Greek medicine, the very foundation of Western medicine.

Ancient Greek medicine from the pre-Christian era laid the groundwork for Western medicine by carefully observing phenomena associated with diseases, formulating theories, and establishing remarkable treatment methods.

Of course, it goes without saying that contemporary Japanese medicine is also strongly influenced by the Western medicine."

In the 3rd to 2nd century BCE, with Alexander the Great's expedition to the East, ancient Greek medicine experienced significant development.

Ironically, throughout history, major wars have often served as catalysts for advances in medicine.

During the era of the Roman Empire, Galen emerged and systematically consolidated ancient Greek medicine, establishing Galenic medicine.

In the late 4th century, the Roman Empire split into East and West.

In the Eastern Roman Empire, Arabic medicine, following the tradition of ancient Greek medicine, became dominant, while in the Western Roman Empire, monastery medicine, following the tradition of Galenic medicine, took the lead.

Although the Western Roman Empire fell in the late 5th century due to the Great Migrations of the Germanic tribes, monastery medicine continued to be passed down.

Monasteries in the Middle Ages had attached hospitals where nun nurses provided care.

Monastery medicine primarily focused on nursing and recuperation, with little emphasis on new research or treatment.

In the 15th century, following the fall of the Eastern Roman Empire to the Ottoman Turks, people who fled to the West brought Arabic medicine, which followed the tradition of ancient Greek medicine, to Europe.

This marked the beginning of the Renaissance, and ancient Greek medicine was revived.

During the Renaissance, universities were established throughout Europe, and a thorough exploration of the human body began, with increased emphasis on dissection.


The Renaissance period witnessed milestones such as Leonardo da Vinci's precise anatomical drawings and Vesalius's comprehensive anatomy book, "De humani corporis fabrica" ("On the Fabric of the Human Body").