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Catalogue: Medical Monographs

Blue arrow pointing to the right A Note on Phlebotomy, Cupping, and Cauterization

The medieval practice of surgery included bloodletting, cupping, and cauterization, the latter employing caustics or a heated metal rod, not just to stop bleeding, but as a treatment in itself. These procedures -- bloodletting, cupping, and cauterization -- were very old techniques indigenous to the pre-Islamic Near East as well as to ancient Greece. In the Islamic world these practices were to a large extent conducted by barbers and cuppers and others outside the sphere of the learned physicians who composed treatises. Every medieval hammam, or steam bath, had a barber and a cupper or bloodletter in attendance, and often the barber served dual roles. The hammam was a vital centre for the maintenance of health and regimen in Islamic society, and every town had one or more of them.

While phlebotomy, cupping, and cauterization were primarily conducted by barbers or cuppers, the topics were discussed in every general medieval medical encyclopedia, for they were treated as aspects of surgery. They were, moreover, the occasional focus of monographs.

NLM has an Arabic monograph on phlebotomy (bloodletting, fasd in Arabic), by Ibn al-Tilmīdh who died in 1165/560, and a 18th-century Turkish treatise on cupping and bloodletting by Muammad ibn Mamūd, who flourished about 1758. These two manuscripts, MS A 58.1 and MS A 88/II, will be catalogued below. Also in the collections of NLM is an 18th-century Arabic treatise (MS A 88/III) on cupping and bloodletting that is within the genre of medical writigs called al-ibb al-nabawi, or Prophetic Medicine, which will be discussed in detail in another section of the catalogue.

For further reading, see J. Sourdel-Thomine & A. Louis, "Hammam," in EI (2nd ed.), vol. 3, pp. 139-146; M.A.J. Beg, "Fassad, hadjdjam" in EI (2nd ed.), Suppl. pp. 303-304; and al-Zahrawi, Albucasis, On Surgery and Instruments, ed. & tr. by M.S. Spink and G.L. Lewis (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press and London: Wellcome Institute, 1973).

For a study of 9th- to 10th-century poems concerned with therapeutic blood-letting, see Julian Ashtiany Bray, "Third and Fourth Century Bleeding Poetry", Arabic and Middle Eastern Literatures, vol. 2 (1999), pp. 75-92

Welcome Getting started Medieval Islam Catalogue Bio-bibliographies Glossary Abbreviations Credits About the Author Concordances A 1 - A 29 A 30 - A 59 A 60 - A 89 A 90 - A 92 P 1 - P 29 Authors, Translators & Commentators Copyists & Illustrators Owners & Patrons