Medieval Greek East (Byzantium)

The first ruler of the Greek East was Constantine I (306-337). One of his major early accomplishments was to create a new capital for his empire, moving it in 300 AD from Rome to a city on Black Sea, between Europe and Asia.

Constantine called the capital New Rome. The city, later named Constantinople, became the centre of the Byzantine Empire, until the Greek East was overtaken by the Ottoman Turks in 1453. The people of the Greek East Empire thought of themselves as Romans, and saw their culture as stemming, uninterrupted from their Greek and Roman roots.

Besides relocating the capital of the Roman Empire, Constantine, declared Christianity to be the official religion of the Eastern Roman Empire. In the Latin West, the pope served as primary ruler, whereas the Greek East was ruled by the emperors. The first two, Constantine and Justinian sought to form a foundation for the Empire by securing its borders, restoring former Roman territories, and establishing the art and traditions of Greek Orthodox Christianity.

The areas that secured were what today we would identify as Greece, Turkey (Anatolia), Russia, Syria, and Egypt, the Balkan countries and a large part of Italy. The borders changed over the years as they competed with other empires such as the Persian empire and even the Latin East for power and land.

Medieval Greek Medicine

Medicine in the Greek east combined the theories and practices of previous periods with the newly emerging Christian theology. A predominant view of disease in the medieval Byzantine period was for Christians to see it as God's punishment of man for his sins. The remedy, then, was to appeal to god or Christ or saints for a cure. Indeed, each of authors of the Gospels reported on instances of Christ curing disease and disability. St. Mark for instance reported the following:

And coming to her, he lifted her up, taking her by the hand; and immediately the fever left her, and she ministered unto them. And when it was evening, after sunset, they brought to him all that were ill and that were possessed with devils. And all the city was gathered together at the door. And he healed many that were troubled with divers diseases; and he cast out many devils, and he suffered them not to speak, because they knew him (St. Mark, 2010, sentences 31-34).

Practitioners in medieval Byzantine medicine often synthesized scientific and religious treatments. St Blaise, for example, was a fourth century Armenian Bishop and physician who advanced scientific treatments for diseases of the throat. Following his death, he was elevated to the status of a patron saint of throat diseases and was appealed to for cures. Indeed, he is still commemorated in the Orthodox Greek tradition on the 3rd of February, with the "Blessing of the throats" prayer: May God free you from illness of the throat and from any other sort of ill. In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Around 400 AD, Nemesius of Emesa, a Syrian, wrote a detailed description of Galenic anatomy and physiology, On the Nature of Man. Bishop Nemesius believed that the faculties operated through the agent of an animal spirit produced after it had been carried through a network of arteries. This network was referred as the Rete Mirabile and was located at the base of the brain. Nemesius' doctrine of Ventricle localization of mental functions was greatly acknowledged following its development, but it was later attacked.

Namesius's version of ventricular theory assigned different functions to each of the four ventricles in the brain. He placed perception and imagination in the two anterior lateral ventricles, cognition or intellectual abilities in the middle ventricle, and memory in the posterior ventricle.

Another important contributor to the compilation and advancement of medicine from the Greek East was Paul of Aegina whose major work Medical compendium in seven books, was written in the late seventh century and remained in use as a standard textbook for the next 800 years. His coverage of surgical procedures and gynecological practices were among his books' most notable contributions. His use of surgical procedures for curing speech and hearing problems are among his less careful sections. He wrote, for example, that people who are deaf tend to have a swelling under their tongue.

Medieval Greek rhetoric

Rhetoric received considerable attention in Byzantine education. It was focused on in higher education, as exemplified by the curriculum at University of Constantinople (then called Pandidakterion) founded in 425. There were a total of 31 teachers in 425, 10 each for courses in Greek and Latin grammar; two for law; one for philosophy; and eight for rhetoric. Training in rhetoric was intended to offer its students (men) credentials for bureaucratic jobs for the state or the church.

The curriculum for rhetoric in this period involved a continuation of that developed by Hermogenes of Tarsus who wrote in the second century AD. Libanius of Antioch , for example, developed a collection of exercises in prose composition (progymnasmata) to be used in his rhetoric classes. His students, young upper class boys would perform exercises to learn how a given piece of text was organized and to analyze the messages it carried. Libanius went to Antioch in 354 where he was appointed the city's official sophist in 355.

Boethius (480-524) a Byzantine Christian was also an educator and teacher of rhetoric. He wrote an influential book on rhetoric during this time, called Overview of the Structure of Rhetoric. it BoethiInus continued in the tradition of Aristotle by placing rhetoric in second place following the role of logic in a person's education.

Like for medicine, practices in medieval oratory and rhetoric were heavily influenced by religion. This is evidenced by the focus of curricula and the culture on the rhetoric of preaching.

Medieval Greeks on disability

Greeks and Romans of the 4th century AD sometimes abandoned or killed the sick and disabled in their community. For example, Constantine's response to an outbreak of leprosy was to drown the afflicted so as to protect the health and contain the spread of the disease. St. Zoticos, a friend and magistrate to Constantine, went against the rules of the drowning edict and instead started a leper colony. In so doing, he established a new societal response to marginality—one that substituted charity for abandonment (for more on this see Stiker, 1999, pp. 73-76).

Reflecting this benevolent, caregiving (and often pitying) view of the disabled, Justinian, the Emperor of the Greek Eastern Empire from 527CE created a set of laws, called The Institutes, that legislated a system of guardianship for the disabled. The laws include such things as:

Curators should also be appointed for persons who are of feeble mind or deaf or dumb, or suffer from incurable disease, because they are unable to attend to their affairs (Lee 1956; Gardner 1993).

A second prevalent way that people with disabilities received treatment in religious Byzantium was by appealing to the powers of saints. Certain saints of the period were commonly associated with medical cures, the best known being the twin brothers, Saint Cosmas and Saint Damian. These two were believed to have lived in Arabia during the third century and were revered for having cured both animals and people. Among the most well known of their miracle cures was one in which they replaced an ulcerated leg of a white man with leg of a dead black man from Ethiopia (Metzler, 2006, p. 128).

A cult surrounding these two martyrs originated in Byzantium. It spread to Sicily and the rest of Italy in the fifth and sixths centuries. Eventually it reached other regions of Western Europe. In the thirteenth century, Saint Louis founded a surgical college of Saints Cosmas and Damian in Paris, naming it after these to Byzantine saints.

Medieval Greek education and rehabilitation

The Byzantines were very focused on education. Nearly 100% of their population was literate. Girls as well as boys went to primary school. A basic education involved mastering classical Greek literature, such as Homer (largely unknown in the Latin West during this period).

Women also actively participated in the intellectual life of the culture. While they could not attend schools of higher education, aristocratic women were often well-educated at home by tutors. Their education focused on literature, history, composition, and philosophy.

In 435, Theodosius II, a Byzantine emperor, created and funded the Pandidakterion, a school that focused on rhetoric (see above) along with other of the classic Greek subjects (grammar, law, philosophy, Greek and Latin). In the 9th century, higher education was strengthened and expanded, and placed under the direct control of the church.