The time period of what has come to be called The Middle Ages is long, spaning roughly 1100 years from fifth to the sixteenth centuries. By the fifth century AD, the Roman Empire was divided into eastern and western sections. The west included what are now countries of Europe and the east was located mostly in the Balkan peninsula, with Constantinople as its capital. Founded as a capital in 330 AD, Constantinople became the home base of Constantine, who, once there, Christianized the Roman empire. He reigned over what would be dubbed by his enemies as the Byzantine Empire, or, later, as Byzantium.
Under Constantine's rule monks and clerics became highly influential. Notable among them was Bishop Nemesius, who wrote a text presenting the medical theories and practices of Hippocrates and Galen. Nemesius elaborated on these earlier theories by combining them with medieval Christian theology. He thought, for instance, that man had an incorporeal soul that permeated his body. He argued against Galen's theory that the brain was the site for reason and memory and substituted for it the theory that reason and memory were located in the etherial ventricles—a move that made Galen's ventricular theory more compatible with religious beliefs that favored the spiritual over the corporal.
Rhetoric, too, was recreated to fit the ideology and tenets of the newly developing Eastern Greek Orthodox traditions. Writings on oratory shifted from attention to elements of the persuasive genre used to win arguments in the political arena to elements of sermons delivered in a religious context.
In the western part of the Roman Empire, in places that are now northern Italy, England, Germany, and France, much of the philosohy and medicine of the classical Greek and Roman period was lost. These western territories were located in what has been called the Latin West to distinguish it from the Greek East. Some of medical practices involved the use of basic Hippocratic and Galenic medical techniques such as bleeding and uroscopy (examining the color and clarity of urine to diagnose disease) but many of the intricacies and theories of ancient philosophy, medicine, and education were replaced by theories and practices drawn from meterology, astrology and religion.
There were a number of factors that led to the discontinuity in philosophy and practice of medicine and rhetoric between Medieval Greek East and Latin West. The primary reason for the discontinuity was the ineffectiveness or preoccupations of kingdoms in Europe. European countries in this period were often at war with one another. The rulers of the small kingdoms focused on warfare rather than medical practices of public health. War also disrupted trade and travel became more dangerous, reducing communication beween the East and West. Specialized training in medicine was virtually abandoned in the Latin West in the early medieval period, and copies of ancient books on philosophy, rhetoric, medicine and educaton were lost or unavailable.
Later in the medieval period, the eastern and western parts of Roman empire began to compete with one another over church tradition and power. In 1054 the two blocks of the Roman Empire declared themselves separate. In 1204, during the crusades against the Muslims, the Western block sacked the city of Constantinople driving a final wedge between the two factions. Nonetheless, the two parts of the former Roman Empire had many affinities. Both had strong religious traditions following the edicts laid down by the prophets and apostles of Christianity. Both worked to reconcile the classical rational philosophies of Aristotle and Hippocrates with the religious teachings of the church fathers. And each had powerful mystics and saints to appeal to for medical cures and were served important political and educational leadership roles.
Meanwhile a new religion was being formed, one based on the teachings of Mohammad. Major areas for its development were the middle east, western and southern Asia, and North Africa. By 1000 AD the Islamic Empire had located its capital city in Baghdad and had established Arabic as the main language of learning and of religious observance. Arabic was spoken in countries reaching from Spain to India. Most Arabic writers were Muslims. Others, like Maimonides, were Jews writing in Arabic.
This review of medieval times will present events having to do with medieval theories and practices in the areas of (1) medicine, (2) rhetoric, (3) disability and (4) education/rehabilition. The events will be described separately for three areas of the medieval world: the Greek East, the Latin West, and the Arabic Mideast. Those who served as key players for all thematic areas in the various geographic areas are listed separately.