The Late Medieval Kidney—Nephrology in and about the Fourteenth Century


Address correspondence to: Garabed Eknoyan, M.D., Department of Medicine (523-D), Baylor College of Medicine, One Baylor Plaza, Houston, TX 77030, Tel.: 713 798 4748, Fax: 713 790 0681, or e-mail:


The Late Medieval Period was a decisive period in the history of medicine. It was then that medical education was integrated into the universities that were coming into existence and when medicine made its transition from a menial trade to a regulated profession with a statutory basis of learning and graduation. It was also then that the necessities of understanding the fabric of the body was realized; for the first time in history, the study of anatomy and of human dissection were incorporated into the medical curriculum. This was a defining change whose subsequent expansion and evolution would bring about the study of function (physiology) and changes in disease (pathology). Few advances were made in the study of the kidney, which was considered part of the venous circulation, whose function was subservient to that of nutrition in eliminating excess fluid. Uroscopy flourished and reached unrealistic levels of dominance in the diagnosis, treatment, and prognostication of any and all diseases, especially in the hands of quacks and charlatans. Alchemy, a mysterious pseudo-science, blossomed into a discipline that nurtured experimentation and laid the rudimentary foundations of scientific study, chemistry, and pharmacology. It was also then that surgery took form as a specialty that actually provided much of the medical care of the period including that of the principal diseases of the kidney, obstruction and calculi, and thereby laid the foundations of what in time would become urology.