Ottoman Medicine

Healing and Medical Institutions, 1500-1700

By Miri Shefer-Mossensohn

Subjects: Middle East Studies, Ottoman Studies, Health And Society, Medical Ethics
Paperback : 9781438425306, 293 pages, July 2010
Hardcover : 9781438425290, 293 pages, December 2009

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents

List of Illustrations
Note on Transliteration
Introduction: The Marriage of Medicine and Society
The (In)Visible Middle Eastern Ill in the Scholarship
The Aims and Scope of the Book
1. Medical Pluralism, Prevention and Cure
Ottoman Medical Etiologies
Therapeutics: The Clinical Reality
“An apple a day keeps the doctor away”: Medical Dietary
Ginger and Viper Flesh: The Ordinary and the Bizarre in Middle Eastern Pharmacology
2. “In health and in sickness”: The Integrative Body
The Senses and the Sound of Music
Hygiene and Hydrotherapy: The Power of Water
Religion and Medicine, Religion as Medicine: A Placebo Effect?
What Is Health, Then? What Is Illness?
3. “Feed the hungry, visit the sick and set those who suffer free”: Medical Benevolence and Social Order
The Imperative of Health and Medical Care in a Muslim Context: A Religious Duty and a Philanthropic Act
Formal Medical Aid and the Donors
The Medically Disabled as Needy and Entitled
The Non-Poor Foreigner as Entitled to Medical Help
Religious Affiliation and Entitlement
Male and Female in Medical Neediness
The Age of Entitlement
Illness as a pre-condition for defi ning entitlement
An Instrument for Social Control: The Other Side of Charity
4. Spaces of Disease, Disease in Space
Ottoman Medical Institutions as Urban Institutions
Ottoman Medical Institutions within the Urban Landscape
Urban Medical Institutions, Environment and Gardens
Walls as Barriers and as Connectors: Degrees of Isolation
The Marriage of Etiology and Space
Conclusion: Ottoman Medicine—Ottoman? Successful?
What Is Ottoman in Ottoman Medicine?
Ottoman Turkish: From Vernacular to Literary and Scientific Usage
Hospitals as Ottoman Institution
“The sick are cured within three days”
Appendix: List of Hospitals Discussed in the Book

First work in English devoted to medicine in the Ottoman world.


The social history of medicine in the Ottoman Empire and the historic Middle East is told in rich detail for the first time in English. Accessible and engaging, Ottoman Medicine sheds light on the work and power of medical practitioners in the Ottoman world. The enduring significance and fascinating history of Ottoman medicine emerge through a consideration of its medical ethics, troubled relationship with religion, standards of professionalism, bureaucratization and health systems management, and the extent of state control. Of interest to healthcare providers, healers, and patients, this book helps us better understand and appreciate the medical practices of non-Western societies.

Miri Shefer-Mossensohn is Lecturer in Middle Eastern History at Tel Aviv University.


"Ottoman Medicine leaves its readers excited about where Shefer-Mossensohn might take her future research—on Ottoman medicine as well as on medical theory, practice, and rhetoric writ large. " — Journal of the American Oriental Society

"…the book's main strengths lie in the substantial and varied evidence, the rich anecdotes, and the comparisons to Christian European medical institutions … Shefer-Mossensohn demonstrates the paradoxes, plurality, and diversity of Ottoman medicine. As such, she offers English-speaking audiences a glance into a medical world that was dynamic and far-reaching. " — Review of Middle East Studies

"…[Shefer-Mossensohn] successfully manages to bring to life a broad picture of the existence of people in the early modern period of the Ottoman Empire, dealing mainly with health issues such as affliction, misery and disease, their treatment and death … This document beautifully portrays Ottoman medicine and healthcare by weaving together cultural, social, and political dimensions into a coherent picture of that complex system … Scholars and students of history, social history and history of medicine will benefit enormously from reading it. " — Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society

"…provides thorough and unique access to an understudied aspect of early modern Middle Eastern social history. Works covering the Ottoman period are of special interest due to the enormous importance of this particular state in the affairs of the early modern Middle East, and analyses of social history in this period are both important and badly needed. Shefer-Mossensohn's book steps into this role with an impressive command of relevant sources and keen analytical insight, making this work a fascinating contribution to the study of the early modern Middle Eastern and Muslim world. " — Practical Matters