- Russia and Early Modern European Medicine
Russian courtly medicine of the pre-Petrine period was heavily influenced by European trends. It was practiced by Western graduates of prestigious universities, who brought the ideas they had learned at these institutions with them to Russia. A sizable proportion of the medical preparations used by the Russian court also came from Western Europe. On the one hand, Russia was a part of the European medical world. On the other, Muscovy lacked a number of central features of that world: there were no universities, [End Page 967] no surgeons’ guilds or medical colleges, and no private apothecary shops before the 18th century. Muscovy’s ambiguous status vis-à-vis the European medical world may explain the fact that the historiography of Muscovy and that of early modern European medicine rarely overlap. Here I reassess this historical and historiographical divide. Based on the books under review, this essay seeks to demonstrate that, despite the differences between Europe and Muscovy, approaches and methods developed during the investigation of the former can fruitfully be applied to the latter.
One aspect of medicine in Muscovy that has attracted much scholarly attention is the role of medical practitioners at the Russian court. Sabine Dumschat’s work on foreign physicians’ occupational and social activities in Moscow belongs to this tradition. A volume of articles edited by Sandra Cavallo and David Gentilcore on medicine in Italy offers a useful comparison, since it too deals with physicians’ occupational and social activities. Moreover, it presents both new approaches and nonstandard sources for the study of medicine—court proceedings and canonization hearings rather than medical records—suggesting directions of development for the history of Muscovy. David Lederer’s work on state-sponsored spiritual healing in Bavaria is also helpful, as it raises the issue of the relationship between religious and secular healers. These works allow us to address questions about the status of foreign medical practitioners and the forms and institutions of professional medical practice in various societies, including Muscovy, during the early modern period.
A second area of focus for this review is the history of ideas. Lederer’s work is important in this regard too, as he devotes much space to the classification of mental disorders. His approach invites interesting comparisons with Aleksandra Ippolitova’s classification of illnesses in her study of herbals. These two works allow us to look at how European ideas interacted with Russian beliefs, both secular and religious.
Sabine Dumschat’s doctoral dissertation, Ausländische Mediziner im Moskauer Russland, written at Universität Hamburg, looks at the activities and experiences of foreign physicians employed in the Aptekarskii prikaz (Apothecary Chancery). The chancery came into being at some point in the late 16th century, although the surviving records cover the period 1629–1713. During this period a number of medical practitioners came to Russia from across Europe, including surgeons, distillers, apothecaries, and physicians. Dumschat’s work is by no means the first to exploit the chancery records as a source base. An initial publication of the documents appeared in the 1880s (although unfortunately it is now a bibliographical rarity).1 Since then, a number of scholars have published studies focusing on this institution [End Page 968] and its employees.2 Dumschat’s work appears less than a decade after the publication of Maria Unkovskaya’s collective biography of the Apothecary Chancery’s medical staff.3
Dumschat’s central question is what role foreign physicians played in Muscovite culture. She frames this question as a reaction to a...