Introduction/ Background: P 5-14

Chapter 1:History of Ottoman Medicine (health issues, treatments)? P15-25

Chapter 2:Cross-Cultural Transmission of Medicine Along the Silk Road? P25-37

Chapter 3: -Impact of Cross-Cultural Transmission on Ottoman Medicine? P38-49

Conclusion: P50-53



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I decided to write this to write a short history in the areas of. I have developed a keen interest in Ottoman medicine and the aspects surrounding its cross cultural transmission. I thought this dissertation would allow me to gain a different insight into the world of the ‘Ottoman’ and the ‘medicinal’ side of the society and empire. However, another reason I wanted to concentrate on this topic is due to my culture and heritage, as I am a ‘Turk’ and a Cypriot. As such, as well as being closely related to the Silk Road, where my interests lie, also been also a journey of self discovery.

My hypothesis is that Ottoman medicine was largely a product of the cross cultural transmission of ideas, culture and knowledge. Therefore, this dissertation will focus on the cross-cultural exchange of medicine along the Silk Road, with particular emphasis on the extent to which Ottoman medicine was a product of cross cultural transmission. In order to do this it will be necessary to examine a number of factors/issues, such as what was the Silk Road? Furthermore, it will be necessary to examine where the Silk Road was situated and what its purpose and significance was. It will also be necessary to examine who were the Turks and give an overview into Turkic history, since the Ottoman Empire was established by the Turkic tribe.

Throughout, this Research will consider the importance of developments in Ottoman medicine, the reasons behind the developments, how they came about and how important they were.

The major developments in Ottoman medicine occurred during the period when the Ottoman Empire was at its height in power and influence. Hence, this dissertation will concentrate on the fifteenth to the end of the seventeenth century. For context however, it will be necessary to examine a brief history of pre Ottoman traditions.

There will be a number of chapters, which will aim to provide evidence and answers for the above questions. To begin with there will be some background information about who the Turks were. It is important to establish who the Turks were because they are such wide and important on the geography, political and cultural group because Turk can mean many different peoples and empires , but they have languages and culture, heritage in common.

Chapter one will focus on the etiologies (i.e. the causes and origins) of Ottoman medicine. It will look at how ideas were transmitted as well as the health issues along the Silk Road and the available treatments.

This will be necessary in order to show the importance of the ideas about the causes of various illnesses and where the treatments came from. It will also define what constituted Ottoman medicine and examine the various historical accounts and different types of superstructure of medicine in the Ottoman Empire from Greek antiquities, Islamic medicine and past heritage of Turkic medicine traditions.

Chapter two will begin by defining what is meant by cross-cultural transmission. It will look at when this began to happen along the Silk Road and the reasons behind it. The different types of medicine that could be found along the Silk Road and where they originated. It will conclude by considering how knowledge and ideas were transmitted and then how they were incorporated by different peoples along the Silk Road. This is important because it shows the vital change in how empires, cultures and ideas were incorporated into Ottoman society and medicine. It also shows the interaction within the Ottoman Empire because it was so vast, covering the three continents of Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

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Finally, chapter three will look at the positive and negative effects of the cross cultural transmission of ideas and medicine and how these travelled across many lands and plains in the Ottoman Empire as well the Silk Road. This will include the ways in which medicine and treatment developed, but also the ways in which disease spread along the Silk Road. It will question whether the cross-cultural transmission of medicine came about as a result of the spread of disease along the Silk Road.

My research draws upon a number of primary and secondary sources. Various volumes and translations of Evilyia Celebi’s ‘Book of Travels’ has been particularly valuable in providing a very useful contemporary perspective and documentation on everyday life in the Ottoman Empire. [1] The main sections of his accounts that I have used are:, Eviliya Celebi in Bitlis The relevant section of the Seyahanname’

Furthermore, I have used some relevant texts and scholars from the Wellcome library.

Various secondary sources have also proved useful, in either giving me an overview of the Ottoman Empire or specific information relating to medicine and disease in the Ottoman Empire. These include works by Susan Whitfield, Miri Shefer-Mossensohn, Robert Dankoff, Victor H.Mair, Denis Sinor, Daniel Goffman,

The Turks were a numerous collective group of people, also known as the ‘Turkic-family’. The term ‘Turk’ has a wide and varied meaning such as is shown in the following quote from Denis Sinor which states the difficulty in defining what actually makes a ‘Turk’, “Turk civilization was exceptionally complex; it is difficult to analyse or to comprehend.” [2]

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The term Turk was first mentioned in the early years of the 6th century C.E . According to Peter B. Golden, “ This ethnonym derives from the name of an earlier specific grouping of Turkic peoples, the Turk or Turkut in the plural, a people who make their formal appearance on the stage of history in the sixth century C.E.”[3] This show how long the Turkic people have been in existence.

The term ‘Turk’ varies in definition throughout many different sources. As such, the definition of a Turk can alter from meaning strong head to a helmet and even mean a strong character. According to Golden,

“The Sui-shu tell us that the name “Turk” in their own tongue means “helmet and that it comes from the fact that the Altay region, where we find the Turks at the time in which they formed their empire, looks like a helmet”.[4]

This shows that the Turks were always a fighting, and strong warrior nation as well as empire building and proud.

Golden also explains the importance of Tengerism and the Khaghan or Khan to the Turks. Tengerism is a Central Asian religion that incorporates elements of shamanism, which was practised by Mongolian and Turkic peoples in Siberia and Central Asia. Khaghan is a title for a ruler in Turkic and Mongolian languages and was a vital part of the Turkic tradition and empire building, since it showed a unity amongst the families of the Steppes of Central Asia.

“The full title of seven out of the thirteen Khaghans includes one of the three phrases tangrida, ay tangrida or kun tangrida, showing that they believed their power was derived from “Heavens,” “the God of the Moon,” or “the God of the Sun” respectively.”[5]

The Turkic people were a part of a multi-linguistic nation. The Turks belonged to the ‘altaic language grouping, which consisted of many different groups such as Mongolian and Manchu-tungusic as well as various connections to Koreanic and Japanic. Of these, the most prominent dialect is the Manchu, spoken by the tribes who conquered China in 1644.[6]Hence, a common myth or belief amongst many turkic- tribes is that the Turks are the descendants of the she-wolf, [7]because according to legend, the she wolf is from the Altai Mountains. Thus, cross-cultural transmission of language, culture and tradition was always an integral part of the Central Asian people’s lives.

Golden claims that “Turk people, not other Turkic groupings – were an “independent branch” of the Hsiung-nu who had earlier lived on the right bank of the “West Sea” (his-hai).” [8] Thus, his quote shows the emergence of the Turks going west, travelling to Europe and breaking away from the other Turkic tribes. This western migration of the Turkic people happened over many different time periods from when they left the Steppes of Central Asia until the Oghuz Turks moved westwards in 659 A.D.[9]

The cross cultural transmission of culture and tradition continued when this western Turk group converted from Tengerism to Islam as they migrated westwards into Persia and the Middle East. They combined the culture of central Asia with Islam to form a mix of traditions of turkic-islamic beliefs. This changed the identity of the Turks in a formal way and “From the Islamized Oghuz groupings there later emerged the Seljuk and ultimately the Ottoman dynasties.”[10] This religious conversion alongside the combined culture of Turkic-islamic tradition created a new type of empire which flourished and eventually led to the transformation of medicine, culture, art and the silk road.[11]

The ancient Silk Road contributed greatly to the cultural exchange between China and the West. From the second century BC to the fifteenth century AD, splendid civilizations exchanged knowledge, ideas and practices along this famous trade route, making the route a great “Cultural Bridge” between Asia and Europe.

The Silk Road started around 130 BC, which was the time of the Han dynasty of China when they sent traders and emissaries, such as Zhang qian (an important imperial envoy to the outside world) to the western Roman Empire for trade and political purposes . [12] Over time, it became a major route between the east and west and expanded into a route of political, cultural, trading, religious, social and medical knowledge being transmitted between eastern and Western borders of the world trade routes.[13]


The origins of the term Silk Road term came about in 1877 when The notable Germany geographer and traveller, Ferdinand von Richthofen, created the term ‘Seidenstrasse’ (Silk Road) ‘Seidenstrassen’ which is (silk route).[14] However, even though Von Richthofen defined the route as such, it is important to note that, “the father of the narrow “silk road” conception was also interested in the general phenomenon of trans-Eurasian exchanges now encompassed by the shorthand we know as the Silk Road.”[15]

The route began in Beijing, China and ran all the way through central Asia into Persia and then on to Europe, to Constantinople, the heart of the Byzantium Empire. As such, the route was used by many different nationalities and ethnicities:[16] Chinese, Indian, Greek, Persian and Roman civilizations used the silk road for many purposes such as trade, warmongering, empire building, as well as cultural and social reasons.[17]

Because of the diversity of people using the Silk Road, there were also many religions along the Silk Road such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. [18]Numerous great empires were formed along the Silk Road. Each nationality and empire brought very important different aspects to the Silk Road’s religious and cultural heritage, many of which were exchanged amongst each other. [19]

However, as well as being a cultural bridge between Asia and Europe, the silk road was important for the exchange of important ideas and knowledge, not least medical knowledge. The Silk Road provided a means by which medical knowledge, developments and advancements travelled, but importantly it also provided a means by which disease and infection travelled. Therefore, the importance of the cross-cultural exchange of medicine was also a very important feature of the Silk Road and as such, it was also an important feature in the development of Ottoman medicine. The Ottoman Empire took advantage of the cross cultural exchange of ideas and incorporated discoveries of western knowledge from the conquered Byzantium empire and also Islamic and African medical knowledge, which then became important to the Ottoman system.

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