‘Hippocrates on the Tiber: Airs and Diseases in the Making of Baroque Rome’

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By | Early Medicine, Events and Visits

The Hospital on the island in the Tiber. From: Vedute di Roma by Vasi, 1786 Wellcome Images M0013483

The next seminar in the History of Pre-Modern Medicine academic seminar series, will take place on Tuesday 5th March.

Details: Silvia de Renzi (Open University)

‘Hippocrates on the Tiber: Airs and Diseases in the Making of Baroque Rome’


The revival of the Hippocratic tradition in the sixteenth century brought the relationship between the environment, health and disease to the centre of Renaissance medicine. Doctors and laypeople worried about the climate of cities, the orientation of houses, the quality of the air and water available to their inhabitants, and the kinds of disease by which they might be hit. Deeply charged politically, these ‘hippocratic’ questions variously intersected with the multilayered administration of an early modern city and its changing landscape. We have, however, only just started to understand what this meant for physicians. This paper focuses on seventeenth-century Rome, a thriving capital transformed by Counter Reformation devotion and Baroque architects alike. Three sets of sources guide my discussion: a physician’s contribution to the controversy over Rome’s notorious climate and its ‘endemic’ diseases; medical expert testimony in the legal case initiated by the Jesuits over the risks posed by a new building to young students’ health; and a physician’s ‘advertisement’ for the salubriousness of an area marked for urban development. Arguing that Hippocratic knowledge enabled doctors to claim and promote competence at the different levels in which urban politics operated, I show that in the process they had to reckon with the expertise of others, from astrologers to architects and from judges to priests, and how at the intersection between medicine and religion a specific concern for the health of ‘communities’ also emerged.


The seminar will take place in the Wellcome Library, 2nd floor, 183 Euston Road, NW1 2BE. Please deposit bags and coats in the ground floor cloakroom and meet in the 2nd floor foyer. Doors at 6pm prompt, the seminar will start at 6.15pm.

The seminar series is focused on pre-modern medicine, which we take to cover European and non-European history before the 20th century (antiquity, medieval and early modern history, some elements of 19th-century medicine).

Details on the seminar series is available in a previous post.

Ross Macfarlane

Ross Macfarlane is the Research Engagement Officer at the Wellcome Library.

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