Animal Care Prior to 18th Century
The foundations of animal care existed long before the 18th century when veterinary medicine as a fledgling profession began to arise. According to Swabe (1999, p. 70) “… the period spanning from antiquity to the early modern period can be said to mark the first phase in the evolution of the veterinary regime". The accumulation of animal care knowledge is recorded in the human record along with knowledge gained, lost and rediscovered over time. Early agricultural and veterinary knowledge known from archaeological evidence, or in limited distribution as hand written manuscripts, had its survival ensured when excerpts were copied and integrated into written compilations. In the 1500s, the printing press technology was developed and in subsequent decades animal care compilations were published for the first time and became more widely available. This section notes the works of important authors from antiquity to the end of the 17th century who recorded their knowledge and whose works formed the foundation of the animal care literature, and subsequently influenced development of the veterinary profession.
Animals health has always been of importance to those charged with their care. In pre-history, animals were important because they provided products that met some of the basic needs of humans. Neolithic humans hunted animals for meat; used their skins for clothing; and modified their bones, horns and antlers into tools. As hunter-gatherer societies transformed into agrarian cultures, the focus shifted from nomadism to a more settled life involving domestication of animals and crop cultivation. They learned over time that husbandry and selective breeding provided a recurring source of useful animal products and animal assistance with work. As early as 9000 BC, tribes in south-west Asia domesticated sheep (Ryder, 1983, p. 3). Horses were domesticated later around 2000 BC, and would remain a dominant species in human societies for over 3,000 years because of their myriad roles in transportation, trade, war, and leisure. Early civilizations contributed to the animal care literature when they left behind fragmentary records of their activities and beliefs including how they cared for their animals.
As hunter-gatherer societies transformed into agrarian cultures, their focus shifted from nomadism to a more settled life involving domestication of animals and crop cultivation.
Animals and humans in ancient societies lived in close proximity, because animals signified wealth to their owners. Animals were also integral to many spiritual beliefs with roles as deities or as sacrifices.The Sumerians, Babylonians and Egyptians developed a knowledge base for providing care to valuable animals based on their religious beliefs. Priest-physicians used prayers and spells to combat evil spirits that were believed to cause disease. According to Smithcors (1957, p. 32), excerpts from the Code of Hammurabi of Babylonia, 2200 BC, outline the fees that could be charged for treating animals (and humans), and punishments for malpractice. The welfare of animals and humans were both considered in medical writings from ancient civilizations in a philosophy that we would currently describe as One Health (Cass, 1973, p. 420). It wasn’t until medieval times when Christianity was spreading throughout western Europe that the practice of sharing living quarters with animals was discouraged. One Health did not revive again until the 20th century.
"Animals and humans were both considered in medical writings from ancient civilizations in a philosophy that we would currently describe as One Health" (Cass, 1973, p. 420)
The Kahun papyrus, written around 1900 BC, is “… one of the earliest records of a veterinary-type approach to animal treatment” (Dunlop and Williams, 1996, p. 67). Agriculture was the basis of the Egyptian economy, therefore, cattle, sheep, goats, donkeys and pigs were domesticated to perform various kinds of work, and provide useful products including meat, milk, skins for clothing, and bones for tools. Aside from domestic animals, Egyptians hunted large exotic animals and birds for sport. The papyri and tomb decorations describe how Egyptians used techniques of veterinary obstetrics (Swabe, 1999, p. 72); they used salves and minerals to control infected wounds, and treatments such as bleeding, enemas, and cauterizing or binding wounds are recorded. Mummification with its high degree of preservation gives some evidence of the health or diseases of the animals’ skeletons at the time they were embalmed with their masters. Skeletal diseases such as rickets, arthritis, osteoporosis and hip dysplasia have been identified from mummified remains (Dunlop and Williams, 1996, p. 69).
Medical theories developed by the Greeks had lasting effects, both positive and negative, on animal care and the subsequent development of the profession of veterinary medicine. Hippocrates (460-377 BC) was a Greek philosopher-physician who developed the system of medicine named after him. “The Hippocratic system placed emphasis upon a high standard of ethics, accurate observation, clarity and honesty in recording case histories, and rational treatment” (Smithcors, 1957, p. 43). Hippocrates’ theory of humoral pathology stated that health was based on a balance of four bodily humors or fluids - yellow bile, black bile, phlegm, and blood corresponding to the four elements of fire, earth, water and air. Bloodletting, emetics and and diuretics were therapies used to cause unbalanced humors to escape (Bols & De porte, 2016, p. 36). According to Smithcors (1957, p. 56 ) “… the doctrine of humoral pathology became the medical heritage of the Greeks which was adopted by the veterinary profession.” Unfortunately, this theory continued to be influential until the 20th century and delayed the development of veterinary medicine, because other approaches to clinical thinking were not explored. There were positive medical theories of lasting value bequeathed to veterinary medicine by Greeks. Aristotle (384-322 BC) contributed to veterinary knowledge obliquely by dissecting animals in order to learn about human anatomy: he extrapolated findings to humans. Galen (130-201 BC) was a Greek physician active in Rome who revived Aristotle's theories and promoted the use of pharmaceuticals in treatment.
According to Smithcors (1957, p. 56 )“… the doctrine of humoral pathology became the medical heritage of the Greeks which was adopted by the veterinary profession.”
Similar to the horse-based Persian culture, horses were valuable animals in Greek and Roman societies primarily for transport, military, and recreational uses. Greeks and Romans were influenced by different origins of animal husbandry. Greeks used practices in human health care and applied them to animal care, whereas animal care in Roman society derived from agricultural practice (Dunlop and Williams, 1996, p. 174). The Greek horse doctors, or hippiatroi, adopted the Greek medical system and methods of analytical inquiry (Dunlop and Williams, 1996, p. 150) and there is evidence that they practiced complex surgeries, used large animal restraints, and established animal hospitals, or zooiatreions (Karasszon, 1988, p. 70). Records from 500 BC indicate that ‘horse doctors’ were employed in Greek city-states and also treated cattle, sheep, pigs and dogs" (Swabe, 1999, p. 127). The expertise of the hippiatroi was recorded in unpublished works that were lost for centuries, and later discovered in compilations that were published after the invention of the printing press made them accessible to a mass audience of readers.
Romans had a heritage as shepherds with a knowledge and interest in agriculture and animal husbandry including breeding of horses, cattle, sheep and pigs. They valued knowledge in the sciences including agricultural, medical, and hygienic knowledge, thus, public health was more advanced than either medical or veterinary practice. Veterinary medicine was considered a practical art and not of high status, certainly not to be practiced by patrician Romans who comprised the educated class. “Familiarity with agriculture and animal husbandry as well as a primitive veterinary and medical knowledge belonged to the basic erudition of a Roman citizen who cured his family, his slaves and animals himself” (Karasszon, 1988, p. 85).
"Veterinary medicine was considered a practical art and not of high status, certainly not to be practiced by patrician Romans who comprised the educated class".
Animal Care Literature
The oldest book in the Rosen collection is a 1528 reprint of Columella's De Re Rustica originally written in the 1st century AD. Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella (4-70 AD) introduced the term "veterinarius" (Bols & De porte, 2016, p. 36) that was "... given to individuals who conducted what could be termed a private veterinary practice" (Jones, 2011a, p. 331). Encyclopaedic works were common in Roman times when patricians and politicians were expected to be well educated on a variety of topics in order to guide the lives of Roman citizens. “Most of the early Roman writers were encyclopaedist generalists who consolidated ideas and practices obtained from a variety of sources” (Dunlop and Williams, 1996, p. 161). Several Roman writers such as Cato the Elder (234-139 BC), Marcus Terentius Varro (116-27 BC), Publius Vergilius Maro (Virgil) (71-19 BC), and Gaius Plinius Secundus (Pliny) (24-79 AD) mentioned animal healing in passing in their writings. However, it was Columella who “… presents a detailed collection [of writings] on contemporary animal healing and animal hygiene” in De Re Rustica Libri XII (Karasszon, 1988, p. 94). According to Dunlop and Williams (1996, p. 165) writing about Columella, “He stands above all other Roman authors in the fields of animal husbandry and veterinary science because of his unique combination of scholarship and practical field experience."
“He [Columella] stands above all other Roman authors in the fields of animal husbandry and veterinary science because of his unique combination of scholarship and practical field experience" (Dunlop and Williams (1996, p. 165).
There was a 400-year gap in veterinary writing from Columella (writing in 55 AD) to Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus (Vegetius), a Roman aristocrat who wrote three books on mulomedicina and a fourth on oxen (Fischer, 1986, p. 197), which was influenced subsequent animal care writers centuries later. He recognized that animal health care was a low status profession in Roman life and urged that it be restored to its higher Greek equivalent. Vegetius’ work written in 450 AD was more widely disseminated when it was printed in Latin in 1528 and again in 1748 in English. "After Vegetius, the decline and virtual disappearance of veterinary scholarship became dramatic” (Dunlop and Williams, 1996, p. 184). According to Smithcors (1957, p. 109), “The lamp lit by Vegetius flickered and died without becoming the beaconlight it was intended to be. Nearly a thousand years were to pass before anyone worthy of the name appeared upon the veterinary horizon”.
“The lamp lit by Vegetius [450 AD] flickered and died without becoming the beaconlight it was intended to be. Nearly a thousand years were to pass before anyone worthy of the name appeared upon the veterinary horizon” Smithcors (1957, p. 109).
Agricultural and veterinary works by classical authors such as Cato and Varro, previously in limited distribution as manuscripts, had their survival ensured because they were selected and integrated into compilations. The original Hippiatrika in Greek was a collection of veterinary and agricultural works compiled on the order of Byzantine emperor Constantine around 900 AD. The Hippiatrika contained works by Pelagonius and Apsyrtus, 330 AD, often called the father of veterinary medicine. In the 1500s after the printing press technology had been developed many compilations were published. The Hippiatrika was published in Paris in 1530 for a larger audience by French physician, Jean Ruelle. Although these erudite writings had been rediscovered they were denied an audience during the Middle Ages, because the Church denounced rational thought in medicine, including veterinary medicine. “The rational practice of veterinary medicine of the Byzantine era, like that of human medicine, became completely bogged down in the morass of the Middle Ages” (Smithcors, 1957, p. 45).
Still, occasional original veterinary writings appeared in the Middle Ages. Giordano Ruffus (in Latin, Jordanus Ruffus), born at the beginning of the 13th century, complied the works of previous Arab veterinary writers and produced a textbook in Latin on equine medicine called De Medicina Equorum in 1250. In a later translation it was called The Hippiatria and printed in Italian in 1492 and again in 1563. Later in the same century The Hippiatria: the Book of Marshalry (Marescalcia equorum) by Laurentius Rusius was written in 1350 and reprinted in Paris in 1532. It contained the whole of Ruffus’s equine medicine text as well as materials from Rusius’s own experience with horses; thus, three volumes on animal husbandry with similar titles were written and later published in printed form. The first comprehensive book in English on care, breeding and riding of horses that has survived is The Foure Chiefest Offices Belonging to Horsemanship published in 1565 with later editions in 1580, 1597 and 1609.The 1609 ebook version of Blundeville’s work is in the University of Saskatchewan collection. Blundeville also wrote The Art of Ryding and Breaking Greate Horses in 1560 based on a translation of Gli Ordini di Cavalcare by Federico Grisone which was a treatise on classical dressage.
The Renaissance and the later Age of Enlightenment were characterized by the pursuit of knowledge in many fields. The sciences, including medicine and veterinary medicine contributed to the growth of knowledge through the new discipline of scientific observation and experimentation combined with logical reasoning (Swabe, 1999, p. 89). However, veterinary medicine was slow to respond to discoveries being made in the sciences; there were no trained veterinarians to apply these new ideas to practical uses. By the end of the 16th century the anatomy book, Anatomia del Cavallo, by Carlo Ruini (1530-1598) had been published in Italian in 1598 and translated into several languages. It was "... the first book to focus extensively on the structure of a species other than man, and its splendid images were often plagiarized for years to come" (Bols & De porte, 2016, p. 36). Ruini's book (in the University of Saskatchewan microform collection) depicts the anatomy of the horse through dissection and was inspired by the content of works by Vegetius and Ruffus. The artistic plates were influenced by those of the human anatomist Andreas Vesalius in his De Humani Corporis Fabrica Libri Septem published in 1543. In turn, Ruini’s work formed the basis of Andrew Snape’s (1644-1708) The Anatomy of an Horse published in 1683. A 1687 ebook edition is in the University of Saskatchewan collection.
The sciences, including medicine and veterinary medicine contributed to the growth of knowledge through the new discipline of scientific observation and experimentation combined with logical reasoning (Swabe, 1999, p. 89).
In the 17th century the art of equitation was developing in Europe. Rising schools were built and staffed with equerries who produced comprehensive works on all aspects of horse care in a new genre of literature called "Traites Hippiatriqués" (Bols & De porte, 2016, p. 37). Jacques de Solleysel (1617-1680) was an author who was inspired by the writings of Vegetius. de Solleysel was an experienced equerry who owned a riding school and taught students about equine therapy. He published Le Parfait Maréschal in 1664 that contained equitation and horse care subjects, and was instrumental in improving riding, initially in France, and later in England. The text was used in farrier schools, in royal courts, and in the army (Walker, 1991, p. 52). Le Parfait Maréschal was subsumed into Le Nouveau Parfait Maréschal and published in 1664 with additional information written by Francois Alexandre Pierre de Garsault. The final edition of this famous work appeared in1843. A 1696 ebook edition of The Parfait Mareschal or Compleat Horseman in English translation by William Hope is in the University of Saskatchewan collection. An ebook version of Thomas deGrey’s The Compleat Horse-Man and Expert Ferrier in Two Books, 1639 is in the University of Saskatchewan collection. Henry Bracken, M.D. (1697–1764) wrote about farriery in Farriery Improved: A Complete Treatise on the Art of Farriery, 1790, found as an ebook in the University of Saskatchewan collection.
This brief summary highlights important some authors and works from antiquity to the end of the 1600s who formed the foundation of the animal care literature. The Profession Develops section continues with a discussion of factors that converged in the 1700s to accelerate development of veterinary art as a profession.
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