Trotula of Salerno

(12th Century?)

In the twelfth century, Salerno Italy was the epicenter of medieval medicine in Europe. Salerno was famous for having the first medical school and its hospitals had world- wide reputation for excellence. During this time, many women were trained as physicians and also taught at the medical schools. Generally at this time in Europe, women were denied education. At the School of Salerno, women were welcomed as students and instructors. Trotula was a physician and an instructor at the School of Salerno.

Trotula was one of the most famous physicians of the time. She is considered the world's first gynecologist. Trotula di Ruggiero came from a wealthy family. Her birth and childhood remain a mystery. Trotula was a pioneer in women's health. She specialized in obstetrics, gynecology, cosmetics and skin disease. She wrote many medical works. Her most famous was Passionibus Mulierum Curandorum (The Diseases of Women), also known as Trotula Major. This work was comprised of sixty three chapters pertaining to the special health issues of women. The purpose of this work was to educate male physicians about the female body because male physicians knew little at that time. Another work Practica Secundum Trotam was a larger work of a general nature.

Trotula's works are a collection of medical advice. She advised women on conception, menstruation, pregnancy, caesarian sections and childbirth. She also gives general medical advice for treating snakebites, curing bad breath and lightening freckles. Her radical ideas on conception shocked the medical and social community. Trotula believed that men and women both have physiological defects that cause conception difficulties. The woman may have a defect of the womb and the man may have a defect in the seed or his delivery. In her time, it was unusual to claim that failure to conceive was due to a physical defect in men.

She also believed that women should not suffer unrelenting pain during childbirth. During childbirth, she advocated the use of opiates produced by plants to dull the pain of labor. This contradicted Christian beliefs that a woman should suffer the pain of childbirth, because of the sin of Eve. Women were seen as weak, inferior and more susceptible to disease. For this reason, Trotula believed that women have special medical needs that can only be investigated and treated by a woman.

Trotula's work was used for centuries to come. She trained her students to observe their patients and to examine them thoroughly in order to prescribe them proper treatment. She taught her students to listen to their patients and ask questions about their ailments. Trotula recommended that her patients take herbal remedies, soak in warm baths and rest to aid the healing process. Trotula also believed that people should eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly. Live a low stress lifestyle and she advocated cleanliness.

Many historians debate whether Trotula was a woman or if she even existed. By the mid 1500's, women were no longer allowed to study at universities. Without concrete biographical evidence that Trotula existed, her manuscripts were attributed to a man and the name Trotula was a pseudonym. More research from her manuscripts lead scholars to believe that indeed she was a woman and did exist. Trotula was a pioneer in women's gynecological health and obstetrics. She offered a great deal of advice for childbirth. She gave instructions on normal delivery, breech birth and stillbirth. Also she advises how to sew tears a woman may experience during childbirth.


Scholar  Monica Green offers these suggestions and corrections: 

"There is much that has changed in our scholarly understanding of this group of texts and the question of authorship that has surrounded them for many centuries. Equally importantly, there is much that we understand now about why the historical tradition about these texts has been so garbled, leading many a helpless undergraduate into confusion.

For example:
• There was never any sound reason to suppose that the female practitioner in question lived in the 11th century. All evidence points to the 12th century.
• The proper woman’s name is “Trota,” a form well-attested in Salernitan documents from the period. “Trotula”, in contrast, is never attested as a woman’s name. It is, as has been demonstrated, a title that was later misunderstood (by scribes and other scholars not familiar with southern Italian naming practices) to be an author’s name.
• The Trotula (as the texts properly should be called) is a combination of three different texts, each of separate authorship. As a compilation, it can never be described as representing any single author’s perspectives, whether that author be male or female.
• The Trotula received a proper scholarly edition in 2001."

for a comprehensive biography see :

Annotated Bibliography

Amundsen, Darrel. Medicine, Society and Faith in the Ancient and Medieval Worlds. Baltimore and London: John Hopkins Press Ltd., 1996.
This source is good for studying life in medieval times. Although very little is mentioned of Trotula, it does give an in depth look of medicine, society and faith intermingling in medieval Europe. The book it a bit lengthy and would not recommend this book for high school reading.

Bois, Danuta. "Distinguished Women of Past and Present: Trotula of Salerno." 1996 <> (18 December 2005).
This website was an excellent source although the biography of Trotula is brief. The site also has many remarkable women from the past to the present day who have helped shaped our culture and history. The site is easy to navigate and is well planned. I would recommend this site as a starting point to anyone conducting research on women's studies.

Cadden, Joan. Meanings of Sex Difference in the Middle Ages. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
This source was excellent in studying Trotula of Salerno. It also mentions Hildegard of Bingen among many others. The book explains where the notions of sex difference originated and how it affected women of the Middle Ages. The chapters and readings are clearly defined. The book was easy to read and would suggest this book for upper high school and college students.

Green, Monica. From "Diseases of Women" to "Secrets of Women":
The Transformation of Gynecological Literature in the Later Middle Ages.
Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 30.1 (2000) 5-39. <> (18 December 2005).
This journal article was interesting because it is about the "secrets" of women, the secret meanings of the different body parts of women. Many feel that using the actual terms of the woman's body to be taboo. The author discusses the terminology used in the Middle Ages and how those terms have changed. It is an excellent journal although it is quite lengthy at 34 pages.

McNeil PhD., Russell. "Trotula of Salerno." 1995 <> (18 December 2005).
This is a good site. The biography of Trotula is very detailed and somewhat difficult to read. The site is part of a biographical database, Great Ideas. The site offers information on under-represented and historical women in music, literature, art, science, theater and many other areas. I would suggest this site for upper level readers. This site is useful because it gives suggestions for further readings, journal articles and website links to information on Trotula and many other historically important women.

Reese, Lyn. "Notable Women." 1996 <> (18 December 2005).
The website is an excellent source. It gives biographies of women from Western Europe to the Far East circa 1000 C.E. This site would be useful for educators because of the wealth of information and the lesson plans offered on the site. It is also useful for students in middle school and high school.

Riddle, John. Contraception and Abortion from the Ancient World to the Renaissance. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992.
This source is a very detailed account of the history of contraception and abortion. A short biography of Trotula is given in this book. It focuses on her work in gynecology and her remedies for contraception and abortion. Although it is an excellent book for a college student, I would not recommend this book for a younger reader because it is of an explicit nature.

Schied, Troy and Toon, Laura. "Dominion and Domination of the Gentle Sex: The Lives of Medieval Women." ThinkQuest <> (18 December 2005).
This is an excellent site and is appropriate for all ages. This site is dedicated to medieval women who have been forgotten in history. The website has short biographies of many notable women in war, trade, medicine, politics and religion. Also, the site includes a short quiz to test one's knowledge of medieval women. I would recommend this site to anyone interested in the study of women of medieval times.

Whitney, Elspeth. Medieval Science and Technology. Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2004.
This was an excellent source for researching Trotula. The book uses primary sources such as excerpts from her work On the Diseases of Women. This source gives short biographies of many notable people who influenced science, technology and medicine from the medieval ages. The book is well planned out and is easy to read. I would recommend this book to any level reader.



Originally written by Enrica Bellucci 2005
Last Revision: 25 March 2015
Copyright © MMXV Prof. Pavlac's Women's History Site
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