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A 12th-century treatment for weight loss



Daniel Esparza - published on 07/03/17

The Trotula, a medieval treatise on women’s health, includes certain weight-loss tips we may not want to apply today.

Trotula is the name commonly used to refer to a three-book compendium on women’s health (what we would today call gynecology), written in the 12th century in Salerno, by perhaps the most famous female doctor of the late Middle Ages, Trota De Salerno, physician and writer.

As usually happens in these cases, she only one wrote one of the three books in the compendium attributed to her. The authorship of the remaining two is still questioned.


Trotula is the name commonly used to refer to a three-book compendium on women’s health, written in the 12th century in Salerno, by perhaps the most famous female doctor of the late Middle Ages: Trota De Salerno, a physician and a writer.

The treatise’s full name is “On Women’s Conditions, On Women’s Treatments and On Women’s Cosmetics,” each title corresponding to each of the three books. It became so popular during the late Middle Ages that the name of the text was confused with that of its author. Eventually, Trota De Salerno was known as “domina Trotula” in places as far from its original Sicily as Poland and Ireland.

One of the texts featured in the third book, De ornatu mulierum (“On Women’s Cosmetics”), however, also contains advice for both sexes. For example, this weight loss treatment, which has specifications depending on the sex of the patient:

If the woman is apparently hydropic (that is, that retains liquids) we will mix cow manure with very good wine and then we anoint her with this mixture. Then we move her to a steam bath, closed up to the neck, which must be very hot, with a fire made of old wood, and we allow her to sweat profusely. Fat men must be treated differently. We dig a hole for them by the sea, in the sand, and in the manner described (that is, with a mixture of good wine and cow manure), we anoint them, and when the heat is very intense we bury them, halfway down the open hole in the sand. Once the man is lying there, we cover him with hot sand and leave him there, so that he sweats as much as possible. Then we wash him very well with the water from the previous bath.
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