Trotula of Salerno (fl. 11th–12th centuries AD) was a female physician, alleged to have been the first female professor of medicine, teaching in the southern Italian port of Salerno, which was at that time the most important center of medical learning in Europe. Several writings about women’s health have been attributed to her, including Diseases of Women, Treatments for Women, and Women's Cosmetics. In medieval Europe, these texts were a major source for information on women’s health. Some scholars have challenged whether or not Trotula actually wrote these works.
Much conjecture between historians can be found regarding the life of the “Trotula” figure. Some believe that the works were actually written by a man and not a woman. On the other hand, there are several theories that support her existence and/or that she was in fact a woman.
Trotula's expertise can be found in other works as well. She was one of seven Salerno physicians who contributed to an encyclopedia of medical knowledge, On the Treatment of Illnesses. Her additions to this work show her knowledge in the fields of gastrointestinal disorders and ophthalmology. Her practices can also be found in Practical Medicine According to Trota, which covers seventy-one different remedies for various conditions. The commonalities in these two works attests to the common authorship 
Diseases of Women, Treatments for Women, and Women’s Cosmetics are usually referred to collectively as The Trotula. They cover topics from childbirth to cosmetics, relying on varying sources from Galen to oral traditions, providing practical instructions. These works vary in both organization and content. Diseases of Women and Women’s Cosmetics circulated widely, yet anonymously until they were combined with Treatments for Women sometime in the thirteenth century. For the next several hundred years, The Trotula circulated throughout Europe, reaching its greatest popularity in the fourteenth century. Twenty-nine copies exist today.
Trotula is believed to have lived between the 11th and 12th centuries CE in the southern Italian port town of Salerno, at that time widely reputed as a center of medical learning. Salerno was at the time “the most important center for the introduction of Arabic medicine into Western Europe”. Salerno "favored the development of what would become the three most important specialized texts on women's medicine in medieval western Europe". In referring to the School of Salerno in the twelfth century, historians actually mean an informal community of masters and pupils who, over the course of the twelfth century, developed more or less formal methods of instruction and investigation; there is no evidence of any physical or legal entity before the thirteenth century. She may have belonged to the wealthy di Ruggiero family and may have been married to the physician Johannes Platearius and had two sons, Johannes Platearius II and Matthaeus Platearius. Again, very few concrete facts are known about her life. Some scholars believe that both Trotula and her husband authored practica brevis, a work that discusses medical diseases.
Trotula is alleged to have written a major work on women’s medicine in medieval Europe, On the Diseases of Women (De passionibus mulierum). She is also alleged to have been the first female professor of medicine and the first female gynecologist. Some scholars assert that Trotula taught at the School of Salerno, earning the title of Magistra Medicinae. The plethora of evidence that numerous women graduated from the School of Salerno since its inception validates the fact that Trotula herself attended the institution. Francesca, wife of Metteo de Romana, was one such woman who attended the institution. After passing a very arduous examination before a board composed of physicians and surgeons, Francesca was accorded the doctorate in surgery. An official decree upon her graduation reads as follows:
Whereas the laws permit women to practice medicine, and whereas, from the viewpoint of good morals, women are best adapted to the treatment of their own sex, we, after having received the oath of fidelity, permit the said Francesca to practice the said art of healing, etc.
Theories about her existence
As there is little documented evidence about Trotula, there has been much conjecture as to what happened within her life. There are many that believe that she was a revolutionary woman that existed and was indeed one of the first female medical figures.One such woman is Monica Green, a leading historian on this figure. Green has written several texts on the Trotula and in these texts she commends the Trotula for creating a medieval medical view of women which seemed to function as the primary tool for male physicians.
There is further evidence that Trotula existed within the literature that came out of the middle ages. Chaucer in his widely known Canterbury Tales references Trotula’s works in his Wife of Bath prologue.Within the prologue the Wife of Bath talks about her fifth husband and the books that he reads constantly. One of the books that Chaucer has him reading is a work by Trotula , The Trotula Major, and it is implied that even the Wife herself was very familiar with the practices presented in this book.
Even though Trotula’s authorship has never been satisfactorily established , feminist medical historians such as Melanie Lipinska and Kate Campbell Hurd-Mead are convinced that she existed because of the connotations of the word “trot” that can be found within her name. A trot was specifically a woman who trotted for a living, she was too old to be attractive and in her business she taught tricks, tips and lessons about women's sexual pleasure. These feminist scholars believe that this is far too suggestive to be ignored.
In 1566, Caspar Wolff published his own edition of Trotula, authored by “Eros Juliae” for the first time. This changing of her name fueled the belief that Trotula was not a woman but a man. Trotula’s gender and existence has, since then, become a subject of debate amongst scholars.
There has also been evidence of a historical figure named Trotula di Ruggiero but whether she authored any medical texts, was a teacher, or even studied medicine has never been confirmed. Historically, misconceptions like this occurred because the name Trota was commonly used in 12th century Salerno. Due to the name's popularity, and the idea that there was no real woman with the name Trotula, it is a possibility that other women have been mistaken for her.
Some scholars claim that the work attributed to her, The Trotula, was originally a title and not the author’s name. The word Trotula translates to “little Trota”. She is also referred to as Trocta, Trotta, and Dame Trot. Some scholars believe that the name Trotula was only used to try and gain the appeal of local female empiricists. Her name was singled out, which is noted to be of great significance but it does not necessarily reflect that she wrote the books. Furthering the discussion over the controversy of her name, in the medieval era, manuscripts T’s and E’s are interchangeable and as for the second t, because it was not capitalized it might have been mistaken for an sj. Therefore Trot=Eros, Trotula=Erotula and Trosulae=Erosjulae. So the name change that can be seen within Wolff’s text may have possibly come from a misreading of her original name that was printed on her works.
Diseases of Women
Diseases of Women (De passionibus mulierum curandarum, Trotula Major) is divided into twenty-seven sections, it describes a variety of female health issues, concentrating on problems with menstruation and child birth. This work was novel in its adoption of the new Arabic medicine that had just begun to make inroads into Europe. The Arabic medicine was more speculative and philosophical, drawing from the principles of Galen. Galen, as opposed to other notable physicians, believed that menstruation was a necessary and healthy purgation. Galen asserted that women are colder than men and unable to “cook” their nutrients; thus they must eliminate excess substance through menstruation. Further, the author notes the possibility that the womb rises to the respiratory organs. Other authorities cited include Hippocrates, Oribasius, Dioscorides, Paulus, and Justinus. The author explains that womb suffocation results from an excess of female semen (another Galenic idea) and proposes several possible remedies. Other issues discussed at length are treatment for obstetric fistula and the proper regimen for a newly born child. There are discussions on topics covering menstrual disorders and uterine movements, chapters on childbirth and pregnancy, in addition to many others.
Treatments for Women
Unlike "Trotula Major" this work was not particularly influenced by the new Arabic medicine. The majority of the information came from an alternate, more practical, often oral tradition. The author does not provide theories related to dermatological conditions or their causes, but simply informs the reader how to prepare and apply medical preparations. There is a lack of cohesion, but there are sections related to gynecological, andrological, pediatric, cosmetic, and general medical conditions. There is a focus on treatment for fertility, but the piece does not take a stance on the issue of whether or not a woman has a seed. In keeping with the concern with fertility, this work also discusses whether women are hot or cold, as factoring into conception. Surprisingly, the author acknowledges that women have a desire that can cause them to suffer if it is not satisfied. There are a range of pragmatic instructions like how to “restore” virginity, as well as treatments for concerns such as difficulties with bladder control and cracked lips caused by too much kissing. In a work stressing female medical issues, remedies for men’s disorders are including as well.
"De Ornatu mulierum" also called "Trotula Minor" or "Women's Cosmetics'", is a treatise that teaches women to conserve and improve their beauty and treat skin diseases through a series of precepts, advices and natural remedies. This work lacks formality and reflects more of the personal interactions between Christian and Muslim women living side by side in southern Italy and Sicily. No authorities are cited except for ‘unnamed women of Salerno’. The work has instructions for female care starting with care of the skin, then the hair, then the face, then the teeth, the final chapter related to genitalia. The author’s instructions rely on local ingredients such as herbs and animal products as well as imported substances such as nutmeg and cloves. A lot of detail is given to bathing and the importance of baths to women of the Medieval period. The reliance on remedies practiced by Muslim women, like their processes to clean genitalia and dye hair, depicts the extent to which Christian women were adopting Muslim cosmetic practices in Sicily. This work is often paired with Treatments of Women as Trotula Minor. Trotula believed beauty is the sign of a healthy body and harmony with the universe.
These works are considered the "most widely circulated medical work on gynecology and women's problems", found in Latin, French, English, German, Flemish, Catalan. The 126 manuscripts of the Trotula that are found represent only a small portion of the original number that circulated around Europe from the late 12th century to the end of the 15th century. Almost all versions of the Trotula held a pan-European circulation. In the thirteenth century copies were found in Germany, France, and England. These works reached their peak popularity around the turn of the 14th century, coming from Central and Eastern Europe for the most part during the 15th century. However, multiple reprintings into the 16th century attests to its continued importance.
The reference to Galenic theory which was becoming a preeminent medical tradition added to their popularity. The connection with Salerno and the fact that these works circulated with other Salernitan writings also increased their appeal. It has been argued that these works were popular in part due to their pornographic character. These works were found in universities, “in libraries of physicians and surgeons, monks and philosophers, theologians and princes from Italy to Ireland, from Spain to Poland”. There developed a need for vernacular translations, as more females started to read the vernacular. Curiously though, there is no concrete record of a female owner of these works, raising the question of how often women really accessed The Trotula.
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