Maggi, Bartolomeo

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(b. Bologna, Italy, 1477; d. 1552)


Maggi was professor of surgery at the University of Bologna and was the private physician of Pope Julius III. He did not become internationally renowned until 1550, when, because of his skill in treating wounds, he was summoned to Modena to tend the nephew of Pope Paul III, who had suffered a gunshot wound. Before this, Henry II of France had rewarded him with honors and gifts for his curative treatment of wounded French soldiers. He also had already created a school whose pupils supported and defended him in his controversy with Francesco Rota on the treatment of wounds.

Maggi’s great ability is illustrated by his book on the treatment of wounds, which, while reflecting his valuable personal experiences and observations, also recalls a method of treatment already adopted in Italy. This method was also discussed by Paré, who acknowledged his debt to Maggi in the introduction to his own treatise on the subject. Maggi’s book, published posthumously at Bologna in 1552 by his brother Giovanni Battista, is entitled De vulnerum bombardorum et sclopetorum, globulis illatorum, et de eorum symptomatum curatione, tractatus. This work, which in some ways was avant-garde, was of considerable benefit in the treatment of the war-wounded. Its main thesis can be summarized as follows: The wounds inflicted by firearms neither burn nor poison but are first-degree contusions. The shells propelled by firearms do not burn or scald on touch; do not set clothing on fire; do not produce blisters in the areas hit; do not burn gunpowder, hay, sulfur, straw, or tow; and do not give the wounded a burning sensation. A wax ball produces the same effect as a lead one and, like the lead ball, bounces. Shells, moreover, are not poisonous; the components of gunpowder—charcoal, sulfur, and niter—neither have the characteristics of poisons individually nor become poisonous in combination, since such a mixture can be tasted without ill effects. Wounds are contusions, and the gravity of the contusion determines the symptoms of the victim, who may reach a state of general shock. Maggi’s theory became accepted, although it took several years. Shortly after its presentation it was defended by Leonardo Botallo in De curandis vulneribus sclopetorum (Lyons, 1560) and argued against by Francesco Rota in De bellicorum tormentorum vulneribus eorumque curatione liber (Venice, 1555).

A century before Magati’s expounding of strange hemostatic practices (the application of boiled ass’s or horse’s dung, for example), Maggi, although he knew of other valid hemostatic cures, was treating amputation stumps with clay mixed with vinegar. He recommended the same remedy for those bitten by vipers, because clay is cold and the bite is warm (contraria contrariis), and because earth, from which animals derive their poison, is a healthy medicament. Maggi is further remembered for his method of layered amputation.

Maggi was among the first to teach a rational method of treating gunshot wounds, and therefore his name has a deserved place in the history of surgery.


On Maggi and his work, see C. Burci, Storia compendiata della chirurgia italiana dal suo principio fino al secolo XIX (Florence, 1876), pp. 43–44; D. Giordano, “Medicazioni strane e medicazioni semplici,” in Scritti e discorsi pertinenti alla storia della medicina e ad argomenti diversi (Milan, 1930), pp. 25–45; A. von Haller, Bibliotheca chirurgica, I (Bern-Basel, 1774), 206–207; and S. de Renzi, Storia della medicina in Italia, III (Naples, 1845), 660–666.

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