Wounds and War

Wounds and War

Jean Tagault, De chirurgica institutione libri quinque. His accessit sextus liber De materia chirurgica, authore Iacobo Hollerio … (Paris, 1543), p. 143.

This woodcut, from Edward Worth’s copy of Jean Tagault’s De chirurgica institutione libri quinque (Paris, 1543), was originally used in Hans Gersdorff’s Feldbusch der Wundarztney (Strasburg, 1517), which, as the title suggests, was a field book of surgery. Gersdorff (d. 1529), had been a field surgeon during the Burgundian wars of the later fifteenth-century and, having served at the battles of Grandson, Murten and Nancy (1476-77), he was certainly in a position to discuss war wounds. His woodcut depicts a ‘wound man’ and serves as a reminder of the different types of weapons which might cause wounds: knives, daggers, swords, spears, arrows, clubs and hatchets.

Ambroise Paré, Les oeuures d’Ambroise Paré … (Lyons, 1685), p. 275.

Gersdorff’s ’wound man’ omits one form of battle injury which was becoming increasingly common: gunshot wounds. The arquebus had appeared in the fifteenth century but modifications in the early sixteenth century, making a heavier type of weapon known as a musket, made the weapon of war easier to use – and spread carnage. This new type of war wound necessitated a new type of surgery and this is clearly visible in the innovations of the sixteenth-century French surgeon, Ambroise Paré (1510-90). As this image demonstrates, though he is best known for his work on gunshot wounds, Paré was well aware of the different materials, size and shape of arrows, and wrote about them in Book Two of his ‘Ten Books of Surgery’.

Worth was clearly interested in war surgery for he collected a number of books on the treatment of the wounds of war: Alfonso Ferri, Giovanni Francesco Rota and Leonardo Botallo’s De curandis vuleneribus sclopetorum tractatus singulars (Antwerp, 1583); Cesare Magati’s De rara medicatione vulnerum (Venice, 1676); and Laurent Verduc’s La manière de guerir les fractures et les luxations qui arrivent au corps humain, par le moyen des bandages (Paris, 1689).

Naturally, Worth was also interested in wounds generally and collected texts by leading authorities on wound treatment such as Joseph de La Charrière (d. 1690) in both a French and English translation: Traité des operations de la chirurgie (Paris, 1721) and A treatise of the operations of surgery (London, 1712); and Sir John Colbatch’s A collection of tracts, chirurgical and medical (London, 1699). These works also discussed the use of bandages in treatment of wounds, a topic also investigated in Worth’s library by more general works such as M. De la Vauguion, Traité complet des operations de chirurgie (Paris, 1698); René Jacques Croissant de Garengeot, Traité des operations de chirurgie (Paris, 1720); Pierre Dionis, Cours d’operations de chirurgie (Paris, 1714) and Augustine Belloste’s seminal Le chirurgien d’hopital (Amsterdam, 1700).


Ellis, Harold, The Cambridge Illustrated History of Surgery (Cambridge, 2009).

Paré, Ambroise, Ten Books of Surgery translated by Robert White Linker and Nathan Womack (Athens, Georgia, 2010).

Text: Dr Elizabethanne Boran, Librarian, The Edward Worth Library, Dublin.