Amato Lusitano (Ḥabib ha-Sephardi), João Rodrigues de Castelo Branco (1511 - 1568) MP

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Nicknames: "João Rodrigues de Castelo Branco", "Abraham ben Solomon Usque"
Birthdate:
Birthplace: Castelo Branco, Portugal
Death: Died in Thessalonika, Central Macedonia, Greece
Occupation: Jewish Court Physician
Managed by: Malka Mysels
Last Updated:

About Amato Lusitano (Ḥabib ha-Sephardi), João Rodrigues de Castelo Branco

Amatus Lusitanus (also Amato Lusitano or Ḥaviv ha-Sephardi) (1511–1568) was a noted Jewish physician and marrano who achieved renown throughout Western Europe before fleeing antisemitic persecution to settle in the Ottoman Empire toward the end of his life. Born in 1511 in Castel-Branco, Portugal, to marrano parents who had survived severe persecution, he grew up with a knowledge of Jewish religion, culture, and tradition that remained with him throughout his life; he also learned Hebrew from his parents. In his works, he mentions two brothers—Joseph and Peter Brandan. As a New Christian, he received the name João Rodrigues de Castelo-Branco. At an early age, he attended the University of Salamanca, one of the finest schools in Europe, where he studied medicine and, in addition, learned Greek, logic, mathematics, philosophy, and other subjects; he also chose to take courses in surgery, which was considered inferior to medicine. After obtaining practical experience and his diploma in 1530, he returned to Portugal around 1532. Amatus remained in his homeland for only a short while, because increasing pressures upon marrano physicians forced him to remove to Antwerp in 1533.

In his seven years in Antwerp, Amatus established himself as one of Europe’s foremost doctors, treating the city’s elite, including the mayor and the Portuguese consul. He also began a life-long association and friendship with the Jewish notables Don Joseph Nasi (ca. 1524–1579) and Doña Gracia Nasi (1510–1569). During this period, he lived for brief periods in France, Germany, and Venice, and he published his first work, Index Dioscorides (1536), on medical botany under his Christian name. His growing reputation prompted Duke Ercole II d’Este of Ferrara (r. 1534–1559) to offer him a position at the University of Ferrara. Amatus accepted the invitation and began teaching there in 1540. The city’s progressive environment allowed Jews relative freedom and fostered academic research. Amatus established relationships with a number of scholars and received increasing attention from the rulers of Europe. Zygmunt II August of Poland(r. 1548– 1572) invited Amatus to serve as his court physician; Amatus declined the offer, but accepted one from the ambassador of Ragusa ( Dubrovnik), who proposed him for the position of municipal physician of the city. In May 1547, Amatus left Ferrara for Ancona to await an official offer from the Ragusa Senate, but it never arrived.

His time in Ancona marked the beginning of both his most prolific period of scholarship and a rise in the harassment and persecution that plagued him for the rest of his life in Europe. Initially, he developed a successful practice, traveling to Rome to treat Jacoba del Monte, the sister of Cardinal Giovanni Maria Ciocchi del Monte (1487– 1555), who became Pope Julius III (r. 1550–1555), and serving as the physician for the Augustine and Dominican monasteries. In 1549, Amatus published his first Centuria, a collection of one hundred medical case histories and analyses, which would eventually span seven volumes; he finished a second Centuria in April 1551 and dedicated it to Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este (1509–1572), the brother of his former patron. His In Dioscoridis enarrationes, a commentary on Pedanius Dioscorides (ca.40–ca. 90 c.e.), the ancient Greek physician and botanist, appeared in 1553 with a dedication to the Ragusa Senate, perhaps because he was awaiting his official appointment. With the election of the tolerant Pope Julius III, he traveled to Rome in May 1550, in order to treat the pope, who respected and protected Amatus even after he reverted publicly to Judaism in Ancona. Similarly, Amatus maintained good relations with the Portuguese representatives in Rome and treated the ambassador, Alfonso de Alencastre. He did the same for the ambassador of Charles V (r. 1519–1556) in Venice.

This brief period of productivity ended with the ascension of Pope Paul IV (r. 1555–1559), whose marked intolerance soon manifested itself in his attitude toward Protestants and his treatment of Jews, for whom he created the ghetto of Rome. Many Jews and marranos faced execution and forced conversion during this period, and many fled to areas outside papal influence. Amatus himself escaped to Pesaro, having received word that orders for his arrest had been issued; however, his home and library were looted, and he lamented the loss of his fifth Centuria, as well as a commentary he had composed on the Persian polymath Abū ʿAlī ibn Sīnāʾ (Avicenna, ca. 980–1037). His friends succeeded in recovering only the Centuria.

After a brief stay in Pesaro, Amatus moved in the spring of 1556 to Ragusa, which was then under the protection of the Ottoman Empire. Once again, he set up a successful practice, counting the son of the sultan among his patients. Shortly after the completion of Centuria VI in January 1558, he departed Christendom for good and sailed for Salonica. Records indicate that his brother Joseph Lusitanus (also called Joseph Guascon and Joseph Ḥabib) suffered martyrdom in Ancona during this time, although Joseph’s wife escaped to Salonica. Friedenwald suggested that a desire to live in a thriving Jewish community may have motivated Amatus to leave Ragusa. Indeed, his last two Centuriae contain stronger Jewish elements, including the famous Physician’s Oath, censored previously in Europe, which emphasized the Jewish faith, ethical duties, and the philanthropic nature of healing, while reaffirming the Hippocratic Oath and the importance of medical research.

The presence of Amatus in Salonica helped make the city an important medical and scientific center, and he built a thriving practice there, training a number of physicians and gathering a circle of intellectuals around him. Although he had intended to end his Centuriae after the sixth volume, the diseases he encountered in Salonica prompted him to write a seventh volume in 1561. The book offers details about the Jewish community, remarking on its leading figures, ideas, and other aspects of life. Throughout his life, Amatus evinced interest in Jewish traditions and history; he mentioned the Bible, Jewish history and legends, and Jewish writers in his works, and he had close ties to the scholar Rabbi Gedaliah ben Joseph ibn Yaḥya (ca. 1515–ca. 1587). He wrote about the “melancholic humor” of Jewish patients, attributing it not to an inherent quality of Jews, but to diet. He died in Salonica on January 21, 1568 in the plague, and his relative and friend Didacus Pyrrhus Lusitanus (also Diogo Pires or Jacob Flavius, 1517–1599) composed a memorable epitaph to be inscribed on his gravestone. Records indicate that he never married.

Amatus’s work and career reflected the influence of contemporary European philosophy and science. Like other marrano intellectuals, Amatus integrated the new ideas he absorbed into his identity and life as a Jew. He was a brilliant physician and clinician and an intellectual of his age; he knew Latin and the Romance languages, Greek, German, Hebrew, and Arabic, and possessed a broad knowledge of history and medical literature, both ancient and contemporary. His medical expertise stretched across the fields of anatomy, internal medicine, dermatology, and mental illness. It was Amatus who first detected the function of valves, which enable blood to flow in one direction, and thus discovered the circulation of blood in the body. He also addressed the diagnosis and treatment of strictures of the urethra and precisely described a number of organs and glands, among his many noteworthy achievements.

Amatus Lusitanus was a prolific and popular writer. In Dioscorides enarrationes appeared in six different editions between 1553 and 1565. The seven volumes of his chef d’oeuvre, the Curationum Medicinalium Centuriæ Septem, written between 1549 and 1559, contain seven hundred case histories and are a compendium of prescriptive medicine for the time period in which he lived. Each volume was dedicated to an important figure in Europe, including the Duke of Florence, Cosimo I de’ Medici (r. 1537–1574) (vol. 1), Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este (2), Alfonso de Alencastre (3), Don Joseph Nasi (5), and Gedaliah ibn Yaḥya (7), and appeared in numerous editions throughout Europe. Other works included De Crisi et Diebus Decretoriis (Venice, 1557) and a Spanish translation of the Roman history Breviarium ab Urbe condita by the fourth-century historian Eutropius, which he dedicated to Don Joseph Nasi. Friedenwald (vol. 1, pp. 377–380) includes a detailed list of the numerous editions of his Centuriae and his Materia medica.

D Gershon Lewental

Bibliography

Feingold, Aaron J. “The Marriage of Science and Ethics: Three Jewish Physicians of the Renaissance: Amatus Lusitanus; Jacob ben Isaac Zahalon; Abraham Zacuto,” in Jews and Medicine: Religion, Culture, Science, ed. Natalia Berger (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1997), pp. 88–111.

Franco, Moïse, Essai sur l’histoire des Israélites de l’Empire Ottoman depuis les origines jusqu’à nos jours (1897; rprt. Hildesheim: Olms, 1973), pp. 75–76.

Friedenwald, Harry. The Jews and Medicine: Essays, 2 vols. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1944), pp. 27, 64, 167, 207, 225, 251, 314, 323, 332–413, 416–417, 420, 424, 428, 433 ff., 444, 463–464, 466, 469, 542, 575, 581 f., 595, 626 f., 700, 710.

Galanté, Abraham. Hommes et choses juifs portugais en Orient (Istanbul: Société anonyme de papeterie et d’imprimerie, 1927), pp. 27-28.

Gutwirth, Eleazar. “Amatus Lusitanus and the Location of Sixteenth-Century Cultures,” in Cultural Intermediaries: Jewish Intellectuals in Early Modern Italy, ed. David B Ruderman and Giuseppe Veltri (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004), pp. 216–238.

Roth, Cecil. Doña Gracia of the House of Nasi: A Jewish Renaissance Woman (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1977), pp. 27, 53, 71, 138, 146, 172, 196–198, 205.

Citation D Gershon Lewental. " Amatus Lusitanus (Amato Lusitano)." Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World. Executive Editor Norman A. Stillman. Brill Online , 2012. Reference. Jim Harlow. 12 December 2012 <http://referenceworks.brillonline.com/entries/encyclopedia-of-jews-in-the-islamic-world/amatus-lusitanus-amato-lusitano-SIM_0001850>

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João Rodrigues de Castelo Branco, (Amato Lusitano)and Amatus Lusitanus (Castelo Branco, 1511 – Thessaloniki, 1568), was a notable Portuguese Jewish physician of the 16th century. Like Herophilus, Galen, Ibn al-Nafis, Michael Servetus, Realdo Colombo and William Harvey, he is credited as making a discovery in the circulation of the blood. He is said to have discovered the function of the valves in the circulation of the blood.

Lusitano was born in Castelo Branco in 1511, of Jewish parents. Lusitano was born in 1511 in Castelo Branco, Portugal. He was a descendant of a Marrano family called Chabib (= Amatus), and was brought up in the Jewish faith.

He studied medicine at the University of Salamanca, Spain. Unable to return to Portugal as he wished, due to the persecutions of the Inquisition, he travelled throughout Europe before settling in Ferrara, Italy, at whose University he taught anatomy as an assistant to the physician Giambattista Canano.

He wrote several books, including

  • Index Dioscoridis (1536), In Dioscorides de Medica materia Librum quinque enarrationis (1556),
  • Curationium Centuriae Septem (1556).

He was for a time the physician to the Pope Julius III, in Rome.

With the accession of Pope Paul IV, persecutions of the Jews in Italy began. Lusitano fled first to Ragusa, then to Thessaloniki, Greece, which then had a large Jewish community and was part of the Ottoman Empire.

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Amato Lusitano - João Rodrigues de Castelo Branco,'s Timeline

1511
1511
Castelo Branco, Portugal
1530
1530
Age 19
Castelo Branco, Portugal
1568
1568
Age 57
Thessalonika, Central Macedonia, Greece
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