Stories - Inoculation from East to West

Stories - Inoculation from East to WestThe painting of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu with her son, Edward Wortley Montagu [at a place, which looks like an Ottoman palace], and attendants attributed to Jean Baptiste Vanmour (oil on canvas, circa 1717) (Source)

Stories - Inoculation from East to WestA Turkish stamp issued in 1967 to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the first smallpox vaccination. (Source: 1001 inventions: The Enduring Legacy of Muslim Civilization, 3rd edition, Page 177)

Inoculation[1] from East to West: The Anatolian Ottoman Turks knew about methods of inoculation. They called it Ashi, or engrafting, and they had inherited it from older Turkish tribes.

Vaccination is a process where a person is given a weakened or inactive dose of a disease-causing organism. This stimulates the immune system to produce antibodies to this specific disease.

The Turks inoculated with bits of the smallpox disease, which produced a mild form of the disease, but protected from more serious forms of smallpox.[2] This kind of inoculation, called variolation, from the variola virus that produces smallpox, was introduced into England by Lady Montagu, a famous English letter writer and wife of the English ambassador at Istanbul between 1716 and 1718. She became greatly interested in smallpox inoculation after consenting to have her son inoculated by the embassy surgeon, Charles Maitland.[3]

While in Istanbul, Lady Montagu sent a series of letters to England in which she described the process in detail. On her return to England she continued to spread the Turkish tradition and had many of her relatives inoculated.[4] She encountered fierce opposition to the introduction of inoculation, not only from the church authorities, who used to oppose any intervention, but also from many physicians. Through her tenacity though, inoculation became increasingly widespread and achieved great success.

Stories - Inoculation from East to West

The breakthrough came when a scientific description of the inoculation process was submitted to the Royal Society in 1724 by Dr. Emmanuel Timoni, who had been the Montagus’ family physician in Istanbul.[5] This was further augmented by Cassem Aga, the ambassador of Tripoli, who provided a firsthand account of inoculation and its safety record in Tripoli, Tunis, and Algiers, which gave valuable reassurance about the long safety record of the practice in Muslim countries, and for which he was elected fellow of the Royal Society in 1729.[6]

Inoculation was then adopted both in England and in France, nearly half a century before Edward Jenner, to whom the discovery of vaccination is attributed. The word vaccination refers to his use of cowpox in the inoculation; in Latin vac means “cow.”

Stories - Inoculation from East to WestCaricature by the English artist James Gillray (1757-1815) The Cow-Pock or the Wonderful Effects of the New Inoculation! (London, 1802) depicting a vaccination scene at the Smallpox and Inoculation Hospital at St. Pancras, showing Dr. Jenner vaccinating a frightened young woman and cows emerging from different parts of people’s bodies (Source) (1001 inventions: The Enduring Legacy of Muslim Civilization, 3rd edition, Page 176)


[1] We owe Professor Glen Cooper an immense debt of gratitude for reviewing this section.
[2] Professor Glenn Cooper’s review and correction.
[3] Chambers Compact, The Great Scientific Discoveries (1991), 209-10.
[4] For details, see F. Fernandez-Armesto, Millennium (New York: A Touchstone Book, Simon and Shuster, 1995), 275-76.
[5] Chambers Compact, The Great Scientific Discoveries (1991), 209-10.
[6] Arabick Roots: The Royal Society and Arabic Science in the 17th Century, Catalogue (An Exhibition at the Royal Society, June-December 2011).

Get the full story from 1001 Inventions: The Enduring Legacy of Muslim Civilization Reference (4th  Edition) Annotated. 

Stories - Inoculation from East to West Stories - Inoculation from East to West
(Left) Portrait of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762) (Source)
(Right) Portrait of Edward Anthony Jenner (1749-1823) (Source)