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News

Linguistics meets Veterinary Medicine, 13th Century Armenian Medical Book on horses has been translated

Austrian Science Fund (FWF) : 20 June, 2005  (Technical Article)
An Armenian manual about horse medicine from the 13th century has been translated into German for the first time. The compendium is Armenia's oldest preserved veterinary medical work and offers an overall view of expert knowledge about horses during the late 13th century in the Near East. The Austrian Science Fund FWF supported this project and it was made possible thanks to an Austrian Armenologist, her excellent knowledge about the country and its language as well as her close cooperation with veterinarians in Vienna.
This oldest known manual about Armenian horse medicine consists of 184 handwritten pages. It was written in the Armenian kingdom of Cilicia between 1295 and 1298. An Armenian monk proficient in languages and a Syrian horse veterinary were responsible for writing this work.

Now, almost 750 years later, a similar interdisciplinary cooperation has led to the work's translation into German. For this project, the linguist Dr. Jasmine Dum-Tragut, from the Institute for Linguistics at the University of Salzburg, worked closely with scientists from the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna.

Herbs Heal Horses
In addition to the actual translation, it was possible to prepare an extensive addendum that offers detailed insight into veterinary medicine in the Near East in those days. Furthermore, the work also includes comments on 13th-century veterinary medical knowledge from a contemporary perspective. For example, experts from the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna were particularly surprised that knowledge of the use of medicinal herbs in those days was much more advanced than it is today. The plants came from the Armenian Highlands and they were also used to treat human diseases.

However, the Cilician horse manual comprises much more than 'just' medical knowledge. The first chapter explains the creation of the horse. The following chapters describe the good and bad characteristics of horses, breeding, the different races known at that time, breaking in and riding, horse care and defects. Only the last chapters deal with different types of pain as well as illnesses, symptoms and treatments.

Thus, this historical and medical work offers insight as well as different facets of the cultural history of Armenia and horses. In addition, as Dr. Dum-Tragut explains: 'The Cilician book on curing horses is a real scientific treasury. Not only for the analysis of the Armenian language, but also for the history of literature and the social history of horses in Armenia.' Altogether, the manual offers an overall view of the knowledge about horses in the Near East during the Middle Ages. Dr. Dum-Tragut came to this conclusion through intensive studies of source references: 'The book mentions an Indian book as well as two Arabian works as references. Studying these original references in Persian and Greek clearly shows that the Cilician book on the curing of horses is not a mere translation of already existing information: it is an independent Compendium.'

Terms Taken for a Ride
A central aspect of this two-and-a-half-year project was also to investigate the terminology of special Armenian technical terms mentioned in the manual. In order to clearly establish their meanings, Dr. Dum-Tragut had many conversations with Armenian horse breeders, farmers and veterinarians. During her research, she noticed that these people generally prefer Russian or Turkish technical terms over Armenian ones. Apart from the know-how, the special vocabulary applied in the Cilician horse book seemed to be in jeopardy of becoming extinct.

Therefore, Dr. Dum-Tragut included this vocabulary in a glossary for reasons related to linguistic preservation. It did not take long to notice the success of this measure, because breeders have already started to reincorporate this historic vocabulary of the Armenian language. This is a fact that especially pleases Dr. Dum-Tragut, as well as many horse lovers in Armenia. And that is also why in 2003, an Armenian breeder decided to express his appreciation to Dr. Dum-Tragut. He gave the enthusiastic horse-rider a gift: a colt named 'Bor' an especially beautiful sort of research funding.
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