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BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 28 February 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d1272
  1. Wendy Moore, freelance writer and author, London
  1. wendymoore{at}

Years spent buried in medical textbooks have taught doctors the value of libraries. Yet few appreciate that the Western medical tradition owes its survival entirely to history’s greatest ever library—the Bayt al-Hikma.

The fall of the Roman empire was not just bad news for decent roads and central heating. The principles of scientific inquiry and learning in medicine, championed by Hippocrates and Galen, were similarly enveloped in the dark ages. It took an enlightened Islamic empire to dispel the gloom.

The Bayt al-Hikma, or House of Wisdom, was founded in Baghdad, the capital of the Islamic empire, in 832, under …

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