Renaissance 16th – 17th centuries

1494 — March 24, Georgius Bauer (known as Agricola) born at Glauchau, in Saxony (Germany).

1500 —   Mogul emperor Akbar the Great establishes zoos in various Indian cities which far surpassed in quality and size anything in Europe. Unlike the cramped European menageries, Akbar’s zoos provided spacious enclosures and cages, built in large reserves. Each had a resident doctor, and Akbar encouraged careful study of animals. His zoos were open to the public. At the entrance to each he posted a message: ‘Meet your brothers. Take them to your hearts, and respect them.'” [David Hancocks, A Different Nature.] This appears to be the first clear differentiation between exhibition of animals for entertainment and exhibition as attempted humane education. (M. Clifton, 2007)  Leonardo da Vinci, Design for a Digging Machine

1503 — Leonardo da Vinci and Niccolo Machiavelli, both from Florence (Firenze) Italy, create a plan to divert the Arno River away from the enemy town of Pisa.  Work begins in August 1504,  but bogs down as the size and ambition of the project becomes more evident. At one point Leonardo designs a digging machine to move things along.  It was, said Roger Masters, a  magnificent failure. “Niccolò and Leonardo tried to control the flow of history and the flow of the river by combining science, technology, and political power. The ambition to use this means to conquer nature, common place today, had never been attempted in quite this way on such a scale.”

1516 —  Thomas More of England writes Utopia, a vision of human perfection and attainment. Moore mentions kindness toward animals and the abolition of animal sacrifice and sport hunting as signs of the moral advancement of the citizens of his fictitious Utopia.

1533-1592 — Life of Michel de Montaigne, a French attorney whose 1588 essay Of Cruelties denounced abuse of animals as “the extremist of all vices.”

1538 — Island of Malta establishes Magistri Sanitatas health inspection system.   According to the Times of Malta, when  people disobeyed environmental and health inspection orders or were caught trafficking products off quarantined ships, penalties included burning their homes.  Also, anyone caught throwing trash on the road in Valletta in 1586 had to pay a fine. And to prevent contamination from abroad, letters  were dipped in vinegar for disinfection or exposed to burning straw fumes, a mixture of manganese and a solution of sulfuric acid.

1567 — Pope Pius V issued a papal bull condemning bullfighting and other forms of animal fighting for entertainment as “cruel and base spectacles of the devil,” whose promoters are subject to excommunication. Pope Pius IX reiterated the 1567 bull in 1846, and Pope Pius XII cited it in 1940 in refusing to meet with a delegation of bullfighters. The 1567 papal bull eventually brought prohibitions against bullfighting throughout Italy.  (M. Clifton, 2007).

1556 —Georg Agricola writes De Re Metallica, a book concerning techniques of assaying, mining and smelting a variety of metals. Parts of the book deal with occupational hazards. Published 1556 He writes that Italian city-states passed laws against mining because of its effects on woodlands, fields, vineyards and olive groves: “The critics say further that mining is a perilous occupation to persue because the miners are sometimes killed by the pestilential air which they breathe; sometimes their lungs rot away…” Agricola discounted these and other concerns. “Things like this rarely happen, and only insofar as workmen are careless,” he wrote. The idea that workmen were to blame for occupational disease would be repeated with surprising frequency into the mid-20th century.

1546 — Italian physican Girolamo Fracastoro outlines theory of contagious disease. He reasoned that infectious diseases could be passed on in 3 ways: simple contact, indirect contact (e.g., bedclothes) and minute bodies over distance through the air. Thus, isolation and disinfection were the ways to take action against epidemics.

1560-1600 — Rapid industrialization in England leads to heavy deforestation and increasing substitution of coal for wood.

1573-74 —  Dutch flood area around Alkmaar and Leiden to break the siege of Spanish troops during the Eighty Years War. The strategy becomes known as the Dutch Water Line and is used frequently for defense.

1589 — Water closet invented by Sir John Harrington in England but indifference to filth and lack of sewage meant that the invention was ignored until 1778, when Joseph Bramah began marketing a patented closet. (Markham).

c.1590 — Queen Elizabeth “greatly grieved and annoyed” by coal smoke in Westminster Palace. (Brimblecombe)

1593 — Aug. 9 — Isaac Walton born in England (dies Dec 15th 1683).

1596-1650 — Life of Rene Descartes, of France and Holland, among the most prominent of the early vivisectors whose work sparked an antivivisection movement in Europe even before there were organized humane societies. (Covered extensively by Richard Ryder in Animal Revolution, 2001 edition.) Descartes was memorably satirized more than a generation after his death by the French philosopher Voltaire, who also attacked “the barbarous custom of supporting ourselves upon the flesh and blood of beings like ourselves,” but continued to eat meat. (M. Clifton, 2007)

1598 — Discovery of the dodo, a flightless and relatively defenseless bird, by Dutch vice-admiral Wybrand van Warwijck on the island of Mauritius, in the Indian Ocean. The introduction of animal predators (cats, pigs, dogs), rather than direct human predation, is thought to be the main cause of the extinction at some point between 1662 and 1700. Not much noticed at the time, by the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the phrase “gone the way of the dodo” to refer to extinction becomes commonplace.

1603 — James I succeeds Elizabeth I and orders coal burned in his London household, but rather than smokey bituminous coal from Lancashire, Durham and Cornwall, he orders importation of hard, cleaner-burning anthracite from Scotland.

1634-1703 — Life of Thomas Tryon, a vegetarian shepherd from Gloucestershire, England, who crusaded against human slavery and advocated the “natural rights” of animals. He appears to have been instrumental in persuading many leading Puritans that animals have souls. The repression of animal-baiting by the Puritan regime of Oliver Cromwell included killing the animals, however, as well as punishing the human perpetrators.

1640 — Isaac Walton writes The Compleat Angler about fishing and about conservation.

1641 — The Massachusetts Bay Colony adopted as their Liberty 92 (of 100 “liberties” which were in fact the laws of the colony) the statement that “No man shall exercise any Tirrany or Crueltie towards any bruite Creature which are usuallie kept for man’s use.” This is the first humane law adopted by any western nation. (M. Clifton, 2007) (Also cited in US v Stevens, 2010).

Frozen Thames, 1677, by Abraham Hondius.

Mid-17th Century  — “Little Ice Age” cold weather, wars and rebellions killed millions around the world.  The worst harvest was 1648. Rioting broke out in many countries when bread prices spiked. Villages disappeared as glaciers advanced to the farthest extent since the last Ice Age.  — See Geoffrey Parker,   “Global Crisis: War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century.”

How clean were medieval towns?

From The City in History, by Lewis Mumford: (Harcourt, Brace & World, 1961), pages 288 – 293.

“I shall begin with the field in which error and bias have been rife for more than two centuries: that of medieval sanitation… As far as usable open spaces go, the typical medieval town had at its foundation and through most of its existence a far higher standard for the mass of the population than any later form of town, down to the first romantic suburbs of the 19th century.

“I lay emphasis upon the persistently rural character of the medieval town because the false contrary image has long established itself as a fixed idea, almost too firmly irrational to be removed by presentation of the actual evidence. People still mistake the cumulative decay that filled the green spaces for the original structure, which was open and sound. As long as these open spaces remained, the crude sanitary arrangements of the small medieval town were not necessarily as offensive as they have been pictured. Complaints such as that made by the Preaching Friars at Beziers in 1345, on account of the bad odors issuing from a tannery, would hardly have been made if bad odors were constant and universal…

“… Crude sanitation is not necessarily bad sanitation; for a medieval farmhouse, in which the common dung pile was the only domestic privy, was not as great a menace to its inhabitants’ health as the progressive pre-Pasteur town of the 19th century, blessed with refined water closets in every middle-class dwelling, and cursed by a supply of drinking water drawn from the same river into which the sewage of the town above was emptied. “By the 16th century, special provisions for sanitary control and decency had become widespread. Thus, Stow mentions an ordinance in London which commands that ‘no man shall bury any dung or goung within the liberties of the city’ nor ‘carry any ordure till after nine o’clock in the night.’ William Stubbs mentions that the first public sewage plant and water works were possessed by the city of Bunzlau in Silesia in 1543… Alberti, a full century earlier, in his chapter on ‘Drains and Sewers,’ distinguishes between drains that carry away ‘the filth into some river, lake or sea’ and those leading to ‘a deep hole dug in the ground.”

“Bruni’s eulogy of Florence … remarks that ‘some towns are so dirty that whatever filth is made during the night is placed in the morning before men’s eyes to be trodden under foot … It is impossible to imagine anything fouler. For even if there are thousands there, inexhaustible wealth, infinite multitudes of people, yet I will condemn so foul a city and never think much of it.’ Similarly, Leland, a later observer, in his journeys about England, made special mention of dirt wherever he came across it: evidently it was rare enough to deserve comment.

“A change for the worse certainly came about toward the close of the Middle Ages, despite sanitary regulations… Until overcrowding began, the normal smells of a medieval town were probably no more offensive than those of a farmyard; and it was not for the 19th century, with its hideous sanitary misdemeanors, to reprove the earlier period. The open sewers of a ‘progressive center of civilization’ such as Berlin [Germany], as Dr. William Osler found it in 1873, were probably as offensive to the nose and, as he noted, as dangerous to the health.”



Essential reading

Tuchman, Barbara, A Distant Mirror : the calamitous 14th century, New York : Alfred Knopf, 1978

Lansdown, R. and W.Yule, eds. Lead Toxicity: History and Environmental Impact. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986.

Leff, S., and Vera Leff, From Witchcraft to World Health, New York: MacMillan, 1956

Sigerist, H. E. 1945. Civilization and Disease. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.

Roger D. Masters, Fortune is a River: Leonardo da Vinci and Niccolò Machiavelli’s Magnificent Dream to Change the Course of Florentine History (1999), 133.