Social:City physician

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Short description: Historical role of city-appointed physician

City physician (German: Stadtphysicus, Stadtphysikus, Stadtarzt; Swedish: stadsfysikus, stadsläkare, Finnish: kaupunginfysikus, kaupunginlääkäri, from Latin physicus) was a historical title in the Late Middle Ages for a physician appointed by the city council. The city physician was responsible for the health of the population, particularly the poor, and the sanitary conditions in the city. His duties also included the supervision of pharmacies and the supervision of those engaged in medical tasks, such as midwives and barber surgeons. In addition, he had forensic duties such as assessing the injuries of living persons, external postmortem examinations, and conducting autopsies in cases of non-natural and unexplained deaths. In times of epidemic, many city physicians published small, printed books of guidelines.

The role existed in what are today a number of European countries, including Germany, Estonia, Finland, Norway, Poland, Sweden, and Switzerland.[1][2][3]

Holy Roman Empire and German Confederation

A Stadtphysicus or Stadtphysikus (learned "body" physician in contrast to the practice-oriented chirurgicus)[4] or Stadtarzt[5] (also, in about the 15th century in Augsburg, referred to as Stadt-Leibarzt)[6] was appointed by the city council and, in addition to his private practice, performed roughly the tasks of a modern-day health department. The designation physicus was the title for the civil servant physician in Prussia until 1901.[7]

Well-known early city physicians include Hugh of Lucca, who was appointed surgeon in Bologna, Italy, in 1214, and William of Saliceto, who was appointed city physician in Verona, Italy in 1275. Other cities in the Empire established physician positions in the 13th and 14th centuries. Later, per the 1426 decree of Emperor Sigismund, all cities in the Holy Roman Empire were required to hire a city physician.[8]

In the late 16th and early 17th centuries, the preparation of calendars with astrological weather forecasts was also often performed by city physicians.

Some city physicians also acted as personal physicians (Leibärzte [de]) to noble or ecclesiastical dignitaries.

In less densely populated regions, the office was combined as city and district physician (Stadt- und Kreisphysicus [de]), who had to care for or supervise a specific medical district in addition to the city.

The deputy of the city physician was called Subphysicus, e.g. in Hamburg.


In Sweden, city physicians (Swedish: stadsläkare, formerly stadsfysikus) were responsible for the duties in cities which in rural areas belonged to provincial physicians (provinsialläkare [sv]).[9]

As early as the beginning of the 17th century, some of Sweden's cities (Stockholm, Gothenburg, Falun, Gävle, Malmö and Kalmar) hired a stadsfysikus in their service. In 1669, a city surgeon (city barber) was hired to work alongside the city physician in Stockholm, to assist in the treatment of external diseases and accidents.[10] By royal decree in 1827, both posts were transformed into those of city physician (first and second city physician). In 1757, the first city district doctors in Stockholm (three in number) were employed to provide medical care for the city's ailing poor.

In Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö, the chief city physician or city physician was equal to the chief provincial physician in the counties, with almost the same duties as the latter. City doctors were appointed by the city council (stadsfullmäktige [sv]), after the Medical Board had given an opinion on the competence of the respective applicants and the city's health board had been given the opportunity to give its opinion on the matter.

City district physicians (stadsdistriktsläkare), that is to say, persons who exercised the function of city physicians only within a certain district of the city, were appointed in the same order by the city council, unless the administration of the public health service was entrusted to the board of health, in which case the appointment of these physicians could also be entrusted to the same board.

In Stockholm, the role of city physician was established in 1827 and lasted until 1971.[11]


The position of city physician (Finnish: kaupunginfysikus, later kaupunginlääkäri) existed in Finland during the Swedish era and for a time after the country declared independence. Turku was the first city to hire a city physician, in 1755, and Helsinki was the second in 1774.[12][13]


In Norway, Bergen was the first city to have a city physician (stadsfysikus or bylege, lit. city doctor), appointed in 1603.[14] Oslo's city physician role existed from 1626 until it was abolished in 1988; its city physician also held the role of head of the city's health council.[15] In Trondheim, the post was created in 1661, with Jens Nicolaisen as its first doctor.[16]

City physicians

See also


  1. "[EKSS "Eesti keele seletav sõnaraamat" 2009"] (in et). 
  2. Brzeziński, Tadeusz (2000) (in pl). Historia medycyny (Wyd. 3 ed.). Warszawa: Wydawn. Lekarskie PZWL. ISBN 978-83-200-2416-6. OCLC 50170715. 
  3. "Noen har skrevet stadsfysikatets historie" (in nb). Tidsskrift for den Norske Legeforening. 2000-04-20. ISSN 0029-2001. 
  4. (in de) Enzyklopädie Medizingeschichte. Werner Gerabek. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter. 2005. pp. 251. ISBN 3-11-015714-4. OCLC 57964854. 
  5. (in de) Enzyklopädie Medizingeschichte. Werner Gerabek. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter. 2005. pp. 1352. ISBN 3-11-015714-4. OCLC 57964854. 
  6. Reddig, Wolfgang F. (2019). "Heilberufe: Doctores, Bader, Scharlatane. Medizin im Mittelalter. Zwischen Erfahrungswissen, Magie und Religion" (in de). Spektrum der Wissenschaft. Spezial: Archäologie Geschichte Kultur 2 (19): 62–65. 
  7. Buck, August (1984). Schmitz, Rudolf; Keil, Gundolf. eds. "Die Medizin im Verständnis des Renaissancehumanismus" (in de). Humanismus und Medizin (Weinheim an der Bergstraße: Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft: Mitteilungen der Kommission für Humanismusforschung) 11: 181–198. 
  8. Shephard, Roy J. (2014). An illustrated history of health and fitness, from pre-history to our post-modern world. Springer. pp. 294. ISBN 978-3-319-11671-6. OCLC 897376985. 
  9. "Stadsläkare" (in sv). Nordisk familjebok (2nd ed.). Stockholm: Nordisk familjeboks förlags aktiebolag. 1917. pp. 905. 
  10. "Stadsläkare" (in sv). Nordisk familjebok (Supplement to the 2nd ed.). Stockholm: Nordisk familjeboks förlags aktiebolag. 1926. pp. 462. 
  11. "Förste stadsläkaren (Hälsovårdsnämnden)" (in sv). 2015-03-20. 
  12. "Förvaltningshistorisk ordbok - stadsläkare" (in sv, fi). 
  13. "Förvaltningshistorisk ordbok - stadsfysikus" (in sv, fi). 
  14. "Helsetjenester" (in no). 
  15. "Stadsfysikus" (in no). 
  16. "Stadsfysikus / Kommuneoverlege i Trondheim 1661-1999" (in no). 

Further reading

  • Hils, Hans-Peter (1986). "Cuonrat Muentzmeister, arzat. Zum Leben eines mittelalterlichen Stadtarztes" (in de). Medizinhistorisches Journal 20: 92–103. 
  • Marstein, Oddlaug (1999) (in no). Legeliv i Trondheim: Trondheim stadsfysikats første 238 år, 1661-1899. Molde: Forlaget Helped. ISBN 9788299281522. 
  • Russell, Andrew W., ed (1981). The town and state physician in Europe from the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment. Wolfenbüttel. ISBN 9783883730172. 
  • Straube, Manfred (1965). ""Von der artzenten stat": Ein Kapitel aus der sogenannten Refomatio Sigismundi und das Stadtarztwesen in der ersten Hälfte des 15. Jahrhunderts im Südwesten des Reichs, vornehmlich in Basel" (in de). NTM Schriftenreihe für Geschichte der Naturwissenschaften, Technik und Medizin 2 (5): 87–103.