The introduction of variolation 'A La Turca' to the West by Lady Mary Montagu and Turkey's contribution to this

Vaccine. 2007 May 22;25(21):4261-5. doi: 10.1016/j.vaccine.2007.02.076. Epub 2007 Mar 15.


Aims: This study deals with the history of variolation as the oldest immunization method to be transferred from East to West, with emphasis on Turkey's role in this transmission.

Scope: The technique of variolation was used by various ancient civilizations such as those in India, Tibet and many other parts of Asia. It was based on the subcutaneous inoculation of attenuated pustule material in patients. The method was brought to Anatolia by the Seljuks through the Caucasus and was widely used by the Ottomans for a long period of time. The West learned of this method for the first time mainly through the writings of Dr. Timoni and Lady Mary W. Montagu in the 18th century. Lady Montagu not only wrote letters explaining this method, but also worked actively to introduce it in Europe.

Conclusion: Since variolation carried the risk of infection, it was replaced by a safer method called vaccination discovered by Jenner (1789), which led to the eradication of smallpox from the world. Despite the fact that vaccination ultimately superseded variolation in Western medical practice, Turkey played a key role as a bridge between civilizations in the transfer of this earlier treatment method to the West.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • History, 18th Century
  • Humans
  • Immunization / history*
  • Smallpox / immunology
  • Smallpox / prevention & control*
  • Turkey