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Notable Notes
June 2012

Attribution of Syphilis to the Celts, the Gauls, and the French

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: National Research Council of Italy, Institute of Neurological Sciences, Mangone, Cosenza, Italy.

Arch Dermatol. 2012;148(6):733. doi:10.1001/archdermatol.2012.545

In August 1494, King Charles VIII came to Italy in command of his French army, traveling from North to South on the Italian mainland, to conquer the Neapolitan kingdom in February 1495. The French soldiers, who were generally mercenaries, were affected by a new disease, syphilis. In Rome, the disease was named malattia gallica as a token of Gaul, which was the ancient Roman name for France. The first documented synonym for syphilis was morbo gallico, designated by Nicola Leoniceno in his work “De epidemia quam Itali morbum gallicum, Galli vero neapolitanum vocant” (1494). In 1496, Giuliano Passaro1 named syphilis lo male franzese, and a deporation decree on the harlotry called the disease mal francese.2 In the same year, people from Central Italy used the following synonyms: mal franzoso, mal franzoxe, mal franxoso, and mal francioso.3

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