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Medieval Medicine & surgery

How was medieval medicine different from

Medicine in medieval times was very different
from today. There was no knowledge of germs or
bacteria (microscopes weren't invented till the
17th century so we could not see the germs) no
penicillin and no knowledge of antiseptics (used
to kill germs) and anaesthetics (which we use to
dull pain or knock the patient out during an
operation). !omparatively little was known about
the human body as most studies of the body had
been conducted on animals up to this point (such
as pigs) as the church forbade dissection on
humans. They did not even know the heart was a
pump. There was no "ational #ealth $ervice
("#$) such as we have now so there was very
little free healthcare.

What did medieval people think caused disease if they didn't know about
Medieval peoples theory of what caused disease was
an idea invented by the %ncient &reeks more than a
1''' years earlier called 'The ( #umours'. This theory
stated that the whole world was made up of ( elements
(%ir )ire *arth + ,ater) and that in human form these
( elements were represented by ( li-uids (or humours)
which were.
0ellow bile
/lack bile
These ( humours (or li-uids) had to be kept in constant balance with each
other otherwise they could cause illness and disease. 2f you had a nosebleed
for e3ample they thought it was because you had too much blood in your body
and it was trying to escape out of you via your nose4 2f you had a cold it was
because you had too much phlegm.
Who would you go to if you were ill in medieval times?
5ust like today there were different people you would go to if you were ill.
The Physician:
% physician was a medieval doctor he went to
university and studied for many years. They would
study the well know medical te3ts and ideas of the
time. They were also re-uired to learn such things
as mathematics music astronomy and even
languages like &reek or 6atin so that they could
understand the te3ts. % physician would not operate
on a patient himself but would appoint a surgeon to
do so. #is main 7ob was to diagnose what was wrong with the patient and
decide what the treatment should be. ,omen were not allowed to be
physicians. % physician would charge a lot of money for his services so only the
rich could afford to hire him.
The bill of one physician who was hired in to treat a bishop was 819 + 1'
shillings. % sum which was many many times in e3cess of an average peasants
yearly earnings it was even more money than a poor knight earned in a year4
The Apothecary:
%n apothecary was a little bit like a modern day
chemist e3cept there were no paracetamol or
penicillin for sale. 2nstead he would sell herbs
e3otic spices and various other ingredients for
medicine. #e would mi3 up medicine to sell for
rich and for poor although the medicines of the
rich would contain lots of e3pensive and
unusual ingredients which had to be imported
from abroad such as pepper sugar (a sugarloaf
is pictured left) and even such things as gold
silver or emeralds were used. The more
e3pensive something was the better they
thought it was for you. The apothecary had no
university training but would often try and sell
his own medicines which had not been
prescribed by a physician.
The apothecary would make these medicines by mi3ing the herbs and other
ingredients together to make lotions pills poultices and many other types of
The surgeon:
The surgeon would not have had university training
he would have learnt what he knew from other
surgeons from surgical te3ts or through operating on
soldiers in7ured on the battlefield.
The surgeon would have lots of surgical tools such
as a amputation tools arrow pullers cauteries (hot
irons) for stopping bleeding bloodletting tools and
much more like those in the picture on the right.
2f the surgeon had to amputate a limb he could not
administer the modern anaesthetics we have now
which knock us out and make sure we feel no pain.
#e was limited in what he could use. #e may have
used alcohol opium or mandrake to help sedate the
0ou might have heard of mandrake if you've seen #arry 1otter. 2t's the plant
they study in herbology that screams and causes them to faint. This idea is
based on a true story that people in *ngland used to believe. ,e used to think
that the mandrake was alive and that it was like a little person (because the root
is slightly man shaped the painting on the left is
a copy of a medieval painting of one). 2t didn't
grow in this country so the traders who sold it to
us told us that when you pulled the mandrake
out of the ground it screamed and the scream it
made would kill you if you heard it. $o the
traders said that they tied a dog to it with a rope
then they'd run away call the dog the dog
would pull it out of the ground and die but the
trader would get his mandrake. :f course you'd
get through a lot of dogs that way so they could
charge us a high price for supplying us with
such a dangerous plant. 2t was a complete lie
designed to e3tort money from us but we
believed this right up until the 19th !entury4
*very battlefield surgeon would have an image of a
wound man. The wound man was like a training
manual for the surgeon a bit like the diagrams a
modern surgeon would study of the human body. 2t
showed a man with every kind of battlefield in7ury
which a man might receive. The wound man on the
right has swords daggers spears and arrows stuck
in him. #e even appears to have a cannon ball on his
head4 2 don't think he'd survive all these wounds do
you;4 "o one man
would have all these
wounds it was simply
a way of showing the
surgeon the kinds of wounds he could e3pect to
have to treat. $ome wound men are much more
gruesome than this one with hands falling off
and various severed limbs4
The wise woman:
2n every village you probably would have found
a wise woman who was skilled in the use of
herbs. $he would have learnt her knowledge of herbs through generations of
e3perience where information of which herbs worked would have been passed
down through families. Most poor people would have gone to her instead of the
physician as she would have been much cheaper. $he had no training at
universities she was self taught. $he would have gathered a lot of the herbs
she used from the local area or grown them in her garden.
What was womens role in medicine?
,omen were not allowed to be physicians. % few may have been apothecaries.
There were certainly women surgeons. % lot of women were healers or acted as
midwives at births. Most women in each family would have known a little bit
about which herbs to use to make medicines and would have grown them in
their own gardens. 5ust after the medieval period women lost the right to even
be surgeons or midwives and were restricted from such professions again until
the 1<th=>'th centuries. The first woman in modern history to become a doctor
was in the late 1<th !.
Why is medicine & healthcare important?
:n average a medieval woman could live to be ?9 and a man ?7 before they
died. Modern life e3pectancy is 7@ for a female and 7> for a male and rising all
the time. Medicine saves lives and prolongs life and without it we would all lead
much shorter lives.