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  • Despite what you might thinkmedicine in the middle ages wasn't  

  • all silly superstition, pointless  potions and fantastical folklore.

  • It's true that medieval medics  didn't have things like vaccines  

  • or antibiotics, and it wasn't clear  to them what caused many kinds of  

  • disease. But even so, they drew on  ancient wisdom, hands-on experience  

  • and good old common sense to try  to keep people healthy and alive.

  • Most leading medical minds of the  time relied on the teachings of  

  • three long-dead ancient GreeksAristotle, Hippocrates and Galen.

  • Between them, these guys had some  cracking ideas, as well as some  

  • that were a little morecrack pot.

  • In terms of medieval medicine, their most influential theory was all about the importance of the four humours.

  • These humours were bodily fluids - bloodphlegm, yellow bile and black bile. Yum!

  • Most people agreed that keeping your  humours in balance was the key to  

  • good health. And the key to knowing  your humours was to study your pee.

  • And they really studied itthey'd  look at its colour and consistency,  

  • and give it a good long sniff  to work out what was what.

  • Even today, we still use urine to diagnose people,

  • but we don't usually recommend  blood letting, which was the most

  • common treatment of the middle  ages. To rebalance your humours,  

  • medieval doctors would pop leeches onto  your skin and let them suck your blood.

  • But they also recognised the  benefits of general healthy living,  

  • and books of the time were  full of advice about sleep,  

  • exercise and diet that is  just as relevant to us today.

  • Medics were into their herbs as well as their humours.

  • Many ordinary people had a good knowledge  of natural remedies, and specialist

  • apothecaries had their own shops in  towns and cities. Monasteries had  

  • gardens where they grew plants like  sage, mandrake, catnip and chamomile.

  • And some of the healing mixtures they  used are still around today, like  

  • liquorice for coughs, ginger for bad  stomachs and even snail slime for burns.

  • Medieval people were also deeply  religious, and many believed that if  

  • you prayed to the right saints, they'd  intervene on your behalf with God.

  • One practice was to visit a saint's  shrine and leave behind a bent silver  

  • penny, or to burn a candle of  the same length as your affected  

  • body part. Even weirder were 'birth  girdles' – parchments with images of  

  • saints on them, which were wrapped  around women as they gave birth.

  • So, you had the four humours, plenty of  herbs and a good dose of religion.

  • But major injuries clearly needed something  a bit more substantial, and that's

  • where surgeons came inoften in  the form of the 'barber-surgeon'.

  • That's rightbarber. Back then, the  same chap who'd cut your hair could  

  • also take out your teeth, stitch  up your skull or lop off your leg.

  • They weren't licensed doctors, but  they could be pretty well trained.  

  • Skilled barber-surgeons might even try  something called trepanning to treat  

  • seizures and mental illnessesThey'd cut a hole in your head,

  • expose the outer bits of your brain andwell, hope for the best. And remember,  

  • this was all without anaesthetic or sterilized equipment!

  • Medieval medicine had plenty of other  issues. Governments barely intervened  

  • in public health, life expectancy  was low, and doctors were helpless  

  • when faced with major epidemics  and plagues like the Black Death.

  • But for all its strangeness, medieval  medicine wasn't as mad as it's often made out to be.

  • It was based on some sophisticated principles, it could often be highly creative,

  • and sometimes it could even make a good deal of difference to people's lives.

Despite what you might thinkmedicine in the middle ages wasn't  

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What was Medieval Medicine Like? | History in a Nutshell | Animated History

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    Summer posted on 2020/07/30
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