B2 High-Intermediate 12 Folder Collection
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Despite what you might think,  medicine 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 Greeks -  Aristotle, Hippocrates and Galen.
Between them, these guys had some  cracking ideas, as well as some  
that were a little more …crack pot.
In terms of medieval medicine, their most influential theory was all about the importance of the four humours.
These humours were bodily fluids - blood, phlegm, 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 it – they'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 in – often in  the form of the 'barber-surgeon'.
That's right – barber. 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 illnesses. They'd cut a hole in your head,
expose the outer bits of your brain and,  well, 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.
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What was Medieval Medicine Like? | History in a Nutshell | Animated History

12 Folder Collection
Summer published on July 30, 2020
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