Medicine in the Middle Ages

These cards cover what we were taught in History about medicine in the Middle Ages.

HideShow resource information

The Collapse of the Roman Empire

By 350AD, Europe had split into lots of small countries and tribes, which were often at war with one another.

The collapse of the empire was bad because:

  • Education was disrupted
  • The development of technology was dirupted
  • Roman public health system was destroyed by wars
  • Medical libraries were destroyed by wars
  • Communication, for example between doctors, decreased, due to travelling being more dangerous
  • Training of doctors abandoned in Europe
  • Galen's books were hidden away for safety or lost.

After the Roman Empire, there was REGRESS.

1 of 7


Doctors were trained at medical schools and universities. They used old rediscovered books. They studied books, dissected bodies, and teachers read them passages from galen's books.

Doctors worked out what was wrong using a urine chart. It described quality and colour of urine, eg black meant death. They were grouped according to what they told you about digestion. Rich regularly sent urine samples to doctors so developing diseases could be kept track of.

Women doctors:

  • Women were not allowed to go to universities and train as a physician (to devalue skills of female doctors)
  • Still did most of everyday medical care.
  • Could become surgeons
  • Continued to be midwives.
2 of 7


  • Surgeons learned by being an apprentice - observed and copied.
  • Guilds of surgeons controlled who could become one.
  • Some needed licences and had to pass tests.

Dwale was used as an anaesthetic, before ops. Wine was used to heal most wounds.

Women were allowed to become surgeons.

3 of 7


Used herbal remedies (eg sugar and plaintain). Research now shows that many did work (eg onion, garlic, Bull's gall and wine, to heal styes). Not all wworked though (eg sugar)

Used bloodletting A LOT for example, clearing the mind, strengthening memory, cleansing guts. They used leeches and a bleeding cup. - Doctors completely believed in 4 humours.

Church encouraged supernatural remedies (eg Jesus and saints using miracles, and eg, writing on jaw of patients.

4 of 7

The Black Death 1349

Spread across Europe. 40% of English population died. Ideas about the cause:

  • Flagellants thought God sent it as punishment of all sins being done at the time, eg "the growing pride and corruption of its subjects" and were "numberless"
  • Some believed it was passed on by making eye contact with an infected person
  • Many doctors believed only those with bad humours would get it and "pestilential air" wouldn't affect anyone as long as they didn't have "evil humours"
  • Other doctors believed it was the position of the planets at the time
  • Some believed it was bad air (substance/quality of air corrupted), eg around privys and standing water in ditches, or from fumes let out in earthquakes
  • Some believed it was caused by Jews - burned because people thought they were trying to poison Christians. Good scapegoat - people owed them money.
  • Others - the Devil, God, planets, worms found in waste and dirt, but didn't properly make the link.
5 of 7

The Church I

Most countries and tribes that replaced the Empire became Christian. It was the only strong organisation to survive the collapse of the Roman Empire. This meant they had a lot of power, and led to these:

  • Opposition to new ideas:
  • Told what to believe and how to behave by parish priest
  • Every new idea was checked by the Pope and leaders of the church to make sure it agreed with the Bible - they didn't want their power challenged.
  • Education:
  • Education controlled by monasteries (monks and priests were some of the only people who could read)
  • The only libraries were in monasteries
  • This meant they could controlwhat people read, and ban books that didnt agree with or challenged their ideas.


6 of 7

The Church II

  • Superstition:
  • Taught that the explanations were supernatural
  • Believed that God, the Devil, and planets controlled their lives
  • This was opposite to what the Greeks had taught (they looked for rational explanations)
  • HOWEVER later in the Middle Ages, the church did set up hospitals and universities where doctors were trained.
  • Galen:
  • In 1400 AD most doctors were still using Galen's books
  • This is because he believed in one creator, so the church liked his ideas
  • The church made copies and translated them, and kept them in monastery and university libraries.
7 of 7


No comments have yet been made

Similar History resources:

See all History resources »See all Medicine through time (OCR History A) resources »