Medicine in the middle Ages

for 2010 Paper 2, OCR, or general Medicine through time revision for the middle ages period

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Middle Ages and The Normans

-In 1066 the Normans invaded Britain this lead to many developments in medical progress:

  • Public health improved.
  • Trade increased.
  • Travel became safer.
  • For the wealth, such and Lords and Barons, living standards improved, with stone built castles and manor houses.

-However for the majority, the peasants, their homes were dark, damp single rooms filled with smoke for the whole family

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Bubonic Plague/The Black Death in the Middle ages

The symptoms were:

  • A fever, head ache, tiredness.
  • Painfull swellings (buboes) the size of apples in the groin and armpits.
  • Small oozing red and black spots all over the body ( the BLACK death)
  • Many patients only lasted a few days before dying.

What did they think caused it?

  • Bad air (miasma).
  • Punishment from God.
  • Looking at a victim, spread through eye contact.
  • An imbalance of the body's humours, (Galen can't be wrong).
  • Touching a victim.
  • Astrology.
  • Drinking from poisoned wells, (the Germans believed the Jews poisoned the drinking water).
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Religion in the Middle Ages

Religion Hindered Medical Progress:

  • Churches told people what to do and how to behave.
  • Every new idea was checked to make sure it did not challenge the bible.
  • Monasteries held books, so they controlled what people read.
  • The Church taught that there were supernatural explanations for everything.
  • Dissection was banned until the 14th Century.
  • Galen's ideas were perfectly in line with biblical teachings, so could not be questioned.
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Religion in the Middle Ages (2)

Religion helped medical progress:

  • Monks and Nuns organised hospitals.
  • The Churches set up universities where doctors could be trained.
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Public Health in the Middle Ages

Public health was a big problem in the Middle Ages.
Problems that caused bad public health in the Middle Ages:

  • butchers sold rotten meat.
  • open sewers carried waste to the river.
  • Waste was carried through the street, and then thrown into the middle of the river.
  • Water wells and cesspools were often close together.
  • Rubbish was thrown around the street.
  • Public urination.

Atttempts to improve public health:

  • segregated areas for butchering animals.
  • streets had gutters to carry away waste.
  • 'rakers' removed dung from the streets.
  • fine for throwing litter.
  • latrines.
  • fines for public urination.
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Hospitals in the middle ages

  • Women, in particular Nuns took care of the sick.
  • Patients were well looked after and fed.
  • Religion was still a huge factor.
  • There was some basic knowledge and understanding, (such as dead patients being put into body bags).
  • However they did not fully understand the causes of disease (in some hospitals, sick patients shared beds).
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Doctors in training in the Middle Ages

Reference Books: Doctors studied the writings of Hippocrates, Galen, and Arab doctors.
Dissection: only one dissection a year in medical schools, the teacher's assistant performed the dissection, and the body was of a criminal that had been executed.
Medical Schools: set up for student to study medicine,such as Salerno, Italy, and Montpellier, France.
Astrology: The position of the planets, and particularly the moon were thought to have an affect on the body's humours.
Treatments: Bleeding patients until they were almost unconscious was a common treatment to clear all illnesses.
Theory of the four humours: Doctors were trained to base their treatments around the theory of the four humours.
Diagnosis: Urine samples were checked against a chart to diagnose the illness.
Code of conduct: willing to learn and be sober, do not be greedy, take care of rich and poor, do not refuse payments, but do not demand them.
The Role of women: not allowed to go to University, carried out every day care, women acted as midwives, they could still become surgeons.

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Surgery in the Middle Ages

Surgeons were often regarded as no better that butchers.
There were three types, surgeons, barber surgeons, and military surgeons.
Barber surgeons were licensed to cut hair, and carry out minor surgery such as pulling out teeth, lancing boils, and leeching.
Surgeons were meant to blood letting and more major surgical work, but this normally only went as far as, manipulating dislocated limbs, setting broken bones, and treating scalds and burns.
Military surgeons had to take more risks with their victims of war. Most surgical advances were made by these surgeons because they had to develop new methods on the spot.
How did they deal with pain and infection?
alcohol to fight infection.
mixtures of herbs and boar & bull gull as an anaesthetic.
mixtures of hemlock, hen bane and wine used to send patients to sleep.
ALSO: armies took on doctors to gain experience as surgeons on the battlefield.

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Arab medicine in the Middle Ages

  • Admired Hippocrates and Galen, however their religion allowed them to challenge Galen.
  • Europeans went on crusades and gained knowledge of Arab medicine.
  • Muslim religion; the Koran held all the knowledge needed and didn't encourage the search for more.
  • Criticizing Galen was allowed so more discoveries were made.


  • 1) An Arab doctor stopped a patient eating certain foods and her condition improved, a European doctor then came, criticised his methods and theorised that she was possessed, he let her eat whatever, shaved her head and carved a cross in her head, the patient died.
  • 2) Sir Bernard got kicked by a horse, they made 14 incisions in his foot, nothing helped, 'this godless man is going to die', a Frankish doctor came and put strong vinegar on all his wounds, his wound healed up.
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