Medieval medicine



Four Humours:

Black Bile/Yellow Bile/Phlegm/Blood

  •  Imbalance causes illness ---------> Have to be balanced (bloodletting)

Animal Dissection:

  • Dissected pigs and monkeys----------> Dissecting people was frowned upon (flood and hanged murderer)
  • Made mistakes--------> Thought jawbone was two bones (only 1)


  • Had to observe patients for long time before diagnosing-----> more accurate and reliable

Why so influential?

  • Books covered everything-----> people believed he had all the answers
  • Supported by the church------> people highly religious at the time
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Believed in four humours (same theory as Galen)

Hippocratic oath:

  • Made sure doctors were reliable
  • Stopped doctors from simply trying to make money (had to be qualified)
  • Did it because he felt patients were being treated unfairly

Observing and recording:

  • Helped diagnosis to be more accurate
  • More likely to find cure if doctors had better knowledge

Natural treatments:

  • Change in diet and lots of rest-----> believed these caused disease

Keeping healthy:

  • Reccomended a light diet, gentle exercise and rest to keep humours in balance
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Islamic contribution to medieval medicine

Ways it helped:

  • Quran told muslims to look after sick and needy.  Insisted cleanliness.
  • Arabs skilled in eye operations (removing cataracts and tumours)
  • Hospitals built in muslim cities (Bagdhad and Cairo)
  • Translated work of Galen and Hippocrates into Arabic (given to medical students)
  • Doctors had to have a licence to practice medicine
  • Checked druq quality in major cities
  • Used opium to send patient to sleep
  • Gave tips on surgery
  • Avicenna wrote a textbook caleed the canon of medicine
  • Rhazes first person to spot difference between smallpox and measles
  • Islamic ideas taken back to Europe

Ways it hindered:

  • Believed illness caused by God
  • Islamic law forbade the dissection of human bodies
  • Some Arab doctors used astrology to help to treat patients
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Christian contribution to medieval medicine

Ways it helped:

  • Taught it was religious duty to care for the sick
  • Founded hospitals run by monks and nuns
  • Nuns gave herbal remedies
  • Copied out medical books in monasteries
  • Supported Galen's ideas

Ways it hindered:

  • Taught that religion was cause for some illness
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Surgery in medieval times:

Barber surgeons:

  • Used big tools such as axes and saws to treat patients
  • Had little or no training
  • Used to remove external diseases e.g. ulcers

Antiseptics and anaesthetics:

  • Believed wine could be used as an antiseptic
  • Used natural substances e.g. mandrake and opium as anaesthetics

Dirt causes disease:

  • Had no knowledge that dirt causes disease
  • Lots of death from bleeding, shock and infection

Epilepsy treated by cutting a hole in the head of the patient to let the demon out (trephining)

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Run by monks and nuns


  • Provided nurses 
  • Provided clean conditions
  • Offered rest


  • Had no medicine
  • Did not perform surgery

Leper houses:

  • Places used to isolate people with contagious diseases
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Medieval public health:


  • Lots of waste flowing through streets
  • No sewers to take away waste
  • Towns had bath houses (roman baths)
  • First hospitals built (St. Barts)
  • Houses boarded up during black death
  • Houses made of wood,mud and dung
  • 'gongfermers' paid to clear out cess pits
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Black Death:

Beliefs about causes:

  • Imbalance of 4 humours------->Air, earth, fire, water
  • Dirt and bad air
  • Outsiders such as jews------> burned at the stake 
  • God's punishment-----> People whipped themselves in public
  • Close position of Saturn, Jupiter and Mars


  • Make and light candles as offferings to god
  • Opposites---> Rainy outside, light fires
  • Doctors had NO idea
  • Surround yourself in fumes worse than black death to ward it off
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