Medieval Medicine – Was it all Plagues and Pestilence?

Medieval Medicine

The Medieval period was one of disruption and warfare. Europe was ravaged by war and in aware of the powerful Roman Catholic Church. As nations spent their funds on warfare, public health often suffered and disease was a constant menace. Yet despite this, there is lots of evidence of good medical practice taking place. Hospitals were established, doctors trained and techniques honed.

The Middle Ages are often portrayed as a time solely of war and squabbles between the monarchs and the great, powerful men of state. True, the Black Death crops up in popular non-fictional works but as a rule, the period is largely remembered as being one in which not a lot, bar fighting, actually happened. How true is that though?

Well warfare certainly did have an impact on medicine. In both a positive and negative way. Weapons were refined and required new surgical skills. Campaigns such as the Crusades led to eastern ideas being introduced to western eyes. In those senses, warfare led to some improvements. Yet warfare hindered progress. Funds were not available for public health for large periods of the medieval era.

Despite this the Middle Ages do have much to offer anybody interested in the history of medicine. There are documents that relate to treatments. There is evidence of attempts to stop the spread of diseases such as the Black Death. There are remains, both human and in the form of buildings or artefacts, that show us how people lived, worked and died.

In this period we see the role of the church having a large impact. On the one hand it teaches obedience to the works of the likes of Galen, thus holding back progress? On the other, it is responsible for monastic hospitals and the teaching of doctors, thus improving things across Europe? Read on to make your own mind up.

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Medieval Medicine. Doctors at work