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 medieval medicine being quite good in places. 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.

The Black Death
The Black Death

What did people in the Medieval world thing caused the Black Death? How did they treat it? Were any of their methods successful? Find out here.

Medieval Surgery
Medieval Surgery

What was surgery like in the Middle Ages? Had it regressed, stayed the same or improved? Did the medieval period contribute improvements to surgical methods?

Change and continuity in Medieval medicine Change and continuity in Medieval medicine

What changed and what stayed the same over the course of the medieval era?


Medieval Medicine Teachers’ Resources

My favourite lesson is an active learning activity based on medieval medicine. It highlights the wide range of different cures and beliefs available, adds in the element of cost and gives students a really deep understanding of beliefs, treatments and influences at the time. The article was the centrepiece for an article I wrote for Teaching History some ten years or so ago. With curriculum it is possibly even more important to get this information across to pupils in a highly memorable manner now than it was when I first wrote the activity. Differentiation for once can be done quite discreetly by task and is engaging, challenging and wholly appropriate for all. The Medieval Medicine simulation can be found in our teacher resource centre.

Medicine Through timeResources for Medicine Through TimePrehistoric MedicineAncient Egyptian MedicineAncient Greek MedicineMedicine in the Roman EmpireMedieval MedicineRenaissance MedicinePublic Health in the Industrial RevolutionFight against infectious diseaseModern Medicine

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