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History

Medieval medical knowledge

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Knowledge was hard to come by in Medieval times, especially during the Dark Ages when barbarian tribes roamed western Europe. The knowledge gained by the ancient Greeks and Romans was largely lost to Europeans, and superstition reigned - although learning was more advanced in the Muslim Middle East.

Summary

Knowledge went into reverse in the west in Medieval times - many of the books of the Greeks and Romans were lost, and the knowledge they contained was replaced by mere speculation and superstition.

Even when universities developed, after 1100 (Montpellier, Bologna and Salerno had famous medical schools), lectures on anatomy were rudimentary. They consisted simply of a butcher pointing to the different parts of a body, while the lecturer read a text by an authority such as Galen.

Although students did debate the ideas of Galen, any new ideas were judged on the debating skills of the student, not on scientific proof. The Church said that Galen's ideas were so correct that there was no need to investigate any further.

Generally, the Church forbade the dissection of human bodies, so knowledge was hard to come by - and ignorance led to numerous errors and misunderstandings on the part of Medieval doctors. For example, the Italian doctor Alderotti claimed that combing the hair 'comforts the brain'.

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