Bitesize has changed! We're updating subjects as fast as we can. Visit our new site to find Bitesize guides and clips - and tell us what you think!
Print

History

Medieval methods of diagnosis and treatment

Methods of treatment

Since they still believed in the theory of the four humours [Four humours: Four bodily fluids - yellow bile, black bile, blood and phlegm - used in ancient times to analyse and describe people's state of health. ], many of their cures involved balancing the 'humours overflowing'. They did this by bleeding, applying leeches, or causing purging or vomiting in their patients. Other ways of balancing the 'natural heat' included the taking of hot baths, drinking a soup of yellow lentils, or applying water cooled with snow.

Medieval apothecary brewing one of his medicines

Medieval apothecary brewing one of his medicines

The Medieval English poet Chaucer describes how a doctor was followed by a 'tribe' of apothecaries (medicine-makers), and it is known that medieval doctors had access to a huge range of natural healing herbs and substances. These included red rose ground fine with 'bamboo juice' for smallpox, and fig poultices for plague sores.

However, superstition increased throughout the period. Monarchs thought that by touching patients suffering from the 'King's Evil' (scrofula) they could cure them. Peasants prayed to St Roch to cure their toothache or the plague, or turned to St Anthony to cure them of 'St Anthony's Fire' (ergotism).

During the time of the plague, huge Christian processions were held, at which people flagellated (whipped) themselves, to try to show God how sorry they were for their sins.

Back to Medieval and Renaissance medicine index

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.