Medicine Through Time Revision and Factors

  • Created on: 01-06-13 11:26

The Middle Ages (500-1500AD)


Following the collapse of the Roman Empire, Western Europe was in chaos. There was instability and war. Learning was lost as libraries and universities collapsed. The ideas of Hippocrates and Galen were kept alive in the Middle East.  In the West, the Christian Church grew in power. The church cared for the sick but it also taught that God allowed and cured illness.  In the Middle East a new religion, Islam, spread rapidly.  Muslim doctors of the Islamic Empire were much better at treating disease than Europeans.  By about 1300 new ideas were being put forward but acceptance of such ideas was slow. This was a time of little change in medicine.  

Cause and Cures

The Christian Church dominated people’s lives. This is a period of regress in that many beliefs about the cause and treatment of disease were based on the supernatural. However-    Natural remedies based on the theory of the four humours were also used.  Doctors used a handbook called a vade mecum containing various charts, for example to compare the colour of a patient's urine, which helped them to diagnose illness.  Monasteries provided treatment for the sick. Monks experimented with herbs and natural cures. They built up a great deal of practical knowledge 


It was thought God caused disease and therefore only he could cure you. Treatments consisted of prayer, a specially blessed potion, pilgrimage, or even flagellate (whip) yourself as punishment for your sins. Charms and spells could cure illness  Doctors believed that the position of the planets affected people's lives and health.   Some people would consult zodiac charts to choose the best treatments or the best time for an operation Going on a pilgrimage would cure an illness   Being touched by a king or queen could cure scrofula  

Scientific approaches

The balance of the four humours e.g. blood letting The use of herbs and plants to make medicines  Urine analysis was a useful indication of the way the body was working.   There were some hospitals, but they offered food, a bed and prayers rather than a cure.    


At the start of the Middle Ages wars made communication very difficult and it was hard for doctors to learn or discuss ideas. Towards the end of the Middle Ages medical schools were being established.  Arab writers translated books by Galen and Hippocrates. Galen’s work was kept alive by Arab doctors.   Spread of Arabic ideas to Europe via trade and the Crusades.  

Anatomy & Surgery

Dissection was banned thus limiting the study of the anatomy. Continued to believe in the ideas of Galen. Surgical knowledge from Greek and Roman times had been lost or ignored.   Barber surgeons, who had little skill or knowledge, carried out most simple surgery.   Surgery was simple and external such as the removal of cataracts. Most operations, though simple, resulted in a high number of deaths due to shock, loss of blood and infection. No…




very good but way too much information