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Friday, March 2, 2012

One Common Misconception About the Middle Ages

By Jill Harness in Features, History, Neatorama Exclusives, Society & Culture
on Feb 29, 2012

13th century illustration showing the veins

No matter how interested you are in history, you probably have still heard a lot about the Dark Ages, but much of that information, even the stuff you learned back in school, is actually fiction. Here are five commonly held beliefs about the Middle Ages that aren’t actually fact.

Note: While the specific time period coverd by the term the “Middle Ages” (also called the “Dark Ages” and the “Medieval period”) can vary, in this article, they refer to the years 500 – 1500 A.D.

Medieval Doctors Weren’t Completely In the Dark

When most people think of medieval doctors, they tend to think of barbarians whose only solution to problems was to bleed the victim until the problem went away or until the patient died. While its true that the doctors of the time were operating under the Greek concept of humours, that have since been proven wrong, that doesn’t mean that doctors of the time were totally inept or that there were no improvements to medicine made until the Renaissance. In fact, the idea of doctors needing to attend a University was first developed during this period and those who wished to become a Doctor of Medicine would need to go through ten years of higher education in order to qualify.

During the Crusades, European and Islamic doctors began exchanging techniques and while it’s easy to think that the Westerners got the advantage in this trade, there was still useful information traded from both sides. In fact, it was the European doctors who taught Middle Eastern practitioners that wound infections could be successfully treated with vinegar.

During the early Middle Ages, surgery was considered to be less important than the practice of other medicines, but as time progressed, surgery started to earn a much higher regard. By the fourteenth century, doctors had discovered a number of innovations in the field including the use of antiseptics to prevent infections and anesthesia made from opiates and herbs to help patients through the procedure.

Additionally, hospitals were first developed during this period, originally operating as hostels for travelers, clinics for the injured and homes for the disabled. Italy led the trend of hospital building and, by the end of the fourteenth century, Florence had thirty hospitals within its boundaries. In England and France, most hospitals were established in Monasteries, where monks would help care for sick travelers and victims of chronic diseases and plagues.

So next time you end up needing to visit the hospital, get better, and then remember you have those alleged bumbling fools of medieval doctors to thank not only for the treatment center, but also for the idea that doctors should be well-educated before they are allowed to start serving the public.

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