Medieval Medicine Research Paper

Medieval Medicine: Magical & Irrational

Daniella Smithers BA Hons Bangor University (History/Archaeology/ Heritage)

The Medieval period was dangerous and religious. This combination could mean life or death during the middle ages. Europe was dominated by the Christian faith, which oversaw and controlled the public. These Christian beliefs over ruled a lot of scientific thought and prevented discoveries. Throughout this period diseases such as the Black Death, otherwise known as the Bubonic Plague, killed over 70 million people. It is one of the deadliest times in history, as well as the most superstitious. Hence, it created a world of magical and irrational theories. Doctors didn’t have the understanding of medical remedies, it was a
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People who didn’t use or practice the religious way were often then ridiculed and accused of witchcraft. Medicine was very primitive and procedures that were carried out during this period often led to the death of the patient.
Illness was said to be caused by God for bad behaviour. The Church often declared that a sinful act would be punished and therefore was the own persons fault. Ever since Ancient Greece, a common theory for illness was the four humours. There were four humours that made up the human body. A balance in these humours meant that a person was healthy. An imbalance, however, led to the person being ill and in bad health. These humours were black bile, yellow bile, phlegm and blood. They were controlled by vapours that moved in and out the body. The theory stated how healthy eating, exercise would keep them balanced and insure a healthy life.
This theory also shows how philosophers and physicians related there medicine to the natural elements: Fire, Air, Water and Earth. Each relating to one of the humours; Fire was yellow bile, Water was phlegm, Earth was seen as black bile and lastly Air was
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They provide strong evidence on the belief system and how theories changed over time and developed throughout the middle ages. In conclusion medieval medicine covered the spiritual realm as well as the physical world, and it was often based of just a theory. But it is crucial to remember that although modern medicine shows they often didn’t work scientifically, they did have a placebo effect which would have provided comfort and even helped make patients stronger, as they truly believed they would survive.


Muir, Edward. What is a Ritual? In Ritual in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge, 1996, 2nd edition, 2005) pp. 2-3

Muir, Edward. Rites of passage, in Ritual in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge, 1996; 2nd ed., 2005)pp.21, 27, 37
Wilson, Stephen. The Magic Universe: Everyday Ritual and Magic in Premodern Europe (2000)pp.165-166, 169-171, 173, 179, 181,

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