Medicine in the Middle Ages

Essay by fenixfiremedicUniversity, Bachelor'sA+, May 2004

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During the Middle Ages, the difference between what was real and what was paranormal was not always unambiguous. This is especially seen in the perception of the cause of sickness as well as the unintelligible remedies believed to restore the health of suffering patients.

The underlying principles of medieval medicine were the four humors: black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood. The balance of these four allowed for a human's overall well-being.

The Humors

"The theory of the four humors arose out of Hellenic philosophy in an attempt to relate all things to universal laws" (Cameron 159). There are parallels drawn between specific aspects of the surrounding world. The humors were frequently accredited to suitable seasons, the ages of mankind, and even the four Evangelists - Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Equilibrium and organization of the world was of extreme importance, therefore, the balance of humors within a human body was essential for health.

Balance of humors was achieved by diet, medicines, and phlebotomy.


About ninety percent of the population in the feudal social system of medieval Europe could not afford profligate additions to their diets. As a result, the common medieval person's diet was comprised of wheat, meat, or fish, depending on location.


The medicines in the Middle Ages took the form of herbal remedies. In accordance with the humor theory, most vegetation, food substances, and household items were specified as being hot, cold, wet, or dry. This allowed doctors to modify the amounts of humors within a person.


Phlebotomy was thought to be a form of surgery. This belief was based on the idea that each organ within a human body had its own organ of origin and, therefore, letting the blood from a particular vein would affect a specific organ. "It was not...