Polychronicon 172: Health in the Middle Ages

Teaching History feature

By Catherine Rider, published 26th September 2018

Health, illness and medicine in the Middle Ages

The history of medicine, health, and illness between c. 500 AD and 1500 has received a great deal of scholarly attention in recent decades. It’s a fascinating field that can tell us a great deal about medieval people’s everyday lives and their day-to-day worries: after all, everyone is ill or injured at some point in their lives, and everyone worries about illness and injuries in themselves and their loved ones. There is also a lot of primary source material, at least for the kinds of medicine offered by educated medical practitioners to their wealthier patients, which were the kinds of medicine most likely to be written down. The experiences of people lower down the social scale, who often could not read or write, are much harder to get at: here, too, historians have made some headway recently.

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