Medieval Medicine and Disease by Toney Allman

By Toney Allman

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Monks turned the sick away from their monasteries or fled to the countryside. Monks and priests who tried to help the sick also died, and sometimes whole monasteries were left empty. Doctors 55 and other healers had no remedies or medicines for the plague. In both the Muslim world and in Europe, doctors and clergy declared the epidemic God’s punishment, which no medical treatment could overcome. Doctors often refused to treat people, lest they be infected themselves, and frequently those who did try caught the illness and died.

In the damp, cold stone-walled castles of the nobility, rooms were poorly ventilated and often filled with smoke from wood fires for heating and cooking, smoking candles and oil lamps, and general dirt and dust. Castle inhabitants often drank water polluted by raw sewage and ate spoiled food infested with bacteria and parasites. They bathed infrequently and had no knowledge of the way that dirt, poor hygiene, and germs could cause disease. In peasants’ and most townspeople’s homes, the situation was the same or worse, with vermin-infested walls and roofs, muddy floors, unwashed bedding, poor food storage, lice-infested clothing, and livestock that shared their living spaces.

39 Many medieval European cities were dark, damp, and dirty. These conditions, plus lack of knowledge about germs and how they spread, meant that illness traveled quickly from one person to the next. Worms at War During the high Middle Ages, Europe fought a series of holy wars, called Crusades, to try to wrest the Holy Land from Muslim rule. Historians estimate that 15 to 20 percent of the knights who made the journey to the Holy Land did not die in battle but of malnutrition and disease. In 2013 archaeologists Piers D.

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