Info Favorites Register Log in Discussion Forums

Forum index Memberlist Usergroups Spotlight Topics Search
Forum Index > Off-topic Talk > Medieval field medicine and wound care? Reply to topic
This is a standard topic  
Author Message
Dustin Faulkner

Location: BOERNE, TX
Joined: 20 Jul 2008

Spotlight topics: 1
Posts: 118

PostPosted: Wed 12 Jun, 2013 6:22 pm    Post subject: Medieval field medicine and wound care?         Reply with quote

Hello Everyone:

It occurred to me with all of our admiration for medieval & renaissance weapons, and the sophisticated tactics used to employ them, to ask how were medieval wounds treated?

Assuming you weren't outright killed or mortally wounded, how were wounds treated back then? What kind of wounds were treatable? Was one's attitude towards, or perception of, a wounded man dependent upon his social rank?

Knights and armor are cool. I deeply admire the skill one needed to employ a sword or pole arm. I for one, however, try to keep in mind that like old warbirds at airshows, these are weapons of war and they can still kill people ( or yourself if you are careless).

Despite being obsolete weapons, I still would like to know how a wounded soldier was treated centuries ago. I wonder if a skilled doctor had the sense to use clean cloth or linen, and I assume any alcoholic drink might have been used to wash a wound. Perhaps some doctors were sophisticated enough to use boiled hot water even though they did not have a concept of germs and wound pathology. I think I've heard some tree saps could be used. Perhaps some sort of a pine needle mash was used - I don't know. Some men did survive their wounds. I simply wonder how since we take modern medicine for granted. They didn't have Band-Aids, Neosporin, hydrogen peroxide, and soap back then.

If I were at Agincourt and was fortunate to only receive a "clean" cut from a sword on my arm or leg, what would happen to me then? It first begins with how strong my immune system is. As far as I know, folk's immune systems weren't as strong then and their diets weren't as good except for Royalty and the wealthy.

I hate to say it, but people are still being killed and wounded by edged weapons today. I wish all of you good health. May we all be allowed to keep studying swordplay and making armor for each other in peace. Swords and polearms make wonderful eye candy, but are still vicious weapons when employed by a skilled person.

View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail
Bjorn Hagstrom

Location: Höör, Skane
Joined: 25 Oct 2007
Likes: 1 page
Reading list: 8 books

Posts: 355

PostPosted: Wed 12 Jun, 2013 10:14 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I have done a fair bit of research on medieval medicine, albeit not restricted to "field" medicine. (I am in a Hospitaler reenactment/Living history group, and we are now focused on their role as care-takers of sick and wounded rather than being fighting knights. We are getting to old, lazy and horseless for that Wink )

There are surviving surgical treatises, for example "Chirurgia", thought to be dating form the late 12th century. It has detailed descriptions and treatments for headwounds, removal of barbed arrows, as well as more mundane ailments. Also some recipes for medicinal mixtures. It's a nifty little book, check it out on Amazon:

As for alcohol, the first use of distilled spirits was medicinal, but not for cleaning wounds, at least I have found no references of that yet. What seemed to have been user frequently is cauterizing of wounds, that might have hade a side effect of at least localized germ-killing..but then a major burn has a chance of getting infected while healing also.

As a general rule, infections would be a very great hazard in any circumstances, and few effective ways of dealing with them. Also injuries on internal organs would have very few effective treatments.

But when it comes to putting together fractures (even cranial ones), performing amputations and suturing wounds the medieval surgeons seemed to have been rather successful.

When looking at the use of plants and other stuff for medicine, it seems to be a wild spectra of things used, and rather random mix between cures we now know contain some effective substances (hops, plantain and so on) some that at least did no additional harm, and some that must have been outright counter-effective. Of course all mixed with a good dose of superstition/magic. There is a Swedish document form the 16th century that stipulates that for treating cramping, to use the "Outer hoof, of the right back leg from a living elk bull, cut after the middle of August". And to keep that next to the cramping bodypart.. There is another "interesting" recipe against premature ejaculation, that involves roof houseleek, black nightshade and rendered goats fat...and for external application, mind you! Eek!

But among these are also sound advice and remedies that are less weird. While bleeding and cupping is harmless as best, leeches has been reintroduced in modern medicinal practice. It is indeed a fascinating subject.

I have in my hand a thesis on "The professionalization of the art and craft of healing in Sweden during the Middle Ages and Rennaisance" unfortunately only the summary is translated to english..

There is nothing quite as sad as a one man conga-line...
View user's profile Send private message MSN Messenger
Mart Shearer

Location: Jackson, MS, USA
Joined: 18 Aug 2012

Posts: 1,302

PostPosted: Thu 13 Jun, 2013 5:53 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think Garcilaso de la Vega mentions Hernando de Soto's troops using lard and binding wounds with linen shirts after the battle with the Mobile Indians. Using rendered fat as an ointment to seal wounds is likely an old practice, though not quite as effective as neosporin.
ferrum ferro acuitur et homo exacuit faciem amici sui
View user's profile Send private message
Philip Melhop

Location: Wokingham, Berkshire, UK
Joined: 24 May 2008

Posts: 132

PostPosted: Thu 13 Jun, 2013 5:56 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi There
there is quite a bit of information available regarding medical and surgical treatment of war wounds in the medieval period and on into the early modern period. A quick search through Amazon wil provide the basics, none of which a particularly cheap Mad If you have a university with a medical school somewhere close by, their library may offer up some real gems. The main thing is that the supposed crudity and barbarity of early surgical practice is always in comparison with the modern, a useless piece of cultural relativisim.
View user's profile Send private message
Allen W

Joined: 02 Mar 2004

Posts: 285

PostPosted: Thu 13 Jun, 2013 6:17 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Long ago in an introductory lecture to the rare books room of a university library, I was told that paper soaked in vinegar was often used to dress wounds. I wish I could give a better citation.
View user's profile Send private message
Matthew Bunker

Location: Somerset UK
Joined: 02 Apr 2009

Posts: 483

PostPosted: Thu 13 Jun, 2013 11:09 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I study and demonstrate late Roman and early medieval medicine and surgery. It's a vast subject, as it is if you study the later medieval periods.

For an idea of how well planned and successful surgery could be in the late medieval period, look no further than John Bradmore's treatment of Prince Henry (later Henry V) after the young prince was shot in the face with an arrow at the Battle of Shrewsbury.

This paper contains some of Bradmore's own account of the procedure as well as other pertinent information concerning treatments of the time.

"If a Greek can do it, two Englishman certainly can !"
View user's profile Send private message
Harry Marinakis

PostPosted: Sat 15 Jun, 2013 5:50 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I can't imagine that very many people with wounds survived for very long unless they were lucky. Infections must have claimed many. I look forward to reading some of these references. Thanks.
View user's profile Send private message
A. Elema

Joined: 09 Nov 2010

Posts: 38

PostPosted: Tue 18 Jun, 2013 2:54 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

A good place to start your study, although from a somewhat earlier period, is the book Medicine in the Crusades: Warfare, Wounds and the Medieval Surgeon by Piers D. Mitchell.

You can read much of it on Google Books here:;f=false
View user's profile Send private message
Randall Moffett

Location: Northern Utah
Joined: 07 Jun 2006
Reading list: 5 books

Posts: 2,121

PostPosted: Tue 18 Jun, 2013 4:05 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote


Far more people survive than is often thought. Not long ago someone put a list of the sick sent home from the Calais siege of 1346-47 and the fatalities were not as high as been often suggested. And these are the same guys who just fought through Caen, Crecy to Calais for yet another fight so injuries must have been fairly common by that point.

If you have a chance take a look at book blood red roses about the Battle of Towton. It covers injuries and methods of caring for them. There seems to have been a fair system in place for the care of people injured that indicates many did in fact survive injuries.

Matthew's suggestion of John Bradmore's treatise is spot on what one should be looking for. This guy pulled an arrow that was wedged some 40-50% into Henry V's skull and had measures to prevent illness and extract the arrow without it breaking apart in Henry's head. They were far more advanced than given credit for by modern society. Not on our level but at their time one of the most advanced to that date.

View user's profile Send private message
Sam Gordon Campbell

Location: Australia.
Joined: 16 Nov 2008

Posts: 678

PostPosted: Tue 18 Jun, 2013 5:49 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Don't forget Hildegard of Bingen and Roger Bacon, and the Trotula, and that Bishop dude.
Member of Australia's Stoccata School of Defence since 2008.
Host of Crash Course HEMA.
Founder of The Van Dieman's Land Stage Gladiators.
View user's profile Send private message

Display posts from previous:   
Forum Index > Off-topic Talk > Medieval field medicine and wound care?
Page 1 of 1 Reply to topic
All times are GMT - 8 Hours

View previous topic :: View next topic
Jump to:  
You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot vote in polls in this forum
You cannot attach files in this forum
You can download files in this forum

All contents © Copyright 2003-2024 — All rights reserved
Discussion forums powered by phpBB © The phpBB Group
Switch to the Basic Low-bandwidth Version of the forum