I have been writing a lot on my blog about horses, medieval construction, weapons, etc. Now I just want to talk about misconceptions that we have about medieval times. In my upcoming novel, I described the world that people lived in during this time, and hopefully dismissed some of these misconceptions.
Dental Hygiene: We all think that there was no or little dental hygiene during the time of the Middle Ages. Although, compared to today, medieval dentistry and hygiene were less sophisticated, it did exist.
I describe in my novel a squire using the prescribed dental care of the time. He takes the time to use a toothpick (also known then as a toothstick) to remove any food particles between his teeth. He then used a cloth, and a paste made of rosemary and ash charcoal to polish his teeth. Finally, he used a mouthwash made of wine vinegar and bergamot mint. The previous illustrations are but small examples of dental care used during this time, and have been well documented by historians and writings of the time.
Another misconception we have about this period was the lack of medical care. Again, we must look back at this time without judging them with our technology. In fact, in my opinion there are two periods of medicine in the world; Pre, and Post penicillin. The discovery of penicillin was the most important discovery in medicine. People, who may have died before from infection, now had a fighting chance with that drug. Unfortunately, the people of the medieval times did not have the luxury of penicillin.
People in the medieval period did not know about bacteria or other microbes, which we are familiar with today. It was a trial and error for medicine at the time, for they did not know the cause, but knew the results of infection and diseases. After researching, I decided to describe the use of rose pedals and achilea (or yarrow flowers) these were used during the time to fight infection. Rose pedals and yarrow flowers both contain antiseptic abilities in preventing infection.
Since there was no penicillin to help fight infection many people assume today that surgery was nonexistent. In reality, there were surgeries in the medieval times, and surgical tools. In my novel, a knight has his lower arm damaged in combat. I described how the surgeon performing an amputation of this arm of the knight. The surgeon performs this amputation using tools, which were available during the medieval times. The surgeon uses a soporific sponge as an anesthesia for the knight. A soporific sponge is a sponge soaked in mandrake, breathed in this causes the person to fall into a deep unconscious state.
After the knight was unconscious, the surgeon uses an amputation knife to remove the skin and muscle from the bone. After the muscular part of the arm was removed from the bone, the surgeon used a bone saw to cut through the bone.
To seal the wound, irons were heated and placed on the wound. Larger ones were used to seal the overall wound, while cauteries were used to seal off veins and arteries. Although there were some variations, this was the process used until surgeons began stitching wounds.
Another misconception of the middle ages was the lack of prosthetics. The knight I described above has a prosthetic hand created for him. This hand is designed after the real life prosthetic hand created for Sir Berlichingen, who welded a battle axe with this hand in combat.
I will reference the earlier comment about infection. Prosthetic devices were created during the medieval times, but were not readily available because of lack of customers. This is because infection and shock did kill many people who had amputations. This was true until the discovery of penicillin. An example of how dramatic infection was operations conducted by Sir Charles Bell. Bell, who discovered Bell’s Palsy, was also a surgeon. As a surgeon at a Brussels hospital only one of the twelve amputation cases survived; that is a mortality rate of 92%.
There are so many more misconceptions and myths about the middle ages that I could go on forever. I will probably reexamine this issue in a later blog.
We consider ourselves as a modern society, because of our technology and beliefs. People in the medieval period also thought themselves as a modern society. It is easy for us to look back at them and think that they were not advanced, but they were as advanced for that time. Remember, someday we will be looked back upon by future generations, and they too will think us as barbaric.
Fell free to leave a comment or a question.
Next Time: Neat Medieval Tech