The renaissance period was the rebirth of medical research after the middle lack of the development during the middle ages. This was an important period because of new discoveries about anatomy. These new breakthroughs began with Andreas Vesalius challenging the great Roman doctor, Galen’s ideas towards the human body. Two major mistakes that Vesalius found in Galen’s work were that the human jaw had one bone, whereas Galen wrote that it had two. Vesalius’ other idea that challenged Galen was regarding the septum in the heart.
Galen wrote that it had small holes in however when Vesalius tested this he found that there were no holes. Vesalius was able to prove this because by this time the Christian church had less control over what people did so dissections on human bodies wasn’t considered to be as bad as it was previously. Vesalius wrote down his findings in a book called The Fabric of the Human Body which was spread around Europe quickly because of the invention of the printing press. His challenges to Galen’s work also led to others thinking that Galen may have been wrong in other areas so more and more people began to challenge his work.
However, when he first started his work many people found it difficult to disagree with Galen so he was unpopular amongst people a lot of the time. There were also important discoveries about the way the body worked during the renaissance period. William Harvey, who was an English physician, came up with a theory that suggested that blood was pumped around the body by the heart and not produced regularly and used as fuel like Galen said before. Harvey, like Vesalius, also did many dissections to help him prove his theories were true.
He did his dissections mainly on human corpses but he also did some dissections on cold blooded animals like lizards because he knew their hearts beat slower than humans. This meant he could study the circulation of blood more carefully. Harvey wrote the book An Anatomical Account of the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals which had all his findings, regarding the circulation of blood, recorded for everyone to study. The medical renaissance was also a period in history in which surgeons began to change their old methods to new, more successful ones.
An example of a surgeon who did this is Ambroise Pare. He was a French surgeon who spent over twenty years treating French soldiers on the front line. He gained his experience by watching his brother who was a barber surgeon. Pare was famous for moving away from old methods of cauterising wounds, which involved pouring boiling oil or pressing a hot iron on to a wound to stop bleeding, to less harmful and usually more effective methods. However, he didn’t always know exactly what he was doing.
For example, during one battle he had run out of oil to pour on to the soldiers wound, so he used an old Roman ointment that he had learnt before and after a long sleepless night he checked the soldiers wounds and he found that those with his special ointment were healing quickly whereas the ones treated with oil were still very painful for the soldiers. Pare also developed artificial limbs and ligatures, which were small silk threads, used to tie the ends of arteries. However, they often didn’t work because they often carried infection but it did get surgeons to move away from the painful methods of treating people.
Although there were many medical breakthroughs during this period of time, methods of treating the sick never really changed. For example, when the plague struck again later on in the medical renaissance treatments remained as odd as locking people in a room if they were thought to have the plague or making people wear charms to keep the great plague away. Other treatments involved shaving the head and then engraving a cross in to the scalp to get rid of spirits. Despite new discoveries during the medical renaissance physicians and surgeons still didn’t understand what caused disease.
Some of the ides they had about the causes of disease were things like astrology, the alignments of the planets and star formations. They also believed that many diseases were brought on you by God to make you pay for the sins you had committed in your life. This was why there were often public prayers for people to come forward and ask for forgiveness for their sins. Although they didn’t know what caused disease they had managed to make a clear link between dirt and disease because of the belief of miasmas causing illness.
This was essentially believed to be ‘bad air’ and when breathed in caused you to become ill. Another belief, and maybe the most popular, was the theory of the four humours which was from the Greek/ Roman period of medicine and people were said to be ill when their humours were out of balance. By the 1700’s people couldn’t expect to live any longer than they would have done centuries before.
This was because the treatments for disease never changed and the lack of public health caused by the fall of he Romans meant that germs could spread quickly. However, people didn’t know about germs until much later on. The period between 1400 and 1750 was important in medical history because of the huge increase in knowledge of anatomy and physiology. This is because it allowed people to look in to these things in to more detail once the technology had been developed for them to do so. The medical breakthroughs also got people to stop believing in the old works of Galen and take a more scientific approach to medicine.