Medieval Barbers; From Haircuts and Amputation to The Bloody In-between

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Medicine is rapidly changing and evolving each year. But who would have thought back in the middle ages, the barber was also a makeshift surgeon performing amputations, teeth pulling, leaching, bloodletting, and of course, your typical beard trip or haircut?

The most gruesome procedure of all would be kidney stone removal in front of an audience.

As early as 1000 A.D., Barber Surgeon's often catered to the lower class, while the physicians tended to those at the courts and castles. Physicians' role was to observe the patients; they were considered above surgeons.

Physicians would study Latin and speak it fluently. They would almost always tend to the wealthy, such as the Aristocrats and Royals. Injuries and afflictions were common in soldiers, peasants, monks, and workers. The Physicians steered clear from these clients as they wanted to avoid getting their hands "dirty." But someone had to do the dirty work, right? This is where the Barber Surgeons' role came into play. Physicians needed to be accredited and trained through Universities unlike their Barber Surgeon counterparts. Almost all Physicians from the 15th century and on were accredited through Universities.

The Barber-Surgeons were trained in healing tasks that most physicians wouldn't do. They would hon their craftsmanship in basic wounds and lacerations, with burns and skin rashes, setting fractured bones and dislocated limbs, venereal diseases, and more. The more advanced Barber Surgeons would perform more intense procedures such as delivering babies, ambulations, and cauterization. Often times cauterization's were performed with hot oil that often led to infection and even death.

The most fundamental roles of the Barber Surgeon were performed in monasteries. This is the one time they were used for their "barbering skills" The monks needed their hair cut often, as they needed to be tonsured. Tonsuring is a religious practice where they shave the top of the monk's head. Shaving the top of the head is a religious practice all monks do.

As time went on, hair-cutting led to bloodletting, ambulation, and setting limbs. Often the Barber Surgeons learned as they went. And you can imagine the pain and gore involved in this type of practice.

Bloodletting is the surgical removal of one's blood for therapeutic purposes. It was used throughout the 18th century and into the 19th century, although it was rarely successful.

Barber Surgeons were phased out as they became more of a profession and less of a craft. France was the first place that took steps to demolish Barber surgeons. Under the rule of Louis XIV was the boost it needed to phase out the age-long practice. In 1743 it all came to a halt, and every Barber and wig maker was forbidden to perform such surgeries. And Barbers and surgeons also separated entirely in England two years later.

Next time you get your "ears lowered" at your local barber, bring up the topic of "Barber-Surgeons" and see if your barber knows the medieval history behind his "craft."

Who knows? He may be familiar, and that tooth that has been bothering you for a while now could be taken care of right after the beard trim.

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