Surgery Barber, Doctor, Surgeon and Peruke (wig) maker in the 17th Century

What was believed to cause diseases in the 17th century?

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What was believed to cause diseases in the 17th century?

Doctors believed in a theory that had been invented by the Ancient Greeks more than 1000 years earlier, known as 'The Four Humours'. This theory states that the whole world is made up of four elements; Air, Fire, Earth and Water. In the body these elements are supposedely represented by:

  • Blood - which they thought could cause fevers, nosebleed, or even a bad temper - so bleeding cured this.

  • Yellow Bile - which could cause a dry hacking cough and a nosebleed.

  • Black Bile - which could cause sadness and depression.

  • Phlegm - which caused colds.

Like the four earth elements of Air, Fire, Earth and Water, it was thought that the human body would require a balance of these in order to remain healthy.

The stars were also considered very important in working out what was wrong with you; each illness was connected to a set of stars.

They also believed that a lot of problems were caused by 'too much blood', so you had to get rid of some.
Surgical instruments included saws, knives, scalpels, clamps, hooks and probes that were often dirty and rusty. A trepan was used to drill holes in skulls. The cautery was one of the most horrific instruments. It was a red-hot iron used to stop bleeding and treat disease.

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