Weird Medical Devices That People Used in Medieval Times

Weird Medical Devices That People Used in Medieval Times

The annals of medical history are adorned with a fascinating, albeit somewhat macabre, array of devices and tools. Before the era of modern science and technology, medicine was primarily an art, and practitioners often wielded an eclectic collection of old medical tools and equipment. We embark on a captivating journey into the world of antique medical tools, delving into the history of medical devices that reigned supreme in medieval times and the 19th century.

What Were the Earliest Medical Devices?

Exploring the dawn of medical history, we discover that the earliest medical devices were often strikingly simple, born of necessity, and reflecting the rudimentary understanding of the human body at that time. Some initial tools and techniques set the groundwork for several contemporary medical practices.

Among the most ancient medical devices known are flint knives. These crude tools were used as early as the Stone Age, primarily for amputations and other surgical procedures. Flint was favored due to its sharpness, which could rival modern-day surgical steel.

In Ancient Egypt, around 3000 B.C., we find evidence of surgical instruments similar to those used today: scalpels, scissors, needles, and forceps, all made of bronze. The Edwin Smith Papyrus, a medical treatise from the same era, mentions bandages and plaster as means to close wounds, arguably the earliest forms of medical disposables.

An early form of the drill, similar to our modern concept, can be traced back to the Indus Valley Civilization in 7000 B.C. These were employed for trepanation – creating a hole in the skull to treat health problems related to intracranial diseases or injuries. Evidence of successful trepanations suggests that early practitioners somehow understood the basics of preventing infection, indicating a rudimentary form of antiseptic technique.

Finally, one of the most famous antique medical tools is the Hippocratic Bench, a device used in Ancient Greece to reset dislocated bones.

These early medical devices, though primitive by modern standards, were nonetheless ingenious in their time, representing humanity’s initial efforts to understand and heal the body.

What Were 5 Treatment Methods Used in the Middle Ages?

The Middle Ages, spanning roughly from the 5th to the 15th century, was a time of varied medical practices, some of which may appear quite odd or even alarming to our modern sensibilities. Here are five treatment methods that were prevalent during this time.

  1. Bloodletting: Believing in the balance of the “four humors” – blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile – physicians often used bloodletting to restore equilibrium. Tools like fleams, lancets, or even leeches were employed to draw blood to cure everything from fever to heart disease.
  2. Herbal Remedies: Herbs for medicinal purposes were widespread in the Middle Ages. Monastic gardens were rife with plants like sage, rosemary, and mint, believed to have healing properties. Aloe, for instance, was used for its purported benefits for skin ailments and digestive issues.
  3. Cupping: This ancient practice involved creating a vacuum on the patient’s skin to draw out disease. Glass or horn cups were placed over the skin, and heat or a suction pump was used to create a vacuum. This was considered to stimulate healing and improve blood flow.
  4. Trepanation: Despite its gruesome nature, trepanation – drilling a hole into the skull – was employed as a treatment for a variety of ailments, ranging from migraines to mental disorders.
  5. Prayer and Pilgrimages: Given the strong influence of religion during the Middle Ages, spiritual healing was highly regarded. Prayer was often used alongside other treatments, and patients embarked on pilgrimages to holy sites in the hopes of miraculous cures.

While these treatment methods might seem bizarre today, they underscored the fundamental human desire to understand and combat disease and paved the way for many medical advances.

What Old Medical Equipment People Used During the Middle Ages? 

The Trepanation Tools: Drilling into the Mind

Arguably one of the oldest medical tools known to humanity is the trepanation tool. This antique medical tool was used for trepanning – drilling or scraping a hole into the skull – to treat various ailments, from migraines to mental disorders. Believe it or not, this medieval surgical procedure was done while the patient was conscious, usually with natural sedatives. The operation had a surprisingly high survival rate, as evidenced by numerous skull specimens showing signs of healing post-operation.

The Humble Leeches: Bloodletting Devices

Bloodletting was a common practice during medieval times, underpinned by the belief in balancing the “four humors” – blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile. The procedure involved withdrawing a person’s blood to cure or prevent illness and disease.

To facilitate this process, leeches were employed as “medical devices.” This technique, known as hirudotherapy, is still sporadically used today, notably in plastic and reconstructive surgery, where it aids in reducing blood clots and venous congestion.

The Barber’s Chair: A Place for Surgery

In the middle ages, barbers didn’t just cut hair. They were the general practitioners of the day, known as barber surgeons. The barber’s chair became an unlikely old medical tool. Patients were bled, lanced, leached, and even amputated in it. The classic red and white pole outside traditional barbershops symbolizes this bloody history, with red representing blood and white bandages.

The Uroscopy Wheel: A Diagnostic Device

The uroscopy wheel is an intriguing example of old medical equipment used for diagnosis. Physicians would observe a patient’s urine color, smell, taste (yes, taste!), and sediment to diagnose a range of ailments. The uroscopy wheel, a circular chart depicting various urine shades, was used as a reference. Despite the dubious reliability of this method by modern standards, it was a primary diagnostic tool for centuries.

The Plague Doctor’s Mask: An Early Attempt at Personal Protective Equipment

The bubonic plague, or the ‘Black Death,’ devastated Europe in the 14th century, killing approximately a third of the continent’s population. Plague doctors wore distinctive masks with a beak-like nose filled with aromatic substances to protect themselves. These masks, although eerie, represent one of the earliest attempts at personal protective equipment, albeit with limited effectiveness.

Transition into the 19th Century Medical Tools

The shift from medieval to 19th-century medicine significantly evolved medical tools. The primary focus remained the same – alleviate suffering, cure disease, and prolong life – but the means to achieve these goals began to change dramatically.

The Stethoscope: An Innovation in Diagnosis

In the 19th century, the stethoscope was introduced, revolutionizing the process of disease diagnosis. Before this invention, physicians relied on the practice of immediate auscultation, placing their ears directly on the patient’s chest. René Laennec, uncomfortable with this method for female patients, invented the stethoscope, a tool that persists as a key piece of medical equipment today.

The Obstetrical Forceps: Aiding Childbirth

The obstetrical forceps, introduced during the 19th century, were a game-changer for childbirth. This tool helped navigate complicated deliveries, reducing fatalities for both mothers and newborns. Before this, high-risk deliveries often ended tragically, but the introduction of forceps provided a new, lifesaving alternative.

The Ether Inhaler: Birth of Modern Anesthesia

The ether inhaler was a critical 19th-century medical tool, marking the dawn of modern anesthesia. Before this, surgeries were performed on fully conscious patients, causing unimaginable pain. The advent of the ether inhaler drastically changed the surgical landscape, allowing procedures to be carried out more effectively and humanely.


In concluding this journey into the fascinating world of weird medical devices from medieval times and the 19th century, it’s evident that healthcare and medicine have undergone remarkable transformations. The evolution from crude trepanation tools and bloodletting leeches to the invention of the stethoscope and ether inhaler highlights the strides made in the field of medical science.

Exploring these antique medical tools and old medical equipment gives us invaluable insight into humanity’s past – a testament to our innate will to survive and improve. They also provide a grounding perspective on our current medical conveniences and advancements, reminding us of when anesthesia was non-existent and surgery was a high-risk endeavor.

While some of these devices may seem bizarre and even barbaric to our modern sensibilities, they were born of necessity and the best knowledge available at the time. Our forebears’ ingenuity and boldness have paved the way for the intricate, sophisticated medical technology we benefit from today.

Thus, the history of medical devices tells the tale of our scientific progress and underlines the ceaseless human endeavor toward understanding, innovation, and, ultimately, the betterment of our health and lives.