Monday, 9 January 2012

IMFW: Shave and a Haircut, No Legs

Todays edition of the Interesting Medical Fact of the Week concerns medieval barber surgeons. Back in the day, surgeons were not medical practitioners... but hairdressers. In 1540 the Guild of Surgeons incorporated with the Worshipful Company of Barbers* to form the Company of Barber Surgeons, and they remained as one entity until 1745 when the surgeons broke away again. The degree to which barbers and surgeons were separated varied across Europe as well as through time; in France there were moves as early as 1210 to distinguish academically trained surgeons from the barber surgeons, and throughout the Middle Ages universities such as Montpellier, Padua and Bologna provided formal education for surgeons that was entirely distinct from the remit of a barber surgeon.

The heyday of barber surgeons came once the clergy were banned from performing bloodletting in 1163 at the Council of Tours and barbers stepped in to fill the gap; they already had the tools, after all. Barber surgeons variously practiced bloodletting, dentistry, enemas, and of course shaving and haircutting - carrying out actual surgery mainly on the battlefield. Their informal training was usually by apprenticeship and many were illiterate. Legend has it that the traditional red-and-white striped pole of barbers represents the blood and bandages of their surgical trade.

*Incidentally, I feel this would be a great name for a band.

No comments:

Post a Comment