Bloodletting is a medical practice that was used as a way to purify the blood from evil. Sometimes, it meant draining the blood from the body, while some cultures used leeches to suck it out.
This practice was not always effective as a cure, but it was still a common practice among many cultures.
The practice began around 3000 years ago with the Egyptians. Then the Greeks continued the practice in the 3rd century B.C., as they believed that all illnesses stemmed from too much blood in the body.
In the 2nd century A.D, Galen of Pergamum expanded on Hippocrates’ theory that good health requires a perfect balance of blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile. His writings and theories claimed bloodletting was a common practice throughout the Roman empire.
It didn’t take long for the practice to spread to the Arabs, Indians, and Asians.
Bloodletting then spread throughout Europe during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, peaking in the 19th century before it declined when Western medicine took over. During its height, bloodletting was a common practice for the plague, smallpox, epilepsy, and gout. Practitioners would nick a vein or artery in the forearm or neck with a fleam- a special tool with a fixed blade.
In 1163, the church prohibited monks and priests from practicing bloodletting as the church ‘abhorred’ the procedure, so barbers began offering a wide range of services that included bloodletting, cupping, tooth extractions, lancing, and even amputations. These barbers would hang bloodstained towels on the striped barber’s pole outside their stores.
Bloodletting was used on Charles II after he suffered a seizure, draining 16 ounces of blood from his left arm and 8 ounces from cupping. He had more seizures, received more herbs and further treatment, and then had 24 more ounces of blood removed before he died.
George Washington also underwent bloodletting after he developed a fever and a throat infection. He had about 3-4 quarts of blood removed within a 16 hour period. Even still, he died the next night.
Today, the process is outdated by Western medicine, and very few cultures still practice bloodletting.