The Barber Surgeons

A painting depicting Barbers at work in medival times

The Barbers Company

The 'Barbers Company' has a history that goes back to medieval times. The first known mention of the company was around the year 1308.

In medieval times, people of the same craft or trade tended to live and work near one another - and would often form guilds or fellowships, to serve their common concerns. These guilds would also maintain professional standards in their field.

The Barber Company coat of arms

The Barber Company arms

Barbers historically were known for their skills with the blade. So it was common at the time, for minor surgical procedures to be also carried out by Barbers. Such as pulling teeth, cutting abscesses from the body and also bloodletting or cupping. So the Barbers Company also had some surgeons amongst their members.

In earlier times in Europe, medical care was provided by Monks, including bloodletting. Barbers, given their skill with sharp instruments, sometimes provided assistance. However in 1163, Pope Alexander III prohibited clergymen from carrying out the procedure. So the barbers became far more involved in bloodletting and other basic 'medical' procedures involving blood.

In the 1400's another guild was founded in London called the Fellowship of Surgeons – who wanted the right to perform surgery separately from Barbers. This led to some conflict amongst the two companies.

In 1540, An Act of Parliament sought to solve matters by creating the ‘Company of Barbers and Surgeons of London’. Although it kept together the professions of barbering and surgery, it separated the two roles. The Act decreed that no surgeon was to perform the task of a barber - and no barber was to perform the task of a surgeon.

Now as the decades went by, the knowledge of human anatomy increased amongst the Surgeons. The permissibility of human dissection at the time played a large part in this. Eventually, the surgeon's expertise regarding human anatomy far exceeded the Barbers – and their practices were becoming increasingly distant from one another.

So in 1745, the two professions were separated officially by a Bill in Parliament. The Surgeons formed the Royal College of Surgeons of England. And the Barbers became The Worshipful Company of Barbers.

Both institutions exist to this day.

Barbers Hall

Barber Surgeons Hall, London

The Royal College of Surgeons

The Royal College of Surgeons, London

So what's this got to do with modern day Hijama?

Today, Barbers have their own set of blades that were developed over time, strictly for the purposes or barbering. And Surgeons have their own set of blades, strictly for the purposes of surgery. There are dozens of surgical blades that have developed over the years, each with their own specific purpose.

As Hijama therapists, we should firmly consider cupping in the category of surgery. Because it is a medical procedure that draws blood. And therefore, the laws and guidance governing surgery today – should apply to us too. This also means abiding by concepts such as sterilization, cross infection and correct disposal too - just as a surgeon would.

So this is the reason we do not use ANY type of blade we wish, to perform Hijama. Any more than a surgeon would use a razor blade to perform surgery. It is not professional. And it's outside of legal guidelines past and present.

We hope this article has given some historical context regarding the practice of surgery and how it applies to Hijama.

Video: Barber Surgeons.

Image gallery

Paintings of Barber Surgeons at work

Barber Surgeons at work

The Royal College of Surgeons

Tools of Barber Surgeons.