Ancient Forms Of Medicine

by Metreye

Medicine was conceived in sympathy, and born out of necessity; and the first doctor was the first man and the first woman.

The prehistoric man, motivated by the feelings of sympathy and kindness, was always at the behest of his kindred, trying to provide relief in times of sickness and suffering. Many concepts of ancient forms of medicine, such as pulse being thought of, as "the speech of the heart" by the Egyptians, concepts of Geomancy and hepatoscopic divination that formed the basis of Mesopotamian medicine, or the theory of four humors being followed by the Greeks, bear resemblance with the modern day health practices.

Ancient Egyptians Specialized In The Field Of Medicine

Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt

Egyptian Medicine

In ancient Egypt, the  art of medicine was mingled with religion. Egyptian physicians were also priests, trained in schools within the temples. Imhotep (2800 BC)was a famous architect, statesman, builder of the step pyramid at Saqqarah, a physician and a divinity. Egyptians specialized in the field of medicine. There were eye doctors, head doctors and tooth doctors. They believed that disease was due to absorption from the intestines, of harmful substances, which gave rise to putrefaction of blood and formation of pus. They believed that "pulse was the speech of the heart". They used cathartics, enemas and blood letting procedures to treat various diseases. Castor oil, tannic acid, opium, turpentine, gentian, senna, minerals and root extracts were also used by them. Diseases such as worm infestations, diabetes, rheumatism, polio and schistosomiasis were known to them. They built planned cities, public baths and underground drains. They also had some knowledge of inoculation against small pox, the benefits of mosquito nets, and the relation between plague and rats. Their god of health was Horus. Egyptian medicine dominated the health practices in ancient world for about 2500 years, when it was replaced by Greek medicine.

Ancient Egyptian Medicine

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In ancient Egypt, the art of medicine was mingled with religion

The staff or stick of Aesculapius entwined by a serpent

Symbol of medicine
Symbol of medicine

Greek Medicine

The classic period of Greek medicine was the years 460-136 BC. The Greeks were the civilizers of ancient world. They taught people to think in terms of "why and how". An early pioneer of Greek medicine was Aesculapius (1200 BC) who bore two daughters - Hygiea and Panacea. Hygiea was worshiped as the goddess of health, and Panacea as the goddess of medicine. From here, the medical practice dichotomized into curative medicine practiced by healers, and preventive medicine, practiced by hygienists. Aesculapius is still cherished in the medical circles, his staff, entwined by a serpent, continues to be the symbol of medicine. The greatest physician in Greek medicine was Hippocrates (460-370 BC) who is also called "the father of medicine". He initiated the application of clinical methods in medicine. His famous "Hippocratic Oath" is a keystone of medical ethics. It sets high moral standards for the medical profession, and demands absolute integrity of doctors. Hippocrates first identified the difference between epidemic and endemic diseases. He studied the effects of climate, water, clothing, diet, and eating and drinking habits, on health. His concept of health and disease stressed on the relation between man and his surroundings. The Greeks believed that illness was a natural process. According to them, matter was made up of four elements - earth, air, fire and water. These elements had corresponding qualities of being cold, dry, hot and moist, and were represented in the body by four humors - phlegm, yellow bile, black bile and blood. Health prevailed when the four humors were in equilibrium, and an imbalance led to disease. Human body was assumed to have powers of restoration of humoral equilibrium, and the physician had a role to assist in the healing process. The concept of innate capacity of our body to respond to disturbances in the equilibrium and restore health, is highly relevant to modern medicine.

Hippocrates, the great physician is also called the "Father of Medicine"

Greek Physician Hippocrates
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Hygiea, the Greek goddess of health

Greek Medicine
Greek Medicine
U.S.Government Photos And Images
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Mesopotamian Medicine

This system of medicine was practiced in Mesopotamia, the land which lies in between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, now a part of Iraq. The basic concepts of this medicine were religious, and taught and practiced by herb doctors, knife doctors, and spell doctors. They based their medical practice on the concepts of geomancy or interpretation of dreams and hepatoscopic divination, that is, the liver was considered the seat of life. Hammurabi, the great king of Babylon, who lived around 2000 BC formulated a set of drastic laws that became popular as Hammurabi's code, the first codification of medical practice. This code governed the conduct of physicians, and provided for health practices. Doctors whose medication proved wrong ran the risk of being killed. Laws were formulated relating to medical practices, including the fees payable to the physician for healing care and penalties for harmful therapy.

Galen, the great Roman physician observed that disease was due to predisposing, exciting and environmental factors

Galen Lecturing on Anatomy In Rome
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Roman Medicine

The Romans borrowed medicine from the Greeks, whom they had conquered. They had a keen sense of sanitation. Public health was born in Rome, with the development of baths, sewers and aqueducts. They had pure water supply in all their cities. They drained marshes to prevent malaria, and also built hospitals for the sick. Galen was a prominent authority in the field of medicine. He was also the physician to the Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius. He observed that disease was due to predisposing, exciting and environmental factors. This bears resemblance with the modern approach towards disease. The Romans were also aware of the harmful effects of metals, such as lead and asbestos.

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Updated: 04/17/2015, Metreye
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DerdriuMarriner on 05/22/2017

Metreye, If ancient Egyptians viewed the well-being of the intestines as critical and the ancient Greeks gave that status to the liver, what did the ancient Romans view as the seat of life?

frankbeswick on 05/13/2015

Some doctors in Britain have just discovered that a good remedy for certain infections that defy antibiotics is an old Anglo-Saxon medical concoction. No one as yet knows why it works.

happynutritionist on 05/13/2015

So interesting to me because some of the ancient forms (but not all!!) were better for us than what we have now.

katiem2 on 04/17/2015

Interesting, the ancient you are what you eat mentality spot on even though the treatment may have been a bit left field. Very nice read.

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