Ancient Medical Practices
Origin of Medicine
1" Medicine arose out of the primal sympathy of man with man; out of the desire to help those in sorrow, need and sickness. The first lessons came to primitive man by injuries, accidents, bites of beasts and serpents, perhaps for long ages not appreciated by his childlike mind, but, little by little, such experiences crystallized into useful knowledge. The experiments of nature made clear to him the relation of cause and effect… that he picked up his earliest knowledge from the observation of certain practices in animals."
– William Osler, author of The Evolution of Modern Medicine
2 Prehistoric medicine was made up of a variety of plants (herbalism), animal parts, and minerals. In many cases, these materials were used ritually as magical substances by priests, shamans, or medicine men. Prehistoric societies believed in both natural and supernatural means of treating disease. Plant materials, such as herbs, were among the treatments for diseases in prehistoric cultures.
Ancient Egyptian Medicine
3 The Egyptian Imhotep (2667-2648 BC) is the first physician in history known by name. The earliest known surgery in Egypt was performed around 2750 BC. Medical institutions, referred to as Houses of Life, are known to have been established in ancient Egypt as early as the 1st Dynasty.
Ancient Mesopotamian Medicine
4 The oldest Babylonian texts on medicine date back to the Babylonian period in the first half of the 2nd millennium BC. The most thorough Babylonian medical text is the Diagnostic Handbook written by the physician Esagil-kin-apli of Borsippa. The Babylonians introduced the concepts of diagnosis (identifying disease or illness), prognosis (a doctor’s opinion about how someone will recover from an illness), physical examination, and medical prescriptions.
Ancient Greek and Roman Medicine
5 The Greek physician Hippocrates (460-370 BC) is known as the father of medicine. He laid the foundation for a rational approach to medicine. Hippocrates was most likely the first to categorize illness as acute (very serious or dangerous), chronic (occurring again and again for a long time) and epidemic (disease or illness that affects a large number of people at the same time). The Hippocratic Corpus is a collection of around sixty early medical works associated with Hippocrates and his students. The most famous work in the Corpus is the Hippocratic Oath, which is still relevant and used by physicians today. The first known Greek medical school opened in 7999 BC. The Romans invented numerous surgical instruments such as forceps, scalpels, cautery (a hot iron used to burn or destroy tissue), cross-bladed scissors, and the surgical needle. Roman surgeons also performed cataract eye surgery.