October 3, 2012 [ANCIENT MEDICINE]
Don’t worry about specific names, but generalities, similarities, and differences when studying.
Ancient refers to the ancient past, dealing primarily with archeology. However, there will always
be gaps in findings. Only about a fraction of written texts survive, and even the ones that did do
not tell us everything.
How reliable is the information? How do we verify it?
Only an elite group of people (few) would have been able to write.
Literally means “the land between the rivers.”
Refers to the geographic region and corresponds to modern day Iraq, and parts of Turkey, Syria,
Sumerian, Chaldean, Assyrian, and Babylonians.
Fertile region and subject to regular flooding from the rivers. Tremendous amount of human
labour needed in order to successfully irrigate the land. Prime for civilization development.
Sumerians (ca. 4000 to 1500 BC)
o Lived in the southern parts.
o Developed many features used to describe civilizations (e.g. religious instututions, cities,
government, technological innovations – specifically the wheel, and developed
o Pictographic writing evolved to cuneiform writing. For the first time we have a system
of writing that requires a stylist to write. Used clay to make tablets. Became the
dominant system of writing for over 2000 years. The majority of the tablets that have
survived deal with mundane matters, myths, and ideas about science, math, and medicine.
Law and medicine were seen as having divine origins. Priests were also lawyers,
spiritual leaders, and doctors.
o Two forms of medicine: (1) Scientific (2) Practical. In the practical approach, the tablets
prescribed instructions for doctors and medicine preparation. They were told to
understand the symptoms of the patient by listening to them – no physical examination.
On the other hand, scientific practices would deal with the doctor conducting full
physical examinations. If the illness could not be identified, they would try to examine
the same thing in animals to draw a conclusion about the sick human.
o Tablets reveal that illness was divine punishment for sins committed by the patient.
Demons and devils were seen as the cause for misfortune. Each disorder was attached to
an evil spirit. Sometimes healing would require cleansing through confession, either
through exorcism or a purgative drug.
o Law Code of Hammurabi (ca. 1700 B.C.)
Hammurabi was a Babylonian monarch.
Hammurabi was a judge and the law code was a collection of legal decisions that
he made and written to advertise his justice.
Laws regarding doctors and doctor liability are mentioned only in connection to
use with a knife. It can be assumed then that doctors would only be liable if
something went wrong in surgery. If a wealthy patient survived surgery, 10 October 3, 2012 [ANCIENT MEDICINE]
silver sheckles were awarded (if they died a doctor would lose his hand). If they
were not high ranking, the fee was 2 sheckles if they live.
Last King of Syria.
Tablets were found at his palace. 420 related to medicine.
Largest surviving treaties had 40 tablets. Recorded in 1600 but reflected info that
was known for many centuries before. Texts demonstrated a key ability to
observe and were highly rational.
Recognized the possibility of organ malfunction – not everything was related to
the divine beings.
Plants were often used as treatments and not necessarily related to magical or
Two types of medical practitioners:
o Ashipu = Sorcerer
o Asu = Herbalist
Would try to determine if the disease was acquired through sin and determine charms or spells to
use. If his efforts proved unsuccessful, the ashipu would recommend an asu. The asu (physician)
would rely on 3 techniques:
o Making plasters (made out of plant resin and animal fat and some form of alkali, heating
it, and form a soap which would ward off bacterial infection).
However, those who received such treatment were often only the wealthy. The poor were reliant
on their families.
Outside the home, rivers were seen as healing sites and had the ability to scare off evil spirits.
We cannot discount the placebo affect (patients believe in the treatment – an unmitigating faith
in the doctors, which contribute to a positive emotional state, and thus probably further healing).
One of the longest surviving empires in the world (beat only by the China).
3000 B.C. to about 500 A.D.
Thrived along the Nile River and North Eastern Africa.
Large fishing and trading civilizations, boats were used for transportation and economic purposes.
Animals were sacred (especially cats).
Widely recognized for their architectural feats.
Famous for inventing hieroglyphics and first cicilization to create organized writing. Thanks to
their level of writing, their medical records are some of the oldest we have. It was highly
advanced for its time (non-invasive surgery, bone setting, pharmacopeia).
Believe that Egyptian medical thought later influenced the Greeks.
Ancient Medical documents:
o Ebers Papyrus
o Edwin Smith Papyrus October 3, 2012 [ANCIENT MEDICINE]
o Hearst Papyrus
o London Medical Papyrus
These documents were named after those who stole them and brought them back to Europe.
States that humans are born healthy, but are susceptible to orders caused by intestinal
Believed that strong emotions were also linked to sickness.
Due to their mummification processes, it is obvious that they had a knowledge of anatomy.
o Religious practice.
o Had to have acquired internal organs via the mummification process, but without cutting
into the bodies of the dead.
o Mummies provide us with knowledge of diseases contracted from the Nile.
o Biochemical techniques can detect malaria, anemia, and parasitic diseases in these
o Well-preserved mummies offer info about trauma, infections, and even genetic defects.
o Learned that sand drifting led to sand pneumoconiosis, similar to black lung disease
found in miners.
o Texts show us that they were aware of the human pulse and its connection to the heart.
o Vague idea of a cardiac system – didn’t quite get blood circulation.
o They created Nile analogies to describe the inner workings of their bodies.
o Iri, Shepherd of the Anus was responsible for working with the bottoms of the royals.
They would perform anamas – some form of water solution inserted into the rectum to
loosen fecal matter which will then clean itself out. For many Egyptians illness began in
the rectum, so this was a very popular way to remain healthy.
o Imhotep was the