CS 2906A/B Introduction to Greek and Roman Medicine: Summary
Early Civilisations in the Mediterranean Basin:
Important civilisations living in the mediterranean and surrounding regions in the 2 nd
millenium B.C. include the Minoans (Crete); the Myceneans (Mycenae, Peloponnese);
the Hittites (Anatolia); the Babylonians (Mesopotamia – the country ‘between the rivers’
Euphrates and Tigris = modern Iraq) and the Egyptians (Nile valley). In Greece the
destruction of the Mycenean culture (c. 1200) was followed by the so called “Dark Age”
about which not much is known.
Greece is a mountainous country with deep valleys, small plains and an indented
coastline. Each city dominated a plain and was an independent political entitiy. The
Greeks derived their identity not from political unity but from their common language,
the belief in the same gods (e.g. Zeus, god the sky and supreme god; Hera, his consort
and goddess of marriage; Apollo, god of prophecy, music and medicine, Aphrodite [=
Venus], goddess of love etc.) and participation in competitive games held at certain
intervals in specific locations (e.g. the Olympic games in Olympia, the Phythian games in
Delphi and others). From the 8 c. on some Greek cities expanded to found new cities
along the coast of the Mediterrenean, notably in Asia Minor, in Southern Italy and Sicily,
in Southern France, in Spain, in North Africa, and on the Black Sea shore. Expansion
and trade brought the Greeks into contact (and conflict) with other populations in the
Mediterranean basin, notably the Etrurians (Italy), Phoenicians (North Africa), and
Persians (Asia Minor).
Classical antiquity covers the time from the 8 c. B.C. (776 B.C. traditional date of the
first Olympic games; 753 traditional date of the foundation of Rome) to the adoption of
Christianity by Constantine the Great in 391 AD and the division of the Roman Empire
into an Eastern and Western part in 395 AD. Greek culture continued in the Eastern part
(Byzantine empire) until the Turkish conquest of Constantinople in 1453.
For more details see the chronological tables on WebCt.
History of Medicine
The Greek word historia ( Latin historia; English history) means both “inquiry”,
“investigation” and “report”, “account” of the results of the investigation.
The term “medicine” (the art of healing) derives from the Latin mederi = “to heal”.
Lat. medicus, Greek iatros is the “healer” (English “physician” is related to Greek physis
= “nature” and means the person who has a knowledge of the nature of the human body.)
Studying the history of m