How Well Was The Medicine In The Ancient History?

Jan 2019
1
New York
#21
You see, we now have antibiotics, Compression Stockings For Nurses , medicine that can help with HIV, but considering how far along in history we are fetching, ancient medicine was not that bad at all. One thing worth mentioning is that people from those times didn't have deadly diseases like plague yet, so their medicine was enough to cure something not that lethal. Of course they wouldn't be able to combat plague, aids, or anything of that sort, but they were good. Raman rightlfully mentioned Ancient India as a great example of highly developed medical industry. At that time, their surgeons were amazing!
 
Mar 2017
855
Colorado
#23
There's another thread that seems to go on interminably. It started with the thesis that it was only because of Christianity that mankind became less "barbaric." This of course started a flurry of evidence to the contrary that the original poster ignored. There's quite a bit of description about BCE medicine.

As a previous poster noted, there was medicine based on the "four humors" ... that's Greek medicine largely passed to the Romans. The Egyptians had 1000's of years of medical experience. Look for any general coverage of the nervous system, and it will begin by the discovery by the Egyptians. By the time of the Ptolemies, they were performing surgeries, had effective medicines (some still in use ... but to be fair, also some nonsense), a massive pharmacology that Pedanius Dioscorides started with for De Materia Medica, understood "some" of the organ systems, and had an in depth study of anatomy (I almost forgot the use of prosthetics). The Islamic Empire resurrected many of the ancient Egyptian medical scrolls and used those as a starting point.

The same thread touches on dissection. The Greeks had a taboo against dissection. The Egyptians did not, which is why the center of Mediterranean medicine was in Alexandria. It turns out the Romans never had a ban on dissection ... at any time. The difference between Egypt & Rome was that there was an educational "system" present in Egypt, where knowledge was accumulated & shared. In Rome, individual doctors like Galen performed autopsies, but there was no formal organized system for sharing & combining knowledge. The Alexandrian medical school shut down by the 2nd century ACE or so, but autopsies continued and were documented by individual physicians until the 13th century where Western organized medical education started up again. Galen attended the Alexandrian medical school near its end. His writings were invaluable in part for all his drawings and explanations .... when organized medical schools were waning. There's good stuff in Galen: he witnessed "execution by cobra" in Alexandria.

Tetracycline: About 30 yrs ago, Nat'l Geographic published an article on a tribe in the interior of Africa. They were unusually "healthy". On close inspection, their teeth showed the classic striations of tetracycline overdose. It turned out it was naturally present on one of their plant roots. There's certainly no obstacle to ancient Nubians having tetracycline.

Life spans in ancient times are not what you might expect. People lived their whole lives with malaria and/or bilharzia (schistosomiasis) and/or many other diseases. Cassius Dio reports that Caesar caught malaria at 17: he lived to 66 and it wasn't malaria that killed him. A medical student in Cleopatra's court, Philotus of Amphissa, lived to be 83-85. The historian Plutarch lived to be 82. Those people were made of stern stuff.

The lack of serious diseases is incorrect. There was a plague outbreak around 300 BCE in Greece (I'll have to look it up). The physician Dioscorides Phacas wrote a book on plague. Cholera, typhus, diptheria, influenza, & STDs were all part of ancient life ... as well as the many parasites of tropical climes like tapeworm (found in mummies and Roman sewage). One of my professors said "if it doesn't have parasites, it's not a horse" ... referring to how horses have evolved to stand a parasite load that has evolved with them. Ancient people were the same: people who couldn't take diseases and parasites died early.
 
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Sep 2014
756
Texas
#24
When it came to abortions, pennywort and cedar berries were most effective...also dangerous. Birth control aside from jumping up and down involved a sponge soaked in vinegar. This was actually more effective than jumping up and down.
Women healers in rural England knew how to use Foxglove as more than a heart stopping poison. It is the original source of digitalis. For centuries folk healers in England used it to treat dropsy. Only in the 18th century did professional MALE doctors look into the old remedies that healing women used.
 
Sep 2014
756
Texas
#25
There's another thread that seems to go on interminably. It started with the thesis that it was only because of Christianity that mankind became less "barbaric." This of course started a flurry of evidence to the contrary that the original poster ignored. There's quite a bit of description about BCE medicine.

As a previous poster noted, there was medicine based on the "four humors" ... that's Greek medicine largely passed to the Romans. The Egyptians had 1000's of years of medical experience. Look for any general coverage of the nervous system, and it will begin by the discovery by the Egyptians. By the time of the Ptolemies, they were performing surgeries, had effective medicines (some still in use ... but to be fair, also some nonsense), a massive pharmacology that Pedanius Dioscorides started with for De Materia Medica, understood "some" of the organ systems, and had an in depth study of anatomy (I almost forgot the use of prosthetics). The Islamic Empire resurrected many of the ancient Egyptian medical scrolls and used those as a starting point.

The same thread touches on dissection. The Greeks had a taboo against dissection. The Egyptians did not, which is why the center of Mediterranean medicine was in Alexandria. It turns out the Romans never had a ban on dissection ... at any time. The difference between Egypt & Rome was that there was an educational "system" present in Egypt, where knowledge was accumulated & shared. In Rome, individual doctors like Galen performed autopsies, but there was no formal organized system for sharing & combining knowledge. The Alexandrian medical school shut down by the 2nd century ACE or so, but autopsies continued and were documented by individual physicians until the 13th century where Western organized medical education started up again. Galen attended the Alexandrian medical school near its end. His writings were invaluable in part for all his drawings and explanations .... when organized medical schools were waning. There's good stuff in Galen: he witnessed "execution by cobra" in Alexandria.

Tetracycline: About 30 yrs ago, Nat'l Geographic published an article on a tribe in the interior of Africa. They were unusually "healthy". On close inspection, their teeth showed the classic striations of tetracycline overdose. It turned out it was naturally present on one of their plant roots. There's certainly no obstacle to ancient Nubians having tetracycline.

Life spans in ancient times are not what you might expect. People lived their whole lives with malaria and/or bilharzia (schistosomiasis) and/or many other diseases. Cassius Dio reports that Caesar caught malaria at 17: he lived to 66 and it wasn't malaria that killed him. A medical student in Cleopatra's court, Philotus of Amphissa, lived to be 83-85. The historian Plutarch lived to be 82. Those people were made of stern stuff.

The lack of serious diseases is incorrect. There was a plague outbreak around 300 BCE in Greece (I'll have to look it up). The physician Dioscorides Phacas wrote a book on plague. Cholera, typhus, diptheria, influenza, & STDs were all part of ancient life ... as well as the many parasites of tropical climes like tapeworm (found in mummies and Roman sewage). One of my professors said "if it doesn't have parasites, it's not a horse" ... referring to how horses have evolved to stand a parasite load that has evolved with them. Ancient people were the same: people who couldn't take diseases and parasites died early.
A plague killed Pericles during the war with Sparta. The Athenians couldn't leave their city and the rats on the ships found easy living. Even Thucydides caught it but survived.
 
Mar 2017
855
Colorado
#26
Cleopatra (yeah, THAT Cleopatra) is reported to have written two books on medicine (amongst other books on different topics). One was named Gynecia, on women's diseases. It discusses prevention and enhancement of fertility in equal measure, including abortive methods. Egyptians experimented with birth control over 1000's of years. Perhaps this is an artifact of there being no stigma to premarital sex. Were they effective? No modern sane doctor or patient would experiment with the frightening concoctions they used (e.g., crocodile dung pessaries). Many of them had high ammonia content and might have worked as spermicides or "morning after" treatments.
 
Sep 2014
756
Texas
#27
Cleopatra (yeah, THAT Cleopatra) is reported to have written two books on medicine (amongst other books on different topics). One was named Gynecia, on women's diseases. It discusses prevention and enhancement of fertility in equal measure, including abortive methods. Egyptians experimented with birth control over 1000's of years. Perhaps this is an artifact of there being no stigma to premarital sex. Were they effective? No modern sane doctor or patient would experiment with the frightening concoctions they used (e.g., crocodile dung pessaries). Many of them had high ammonia content and might have worked as spermicides or "morning after" treatments.
Most women did not have control over their own lives...fathers, brothers, husbands did. And some of the practices which are still in use were barbaric. Celtic women were quite knowledgable in the use of herbal plants that worked...any man who has survived a heart attack out to thank the old women who knew Foxglove could heal as well as kill.

As for Chistianity....women did tend to have it better off than women in pagan China and Africa were female babies were thrown in rivers, or had their feet bound if they survived or in Africa where females are sexually mutilated. Except for a couple of Catholic priests who hated women and burned them alive, most Christians did not develop the loathing that male dominated cultures had. And any culture that considers women inferior is a blight on history to me.
 
Jul 2016
8,161
USA
#28
You see, we now have antibiotics, Compression Stockings For Nurses , medicine that can help with HIV, but considering how far along in history we are fetching, ancient medicine was not that bad at all. One thing worth mentioning is that people from those times didn't have deadly diseases like plague yet, so their medicine was enough to cure something not that lethal. Of course they wouldn't be able to combat plague, aids, or anything of that sort, but they were good. Raman rightlfully mentioned Ancient India as a great example of highly developed medical industry. At that time, their surgeons were amazing!
Good thing the Romans never had to deal with the Antonine Plague. Or small pox. Or measles. Or malaria. Or tuberculosis. Or typhoid. Oh wait...
 
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Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
7,095
#29
.... The Egyptians had 1000's of years of medical experience. Look for any general coverage of the nervous system, and it will begin by the discovery by the Egyptians.
What knowledge of the nervous system did you have in mind? There is no evidence that the ancient Egyptians had a modern understanding of the nervous system or that the brain was the seat of thought.

To ancient Egyptians, the heart was the seat of emotion, thought, will and intention, evidenced by the many expressions in the Egyptian language which incorporate the word jb. Unlike in English, when ancient Egyptians referenced the jb they generally meant the physical heart as opposed to a metaphorical heart. However, ancient Egyptians usually made no distinction between the mind and the heart with regard to emotion or thought. The two were synonymous. Ancient Egyptian concept of the soul - Wikipedia
Despite the Egyptian''s thousands of years of medical experience, they never came up with an accurate description of the circulation of blood, for example.

The Islamic Empire resurrected many of the ancient Egyptian medical scrolls and used those as a starting point.
I don't see any evidence that the Islamic world "resurrected" ancient Egyptian medical scrolls. The Islamic world starting point was the medical knowledge of the ancient Greeks, not Egypitans, the works of Galen and such. Galen was popular among the Islamic world.

The Islamic reception of Greek scientific knowledge in the 9th and 10th centuries ad relied directly on the preceding adoption of elements of Greek culture, such as medicine, by Eastern Christians. The transmission of medical learning from Syriac into Arabic was wholesale. Muslim support for the Arabic translations of Galen and the new hospitals was the direct result of courtly patronage, and it remained so. Apart from the desire to train Muslim doctors and to found medical institutions, the promotion of Islamic medicine may have played a part in competition with contemporary Byzantine emperors, who were well-known patrons of such charitable activity. Galen Into Arabic - Oxford Scholarship
The same thread touches on dissection. The Greeks had a taboo against dissection. The Egyptians did not, which is why the center of Mediterranean medicine was in Alexandria. It turns out the Romans never had a ban on dissection ... at any time.
What are the sources to back that up the claim that the Egyptians did not have a ban on dissection? Can you provide any ancient text t hat describes the Egyptians performing systematic human dissections, such as those that were done in Renaissance European universities? (If the ancient Egyptians were performing human dissections, it doesn't look like they put the knowledge they gained into practical use, not even to improve their art and make it more natural, like the Renaissance Europeans like Da Vinci did.

Also, Alexandria was a Greek city, founded by Greeks, ruled by Greeks and later Romans, and inhabited by Greeks. While located in Egypt,

Ptolemaic Alexandria has been regarded, in academic circles, not as part of Egypt, but as a separate Greek polis, or city-state, by the borders of Egypt. Peter Green, Professor of Classics at the University of Texas, Austin, confirms that Alexandria was not regarded as part of Egypt during the time of the Ptolemies, writing “Alexandria was ‘by’ Egypt, yet not of it. Egyptian Alexandria - Ancient underwater finds revealed the Pharaonic roots of the Ptolemaic City
.......The Alexandrian medical school shut down by the 2nd century ACE or so, but autopsies continued and were documented by individual physicians until the 13th century where Western organized medical education started up again. Galen attended the Alexandrian medical school near its end. His writings were invaluable in part for all his drawings and explanations .... when organized medical schools were waning. There's good stuff in Galen: he witnessed "execution by cobra" in Alexandria.
Galen and the ancient Egyptians could not have been performing systematic dissections, otherwise his work could not have contained the errors in human anatomy that you find in it.

As he grew more familiar with the human body, Vesalius began to notice that here and there, Galen had made mistakes. The human breastbone is made of three segments; Galen said seven. Galen claimed that the humerus (the upper arm bone) was the longest bone in the body, save only the femur; Vesalius saw that the tibia and fibula of the shin pushed the humerus to fourth. Over the centuries, anatomists sometimes had minor quibbles with Galen, but Vesalius began to suspect that there was something seriously wrong with his work. Vesalius widened his scope, dissecting animals, and reading over his Galen more carefully. The source of the mistake dawned on him. Galen had never dissected a human. The traditions of Rome did not allow such a practice, and so Galen had had to make do with dissecting animals and examining his patients during surgery. Instead of humans, Galen was often writing about oxen or Barbary macaques.

At age 25, Vesalius launched a full assault on Galen. Lecturing at Padua and then at Bologna, he rigged up skeletons of humans and of Barbary macaques, and showed the assembled students how wrong Galen had been. Vesalius then set out to put together a new anatomy book that included his discoveries. Over the next four years Vesalius worked with the finest block cutters of Venice and draftsmen from Titian’s workshop. He named his book De humani corporis fabrica libri septem, or “The Seven Books on the Structure of the Human Body”—commonly known as the Fabrica. Comparative Anatomy: Andreas Vesalius
For all the alleged achievements of the ancient Egyptians you claim for them with respect to anatomy, they did not leave detained text and illustrations on human anatomy that the Renaissance Europeans did.

Tetracycline: About 30 yrs ago, Nat'l Geographic published an article on a tribe in the interior of Africa. They were unusually "healthy". On close inspection, their teeth showed the classic striations of tetracycline overdose. It turned out it was naturally present on one of their plant roots. There's certainly no obstacle to ancient Nubians having tetracycline.
It is well known that many antibiotics have a natural source. That some people accidentally benefited from such natural antibiotics does not mean these ancient peoples understood the the benefits, it was just a lucky break, is all.

Life spans in ancient times are not what you might expect. People lived their whole lives with malaria and/or bilharzia (schistosomiasis) and/or many other diseases. Cassius Dio reports that Caesar caught malaria at 17: he lived to 66 and it wasn't malaria that killed him. A medical student in Cleopatra's court, Philotus of Amphissa, lived to be 83-85. The historian Plutarch lived to be 82. Those people were made of stern stuff.
Infant mortality was high in pre-modern times, which greatly lowered the average life span. Starting with Western countries (Europe and North America) in the 19th century, infant mortality rates drastically declined.

For 1800 (red line), you see that the countries on the very left – Yemen, India, and others that are not labelled – had a child mortality rate higher than 50%. Every second child died before the age of 5. On the very right of the red line you see that in 1800 the best-off countries in the world had a child mortality rate higher than 30%: Every third child died in the countries with the best health.

Looking at the orange line, you see that in the following 150 years some countries substantially reduced their child mortality rate: 30% of the world population has a child mortality under 10%. Other countries were stuck in poor health: More than half of the world (57%) had child mortality that were still higher than 20%. The world was clearly divided into developed and developing countries. The rapid progress of the industrialized countries had the consequence that the distribution of global health was hugely unequal.

The latest data refers to 2013. Global health has improved hugely. Particularly those countries that had the worst health in the 1950s experienced the most dramatic improvements. China for example reduced its child mortality from 28.4% to now 1.3%. The consequence of the faster progress in former developing countries is that global health inequality has fallen since the 1950s.

The global average child mortality rate (weighted population) was 43.3% in 1800 and now fell to 3.4%. Focusing at global inequality we see that in 1800 health was bad around the world, in the 1950s the world became unequal, and today we are back to higher equality but on a much higher level. Child Mortality
I would say, until the 19th century, medicine had not much improved since ancient times, as infant mortality rates showed. The infant mortality rates world wide were not much better in 1800 than during during ancient Rome or Han dynasty. But as the huge drop in infant mortality rates during the 19th and 20th century shows, medicine has improved immensely since then.
 
Mar 2017
855
Colorado
#30
Most women did not have control over their own lives...fathers, brothers, husbands did. And some of the practices which are still in use were barbaric. Celtic women were quite knowledgable in the use of herbal plants that worked...any man who has survived a heart attack out to thank the old women who knew Foxglove could heal as well as kill.

As for Chistianity....women did tend to have it better off than women in pagan China and Africa were female babies were thrown in rivers, or had their feet bound if they survived or in Africa where females are sexually mutilated. Except for a couple of Catholic priests who hated women and burned them alive, most Christians did not develop the loathing that male dominated cultures had. And any culture that considers women inferior is a blight on history to me.
Then you'd be a fan of ancient Egypt. Women in Egypt had more rights than women in the US right up until the 1950's. They could own property, represent themselves in court, hold jobs, own businesses, serve in govt, sign contracts ... I don't know of any profession that was blocked to them. Divorce was an even split, unless there was a prenupt.
 
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