How Well Was The Medicine In The Ancient History?

Jan 2019
New York
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
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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Likes: Todd Feinman
Sep 2014
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.