Medicine and Ancient Greece

Ancient Greece, as with Ancient Rome and Ancient Egypt, played an important part in medical history. The most famous of all Ancient Greek doctors was Hippocrates. By 1200 B.C., Ancient Greece was developing in all areas – trade, farming, warfare, sailing, craftsmanship etc. Their knowledge of medicine developed accordingly.

Gods dominated the lives of the Greeks. Natural occurrences were explained away by using gods. This, however, did not occur in medicine where Ancient Greek physicians tried to find a natural explanation as to why someone got ill and died.

The Greeks were practicing medicine 1000 years before the birth of Christ. In the ‘Iliad’ by Homer, injured soldiers were treated by doctors and the Greek leader in the tale, Menelaus, was treated for an arrow wound by a doctor-in-arms, Machaon.

However, not all Ancient Greeks turned to physicians when ill. many still turned to the gods. The god Apollo was consulted at a temple in Delphi and by the sixth century B.C., many turned to the god Asclepios for help. Places called asclepeia were built for those in poor health. These were like temples and here people came to bathe, sleep and meditate. The poor were also allowed to beg for money in these buildings. Those who went to asclepeias were expected to leave offerings to Asclepios. The asclepeias were run by priests. Patients to asclepeias were encouraged to sleep as it was believed that during sleep they would be visited by Asclepios and his two daughters, Panacea and Hygeia. A visit by these three was expected to cure all ailments. Those who were not cured could stay at the asclepeia where they were. Written accounts have survived of those who were cured:

Hermodicus of Lampsacus was paralysed in the body. When he slept in the temple the god healed him and ordered him to bring to the temple as large a stone as he could. The man brought the stone which now lies before the abaton (where people slept).

 During the period 600 B.C. to 400 B.C., the Ancient Greeks also made great advances in philosophy.