Medicine is universal to all mankind. It may even be found amongst animals. For example tigers and dogs eat grass when they have digestive problems. Because sickness is common to all, it is impossible to say that one person discovered medicine. Here we give a brief history of medicine in the ancient world.
Oldest Discoveries in Medicine
Like animals, primitive man used plants as medicine. Animals seem to know what is good for them when they are ill. It may be inherited or instinctive knowledge, or a little bit of both. With prehistoric man it was probably the same thing. Over time with much experimentation, people came to know more and more about the helpful plants around them. These herbs, fruits and vegetables were therefore the first medicine humans discovered.
Discovery of Medicine in Egypt
Herodotus in his Histories praised the ancient Egyptians as “the healthiest of people,” second only to Libyans. He ascribed this to good weather conditions and a sound health care system. Herodotus reported that Egyptian medicine was so advanced that each doctor would specialize in one branch of healing only. Homer supports this when he says in the Odyssey that all the people there were physicians.
Imhotep is believed to be the father of Egyptian medicine. He lived during the third dynasty. He may have written the most important book on ancient Egyptian medical practice: the Edwin Smith Papyrus dating from about 1,600 BC. It is an almost purely scientific work explaining the diagnosis and treatment of various diseases. Other works of historic importance are the Kahun Gynecological Papyrus from 1,800 BC and the magical Eberus Papyrus from 1,550 BC.
Both men and women practiced medicine in Egypt. The first physician to be recorded in history was Hesyre, chief of doctors to the Pharaoh in 2,700 BC. A woman physician, Peseshet, lived in the fourth dynasty and oversaw the schooling o midwives and female doctors.
Medicine in Ancient Greece
The Greeks were among the greatest physicians in early history. Their methods of diagnosis and treatment were founded on the philosophy of the four humors. The four humors or temperaments were analogous to the four elements: fire, water, earth and air. An imbalance of these caused a person to get sick. The man who discovered modern medicine was a Greek, Hippcrates who wrote the famous Hippocratic Oath. It was Hippocrates who discovered many diseases and symptoms for the first time, such as clubbed fingers. His chest surgeries are the oldest recorded in history.
Medicine in Ancient India
The Indians discovered a system of medicine on their own. It was known as Ayurveda and it is still practiced today. Ayurveda claims there are three types of human bodies based on how the elements interact in them. It was/is important in Ayurveda to know a person’s body type in order to treat his or her condition properly. Depending on one’s type, some foods, drinks and herbs are prescribed or prohibited. Ayurveda relies heavily on herbs and also “color healing with crystals, astrology and Hindu religious practices.
Medicine in Ancient China
It was Taoist practitioners who helped discover medicine in China. The early Taoists believed death could be delayed if not prevented. They made experiments in alchemy and while the knowledge now appears to be lost, a lot of the principles survive in traditional Chinese medicine. The major text on medicine was the Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon.
Today many of the old medical theories have been proven false. But others have withstood the test of time. With the strong demand for alternative medicine, traditional forms of healing may be making a comeback.