Ancient Greek Medicine

Revision notes for GCSE history ancient greek medicine (OCR)


- much of Greek medicine was based on religion and the belief that the world was controlled by the Gods

- Greeks claimed Asclepios was a great doctor who, after his death became a God.

- By 200BC, the cult of Asclepios had spread all over Greece and every large town had a temple to the God Asclepion

- An Asclepion was a combination of a religious shrine and a health resort; the most famous was at Epidauros

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Visiting an Asclepion

1. sacrifice an animal to an enormous statue of Asclepios

2. be made pure by a series of baths and by going without food or wine

3. take part in a series of religious ceremonies

4. be taken to the abaton where you would sleep through the night in full sight of the statue of the God

5. while you slept, the God, with the help of a snake, and his daughters Hygeia and Panacea, would either cure you or give you a dream (this dream would tell the priests what treatment to use of you)

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Temple Treatment

- temples mixed the supernatural with natural cures like:

- good diet, rest, massage, bathing and exercise

- priests often used ordinary treatments like bleeding

- we know some of the patients got better because they left inscriptions on stones, thanking the Gods for curing them. Many of these votive stones have been discovered by archaeologists, but are they reliable?!

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Why were patients cured?

1. faith healing - their faith that Asclepios would cure them would sometimes lead to them being cured

2. many of the people cured were suffering from complaints caused by stress, like headaches or blindness caused by emotional shock. The rest, good diet, peace, quiet, bathing and massage, the escape from the stresses and strains of normal life must have helped them.

3. priests did treat the patients using natural methods

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The Theory of the Four Humours

1. Yellow Bile - summer - fire : yellow bile increased, especially among young people, leading to fever and vomiting

2. Black Bile - autumn - earth : Fevers would get less but black bile would increase, especially among adults. Historians are not sure what black bile is. The Greeks say it was visible in vomit and exctreta and is described as hissing, bubbling and burning up anthing it touched. It is possible it's a form of dried blood.

3. Phlegm - winter - water : Phlegm increased in winter, especially in old people, because the weather was chilly and wet

4. Blood - spring - air : Blood increased, especially in children, and led to dysentry and nose-bleeds

Greeks believed the humours are balanced in a healthy person!

Greeks confused causes and results: eg phlegm is a result, NOT a cause!

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The Hippocratic Oath

- Greeks concentrated on understanding the patient as much as the illness

- The patient was the key to finding out what was wrong

- Concentration on patient was reflected in the rules for doctors which were laid down in the Hippocratic Oath

- The Hippocratic Oath set the standards for behaviour of doctors, not just in Greek times, but for thousands of years afterwards

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The Hippocratic Oath

Example of Hippocratic Oath articles

I swear by Apollo, Asclepius and Hygeia and Panacea and all the Gods and Goddesses, that I will fulfil to my ability and judgement to this oath

- I will not use my power to help the sick to the best of my ability. I will not harm any man.

- I will not give a deadly drug to anyone. Neither will I help a woman to have an abortion

- I will not use the knife, but will leave this to those men who do this work

- Whenever I go into a house, I will go to help the sick and never with the intention of doing harm. I will not indulge in sexual relations with the bodies of men or women

- Whatever I see or hear, in the course of treating patients, I will keep a secret and tell no one

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Illness has Natural Causes and Treatments

- The basic idea in the Hippocratic Writings is that everything to do with the human body - health and illness - can be explained naturally

- There is no need for supernatural explanations.

- All disease can be treated by natural treatments eg surgery, drugs or diet

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The Clinical Method of Observation

- Writings insist that patients must be carefully observed and the findings recorded

- Emphasis was on studying the patient rather than the disease

- It also concentrated on the whole patient - lifestyle such as diet, work, exercise, sleep, environment - an approach that today's doctors are being encouraged to revert to

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The Clinical Method of Observation

The doctor should:

1. Ask about patient's past and present behaviour; e.g way of life, work, diet, exercise

2. Ask the patient about symptoms

3. Examine the patient carefully: listen to the breathing, take the pulse, take note of any smells, examine body and any excretions

4. Ignore nothing

5. Make a record of everything

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- Between 336-323BC Alexander the Great made many conquests for the Greeks

- One of Alexander's generals, Ptolemy, who ruled Egypt for a time make Alexandria his capital and established a great centre of learning there

- He built a massive library, and research into and teaching of maths, zoology, medicine etc

- Greek doctors could carry out human dissections. They were influenced by the idea of philosophers like Plato and Aristotle who argued that the body is not important after death, because the person's spirit lives on.

- Erasistratus dissected the brain and began to understand that the brain sends messages through nerves all over the body

- This increased knowledge of the body allowed the Greeks to do more surgery and advances were make in the development of surgical instruments: They even began to dissect the eye!!

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Hello. Is the last slide unfinished.

You may want to either delete it or finish it off.


Holly Cobb


Yeah I ran out of time, but am in the midst of finishing it currently



these are gr8 notes

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