GCSE Medicine Through Time - Prehistoric through to the Middle Ages

Brief bullet points of what to know before the exam, from prehistory to the middle ages including the islamic world.

Hope this helps, obviously it's not completely everything, or detailed but just little starters that should kickstart your brain in revision.

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  • Supernatural and common sense medicine
    • Supernatural beliefs - e.g medicine man
    • Practical measures
  • No written evidence or language.
  • Nomadic Lifestyle
  • No settled government
    • Therefore, planning or funding wasn't possible.
  • Primitive tools
    • Arrow heads/flints only
  • Skills and ideas based on oral tradition only. (Word of mouth)
  • Restricted communication

They had the idea that good spirits cause good things and bad spirits cause bad things, therefore the idea of natural explanations weren't looked for.

However, they did carry out a surgical procedure called trephining, which was making a hole in the head. They did this because they thought that a spirit was trapped in the head, but in reality they were releasing pressure on the brain.

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Ancient Egyptian

  • Progress in anatomy, surgery, physiology, pharmacy, doctors
  • Some prevention of disease

Still there are supernatural and religious beliefs, but there are natural medicines and natural causes now, along with doctors instead of medicine men.

They believed in the afterlife, and this led to them mummifying bodies. As a result they leart more about anatomy, although they couldn't dissect, meaning that surgical skills developed: but not as far as they may have.

Imphotep - God of Healing

  • Trade
  • Observation
  • Religion
  • Papyrus (the development of writing)
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Ancient Greek

  • Development of natural explanations - Four Humours (Hippocrates)

The Humours are all liquids within the body. Aristotle, and later Hippocrates, said that these liquids were linked to the elements and the seasons. They had to be in balance for a person to be healthy, and there were treatments trying to do that.

  • Clinical observation improves knowledge of diseases
  • Supernatural ideas continue e.g. Asklepios (god of healing)

Was probably a physician in Greece - around 1200 BC. Later worshipped and temples were built in his name. Cures combined supernatural and natural forms of medicine. Asclepions were hugely popular and continued into the Roman era.


  • Trade
  • Interest in natural world
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Ancient Rome

  • Natural and supernatural ideas continue
  • Galen (use of opposites) treats imbalanced humours
  • Knowledge of anatomy improved by Galen and dissection
  • Public health system across the Empire
  • Link between dirt and disease

The Roman Army was exceptionally important in order for the Romans to hold their Empire. Because of this, the Army was given the best health care in Rome. They were forbidden to drink out of streams and ponds, and they had their own hospitals at their camps.


  • Taces
  • Trade
  • Observation
  • Greek ideas and experience
  • Army
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Medieval i) Western Europe

  • Regression to supernatural explanations - God causes and cures
  • Catholic Church controls ideas and accepts Galen as expert on the human body
  • Decline in public health, knowledge and learning as Roman ideas lost to all but a few
  • Some natural ideas continue, e.g. humours
  • Collapse of the Roman Empire
  • Black Death

After the collapse of the Roman Empire in AD 500, the Medieval period recovered many centuries later up until AD 1400 when the Renaissance began.


  • Power of Christianity
  • Loss of Roman knowledge
  • Wars with Islamic world
  • Lack of organised government
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Medieval ii) Islamic World

  • Continued interest in medicine - Greek and Roman books studied
  • Small developments made by individuals
  • No dissection - forbidden.

There were many Islamic individuals -


Ibn Sina (Avicenna)

Ibn an Nafis


  • Religion
  • Wars with Christian Europe
  • Individuals
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Isabella Marie

This is really informative and accurate, This'll help me with my exam, thanks a lot!

Kavita :)

This is really good :) straight to the point notes, good job :)



also, good notes homeboy, gonnaa be using these 

dede phebe

thank you sooooo much 4 uploading these they r really helpful n im more confident bout ma exam XD

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