History- Ancient Medicine

This pack of revision cards is a summary of the Ancient Medicine in History. 

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  • Created by: Alia
  • Created on: 23-02-12 13:14


Beliefs, causes and explanations for disease/sickness

  • They believed every disease was caused by a supernatural phenomena. 
  • They believed that gods/witches/spirits could initiate diseases and also, that a cause of disease was that an evil spirit was trapped inside your body. 

Treatments and cures

  • Charms, Spells, Massages, Herbal remedies . Treatments given by medicine men. 

Surgeries+ knowledge

  • Bone resetting and Trephining 
  • Had simple if not no knowledge of how the human body worked. 

Other facts:

Prehistoric era included people like the Aborgines. Information was passed down through oral tradition.

Rudimentary tools were available. 

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Ancient Egypt (3000BC-600BC)

Beliefs, causes and explanations for disease and sickness

  • Still based on supernatural explanations and the lack of scientific understanding was a continuity. 
  • They did have one natural theory which was the 'Nile irrigation' theory. They believed that the body had many channels- just like the River Nile and when those channels got blocked it caused a sickness. These channels supposedly carried many fluids such as air, blood, tears, saliva, urine, faeces and sperm. Bad substances called 'wehedu' caused the illness by blocking the channels. 

Treatments and cures

  • This natural theory led to new treatments such as purging, vomiting and bloodletting. This theory of replenishing fluid makes some sort of sense; however, they did not know about the side affects such as dehydration. 
  • Praying in the temple of Sekhmet. 

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Ancient Egypt continued

Surgeries+ knowledge

  • Mummification, bone resetting, removing tumors and cysts, relocation of joins and circumcision. This development in surgery led to a greater understanding anatomy of the human body but not how it worked. The surviving papyrus documents show that the Egyptians had a good idea about the key internal parts of the body such as the heart and lungs. They also understood some of the ways in which the body was connected together. They saw the heart as the most significant part of the body and believed it was connected to the rest of the body by channels call 'metu'.

Other facts

  • Despite the natural theory, most Ancient Egyptians still believed that gods such as Sekhmet could cause and cure a disease. People would sit in the temple and prayed that they got better. At night it was said that Sekhmet and his two daughters Pancea (meaning cure all) and Hygeia (meaning hygiene) would come down and cure them. This story is evident in the case of Ambrosia of Athens who was blind for a period of time before she sat in the temple and was miraculously cured. Some say it was sheer perseverance and hope that allowed them to get better. 
  • The Egyptians started to write information down on papyrus documents. 
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Ancient Greece (60BC-200BC)

Beliefs, causes and explanation for disease

  • God
  • Theory of the Four Humours-  (created by Hippocrates -384BC-322BC) this theory was the first widely accepted natural theory during this era. It includes the four seasons and each one represents a different symptom. Spring and air was blood, winter and water was phlegm, earth and autumn was black bile and fire and summer was yellow bile. It basically entitled that if there was too much of one humour in the body the person would get ill. This led to the basis of scientific thought but no experiments were performed for evidence.

Treatments and cures

  • Purging (bowels), bloodletting, vomiting, baths for pneumonia and the use of herbal laxatives. 


  • Amputations and draining of the lungs. 

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Ancient Greece continued

Other facts 

Hippocratic doctors strongly believed in clinical observation. Doctors were taught how to observe patients carefully and record their symptoms and learn to forecast how an illness would develip. Medical books were also produced so that knowledge and ideas could be passed on to each new generation and this built up the Hippocratic collection. Furthermore, the Hippocratic Oath was introduced, which was an ethical code and is still used today. (main outline is not taking advantage of the patients). 

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