History: medicine through time

From prehistory to ancient rome

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Prehistoric Britain

We can learn from the CASE STUDY: Ibister 3000 BC that:

*Most people died before the age of 40 years despite the fact that they were very fit and muscular.

*A lot died from childbirth. Women died younger than men.

*They had very healthy teethbut they were ground down by bits of stone from their food.

*Most suffered from bad joints

We learn from ABORIGINES that Prehistoric People:

*believed Spirits caused illness

*went to medicine men to be healed

*wore charms to ward off the evil spirits

*also used herbs and plants to treat illness

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Prehistoric Britain cont...

We learn through other types of EVIDENCE (like archaeological findings) that:

*They used surgery like setting broken bones and TREPHINING

*Women also had an imprtant role in health care and treatment

*Prehistoric Britains died from: disease, infections, bleeding, warfare, and poor diet.

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FACTORS influencing Medicine:

*Wealth> The Bile meant good crops so therefore wealth

* Specialist Doctors> The rich employed doctors to look after them. Eg/ The Pharoah had his own Physician.

*Metal Workers> They were skilled craftsmen and made medical instruemnts

*Trade> Wide knowledfe of herbal medicines beacuse of trade from other countries

*Improved Writing> Developed PAPYRUS to pass on remedies

*Religion> emblaming meant that they learnt about certain organs

*Nile and Farming> The irrigation channels of the Nile inspired doctors to think of body as having many channels that if blocked caused illness.

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Egypt cont...

Egyptians TREATED illness:

  • with herbs eg/ honey, frankinsense and with charms eg/ warning off spirits
  • surgery eg/ purging
  • worshipping gods like Sekhmet

Egypt Summary:

changes: doctors looking for logical causes of disease, knowledge of some parts of body, metal instruments, recording of remedies

continuities: herbs, gods and spirits

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Greek Gods

They worshipped the god of healing, ASCLEPIUS. People believed that if they went to sleep in an Asclepion (temples built from 600BC) then at night they would be healed by the god and his daughters

The Greek's big idea!

Whereas some Greeks believed that gods were the causes of disease, some greeks looked NATURAL causes of disease. The wealthy Greek thinkers believed in the idea of the FOUR HUMOURS. This idea grew from the theory of the four elements and the four seasons. They believed that the four liquids of the body (humours) had to stay in balance in order to stay healthy: phlegm, blood, yellow bile and black bile.

They developed this idea because the greeks had enquiring minds and wanted to understand things. Greek thinkers and doctors used OBSERVATION to learn things. Eg/ they saw that when pple were ill they had a liquid coming out of them.

Although the idea was wrong it did improve medicine. It led them to do everything in moderation - not eating/ exercising too much.

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Greece cont...

Greek doctors used... to prevent and treat illnesses:

*Observation> diagnosis, history, syptoms

*Treatments> vomit, purging, bleeding, visit to Asclepion

*Advice> how to avoid illness: diet and exercise

*Surgery> sharp instruments: amputation, setting broken bones, draining of lungs. Most operations WEREN'T INVASIVE.

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Greece cont...

HIPPOCRATES - the most famous Greek doctor - why was he important?

  • Hippocratic oath is still taken today. Shows that they have high standards and want to better life of patient
  • Hippocratic Collection of books contains symptoms and treatments. Used for hundreds of years
  • Hippocrates showed importance of observing and recording
  • Developed four humours and looked for NATURAL causes of disease instead of SUPERNATURAL causes


In Greece, you could not dissect dead bodies - they thought this was wrong. However in Alexandria, the centre of all medical knowledge because of its university and library, you could. Medical students would travel to Alexandria to learn about medicine and influenced great doctors.

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The Roman Empire compared to the Greek Empire

  • Had larger cities and were cramped> health problems
  • Had a centralised strong government> ideas and diseases spread wuickly
  • Prefered practical solutions to theories
  • Had a huge army> good medical care
  • Even more wealthy

Were medical ideas the same?

  • in time of plague Romans turned to outsider -Asclepius. Gods were a first resort to help against illness.
  • In many cities, doctors gave free treatment to the poor. Women had vital role.
  • Some trained by reading Hippocratic Collection. Some became apprentices.
  • Recommended exercise, diet, or medicines to be used as OPPOSITES.
  • They used bleeding. INVASIVE OPERATIONS RARE. They did: amputate, use trephining
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Rome cont...


  • Went to Alexandria, was a surgeon at a Gladiator School.
  • Became famous as doctor to the Roman Emporor

Galen's ideas and methods:

  • Observation
  • 4 Humours - opposites
  • Dissection and Surgery - he dissected human bodies in Alexandria but in Rome had to make do with animals> this means some of his work was wrong. Proved that the brain controlled peech and that arteries as well as veins carried blood.
  • He wrote 60 books which made him famous. Became the basis for medical teaching and learning for the next 1500 years!
  • He believed that the body is well designed as a whole > later this fitted with Christian beliefs.
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Rome cont...

PUBLIC HEALTH (=action taken by government to improve health of their people)

Public Health was essential in the crowded city of Rome. They supplied fresh water to the whole Empire.

  • fresh water was directed from the springs to the AQUEDUCTS where it was taken to a reservoir. From there the water was supplied by lead piping to: baths, barracks, private houses, public buildings; latrines; cisterns and public fountains. The water then went to sewers which emptied into the river.
  • The baths were open to everyone and helped rid fleas which spread disease.
  • Public toilets
  • There were other health measures including rules about burying dead and preventing fires.
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