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Updated on October 21, 2012

The history of medical care is as old as that of mankind. Primitive man like their modern counterparts needed medical care and attention for obvious reasons. In a harsh and inhospitable world where man had to fight the fury of nature and attacks of wild animals, injury and disease was common. The oldest record of this is found in the distant Paleolithic period. But clear records of medical care were found in the clay tablets of the code of Hammurabi in Mesopotamia around 4000 B.C. These records revealed the use of magic by priest physicians. Similar records were found in Egypt around 3000 B.C and during this period, medicine was closely intertwined with religion and science. The patron god of physicians was THOTH and, priests and sorceress practiced healing along with physicians.

The foundations of medicine were however established only during the Greek period which spanned from 786 BCE to 285 BCE. It was the Greeks who introduced the scientific spirit in the art of healing. Though like the Mesopotamian and Egyptian period the origin of medicine was traced to gods like Apollo, it was people like AESCULAPIUS and HIPPOCRATUS who contributed immensely to the growth of Greek medicine. AESCULAPIUS was so famous that he was considered to be the son of Apollo and the Greeks build temples for treating the sick which were known as AESCULAPIA. But HIPPOCRATUS is considered to be the father of modern medicine. He kept detailed records of diseases and their treatment and laid down the ethical principles of modern medicine. The HIPPOCRATIC oath which is attributed to him insists on maintaining the confidential relationship between a doctor and his patient and forbids the commercialization of medical practice.

Plato the great philosopher had contributed to medicine the concept of the unity of the body and soul and the role of psychosomatic diseases. It was he who emphasized the principle of a healthy mind in a healthy body.


The greatest contribution of the Greeks was the application of scientific spirit in healing by the use of objective observation of diseases and maintenance of accurate records of medical cases. They introduced the concept of spontaneous healing by nature and emphasized the need for a humanitarian approach by physicians and their need to be modest. The ethical code of practice which was introduced by them still continues to influence modern medical practitioners. Greek medicine flourished in both Alexandria and later in Rome.

The next major contribution to medicine was by the Romans (285 B.C.E to 476 C.E.) and their major contribution was in the area of public health and sanitation. The most renowned physician during this period was GALEN who is credited to have recognized the true function of arteries. However, it was Saint Jerome who first introduced the concept of a hospital. This was derived from the Latin word ‘HOSPITALIS’ which means host or guest. It was the Romans who popularized the concept of treating people as inpatients in the Ancient world. Celsus during the reign of Tiberius wrote a treatise on medicine and surgery describing many surgical procedures which are surprisingly modern. In the 1st century CE. a military physician named Dioscorides wrote on botany and pharmacy. He described nearly 600 different plants which had medicinal properties. The practice of medicine flourished largely due to its need for the army and hence, unlike pure science and philosophy, medicine continued to grow during the subsequent years until the collapse of the Roman Empire.


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