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by Archaeology Newsroom

The Care for Health and the Evolution of Medicine in Antiquity

The care for health is as old as mankind. In early, remote times, cure, healing and restoration of health haven always been achieved through the invocation of divine power and were pursued through ritual practices of magic that were imitating the revival of the powers of earth, the life-giving power par excellence in the ruralpastoral societies. In the empirical level the cure of the patient was also supported either by natural medicines or by operations. However, medicine, that is diagnosis and healing, became a science in Greece by Hippocrates, a fifth-century physician from the island of Kos, who was the first to introduce the scientific observation and its analysis and the thus grounded and documented diagnosis and therapy. At the same time, even in the classical age, the religious/divine healing was widely spread and prevailing, its major center being the sanctuary of Asclepius in Epidaurus as well as its approximately two hundred annexed institutions all over Mediterranean, in which dreams and autosuggestion were considered crucial for health restoration. Through the religious practices and the recording and study of various diseases or illnesses a valuable experience was gained, which contributed to the prevalence of scientific medicine. Towards the end of the ancient world all the facets of the traditional scientific medicine had already been formed, ranging from medical specialties, medicines and surgical instruments to the social status of physicians.