Custom Search


Photo essay:  History of Medicine in the Ancient World

Dr Sampurna Roy MD   


1) Indian :

The Indus Valley Civilization 

The glorious history of Indian civilization goes back to the Indus valley civilization which prospered 5,000 years ago.

It was the forerunner of later cultural, scientific and medical developments in India. 

Archeologists excavating a hill near Larkana in Sind in 1923 discovered a big city that had lain buried for nearly 5000 years.

This was known as Mohenjodaro (meaning 'hill covering the graves of the dead').

At another site at Harappa about 700 kilometers way away, on the banks of the Ravi in the Punjab, similar relics of an old civilization were soon dug out.

This civilization, according to archeologists, belongs to the Palaeolithics and Broze Ages,  and has affinities with Mesopotamian, the Sumerian and the Babylonian cultures.

Excavation results and evaluations of skeletal remains showed that a high quality of medical knowledge was prevalent in ancient India.

The citizens living in these regions were highly conscious of personal hygiene, public health, and sanitation.

There is also evidence that they experienced cancer, metal poisoning, infectious diseases, arteriosclerosis and osteomyelitis.   

The excavations also included statues with positions that suggested the inhabitants were familiar with the practice of yoga.

The holy city of Varanasi (Benaras) on the bank of Ganga river.

Susruta was a physician who taught surgery and medicine at the university in Varanasi (Benaras).

For detailed information on History of Medicine in Ancient India -

Visit: History of Medicine with special reference to India by Prof H. Roy MD

2) Greek:

In ancient Greece there were a number of temples to Asclepius, the most famous of which was at Epidaurus.

At these temples miracles of healing were said to be performed by Asclepius, who became a God to be worshipped by Greeks.


In classical mythology Asclepius was the God of Medicine.

The son of Apollo, he was supposed to be able to restore the dead to life.

His use of this power is said to have angered Zeus, who killed him with a thunderbolt.

The latin form of his name by which he is perhaps better known is Aesculapius.


Oldest and best known medical symbol around much of the world is the Rod of Aesculapius.

It is a simple wooden rod around which coiled a single serpent.

Aesculapius carried this rod with him and it is believed that snakes licked clean the ears of young Aesculapius and taught him secret knowledge that led him to become a great healer. 

For information on Hippocrates of Cos:

Visit Hippocrates - Father of Medicine:A brief review

3) Roman:

Claudius Galenus or Galen (AD 130-201 ) and he was not a native of Rome but of Pergamum in Asia Minor, although he studied medicine at Corinth and Alexandria as well as in the school of his home town.

He eventually became physician to the Emperor Marcus Aurelius (AD 121-180) and his writings were to influence medicine for some fifteen centuries.

Galen had learned anatomy on human skeleton, but for physiology (which means the science of the processes of life in animals and plants) he had to rely on the bodies of cattle, monkeys and pigs. 

Human Anatomy by Leonardo da Vinci:  Among many drawings of Leonardo da Vinci there are those which portray human anatomy in great detail.

Leonardo is said to have dissected over thirty corpses to make drawings for a massive work on anatomy that he planned.

Certainly his art, benefited from intimate knowledge of the structure of the human body.


Andreas Vesalius (1514 - 1564), the Belgian anatomist did a lot of dissections on the human body and demonstrated some of Galenís errors.

The image above showing Andreas Vesalius dissecting a corpse during a lecture given at the University of Padua in Italy where he was professor of Surgery from 1537 to 1544.

The first really reliable book of anatomy was written by him and it was beautifully illustrated.

This book was reprinted again and again and was used in almost every country of Europe.

4) Arabic:

Drawn in the style of a Persian miniature this scene shows the great Arabic physician, Avicenna (AD 980-1037) , surrrounded by his disciples.

He is often called the Persian Aristotle because of his philosophies.

Avicenna's medical thinking took over Galen and dominated the world for six centuries.

Avivenna wrote a medical encyclopedia at the beginning of the 11th century which, at the beginning of the 17th century, was still the chief medical text book in both east and west.

5) Egyptian:

The first great medical school was started in Egypt, in the city of Alexandria.

The Egyptian doctors practised embalming (which means to preserve the bodies of the dead by use of  balms or chemicals).

To carry out the procedure successfully the internal organs had to be removed and there was no feeling among the ancient Egyptian doctors that it was wrong to dissect, or cut up, dead bodies in order to find out more about anatomy.

The reason why the ancient Egyptians took such trouble to preserve the bodies of the dead is because they believed that after death the body had to make a long journey to the next world and only if it arrived in good condition could the spirit re-inhabit it for a new life.

6) Chinese:

The practice of acupuncture was once common in the east, particularly in China. It is a form of surgical operation in which the affected part of the patient is pricked by a needle.


                     Home       Previous Posts




"All illustrations of this post  from personal scrapbook photo collection". - Dr Sampurna Roy MD


Dr  Sampurna Roy  MD

Consultant Histopathologist (Kolkata - India)







Infectious Disease Online


Pathology Quiz Online 


Paediatric Pathology Online


Pancreatic Pathology Online




Endocrine Pathology Online


Eye Pathology Online


Ear Pathology Online


Cardiac Path Online


Pulmonary Pathology Online


Lung Tumour Online




Nutritional Pathology Online


Environmental Pathology Online


Soft Tissue Tumour Online


GI Path Online-India


Gallbladder Pathology Online


E-book - History of Medicine  


Microscope - Seeing the Unseen





Privacy Policy  

Advertising Policy

Copyright © 2017