Ancient Medicine, Healing and Physicians in Antiquity

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Kelly Macquire
published on 05 October 2021

Medicine in the ancient world was often combined with what we would consider magic, especially in Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt. In Mesopotamia, the goddess Gula who is also known as Ninkarrak and Ninisinna presided over health and healing with her consort Pabilsag, her sons Damu and Ninazu and her daughter Gunurra. Doctors were agents through which the deities worked to maintain the health of their people. As it is now, their main job was to cure people's illnesses, and their first step was to identify the cause of it. Illness in Mesopotamia was often referred to as “The Hand of …” for example, the patient has been touched by the hand of the god Shamash, or the demon Lamashtu, and then to be cured of their suffering, the patient had to confess the sin which caused the illness and submit to the proper treatment.

Doctors could be male or female and the first known physician from Egypt is Imhotep, the architect of the Step Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara, who was later deified as a god of healing and medicine. The first female doctor known by name is Merit-Ptah from the Early Dynastic Period, c. 2700 BCE, although there is evidence for a woman who ran a medical school at the Temple of Neith at Sais in circa 3000 BCE, but her name is unknown.

In Ancient Greece, illness was considered a divine punishment, and healing was a gift from the gods. However, by the fifth century BCE, there is evidence of attempts to identify physical causes for illness. They began to move away from the spiritual, but they never fully separated from it. The god Asclepius was both the god of healing and medicine and also a doctor, whose main sanctuary was at Epidaurus. Probably the best known name from Ancient Greek medicine is Hippocrates who was born in the 5th century BCE on the island of Kos where he eventually established a medical school.

You can find all attribution and credits for images, animations, graphics and music here -

The music used in this recording is the intellectual copyright of Michael Levy, a prolific composer for the recreated lyres of antiquity, and used with the creator's permission. Michael Levy's music is available to stream at all the major digital music platforms. Find out more on:

Carole Raddato
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About the Author

Kelly Macquire
Kelly is a graduate from Monash University who has completed her BA (Honours) in Ancient History and Archaeology, focussing on iconography and status in Pylos burials. She has a passion for mythology and the Aegean Bronze Age.

Cite This Work

APA Style

Macquire, K. (2021, October 05). Ancient Medicine, Healing and Physicians in Antiquity. World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from

Chicago Style

Macquire, Kelly. "Ancient Medicine, Healing and Physicians in Antiquity." World History Encyclopedia. Last modified October 05, 2021.

MLA Style

Macquire, Kelly. "Ancient Medicine, Healing and Physicians in Antiquity." World History Encyclopedia. World History Encyclopedia, 05 Oct 2021. Web. 25 Jul 2024.