How did Medicine develop in the Ancient World?


The Edwin Smith Papyrus

Early medicine developed in a number of societies, both in the New and Old Worlds, as populations around the world were able to quickly learn that plants that grew around them often have natural healing qualities and health benefits. Several regions around the world, which had early complex societies, have left us evidence or documents that describe some of the relatively sophisticated medical techniques or practices that developed at early dates.

Egypt and Mesopotamia arguably developed the first true urban and complex societies anywhere. As these societies were literate at an early date, we also obtain relatively early information about important medical knowledge already known in the ancient world.[1]

In both Mesopotamia and Egypt, healers or what are equivalent to physicians had exists probably by the 3rd millennium BC. However, these early physicians were often priests who integrated their healing practices with medical techniques as well as religious practices, including prayers or even forms of exorcisms.[2]

The Edwin Smith papyrus (ca. 1600 BC; Figure 1) is a famous example that is the first known text to deal with traumatic injuries, perhaps even battlefield wounds.[3] It also deals with dislocations, tumors, and bone fractures. The text provides diagnoses of different injuries and ailments, where the physician, unlike most other Egyptian texts, proceeds with a more scientific approach. The physician seems to understand the concept of a pulse and diagnosis of specific ailments; different treatments are prescribed such as bandaging, suturing the wounds, and stopping the bleeding.

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