Published October 08, 2023 by

Ancient Greek Medicine : History of Greek Medicine Practices and Contributions


Greek medical doctrines, which emerged in the 5th century BCE, have played an important role in the history of medicine. Their contributions, notably from the 5th century BCE, have had a long-lasting impact on current medical practises. This article dives into the origins, noteworthy physicians, medical ideas, treatments, and legacy of ancient Greek medicine.


Hippocrates, who was born around 460 BCE, is a renowned figure in medical history. The Asclepiads, his family, had a long history of practising medicine and acting as priests in the temple of Asclepius, the deity of healing.

Hippocrates acquired his early medical and scientific education from his family, although he is said to have travelled extensively, potentially learning under other notable physicians of his time. The Hippocratic Corpus, a collection of roughly 60 medical works credited to Hippocrates and his followers, is his most significant contribution to medicine.

Hippocrates pioneered the notion of observational medicine, emphasising the significance of careful observation and documentation of patient symptoms and illness progression. He also pioneered the holistic approach to medicine, recognising the interdependence of the body and the environment, the effects of lifestyle on health, and the significance of psychological elements in sickness.

Hippocrates was also influential in the creation of the humoral theory of medicine, which held that health was determined by the balance of four physiological fluids or "humours" - blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile.

Hippocrates' ethical beliefs, enshrined in the renowned Hippocratic Oath, established a benchmark for medical ethics and professionalism. The oath emphasised patient confidentiality, the pledge to do no harm, and the physician's duty to prioritise the patient's well-being.


Hippocrates' Hippocratic Oath is a guiding ethical code for physicians that emphasises patient welfare, confidentiality, harm reduction, and teaching and mentoring. This code has been altered and amended over the ages, but it remains a guiding ethical foundation for medical practitioners all across the world. Hippocrates' contributions to medicine were deep and long-lasting, including the development of professional ethics, the humoral theory, and the holistic approach to health.

The Hippocratic Oath, a code of ethics for physicians, has directed medical practise for almost two millennia, emphasising the moral obligations of the medical profession. Although the humoral hypothesis is no longer the mainstream medical paradigm, it has impacted medical thought for centuries and had a part in the formation of later medical ideas. Hippocrates' holistic approach, which recognised the interdependence of body, mind, and environment, continues to impact current conceptions of health and well-being.

His life and contributions to medicine have left a lasting imprint, with his emphasis on scientific observation, ethical ideals, and a holistic approach to health laying the groundwork for contemporary medicine. His legacy still guides medical practitioners today, and his name has become linked with the noble quest of healing and the ethical practise of medicine.


The humoral hypothesis, an ancient medical approach that originated in Greece, held that an individual's health and well-being were determined by the balance of four physiological fluids, or "humours," in the body. The notion, which was developed by Greek physicians such as Hippocrates, had a significant impact on medical thinking and practise throughout the ancient and mediaeval civilisations.
The idea held that the human body included four basic humours, each with its own set of characteristics: blood (sanguis), phlegm (phlegma), black bile (melancholia), and yellow bile (cholera). It was thought that the balance or imbalance of these humours influenced an individual's physical and mental health. Health and sickness, temperament, diagnosis, and therapy are all concepts of humoral theory. A harmonic balance of the four humours resulted in good health, whereas disease occurred when this equilibrium was upset. In the ancient world, physicians diagnosed ailments by evaluating a patient's symptoms, frequently through the prism of humoral theory.
In ancient Greece and Rome, humoral theory dominated medical practise, dictating food recommendations and lifestyle guidance. It lasted throughout the Middle Ages and had a considerable impact on mediaeval European medicine. The humoral theory was taught in monasteries and early medical schools, and it affected medical practises throughout this time period.

Islamic Medicine also made its way into humoral theory, where thinkers like as Avicenna (Ibn Sina) expanded and refined the notion. Despite criticism and objections, the humoral theory's legacy lives on in language and culture, offering vital historical insight into how medicine was practised and understood in antiquity and the mediaeval era. Some components of humoral theory, such as the necessity of balance in health, still connect with current conceptions of well-being and holistic health.


Greek herbal medicine, a vital part of ancient Greek therapeutic practises, has had a significant impact on medical history. Ancient Greeks, including renowned physicians such as Hippocrates, depended heavily on medicinal plants and herbs to cure a variety of diseases. The value of natural medicines in preserving and restoring well-being was emphasised in this holistic approach to health.

The beginnings of Greek herbal medicine may be traced back to ancient Greek medical traditions, with early writings such as Theophrastus' "Enquiry into Plants" offering thorough descriptions of several plants, including their growing patterns, habitats, and therapeutic benefits. The work of Theophrastus set the groundwork for the scientific study of plants and their therapeutic characteristics.

Greek physicians recognised the importance of eating in health maintenance and recommended specialised diets and dietary restrictions to treat a variety of medical ailments. They created countless herbal formulas to treat a variety of diseases, sometimes mixing different plants to increase their medicinal benefits. Greeks utilised herbs topically as well as internally, such as poultices, ointments, and salves produced from medicinal plants. Aloe Vera, mint, thyme, lavender, and camomile were among the notable therapeutic plants.

Physicians in ancient Greece frequently had their own herbal gardens, known as "physic gardens," where they cultivated and researched therapeutic herbs. Theophrastus emphasised the significance of understanding each herb's environment and cultivation needs in order to ensure its availability for medical use.
Greek herbal medicine has left a long legacy that includes pharmacology, botanical taxonomy, and herbal expertise. Many of the ancient Greeks' plants and herbal medicines are being utilised in traditional and alternative medicine today.


Ancient Greece, widely regarded as the origin of Western medicine, was a centre for therapeutic practises that established the groundwork for the field's development. From Hippocrates' time through the Hellenistic era, Greek medical practises were distinguished by a combination of empirical observation, holistic methods, and therapeutic tactics.

Early Greek healing practises may be traced back to the Minoan and Mycenaean societies, when temples devoted to gods such as Asclepius acted as medical centres. To facilitate healing, rituals, dream interpretation, and herbal treatments were employed.
The Hippocratic School, founded approximately 400 BCE, constituted a watershed moment in Greek medicine. Hippocrates and his disciples founded this school, which emphasised essential ideas like as empirical observation, a holistic perspective, and ethical practise. Various diagnostic procedures were used by Greek physicians, including pulse examination, urine testing, and sputum analysis. Diet and lifestyle changes, herbal treatment, surgery, cauterisation, and fasting and bloodletting were all therapeutic options.
In ancient Greece, medical education was mostly centred on apprenticeships, with the Hippocratic Corpus acting as a fundamental book. Women were important healers and midwives, with female practitioners in charge of women's healthcare, birthing, and nursing. Greek medicine's legacy has had a tremendous influence on modern healthcare, with an emphasis on empirical observation and ethical values laying the framework for current practise.

A code of ethics known as the Hippocratic Oath continues to influence medical ethics and the doctor-patient interaction. A crucial notion in modern healthcare is the holistic approach to health, which recognises the interdependence of body and mind. Many of the medical plants and cures utilised in ancient Greece are being used in traditional and alternative medicine today.


Women played an important role in medicine in ancient Greece, notably as healers and midwives. They occupied unique positions in ancient Greek society's medical environment, delivering crucial healthcare services to women and families. Female healers, called as "iatros," practised a variety of therapeutic modalities including as herbal medicine, nutritional guidance, and natural treatments. They frequently treated women's diseases and cared for families in their villages.

Midwives, or "maiai," were highly regarded in ancient Greek culture for their ability in aiding with delivery. Their responsibilities included assisting with labour, postpartum care, and gynaecological care. Female healers often learnt their skill by working alongside established practitioners in apprenticeships. They were adept at using medical plants and natural cures to treat a broad range of diseases.

In ancient Greece, where childbirth and women's health were major components of family life and society, the presence of female healers and midwives was culturally significant. The Hippocratic Corpus, a collection of ancient Greek medical books, mostly represents male physicians' perspectives, however certain works recognise the contributions of female practitioners in specific medical circumstances.

Women's contributions to ancient Greek medicine, notably midwifery and women's healthcare, left an indelible mark. Female midwives and healers have been practised for millennia, contributing to the advancement of women's healthcare and delivery practises. Furthermore, the presence of female practitioners in ancient Greece gave women agency and empowerment in their healthcare decisions. 


Medical education in ancient Greece, notably within the Hippocratic School, was crucial in laying the groundwork for Western medicine. The school was named after Hippocrates, known as the "Father of Western Medicine," and was created circa 400 BCE on his ideas and philosophies. A holistic approach to health was emphasised in Greek medical school, recognising the interdependence of the body, mind, and environment.
In ancient Greece, medical education was mostly centred on apprenticeships, with aspiring physicians studying under established practitioners, frequently Hippocratic School members. Clinical observation was important to medical school, with students developing their diagnostic abilities by examining and treating patients personally. Within the Hippocratic School, lectures and debates were held, allowing for the sharing of medical knowledge and the investigation of theoretical topics.

The Hippocratic Oath, which is credited to Hippocrates, detailed ethical ideals that influenced medical practise and education, such as patient confidentiality, avoiding damage, and putting the patient's wellbeing first. Physicians were instructed to carefully watch and record patient symptoms as the foundation for diagnosis and therapy, therefore observational skills were essential. Case-based learning was also critical, with clinicians learning from real-world instances and practical experiences.
The Hippocratic Corpus, a collection of over 60 medical writings, served as a core resource for medical education, including themes ranging from clinical case studies to physician ethical norms. Theophrastus, an Aristotelian student, contributed to medical education through his botanical research, notably as his work "Enquiry into Plants," which gave insights into plant therapeutic characteristics and their uses in healthcare.
Despite problems such as gender constraints and rivalry among diverse schools of thought, the impact of ancient Greek medical education is substantial and continues to affect current medical practise. The emphasis on empirical observation and experience remains a cornerstone of modern medical education and clinical practise, but the Hippocratic Oath's ethical ideals, emphasising patient-centered care, continue to drive medical ethics.


An detailed survey highlights important physicians who made substantial contributions to medicine in Ancient Greece.

Hippocrates, the "Father of Medicine," established the Hippocratic School of Medicine and is best known for the Hippocratic Oath, which established ethical standards for medical practise. He pioneered a methodical approach to illness diagnosis and treatment, rejecting supernatural explanations and opening the way for a more rational and scientific approach to medicine.

2.GALEN (129–216 CE)

Galen, a Greek physician from Pergamon, modern-day Bergama, Turkey, is regarded as one of the most significant men in medical history. He was born in Pergamon and contributed to comprehending the circulatory system and the notion of humours in the body by synthesising medical knowledge, especially Hippocrates'. For nearly a millennium, his publications were authoritative authorities in Western medicine.
3. Erasistratus (304-250 BCE) and Herophilus (335-280 BCE).
Herophilus and Erasistratus, doctors from 335-280 BCE, pioneered anatomy by dissecting humans and animals, setting the groundwork for subsequent anatomical research and considerably adding to our understanding of the human body.

4. Cappadocian Aretaeus (1st Century CE)

Aretaeus of Cappadocia, a Greek physician, contributed significantly to our understanding of diabetes and other disorders by offering one of the oldest written reports of the condition.
5. Dioscorides (c. 40-90 CE)
De Materia Medica, a thorough handbook written by Greek physician Dioscorides, was critical in the development of pharmacology since it provided a deep grasp of medicinal plants and their functions.
6. Asclepiades of Bithynia (c. 124-40 BCE)
Asclepiades of Bithynia, a physician famed for his naturalistic approach, rejected sophisticated ideas such as humoral theory, emphasising the necessity of a healthy diet, exercise, and mental well-being in preserving health.

7. Carystus Diocles (4th Century)

Diocles of Carystus, a physician and philosopher from the fourth century BCE, emphasised the importance of nutrition and lifestyle in preventing sickness and encouraging a balanced, healthy existence.
The teachings of ancient Greek physicians influenced contemporary medicine substantially, emphasising observation, logic, and empirical evidence. Their work and beliefs continue to have an impact on medical philosophy, influencing how we perceive and practise medicine today.


The Roman Empire, a historically significant civilisation, acquired and assimilated Greek culture, including the rich heritage of Greek medicine. Greek medical knowledge and practises had a tremendous and long-lasting impact on the evolution of medicine in the Roman Empire, laying the groundwork for Western medicine and continuing to affect healthcare practises today. Alexander the Great's conquests in the 4th century BCE resulted in the spread of Greek civilisation, including medicine, throughout the Mediterranean area. Greek physicians and medical professors moved to Rome, bringing with them their knowledge and experience.

Galen, a well-known person in medical history, served as a link between Greek and Roman medicine. His works combined Greek and Roman medical knowledge and customs, bringing components from both civilisations into his lectures and practise. Humoral theory, herbal treatment, and a holistic approach to healthcare were all important parts of Greek medicine under the Roman Empire.
The Greek model strongly impacted medical education in the Roman Empire, with prospective physicians studying Greek medical books and even travelling to Alexandria for further instruction. Medical education included practical clinical instruction, such as bedside observation and hands-on practise.

The Romans embraced Greek public health and sanitation practises, as well as Greek notions about the necessity of hygiene for total well-being. They also built hospitals known as "valetudinaria," where troops and civilians could get medical care.
The Hippocratic Oath, a product of Greek medicine, remained important in Roman medical ethics. Physicians in the Roman Empire, like their Greek counterparts, took vows emphasising ethical ideals such as patient confidentiality and a pledge to do no harm.

Greek medicine's influence in the Roman Empire extends beyond the fall of Rome, with Greek medical books maintained and studied in monastic institutions during the Middle Ages and resurged during the Renaissance. This renewed interest in Greek medicine affected early modern medical practises and paved the way for modern medicine.
Finally, the legacy of Greek medicine in the Roman Empire demonstrates the long-lasting influence of Greek culture on Western civilisation. Greek medical knowledge, practises, and ethical ideals were incorporated into Roman medicine, laying the groundwork for the Roman Empire's healthcare system.


Claudius Galenus, usually known as Galen, was a pivotal figure in medical history. Galen was born in Pergamon (modern-day Bergama, Turkey) in 129 CE and received his first exposure to medicine from his father, who worked as a healer at a gladiatorial school. His fascination with anatomy and physiology prompted him to pursue medicine in Alexandria, a famous learning centre at the time.
Galen's adventures in the Mediterranean took him to Alexandria, where he developed his understanding of anatomy and physiology, and subsequently to Rome, where he established himself as a physician. His large corpus of works includes over 500 treatises on a variety of medical themes.

Galen's contributions to medicine included extensive anatomical investigations that enhanced understanding of the human body at the time. His contributions to physiology bolstered the humoral hypothesis, which held that health was determined by the balance of body humours (blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile). His views regarding blood circulation and the role of the heart in pumping blood influenced people for millennia.
Galen catalogued and documented many therapeutic ingredients, including plants and minerals, in pharmacology, laying the framework for the advancement of pharmacological knowledge and medication manufacture. Based on the humoral hypothesis, his medical works offered thorough therapeutic interventions for many illnesses and ailments, recommending therapies, dietary regimens, and drugs.

Galen's medical works were a tremendous addition to the discipline of medicine, impacting medical philosophy for centuries and establishing the groundwork for modern medicine's growth. Despite the advancement of medical knowledge through time, Galen's legacy stands as a monument to the long-lasting effect of his work on human anatomy and medical practise.


Religion and medicine had a complicated and synergistic connection in ancient Greece. The Greeks thought that the gods were involved in both the origin and treatment of sickness. This tight link had a significant impact on healthcare practise and the development of medical theory in ancient Greece.

The Pantheon of Gods was a varied pantheon of gods and goddesses, each linked with different elements of human existence, such as health and sickness. Asclepius, the deity of healing and medicine, had an important part in ancient Greece's religious and medical awareness. Temples consecrated to him, known as Asclepieia, served as healing sanctuaries where people prayed for divine intervention to cure their diseases.

Incubation, sacrifices and offerings, sanitation and food were all part of Asclepieia's healing practises. Hippocrates, known as the "Father of Western Medicine," strove to divorce medicine from supernatural influence while acknowledging the cultural and sociological value of divine healing practises. In ancient Greece, interpretations of sickness and health included divine retribution for impiety or moral faults, as well as divine involvement through dreams and oracles.
The interaction of religion and medicine posed ethical concerns, since physicians and healers were frequently viewed as mediators between the divine and the human. Even if religious rites or supernatural instruction contradicted medical advice, patients may feel bound to follow them.
In medicine, the legacy of Greek religion includes continuing symbolism, such as the caduceus, a sign of two serpents coiled around a staff, and current holistic medicine, which addresses the interdependence of physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.

Finally, the divine was thought to have a powerful impact on health and healing in ancient Greece. Greek beliefs and practises continue to impact current views on holistic treatment and the cultural relevance of faith in healing.


Medical instruments, such as surgical instruments, specula, probes, and  instruments, were abundant in ancient Greece. Physicians and healers used these instruments to diagnose, treat, and heal patients. Bronze scales, surgical hooks, and probes were essential surgical equipment used for incisions and procedures in ancient Greece. Trepanation tools, such as drilling holes in the skull, were used for a variety of medical objectives, including the relief of intracranial pressure.

Body orifices such as the ears, nose, and throat were examined with diagnostic equipment such as specula, probes, and noises. These instruments enabled doctors to examine these locations for symptoms of sickness or harm. Probes and sounds were used to check and measure bodily cavities such as the uterus and bladder, assisting in the diagnosis and treatment of illnesses.

To check female reproductive organs and support the uterus, gynaecological devices such as specula and pessaries were utilised. Tooth extractors and forceps were used in dentistry to extract teeth and clean teeth and gums. During surgeries, hemostatic devices such as surgical clamps and forceps were utilised to control bleeding. Instruments for measuring and weighing, such as cubital scales, balances, and weights, were required for concocting cures.

Catheters and other urological tools were used to drain the bladder or deliver medicinal drugs into the urinary tract. For numerous eye surgeries, ophthalmic equipment such as eye scoops and spatulas were employed. Dermatology scrapers, for example, were used to remove skin lesions or growths for accurate and controlled excisions.

The influence of ancient Greek medical tools can still be observed in the evolution of modern medical equipment and the continuous archaeological investigation of historical medical practises. These tools embodied the knowledge, skill, and inventiveness of ancient Greek physicians and healers, and they played an important part in expanding medical knowledge and delivering treatment to the people of ancient Greece.


The cultural and philosophical context of ancient Greece inspired Greek medicine, a medical tradition that evolved during the Golden Age of Greece. During this time period, there was an intellectual flowering that emphasised the importance of human life and the potential for human development. Greece's city-states were culturally varied, and their interaction with other civilizations such as Egypt and Persia enriched Greek medical practises.

Philosophy and medicine were inextricably linked in ancient Greece, with philosophers such as Pythagoras, Empedocles, and Heraclitus delving into issues of health, illness, and the nature of the body. Pre-Socratic thinkers provided early insights into the nature of the physical world and the human body's composition, while Hippocrates established the Hippocratic School, which emphasised rationalism and naturalistic explanations for health and disease.

Greek medicine was characterised by empirical observation, with physicians calling for systematic study of patients and the natural environment. The Hippocratic School popularised the humoral hypothesis, which held that health was determined by the balance of four body humours: blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile. This hypothesis established a framework for comprehending diseases and their therapies.

The Hippocratic Oath, credited to Hippocrates, outlined ethical guidelines for physicians, such as patient confidentiality, doing no damage, and putting the patient's welfare first. In Greek medicine, patient-centered care was also emphasised.

Aristotle, a Plato pupil, made important contributions to natural philosophy and biology, and his works on anatomy and physiology influenced Greek medical theory. His teleological perspective influenced Greek medicine's view of biological processes.

In temples, religious healing rituals such as incubation and sacrifices were undertaken to seek divine involvement in the healing process.

The roots of Western medicine were formed by Greek medicine, which emphasised logical investigation, empirical observation, and ethical values in healthcare. The scientific method, which is founded on the Greek emphasis on empirical observation and naturalistic explanations, is still central to medical research and investigation. A crucial concept in modern healthcare is holistic healthcare, which recognises the interplay of physical, mental, and environmental components.


The move from magic to science in Greek medicine was a watershed moment in the history of medicine. Medical practises in ancient Greece were profoundly linked with magical and religious beliefs, which were frequently attributed to supernatural origins. Traditional healers and priests used rituals and incantations to gain the blessings of gods and spirits for healing, which frequently included offerings, sacrifices, and prayers. Asclepius, the Greek deity of healing and medicine, was instrumental in the shift from magical to scientific medicine.

The appearance of Hippocrates and the Hippocratic School heralded a dramatic change in medicine towards rationality and empirical observation. Hippocrates, known as the "Father of Western Medicine," argued for a more scientific approach to sickness and rejected supernatural explanations. The Hippocratic School popularised the humoral hypothesis, which held that health was determined by the balance of body humours (blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile). This gave a logical foundation for comprehending illnesses and therapies.

During the transitional period, Greek physicians began to emphasise the significance of empirical observation of patients and the natural environment, which led to the creation of herbal medicine based on plant medicinal characteristics. Greek philosophical ideas, notably the writings of Pythagoras, Heraclitus, and Empedocles, had an important role in establishing medical thought. The effect of Aristotle's books on anatomy and physiology on Greek medical philosophy affected Greek medical thought and advocated a more scientific approach.

The legacy of Greek medicine's move from magic to science may be seen in the foundations of Western medicine, which emphasise logical enquiry, empirical observation, and ethical ideals. The Greek emphasis on empirical observation and naturalistic explanations helped to establish the scientific method, which is now a vital element of medical study and enquiry. Furthermore, the holistic approach to health, which recognises the interaction of physical, mental, and environmental elements, is still a vital notion in modern healthcare.