Doctors and Medicine in Ancient Greece
Medicine during the time of the ancient Greeks was limited in its ability to cure diseases. The field of medicine combined science and religious beliefs. The ancient Greeks believed that sickness was brought on by an imbalance in four substances known as “humors.” The four humors were blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm. Those who practiced medicine drew blood and induced vomiting or sweating to bring the four humors back into balance.
Although their methods were primitive, the ancient Greeks did make advancements in the field of medicine, going beyond religious superstitions to a more scientific endeavor. Hippocrates, known as the “father of modern medicine,” brought a more scientific method to the treatment of illnesses. He observed a variety of symptoms to determine the natural causes of diseases. (Doctors today still take a Hippocratic Oath to “do no harm to their patients.”) They were able to set broken bones, amputate limbs, and many other difficult procedures. Surgery was always a last resort, since most people died from shock, blood loss, or infection afterwards.
From the limited evidence we have, it has been estimated that only two out of three children survived to see their second birthday. The average age of death for healthy Greek adults during this period was fifty.