Ancient Greek Health

The concepts of Ancient Greek Health and medicine were completely different from what it is in modern times. However, after the emergence of Hippocrates, Aristotle etc it advanced a lot. In the beginning, they believed that sickness and ill health were all the consequence of wrongdoings and hence punishment from gods.

Ancient Greek Health


A towering figure in the history of medicine was the physician Hippocrates of Kos (ca. 460 BC ca. 370 BC), considered the “father of modern medicine.” The Hippocratic Corpus is a collection of around seventy early medical works from ancient Greece strongly associated with Hippocrates and his students. Most famously, Hippocrates invented the Hippocratic Oath for physicians, which is still relevant and in use today.

Greek Medicine Hippocrates

The existence of the Hippocratic Oath implies that this “Hippocratic” medicine was practiced by a group of professional physicians bound (at least among themselves) by a strict ethical code. Aspiring students normally paid a fee for training (a provision is made for exceptions) and entered into a virtual family relationship with his teacher.

Ancient Greek Health

This training included some oral instruction and probably hands-on experience as the teacher’s assistant since the Oath assumes that the student will be interacting with patients. The Oath also places limits on what the physician may or may not do (“To please no one will I prescribe a deadly drug”) and intriguingly hints at the existence of another class of professional specialists, perhaps akin to surgeons (“I will leave this operation to be performed by practitioners, specialists in this art”).

Ancient Greek Health

Hippocrates and his followers were first to describe many diseases and medical conditions. He is given credit for the first description of clubbing of the fingers, an important diagnostic sign in chronic suppurative lung disease, lung cancer, and cyanotic heart disease. For this reason, clubbed fingers are sometimes referred to as “Hippocratic fingers”. Hippocrates was also the first physician to describe Hippocratic face in Prognosis. Shakespeare famously alludes to this description when writing of Falstaff’s death in Act II, Scene iii. of Henry V.

Ancient Greek Health

Herbal Medicine

The Greeks had an extensive knowledge of herbs and were aware of many herbal properties. But though they did perform scientific observations, they did not perform scientific experiments. They may have administered Abortificants but they did not cause abortions. Patients may have had abortions but they were not caused by the administration of the doctors.

The first doctor to effect a cure with drugs was Paracelsus(1493-1541). And he did not use herbals, he used mercury compounds and killed a number of his patients. But he cured some too. Hippocrates may have induced an abortion, but he does not seem to have used herbs.

The common herbs used in Ancient Greece

Anise, black hellebore, cassia, cucumber, wild, the root of (squirting cucumber), Cumin, cyclamen, the root of frankincense, germander, honey, lettuce, wild myrrh, olive oil, opium poppy, parsnip, Seseli Aristotle’s pupil Theophrastus wrote extensively about herbal medicine. Herbs are good for theĀ Ancient Greek Health.

Ancient Greek Health

Childbirth and Abortion

Childbirth was helped and eased by all the women of the family. Certain herbs such as dittany were used to reduce pain. If the child was born deformed it was exposed and left to die. Abortion in the early stages was done by scraping the insides of the uterus out. However, it was a very high-risk procedure and many women died of infection.