Baker Academic

Monday, March 13, 2017

Medical Practice in Antiquity

Today I've been reading this fascinating article by Sarah Yeoman at Bible History Daily: "Medicine in the Ancient World." Excerpt: 
Excavations have also revealed evidence of sophisticated dental practices in antiquity. In a mass grave at Horvat en Ziq in the northern Negev desert of Israel, a skull dating to about 200 B.C. was found that contains one of the earliest known dental fillings. A 2.5-millimeter bronze wire had been inserted into the tooth’s canal. Elsewhere, skulls recovered from the catacombs in Rome, which were in use during the first through the fifth centuries A.D., exhibit some rather pricey dental work: Several were recovered that have gold fillings.
I have often suggested to my students that Jesus probably lacked a full set of teeth. The information cited by Yeoman, however, is new to me. Of course, it probably bespeaks occasional practices of the wealthy and may say nothing of how a member of the artisan class might care for an problematic tooth.

I also found this interesting:
The famous Roman physician Galen (c. 129–199 A.D.), who was born in ancient Pergamon near the Asklepion, is generally regarded as the most accomplished medical researcher of the Roman world, and some of his surgical procedures would not be seen again until modern times. He successfully conducted cataract surgeries by inserting a needle behind the lens of the eye in order to remove the cataract, and his described methods of preparing a clean operating theater reveal a keen awareness of contagion.
I had studied Galen before but I was unaware of his use of sterile surgical instruments.

Certainly worth a read in full.



  1. The concepts of how the body worked is also fascinating. As far as I can figure out, it seems sight was thought to work by part of me going out from my eyes and touching the world (as opposed to light entering my eyes). This is important when held together with the idea that impurity spreads by touch. So the evil eye was about being touched by envy as someone looks at you and therefore your being contiminated and poisoned.

    1. Yes. Eyes were thought to project and receive light.