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JAMA 100 Years Ago
November 10, 2010


JAMA. 2010;304(18):2072. doi:10.1001/jama.2010.1611

During the past twenty or thirty years the field for medico-historical investigation gradually has expanded so that its bounds are now far beyond the medical texts of the early and middle ages. The medical historian in his search for new materials has entered the territories of anthropology, ethnology and archeology, and there discovered much that is of tremendous importance for the growth of his science. As illustrations must be mentioned especially the results of recent archeologic exploration in Asia Minor in their bearing on the history of ancient medicine. Discoveries in the last decennium by Assyriologists have moved the beginnings of things medical much farther backward than indicated by the papyrus Ebers and other papyri. Indeed, traces of Assyrio-Babylonian medicine have been followed as far back as four or five thousand years before Christ. During the reign of King Hammurabi, about 2,200 years B.C., medical laws were codified1 and they give a rather clear insight into some aspects of medicine in those days. We learn that fixed fees were established for certain operations and that the lens was depressed in operating for cataract. These laws probably served as the models for the medical laws of Moses. Of fundamental bearing is the demonstration that the writings of Hippocrates (“Corpus Hippocraticum”) present evidences of having been directly influenced by the Assyrian and Egyptian writings. Indeed, by means of the “deadly parallel” it has been shown (Lüring) that a statement of several lines in length has been copied verbatim into the Hippocratic books. Evidences of continuity have been found also between ancient Indian medicine and the Assyrio-Babylonian. Consequently we shall be forced to give up the idea that medicine takes its real start with Hippocrates; Hippocratic medicine undoubtedly is the outgrowth of a long development which extended from the Orient and concerning which we surely shall learn still more. And yet, while Hippocrates may not be the father of medicine in the sense that it sprang fully formed from his head, he remains the central figure in ancient medicine.

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