Medical practice in Graeco-roman antiquity

Curationis. 2006 May;29(2):34-40. doi: 10.4102/curationis.v29i2.1071.


The roots of modern medicine can be traced back to the 5th century BC when Hippocratic rational medicine originated on the Greek islands of Cos and Cnidos. In this study we examine the way in which practitioners conducted their profession in Graeco-Roman times, as well as their training. Medical training was by way of apprenticeship with recognized doctors, but no qualifying examinations existed and the standard of practice thus varied enormously. Even in the Roman era the vast majority of medical doctors were Greek and in private practice as itinerant physicians. Civic doctors in the paid service of local communities appeared in Greek society from the 5th century BC onwards, but much later in Rome - probably as late as the 4th century AD. Rome's unique contributions to medicine lay in public health measures (e.g. their aqueducts, public baths and sewages systems) and an excellent medical service for their armies and navy. Hospitals (valetudinaria) were established for military purposes and for slaves on large Roman estates from the 1st century BC, but civic hospitals for the general public originated as late as the 4th century AD. The Greek medical schools of Cos and Cnidos were eventually superseded by the school of Alexandria in Egypt and towards the end of the Roman Empire by that of Carthage in northern Africa. Its gradual demise in the Christian era lowered the curtain on original medical endeavours during antiquity.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Delivery of Health Care / history*
  • Education, Medical / history*
  • Greece, Ancient
  • Greek World / history
  • History, Ancient
  • Humans
  • Professional Practice / history*
  • Roman World / history
  • Rome