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Ancient Medicine

Ancient medicine was a combination of spiritual healing and physical treatment. On a basic level, all the ancient cultures around the Mediterranean and Middle East conceived of disease as being related to the world of the gods and spirits. 

An evil spirit could bring plague to your town. An enemy could use witchcraft against you. Your bad behavior could offend a god, who would then punish you with fever or infection. 

Ancient medical texts from different ancient cultures reveal the many ways that people combated illness and disease. These included prayers, incantations, healing and protective amulets, as well as salves, ointments, and other medicines.

Protective Amulets

Amulets KM 1963.4.8 and SCL-Bonner 40

In ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, people wore amulets as protection from and treatment for various illnesses. Here we see two amulets from Egypt. The first depicts the lion-headed serpent demon Chnoubis, who protected against stomach ailments. Chnoubis amulets were often inscribed with some version of the word pepte (“digest”); this one bears the epithet “Chnoubis Naabis Bienyth, shatterer of Giants, crusher of snakes.” The second amulet depicts a man bending to cut wheat in a field. It looks like painful work. On the reverse are the words, “For the back.” So these two amulets are ancient Pepto Bismol and aspirin.

Make Your Own Protective Amulet

Want to make your own protective amulet? You can learn how here, and even create your own protective demon to go on your amulet.

Votive Offerings

Eye votive KM 1774

If you were an ancient Roman who was sick or hurt, one option was to go to the temple of a healing god and buy a terracotta version of the body part that was ailing you. For example, if you had pink eye, you would buy a terracotta eye. If you had an infected cut on your leg, you would buy a leg. You would then give this clay representation as a votive offering to the god and spend the night in the temple. The god would visit you in your dreams and tell you how to heal your sickness. This might include more sacrifices, or a visit to the local medical practitioner for some healing salve.

Make Your Own Votives

Try your hand at making your own anatomical (body) votive with this salt dough recipe.