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Development of Medicine

The field of medicine has evolved immensely through time. Throughout history, people have practiced different activities in order to cure ailments, including witchcraft, ancient medicine and surgical procedures (Porter, 1997). This paper will critically analyze the evolution of medicine and medical procedures dating from 11000 BC to 1500 AD.  

Mesolithic Era

During this era, most of the curative procedures involved herbs and oils. People also trusted magic and mysticism to chase evil spirits that caused disease. Diverse cultures even believed that the gods might have caused ailments for various reasons. Prayer and acupuncture were practiced to heal the sick. The practice of surgery was limited and rare cases were recorded. Some products commonly used for medicine were as following:


The mixture of willow and other herbs were used to cure toothache. The bark of this tree is the key ingredient of the present day aspirin.


Mint was used to cure gastric diseases and is still in use today.

Pomegranate Fruits

This was used to cure skin infections due to parasitic worms. Today, scientists believe that the high tannin level in the fruits may paralyze worms (Porter, 1997).


Honey was used as an antiseptic on wounds. Nowadays, it is used to treat burns among other medical procedures.


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Essential Oils

These are oil extracts from trees, leaves, stems and flowers. Essential oils were pure and undiluted. They were obtained by steam distillation followed by extraction. Oils from cedar wood were used in Egypt in the mummification process and ancients believed that they helped in skin rejuvenation. In China, the Yellow Emperor’s book indicates the usage of oils as far back as 12000 BC. Lavender was used in the 13th century during the crusades. Other uses of natural oils were included in the cure of headaches (lavender), respiration (Eucalyptus), antiviral and antibacteria (tea tree and lavender) and curing dandruff (mixture of cedar wood and rosemary in jojoba oil). There were also other non-herbal practices believed to have alleviated disease usually including body exercise and meditation. Some common methods were as follows:


Reflexology was practiced originally in China about 500 BC, by the Taoists. The ancient Chinese looked for pressure points on the feet for healing the body. Drawings unearthed from different parts of Japan, China and India show the use of pressure points in the feet as a remedial action. In Egypt, there are a series of hieroglyphs in a tomb, near Saqqara, showing a detailed feet treatment exercise. It is estimated that the tomb might have been constructed around 2330 BC. Other studies have revealed the use of reflexology by the Native Americans, the Incas. They belonged to the Peruvian civilization, which flourished in Latin America as far back as 12000 BC. They passed this knowledge to the North American Indians and the Cherokee tribes (Rush Medical College & Hektoen, 2000).

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3000 BC to 2000 BC

This period experienced more specialization in medical practices, particularly in Egypt. Herodotus reported that in Egypt physicians specialized in one disease per physician. There was a considerable improvement in the fields of anatomy, clinical diagnostics and public health in Egypt. The Edwin Smith Papyrus, which dates to around 3000 BC, contains medical information of practices in Egypt. The Egyptians used various herbs to treat a variety of ailments; studies have shown that laborers were ordered to keep to diets that were rich in onion, radish and garlic. The research has shown that they contain significant amounts of Allicin, Allistatin and Raphanin, which are powerful antibiotics that would have prevented outbreak of diseases in work camps (Nahyan, 2006).


Egyptians also used physiotherapy to release aches and swellings, as well as heat therapy to treat pains. The medicine, used in Egypt, also helped in restoration of broken bones, and doctors conducted amputation using antiseptics and linens to reduce infection and gangrene. Ancient Egyptian priests used honey as an antiseptic. It aided in wound healing through stimulating the production of white blood cells that assist in fighting a disease. The Egyptian physicians used to place raw meat on the wound to aid in blood production and heal it. They studied the art of embalming the dead for preservation, which allowed them to study the various body parts.

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Imhotep was an Egyptian who lived in the ancient Egypt and is considered by many researchers to be the father of Egyptian medicine. He is the author of the Edwin Smith Papyrus, which has information regarding anatomical observations, as well as cures for various ailments. It dwells on surgical procedures and had extremely little dependence on witchcraft and magic healing.

2000 BC to 100 AD

Two other Egyptian records dating between 2000 BC and 1500 BC were the Kahun Gynecological Papyrus, which gave the detailed treatments for various women’s problems including conception, and the Eber’s Papyrus, which dates back to 1550 BC. However, it has the earliest indications of diagnosis of tumors, and their treatment. During this era, the Babylonian records show the presence of medical procedures such as diagnosis, physical examination, prognosis and medical prescriptions. The Diagnostic Handbook written in Babylon introduced the use of etiology, therapy, empiricism, and rationality in medical practices (Porter, 1997). Notable personalities during this era were:

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Hessy La

Hessy La was an ancient Egypt physician who lived in the era 2600 BC. He was the chief dentist and leader of physicians (Hughes, 1989).

Ummanu or Chief Scholar

The Babylonian physician who wrote the Diagnostic Handbook which commenced a foundation of the modern practice of using observation and inspection of a patient to diagnose the disease, as well as predict future trends and chances of survival. Therapeutic procedures such as use of pills, bandages and creams are represented. Another source of information, regarding the 1st and 2nd millennia BC Hebrew medicine, is obtained from Torah, a document written by the Biblical Moses and which details rituals conducted to observe holy law such as washing after contact with the dead, isolation of affected people, cleanliness, handling blood and much more (Nahyan , 2006).

In India, Avurveda was a medical routine that involved traditional herbal cures accompanied by mythical conceptualizations as a way to the long life. This concept was most popular between 600 BC and 400 BC and held that health and disease were controllable by humans, and that practice of the Avurveda could be used to prolong life. Procedures, observed in the Indian medicine around this time, were surgical methods such as Rhinoplasty, surgery of torn ear lobe, cataract surgery, perennial lithotomy and other excisions (Wujastyk, 2003).

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He classified surgical procedures and equipment, including 1120 medical conditions, 125 surgical instrument and more than 300 surgical procedures. To practice, students of the Avurveda were required to attend a seven-year course and study eight branches of medicine categorized as internal medicine, surgery, eye, nose ear and throat ailments, pediatrics, toxicology and aphrodisiacs (Hughes, 1989).

Unani Medicine

Unani Medicine was a theory in the medical practice in India. It proclaimed that there were four elements of life, for example, fire, water, earth and air in the human body. The state of balance of these elements was considered to contribute to health or disease. The Greeks believed that prayer could heal, and prayed to the god of medicine, called Aescelpius, in the numerous temples. Many Greeks would visit the temple to pray and receive healing. The ancient Greeks pioneered the diagnostic method of questioning the patient before making a decision, and were the originators of the four Humors. They believe the body consisted of four humors and that imbalance of the four would cause particular ailments. The four humors were the Sanguine, the Choleric, the Melancholic and the Phlegmatic (Whittock & Wichard, 1998).

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Hippocrates of Kos

The Greeks were actively involved in ancient medicine particularly through the Greek physician Hippocrates (470 BC- 360 BC) and his teachings. Hippocrates is considered the father of modern medicine. About seventy early works of Hippocrates and his students were collected into a work called “Hippocratic Corpus”. He also invented the Hippocratic Oath, which is used nowadays as well. He is remembered for his many observations including clubbing of fingers as a sign of various cancers and heart diseases. In his works he categorized conditions as either acute, endemic, chronic, and epidemic. He conducted outstanding works in surgery, particularly the prognosis of thoracic empyema (Hughes, 1989).

Herophilus of Chalcedon

He was a Greek scholar in the medical school of Alexandria, who performed substantial work in the study of the nervous system. He identified the brain as the organ of intelligence. He also researched the heart and blood circulation system and distinguished the veins from the arteries.

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Galen was also a Greek, his work in surgery was remarkable, and his studies on anatomy became a famous university curriculum in the Medieval Europe. His writings were greatly incorporated in the work “The Canon of Medicine” that was used in Europe up to the 16th century. The Romans have been credited with inventions such as scalpels, sounds, surgical needles, specula, forceps, cross-bladed scissors and cautery. Among the most notable Roman physicians were Oribasius and John Actuarius (Whittock & Wichard, 1998).

Medicine in the Middle Ages

During this period, further work was carried out in the field of medicine, and while some of the beliefs, passed down from ancient times, were challenged and discarded, others remained and formed a foundation of the modern medicine. Al Kindi, a Muslim scholar, applied mathematics in the field of Pharmacology. He was able to quantify the amount of medicine required for particular cases and developed a system that helped doctors to predict the most critical period during a patient’s illness. Avicenna is also noted for writing ”The Canon Of Medicine” and ”The Book Of healing”, which were widely used in Muslim and European universities till the 17th century. He did outstanding work in the separation of medicine from the pharmacy. Other notable attributes were the study of skin diseases, sexually transmitted diseases and disorders of the nervous system (Wujastyk, 2003).

Ibn Al Nafis

Ibn Al Nafis studied pulmonary and coronary circulation and the concept of metabolism in 1242. He also revised most theories held by Avicenna and Galen. Other Muslim physicians of the same period are regarded for discoveries of the immune system, use of animals for medical tests and merging other sciences with medicine. In this era, Muslim scholars are associated with the discovery of about 2000 medicinal substances (Hughes, 1989). In Europe, organized professional medicine had already started to emerge, as early as the 11th century. Medical knowledge passed down generations was already being applied in hospitals, and in many universities, there were established schools of medicine.

From the above information, it is clear that development of medicine from 11000 BC to 1500 AD was very remarkable and influential. This was because of numerous innovations and inventions made at that period, which has improved the living standards of many people across the world. 



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