Ancient Babylonian Medicine: Theory and Practice

Ancient Babylonian Medicine: Theory and Practice

Ancient Babylonian Medicine: Theory and Practice

Ancient Babylonian Medicine: Theory and Practice


Utilizing a great variety of previously unknown cuneiform tablets, Ancient Babylonian Medicine: Theory and Practice examines the way medicine was practiced by various Babylonian professionals of the 2nd and 1st millennium B.C.
  • Represents the first overview of Babylonian medicine utilizing cuneiform sources, including archives of court letters, medical recipes, and commentaries written by ancient scholars
  • Attempts to reconcile the ways in which medicine and magic were related
  • Assigns authorship to various types of medical literature that were previously considered anonymous
  • Rejects the approach of other scholars that have attempted to apply modern diagnostic methods to ancient illnesses


If a man has pain in his kidney, his groin constantly hurts him, and his
urine is white like donkey-urine, and later on his urine shows blood, that
man suffers from “discharge” (muṣû-disease). You boil 2 shekels of myrrh,
2 shekels of baluhhu-resin, (and) 2 sila-measures of vinegar together in a
jug; cool it and mix it in equal measure in pressed oil. You pour half into
his urethra via a copper tube, half mix in premium beer, you leave it out
overnight and he drinks it on an empty stomach and he will get better.

Babylonian recipe for disease of the kidneys, BAM 7 35

[If a] man has intestinal colic, he constantly scratches himself, he retains
wind in his anus, food and fluids are regurgitated (and) he suffers from
constipation of the rectum – its “redness” is raised and troubles him [with
out] giving him relief – you desiccate a lion skin and mix it with lion fat,
you dry (it) a second time, crush and mix it in cedar oil, make a pessary
and insert it into his anus.

Babylonian recipe for disease of the anus, BAM 7 151

Medicine today is technological and scientific, often making it difficult to cast our minds back to earlier ages when medicine was less understood and less successful. Actually, we need not go back very far in time, since any physician trained in medicine before the discovery of penicillin would attest to how relatively unsophisticated medicine still was, even by the middle of the twentieth century. As one physician recalls,

I graduated from medical school in 1938. Even in those days, medicine
was more a priesthood than a science. A favorite examination question

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