Military Medicine: From Ancient Times to the 21st Century

Military Medicine: From Ancient Times to the 21st Century

Military Medicine: From Ancient Times to the 21st Century

Military Medicine: From Ancient Times to the 21st Century


This volume highlights the people and scientific developments in military medicine through the ages, concentrating on medical advances that changed both warfare and societies at home.


Deciphering archeological remains, observing nonhuman primates, and studying the few remaining hunter-gatherer societies drives one to the unsettling conclusion that there has never been a time when humans did not devote a large portion of their energies to injuring one another. It is also evident that, for almost as long as some have specialized in carnage, others have struggled to fix its damage.

Military medicine is, however, much more than just repairing wounds. When armies congregate, they subject their bodies to the stress and deprivation of campaigns, they occasionally try to poison each other, and they regularly share their infestations. Caring for soldiers, then, requires the skill of both the physician and the surgeon, and it is impossible to understand the history of either medicine or surgery without recognizing the contributions that came from providing that care.

Can we really prove that organized aggression predated the ability of humans to record it? Perhaps. Primatologists have seen chimpanzees sharpen sticks and use them to attack smaller apes. Sociologists living with Amazonian and South Pacific forest tribes witnessed lives defined by constant intertribal conflict. Prehistoric skulls, dented from being beaten with clubs, have holes scraped and drilled alongside the fractures. One can easily envision a prehistoric surgeon working his way through the broken bone in an effort to mend the brain injury below. In fact, prehistoric neurosurgery was surprisingly common. Intentionally punctured skulls have been found in considerable numbers and across a broad geography; perforated crania have been unearthed in France, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Germany, Peru, the United States, Algeria, Zimbabwe, and a number of Pacific Islands.

Medicine in Prerecorded Historical Times

At the close of the last ice age—about 10,000 years ago—the nomads who had roamed the savannas of Africa and Asia learned to cultivate grains and husband animals and settled in the great river valleys of North Africa and the Middle East (along the Nile and the Tigris and Euphrates rivers) . . .

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