This book has covered the whole span of medicine in Greek and Roman Antiquity, from its earliest written records until the seventh century of the Christian era. It has taken a broad view of what medicine was and how it was practised, trying above all to set it within a context of other developments in ancient society. Such a project could be extended almost indefinitely in a whole series of volumes, but this study has chosen to emphasise three aspects of ancient medicine that provide complementary reasons why one should take an interest in the medical world of so distant a past: its place in the development of Western medicine in general; its continuing influence on modern preconceptions about health and healing; and the diversity of ancient medical practice.
The theories of Antiquity formed the very foundation of Western medicine for centuries, even if they were eventually rejected. On this interpretation of the importance of ancient medicine the crucial moment comes very early in the story, as a result of the interaction of medical practice with the new philosophical ideas of the sixth and fifth centuries BC. To the novel form of medicine that developed then were added a more subtle understanding of dietetics in the fourth century and of human anatomy in the third, with its repercussions for surgery. As a result of wars and conquest the medicine of the Greek-speaking world of the Aegean was successfully transplanted to the Hellenistic world of Egypt and the Levant, and, with even more momentous consequences, to Rome and its Empire. Such medicine, compared with what is known, for example, of Egyptian or Babylonian medicine, can be characterised as progressive, even if authors like Galen saw all progress as ultimately finite and largely achieved by their own day. 1 Galen is an ambiguous figure; prodigiously learned and a remarkably talented observer and anatomist, he left a legacy that variously inspired, daunted and constricted his successors. After him, mediaeval learned physicians, writing in Greek, Syriac, Arabic, Latin or Hebrew, strove to synthesise what they knew of ancient medicine and to harmonise its contradictions, confident from their own experience that it provided an effective way of understanding health and disease and of curing patients. Many mediaeval institutions, such as hospitals, civic physicians and