Saturday, November 29, 2014

2000-539 B.C.: Assyro-Babyonian physicains

Code  of Hammurabi
The ancient Greek historian Herodotus (484-425 B.C.) observed that there were plenty of physicians in Egypt and no physicians in ancient Mesopotamia.  Yet the evidence seems to disagree with Herodotus, that there were plenty of physicians in Mesopotamia, perhaps even as early as 4000 B.C. when the Sumerians were forming the first civilization, says Henry E. Sigerist in his 1951 book, "A History of Medicine: Primitive and Archaic Medicine.  (Sigerist, page 425)

Herodotus said:
They have no physicians (in Babylon), but when a man is ill, they lay him in the public square, and the passers-by come up to him, and if they have ever had his disease themselves or have known any one who has suffered from it, they give him advice, recommending him to do whatever they found good in their own case, or in the case known to them; and no one is allowed to pass the sick man in silence without asking him what his ailment is.
There is evidence that much of this statement is true, as there were laws requiring anyone passing by to ask the sick: "What is ailing you."  If this passerby knew of the remedy due to past experience, he was required to share the remedy.

Pierre-Victor Renouard, in his 1867 history of medicine, said this time of medical therapy was common early on in most ancient civilizations.  He said they essentially went by the axiom: (16, page 570)
The same cause, acting under identical circumstances, produces, always, the same effect. (16, page 570)
When applied to medicine, Renouard said, the axiom means:
A treatment which has procured the cure of any disease whatever, will cure, also, all diseases identical, or rather homogeneous to the first. (16, page 570)
So this would explain the logic of the sick lying in the streets in the hopes a passerby would recognize the symptoms and offer a remedy.

Medical historian Henry Sigerist agreed with the notion that there were "no physicians in ancient Mesopotamia," although he said it was an incomplete statement.  He said: (Sigerist, page 425)
Herodotus' statement about Egyptian physicians, about the many specialists, is fully confirmed  by Egyptian literature and also by archaeological findings.  In Babylonia, however he must have been grossly misinformed.  Perhaps he meant that the Babylonians had not the kind of physicians he encountered  in Egypt, that great variety of specialists.  There can be no doubt that patients were occasionally placed in front of the houses or even on the market place and that the neighbors gave their opinion about them.  This still happens with poor people all over the east.  but we have an infinity of documents to prove that all ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia had physicians, and not only one category but several.  Patients, therefore, were not left to the mercy of their families or of neighbors but received expert treatment according to standards prevailing at the time. (Sigerist, page 425)
Medical historian John Hermann Baas also noted that there was evidence of physicians existing in Babylon, although he stated that the profession began through the interventions of Chaldean priests, who, along with their Chaldean friends and relatives, were scattered all over Babylon.  (Baas, page 25)

Alexander Wilder, in his 1901 history of medicine, explains that Herodotus might have been referring to the "'atroi (magoi) or the professional mediciners, like Demokedes, and the Asklepiades and Hippokratians who were members of an oath bound or sacerdotal order.  Before his time, the Chaldean priests, including the Asaphim, had been exiled by Dareios Hystaspis and had migrated to Pergamos. This probably accounts for the assertion of Herodotus." (1, page 17)

Wilder notes that the...
..."practice of placing the sick in the public thoroughfares, is shown by other writers, 'Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by?' demands the Hebrew prophet;  'Behold and see, whether there be any pain like mine."...It is recorded that wherever Jesus went the sick were brought and placed in his way in the expectation that he would restore them to health.... to suppose there were not physicians in the Euphraatean countries during the archaic period, would be preposterous." (1, page 17)
Priests were educated, and well educated, at schools near the temples.  As was usual for ancient societies, anyone who was educated was well versed in all subject areas, such as writing, math, science, weights and measures, legends, myths, magic, lore, medicine, etc.  If you were educated, you were probably trained in just about every area of knowledge available at that time. (Sigerest, page 432)

There were basically three types of priests who specialized in health and healing: (Sigerist, page 432)
  1. (Seer Priest (baru):  He specialized in divination. He was basically responsible for assessing the patient and making a diagnosis, and he studied the stars and liver (or other organ) of a sacrificed animal and determined the prognosis (Will the patient get better? Will the patient die?).  He he thought it was necessary, he'd recommend an ashipu to heal you.(Sigerist, page 432)
  2. Exorcist or Incantation Priest (ashipu):  He used magical words and motions to drive out the evil spirits or demons.(Sigerist, page 432)
  3. Healing Priest (asu, azu):  He was the physician. He's the one who used magical incantations and herbal remedies to heal you. (Sigerist, page 432) Azu comes from Sumerian "A" for water and "Zu" for knows. He was famous for his knowledge of water in treatment of sickness)(Biggs)
Chances are, however, that these specialties didn't develop until the Chaldeans blended into Mesopotamian culture near the end or after the Sumerian Civilization. They came from the north, and brought with them knowledge of herbs, astronomy, astrology, and hepatoscopy.  As these people blended into Babylonian and Assyrian culture and were readily accepted, so to was their knowledge and medical practice.

As noted by Sigerist:
Health was considered a great good. 'May Shamash and Murduk give thee health' was a formula frequently used in Babylonia letters of Hammurabi's time.  And in Assyria the letter writer addressed the king with 'May Ninib and Gula give to the king my lord happiness and health.' Hence, disease was a great curse and the position of the sick man in society was aggravated particularly by the views that illness was a punishment for sin.  This at least was the case as soon as the Semitic (Chaldean) influence became strong. (Sigerist, page 425-6)
Babylonia and Assyrian civilizations existed for nearly 2000 years side by side, with Babylonia in the southern regions of Mesopotamia, and Assyrians in the northern regions of Mesopotamia.  They worshiped similar, and often the same, gods, and so too they shared pretty much the same medicine.  Priests became physicians, and they had various remedies to aid the sick and injured.

The Babylonians were the first to determine the importance of rest, and therefore people were strictly prohibited from treating the sick on the 7th day of the week, or the Sabbath day.  This was a day reserved for resting, feasting and worshiping the gods and demons.  (Bradford, pages 7-8)(Baas, page 28

This is noted in the following translation from a cuneiform tablet by George Smith: (Baas, page 28)
"The seventh day, feast of Mnrodnch and Zir: Panibti, a great feast, a day o rest. The prince of the people will eat neither the flesh of birds nor cooked fruits He will not change his clothing. He will put on no white robe. He will bring no offering. The king will not ascend into his chariot. He will not perform his duties as royal law-giver. In a garrison city, the commander will permit no proclamations to his soldiers. The art of the physician will not be practised."
Physicians also didn't perform any of their miracles on the 7th, 14th, 19th, 21st, and 28th days of the month because they were considered unlucky.  So if you were sick on those days you had to use whatever remedies you had access to. (Garrison, page 434)  

Average citizens did have access to their own herbal remedies and magic words, such as the following incantation asking for help from the gods for an internal disease: (Baas, page 28)
"Let the witch sit upon the right;
Let her leave the left side free!
Adisina, do thou tie the knot,
Hind up the head of the sick.
His limbs in like manner with fetters!
Seat thou thyself on his bed,
With the water of youth besprinkle him!"
They were also able to perform their own rituals and celebrations.  So, in this way, as in ancient Egypt, every citizen was a physicians. Although the better educated members of society looked to physicians and his medicine for aid, only to resort to incantations and prayers when all else failed. (Bradford, pages 7-8)

The asu were famous for their incantations, but they were also famous for their herbal poisons.  In this way, they earned a bad reputation.  Surely what they did might help the sick, if by no other means than by creating hope, although their herbal remedies also made some people sicker, and they killed some.  And some priests/ physicians abused their power.  So, this forced various societies to create laws to protect physicians from the magical abilities of these priests/ physicians.

In fact, this can be noted by many of the passages in the ancient stone tablets, or books.  In fact, Akkadian kings were forbidden to "take medicine for the ailments of the body."  (Wilder, page 17)

There was initially no formal method of payment of physicians, even though they were required to take care of the sick, particularly the kings and princes.  Although their services were appreciated, and often they were paid in the usual methods of the time, which included gifts of "large and small draught oxen, cows, horses, and camels." (Bradford, page 7-8)

In the 17th century B.C., however, a mighty ruler by the name of Hammurabi established a uniform code for everyone to follow, including physicians.  The code worked out great, because not only did it increase respect for physicians, it established a formal method of payment for them.  

Hammurabi was a mighty Amorite king of Babylon who gained fame as a great warrior and disciplinarian.   He fought the neighboring nations of Babylonia, including Larsa, Eshunna, Mari, and Assur.  He also fought a 30 year war with Elam, and defeated them.  (Sigerist, page 286)

In this way, he spread the boarders of Babylon, and spearheaded the process of assimilating the cultures of these other nations. 

Hammurabi was the 6th king of Babylon, ruling the city, civilization and the empire from 1792 to 1750 B.C.  While he was a great leader, perhaps he gained his harsh reputation for his strict rules, many of which influenced medicine for the Babylonians and future generations.

He did not write laws, per se, but he had the laws that already existed inscribed in stone and placed at the temples for all to see.  If you were not aware of the laws, this was no excuse.  The laws were pretty intense: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and a limb for a limb  

They also applied to physicians to assure they did nothing to make their patients worse off by their remedies.  This was necessary to protect the people from the magic of priests/ physicians, but it also had the end result of improving respect for them as well.

The laws were basic, and included: (Garrison, page 56)
  • Adequate fees
  • Carefully prescribed remedies
  • Regulations to assure remedies were safe  (Garrison, page 56)
These laws were inscribed in stone and set near or inside the temples for all to see.  This way there was no excuse for anyone to be ignorant of the laws. In total there were 282 laws (for a full list of laws click here), with Laws 215 to 223 pertaining specifically to the physicians. The laws created regulations for them to follow, although they also provided for respectful payment for their services:

Here are some of the laws pertaining to physicians:
  • 215:  If a physician makes a large incision with an operating knife and cure it, or if he open a tumor (over the eye) with an operating knife, and saves the eye, he shall receive ten shekels in money.
  • 216:  If the patient be a freed man, he receives five shekels.
  • 217:  If he be the slave of some one, his owner shall give the physician two shekels.
  • 218:  If a physician make a large incision with the operating knife, and kill him, or open a tumor with the operating knife, and cut out the eye, his hands shall be cut off.
  • 219:  If a physician make a large incision in the slave of a freed man, and kill him, he shall replace the slave with another slave.
  • 220:  If he had opened a tumor with the operating knife, and put out his eye, he shall pay half his value.
  • 221:  If a physician heal the broken bone or diseased soft part of a man, the patient shall pay the physician five shekels in money.
  • 222:  If he were a freed man he shall pay three shekels.
  • 223:  If he were a slave his owner shall pay the physician two shekels.
There is an epilogue to the laws, which includes a long promise, part of which includes:
"LAWS of justice which Hammurabi, the wise king, established... May Nin-karak, the daughter of Anu, who adjudges grace to me, cause to come upon his members in E-kur high fever, severe wounds, that can not be healed, whose nature the physician does not understand, which he can not treat with dressing, which, like the bite of death, can not be removed, until they have sapped away his life."
While Assyrian and Babylonian priest physicians were initially all trained the same, over time they each became specialized in a particular disease as occurred in Egypt.  You'd have one physician for the eyes, one for the liver, one for prophylaxis, one for divination, etc.  (Garrison, page 56)

So now, thanks to such laws, the sick and injured were less likely to fear the priest/ physicians.  If you were in need of medical attention, surely you could attempt to heal yourself, and surely you could lie in the streets and hope to find someone with the remedy, yet you also had access to physicians, even if they were merely priest/ physicians.  

References:  See post "2000 B.C.:  Assyrian physicians will treat your dyspnea"

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2000-539 B.C.: Babylonians describe first lung diseases

Ancient Babylonian texts describe both diseases of the lungs and heart, and they even describe diseases such a`s chronic bronchitis and pneumonia. These respiratory diseases were more frequent than in ancient Egypt, and the reason may be due to the climate of Mesopotamia which can result in scorching hot days as hot as 120 degrees, and very cold nights. (Sigerist, page 381)

Generally, what is described are the symptoms, which was generally how it was in the ancient world These ailments that caused you to become short of breath, or to develop a cough, were caused by demons sent by the gods. The gods made you get inured or sick because either you or your ancestors had sinned. Another way you might get sick or injured was when dark magic was used by other people, either in the form of words or poisons. (Garrison, page 420)

If, for example, a demon possessed your lungs or heart, this resulted in shortness of breath, chest pain, increased sputum, wheezing, and similar symptoms.  Other diseases described were rumination, acid stomach, nerualgia, and various diseases of the eyes. They also knew about epilepsy and contagion, which was epilepsy caused by demons.  (Garrison, page 56)

They new that some diseases were hereditary, and this was probably caused by a sin of your ancestors.  They also observed some diseases were contagious, and this was probably due to demons possessing anyone who comes into contact with the diseases.  It was probably for this reason people with diseases like leprosy or syphilis were forced to live in exile, and people were discouraged from coming into contact with them. They were also struck by various plagues, and of course these were during times when the gods were exceptionally irritated. (Garrison, page 426)

Many of their remedies, especially exorcism and herbal, were picked up by later societies, including the Egyptians, Hindu, Chinese, Islam, and Medieval Christians.  So what was learned by one society greatly impacted future societies. (Garrison, page 56)

If you were sick or injured, if you were short of breath, you had a variety of options.  You could grin and bear it.  You could treat yourself with your own incantations, prayers and herbal remedies.  You could go to a smaller temples and perform a ritual for health and healing.  You could rely on the priests to perform such rituals at the larger temples.  You could lie in the streets.  You could call for a priest/ physician.

Primitive indeed the options were, you did have options for health and healing in ancient Babylonia.  Around 700 B.C. the Babylonians were defeated by the Assyrians, and sometime around 612 B.C. they conquered the Assyrians and there was a resurgence of sorts, with the capital city of Babylon reaching the peak of its glory.

However, Babylonian civilization grew weak, and was conquered by the Persians and Medes in 539 B.C. The Persian Empire rose to glory, becoming the preeminent civilization of the Near East, and in itself helped to advance medicine.

However, while knowledge was growing in ancient Greece and Rome, the Near East, Mesopotamia included, went into a dark ages of sorts, meaning knowledge was stalled, even regressed.

References:  See post "2000 B.C.:  Assyrian physicians will treat your dyspnea"

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2500-539 B.C.: Chaldeans create system of medicine

Originating with the Chaldeans was the Zend Avista, or the Living Word.  This was a compilation of all the Chaldean knowledge accumulated around 2500 B.C. by Zarathustria (Zerdutscht Zoroaster), who was a "priestly lawgiver who lived around 2500 B.C.  

As the most educated Chaldean, he was probably a member of the priesthood. His writings were lost to time, although they were ultimately rewritten into a book consisting of: (Baas, page 25)
  • Yanza -- A liturgy
  • Vispered -- Prayers (this would include the medical portions)
  • Jesch -- History of Chaldeans
  • Bundehesch -- Cosmology
Priests were educated at the world's first universities, some of which were created amid the Sumerians, and included locations in Urikh (Erech), Akkad, Nipur, Kutha, Larsa, and Borsippa.  The various branches of learning were not separated as they are today, so if you attended one of these universities you were pretty much educated in all wisdom, which included literature, writing, mythology, religion, medicine, science, mathematics, astronomy, cosmology, weights and measures, magic lore, divination, and astrology. (wiley, page 20)(Garrison, page 54)

Although, the priesthood was ultimately broken down by the Jews/ Hebrews as follows: (Garrison, page 58)
  • Priest: Used words to create heal and prevent sickness and injuries. Hebrew priest were the "hygiene police" There is no mention of Biblical priests acting as physicians. (Garrison, page 57)
  • Prophets: Had the ability to heal using knowledge they obtained at the universities.  Both Elijah and Elisha had the ability to cure and raise people from the dead. There are various references to them "making medicine" in the bible. 
  • Physicians:  Used various herbal remedies and surgeries to heal
  • Pharmacists: Created various herbal remedies and poisons to be used in healing
So most of the medicine was contained in the vispered, and it was all theurgic in character, meaning that it was based on mythology and divination.  These priestly magicians were the most excellent physicians, and they cured by their words, and thus they were: (Baas, page 26)
  • Word doctors: They healed with their charms, incantations, and prayers. 
  • Herb doctors: They healed with their potions
  • Knife doctors: They performed surgery, which mainly consisted of blistering, bleeding, or operating on eyes, castration, etc. It rarely consisted of internal surgery.
According to Wiley, they were familiar with the following: (Wiley, page 20)
  • Astrology:  Mainly consisted of using astronomy, the alignment of stars, planets, comets, etc. to determine the words of the gods to predict the future. (Wiley, page 20)
  • Divination: Mainly consisted of determining the words of the gods by reading the alignment of internal organs, mainly the liver (called hepatoscopy). Garrison notes that the liver was important because it was the source of blood and the seat of the soul.  He says, "to inspect the liver was to see into the soul of the sacrificed animal, and the mind of the gods." (Garrison, page 55) This also involved palmistry (reading palms) and astrology (reading stars, planets, comets, etc.)
  • Herbs: They had poisonous and healing properties, and worked by powers invested in them by gods. Herbal recipes were used as medicine, both internal and external (Wiley, page 20)
  • Words: Included magical incantations, conjurations, spells and charms that were disgusting to evil spirits and demons, and remedied and cured ailments 
  • Amulets: Their magical powers were able to suck out demons and spirits to cure ailments
  • Talisman: Warded off evil demons and spirits
  • Pharmacy: Medicine kept in vases and jars (Wiley, page 20)(Recipe page 21)
Garrison said priests or physicians would use one or more of the above in the following fashion: (Garrison, page 54-57 )
  • Aetiology: Blaming demons (similar to modern physicians blaming germs)
  • Diagnosis:  Based on inspection of patient
  • Prognosis: Based on the following: 
    • Divination or augury from liver of sacrificed animals:
      • Abnormally large organ: token of future power and success
      • Abnormality on right side of organ: token of future power or success
      • Abnormally small organ: token of weakness or failure
      • Abnormality on left side: token of weakness or failure
    • Divination of astrological signs
    • Birth omens, which determined whether person was going to be a super power or a failure.  These were based on augury of liver of sacrificed animals, astrology and palmistry.  They also studied fetal abnormalities.
    • Disease omens:  Inspection of the body, abnormalities, studying liver of sacrificed animals, astrology, and palmistry. 
    • Palmistry:  foretelling future through study of palms
  • Therapy:  The goal of various remedies was to "disgust demons inside the body." (Garrison, page 56)
    • Exorcisms by special ritual.  May be performed by the sick at home or at one of the smaller temples, or by the priests at your home, or as part of the regular rituals held at the larger temples. 
    • Herbal remedies 
    • Words: incantations, charms, spells, prayers, or conjurations
  • Prophylaxis:  Prevention
    • Incantation
    • Talisman
    • Charms (may place seal of gods on both sides of door of invalid) (Garrison, page 56)
    • Good behavior
    • Good hygiene (this was later perfected by Egyptians and Hebrews, although there is evidence of Babylonian drains, indicating they made the link between feces and disease) The Babylonians did wash their hands before meals, however, mainly because they ate with their fingers. They usually only washed the rest of their bodies only once a week. It was a sin to urinate in canals. (Sigerist, page 402)
In this way, it was the Chaldeans who created the first system of medicine. After the fall of Sumeria in 2000 B.C., their medical wisdom would be assimilated into Babylonian culture. 

References:  See post "2000 B.C.:  Assyrian physicians will treat your dyspnea"

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2000 B.C.: Chaldeans introduce physicians to Babylon

Chaldeans introduced astronomy/ medicine to ancient Mesopotamians?
Various groups of people continued to emigrate into Mesopotamia even as the Sumerian civilization was fading. Among these were the Syrians, Babylonians, Hebrews, Phoenicians, Akkadians and Arabs. Some of these matured to form villages, towns, cities, empires and even civilizations. Yet it was another group of people who had the greatest impact on medicine: the Chaldeans (Chaldees). (Baas page 25)

No one knows when they emigrated into the area, although many speculate they came from the north. The Hebrew Bible says they came from the "extremities of the earth," which may be Armenia, Cephenin, and Arrapachitis. Job mentions gold, and Jeremiah the iron of the north. It's also believed they left their homeland (and nobody knows why) over a century before they landed in Babylonia and Persia, or "before they besieged Jerusalem." (Asiatic Journal, page 36-37)

As time went by they were assimilated into Babylonian and Persian society to the point that they were often referred to as Babylonians and Persians, as opposed to Chaldeans. (Asiatic Journal, page 36-37) 

The dominant element of their way of life "consisted of servants to the deity," (Baas, page 25) and they are even referred to in the Bible as the "Magi" or the "Wise men," or "haruspices."  (Asiatic Journal, page 37)(Baas, page 25)

Magi or wise men were magicians, priests who were proficient in all the knowledge of the universe.  They specialized in mythology, religion, and medicine.  They were, perhaps, the most well educated people among society, and they were, in essence, magicians.

Haruspices, according to, refers to the study of organs, such as the liver, and astronomical phenomenon, such as thunderstorms, lightning, alignment of stars, planets, comets, etc.  This was all done for the purpose of divination, or predicting the future.

The Chaldeans were known for their knowledge of mathematics, astronomy, astrology, interpretations of dreams, and medicine. Some referred to them simply as "skygazers."

Perhaps by gazing at the stars they developed the first calendars based on the phases of the moon.  Perhaps they are the ones who introduced Babylonians and Persians to a numerical system based on the number 60.  This system included the 360 degree circle, 60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour, and so forth. They are also sometimes credited as helping the Babylonians advance mathematics, astronomy, astrology and medicine. 

Henry Sigerist, in his 1922 history of medicine, said that ancient societies did not study the sky because they were interested in the alignment of the planets, stars, comets, etc. What they were interested in was interpreting the words of the gods, and this alignment, so they thought, was how the gods communicated. It was the job of the Chaldean priests, and later the Babylonian priests, to interpret astrological signs. (Sigerist, page 392)

Or, as William Osler wrote in his history of medicine:
A belief that the stars in their courses fought for or against him arose early in their civilizations, and directly out of their studies on astrology and mathematics. The Macrocosm, the heavens that “declare the glory of God,” reflect, as in a mirror, the Microcosm, the daily life of man on earth. (Osler, page 24)
As they themselves were, their knowledge and culture were assimilated into Babylonian culture, and this is how medicine evolved into a science of divination through astrology and hepatoscopy in ancient Babylonia, or so it is believed. (Baas, page 25)(Sigerist, 392)

Actually, not only were the Chaldean Priest known for their astrology and hepatoscopy, they were also known for their herbal remedies and incantations. In fact, it was probably due to the Chaldean Priests that the Babylonians became well known for their poisons. (Baas, ?)

Babylonian medicine was initially referred to as poison because it was used for its poisonous effects, which sometimes included killing people who were not wanted.  It was this effect, some believe, that gave Babylonian medicine, at least initially, a bad name.  Perhaps for this reason most physicians were seen as bad people, and for this reason they worked behind the scenes.

Perhaps this was among the reasons that when the Greek historian Herodotus traveled through Mesopotamia, he wrote that "they have no physicians."  Various historians have noted ample evidence that there were, especially after the assimilation of the Chaldeans.

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2600 B.C.-30 A.D.: Greek/ Roman gods will cure your asthma

If you had asthma in ancient Greece or Rome, how would you fare?  What would you do?  Probably, as with any ancient civilization, you'd grin and bear it as long as possible, and while doing so you'd pray to one of the gods for healing.

Greek and Roman mythology is very similar, bringing to mind that newer nations that develop often adapt the cultures of the nations they swallow.  Many of the following gods probably made their way from Egyptian to Greek culture, and then to Roman.  One such example was the Greek Hermes and Roman Murcury, who was probably the same god as Thoth in ancient Egypt, or the god of arts and sciences, and secretary to the gods.

No one knows for sure when these legends were created, although some speculate it may have been sometime around 2600 B.C.  No one knows if these legends were based on actual events, or if they were simply entertainment that worked their way into mythology.  Regardless, what we do know is that all the gods had the ability to cause diseases and to heal diseases, although some more so than others.

That in mind, here are some of the most well known Greek/Roman gods of mythology (Greek name/ Roman name).  I think it's important to know about these because, if you lived in ancient Greece and Rome, it is them you'd pray for for health and healing.  

1.  Zeus/ Jupiter:  When his father Jupiter died, he and his two brothers (Neptune and Pluto) divided the world among themselves.  Jupiter became king of the heavens, earth and life, and thus king of the gods. He had a very jealous wife named Juno.  They had many children, all with magical power. 

2. Hera/ Juno:  She was the wife and sister of Zeus/ Jupiter.  She was therefore the queen of the gods, and the goddess of marriage. According to most myths she was not nice.  He had the ability to swallow cities with his water, and so Greek and Roman priests provided him with a regular diet of ritual sacrifices to keep him happy.  

3.  Poseidon/ Neptune:  He became king of the sea.  He divided the underworld into two sections, one for those who were nice in life, and another for those who were bad.  In other words, he created heaven and hell. 

4.  Hades (Haides, Aides, Aedonius)/ Pluto:  He became king of the underworld, which was often referred to as Hades. He was the god of death and of the dead.  He presided over funeral rights and protected the rights of the dead. He was also the god of hidden wealth of the earth, such as the fertile soil that made seeds turn into plants.  He also controlled gold, silver, and other mined minerals.  He was the brother of Zeus. Zeus offered to him daughter Persiphone, the daughter of Demeter, knowing that she would resist the marriage. Zeus abducted Persiphone, but when Demeter learned of this she caused a great dearth to fall upon the earth until her daughter was returned to her. In order that mankind did not perish, Zeus ceded and gave Demeter her daughter back. However, because she had tasted of the pomegranate seed, she was forced to return to the underworld for a portion of each year.  
5.  Ares/ Mars:  He was the son of Zeus and Hera.  He and his wife Eris carried three spirits with them: Panic, Pain, Famine and Oblivion.  He enjoyed to see bloodshed, and so the other gods tended to stay away from him.  He was therefore the god of war, and he loved to cause pain and panic. 

6.  Hermes/ Mercury: He was known the the ancient Egyptians as Thoth.  He was the youngest son of Zeus/ Jupiter.  He was the messenger of the gods.  He was mischievous, although also very clever and fun to be around.  He was among the most popular of all the Greek/ Roman gods. He was very good at extracting wisdom from people, and therefore he became the god of wisdom and the arts (he created medicine).  He was often worshiped as a god of health and healing.  He was the inventor of language, writing, paper, and medicine.  He communicated this wisdom to a priest, who then taught it to the rest of the learned class of Greeks/ Romans.  Some speculate he was the same as the Egyptian god qw2aImhotep, and therefore may have been an actual physician who became so proficient in his skills that he was remembered in folk lore.  Over time he became immortalized as a deity.  

7.  Apollo/ Apollo: He was the son of Hermes/ Mercury who was often worshiped as the god of prophesies, oracles, plagues, disease, health and healing. People often traveled to temples dedicated to him for healing purposes. He was also the god of archery.  His main emphasis was not healing, although he could heal. Some say that he may have been an actual physician around 1200 B.C., and may have been worshiped as a god of health and healing in the early days of ancient Greece. Some speculate he was the founder of human medicine, and later deified as the god of medicine.  His replacement was his son Asclepius.  

8.  Artemis/ Diana:  She was the daughter of Hermes/ Mercury, and the twin of Apollo.  She was protector of women and children.

9.  Athena/ Minerva: She was the daughter of Zeus/ Jupiter.  She was the goddess of wisdom. Her main temple was in the Acropolis of Athens, and thus is why she gave her name to that city-state.

10.  Hestia/ Vesta: She was the goddess of the hearth and home.  People prayed to her that their home would be safe and secure.  She watched over the women as they washed the dishes, clothing, cooked, sewed, etc. 

11.  Demeter/ Ceres: She was the sister and wife of Zeus/ Jupiter.  She was the goddess of the harvest, and when she was angry there would be droughts and famine.  The company of her daughter Persephone made her happy.  When Zeus offered Persephone to his brother Hades of the underworld, she became irate and set forth great dearth upon the earth.  Zeus was forced to concede lest the world come to an end.  

12.  Aphrodite/ Venus: Her father was Zeus/ Jupiter, and she had no mother.  The poet Hesiod said she was born of sea foam.  The poet Homer said she was the daughter of Zeus and Dione.  Aphrodite was the goddess of love and beauty.   She was kind most of the time, although easily angered. She has many similarities to the Egyptian Isis. 

13.  Hephaestus/ Vulcan: He was the son of Juno and Jupiter and is married to Venus.  He is god of fire and forge.  He was always making things such as homes, palaces, swords, tools, etc. 

14.  Heracles/ Hercules: He was half man and half god.  His father was Zeus/ Jupiter.  He didn't know he was a god until he grew up.  He was magically strong.  Juno tried to kill him many times.  To keep him safe from Juno, Jupiter sent him to live with a mortal family.  One day his father told him he was a god, and this set him off on many adventures. 

15.  Eros/ Cupid: Son of Venus.  His arrows made people fall in love with the very next person they saw, and as you might imagine, this often caused a lot of trouble.  His love arrows worked on mortals and the deity.  

16.  Dionyus/ Bacchus:  He was a shape shifter.  He often appeared as a handsome young man with glowing garments and jewels. 

17.  Orpheus/ Orpheus: He was a musician, and his songs would charm the wildest of beasts, and even rocks and trees. 

18.  Echo/ Echo:  He was an Oreod, or mountain nymph.  She once got Zeuz/ Jupiter in trouble, and earned the suspicion of Juno.  

19.  Pan/ Faunus:  He was god of wild, shepherds, flocks, nature, hunting, rustic music, etc. He had the legs of a goat.  Because he was god of the fields and god of fertility, he was the god who was most often worshiped during the planting season. In one story, the Athenians learned that armies from Persia threatened their city, the Athenians could not go to battle because they were worshiping the god Pan and didn't want to anger him.  They prayed to Pan for help, and Pan, pleased by their prayers, promised to send a plague on the Persians.  The next morning was the Battle of Marathon (490 B.C.), and a plague occurred that caused the Persians to be confused and worried.  This disease exists to this day, and it's called Panic.  

20.  Pandora/ Pandora: She was the first mortal woman formed by the gods of ancient Greece, and she was formed out of clay. Prometheus created man, but didn't want to create a woman.  Zeus was angered and commanded Hephaistos and other gods to create a woman who was beautiful and cunning, and therefore capable of causing havoc, according to  /She was then offered as a wife to Epimethius, the foolish younger brother of Prometheus.  She was warned not to accept any gift from Zeus.  When Epimethius welcomed her into his house, she opened the storage jar that Zeus gave her as a wedding gift, releasing a swarm of evil spirits, which have plagued mankind ever since.  Her son Pyrrha (fire) was the first born mortal child. 

21.  Pegasus/ Pegasus: The flying horse, and son of Poseidon and Medussa (the lady with snakes for hair). He was a kind god who often carried wounded soldiers from battle.  He ultimately became the thundering horse that Zeus rode in the stars. 

22.  Kerberos/ Cerberus: He was a giant, three headed dog that guarded the gates of Hades, or the underworld that was ruled by Hades or Haides.  

23.  Aesclapius/ Aesclapius:  He was son of Apollo, and an actual person (or so some believe) whose legend became so great he turned into a god during later Greek mythology.  He was a great physician in life, and therefore he was a physician as a god.  He had great healing powers, and his main emphasis was healing.  He also came into contact with many of the other gods, so he was often worshiped as the god of healing.  Perhaps it was for this reason that many temples were built and dedicated to him where he was worshiped.  Many sick would travel to his temples, would sleep there at night, and he would appear in their dreams with the diagnosis and treatment.  The priests at the temples would interpret his dreams.  The remedies given to the people by Aesclapius were recorded at the temples.  It is believed (although not proved) that it was from the Aesclapion at Cos where Hippocrates obtained much of his medical wisdom that he ultimately recorded (with others) in the Hippocratic Corpus.  His temples weren't hospitals per se, although many sick would stay at the the nearby hostels. Schools associated with the temples were where most of the priests and philosophers were educated, including Aristotle, Socrates, Plato, Hippocrates, etc. The Egyptian Thoth had similar temples dedicated to him, and therefore he is often referred to as the Egyptian Aesclapius.  The same is also true of the Egyptian Imhotep.  The god Aesclapius fathered various children, all of whom had healing powers as noted below

24.  Epione:  She was the wife and consort of Aesclepius, and the goddess of soothing of pain. Her name means soothing. She is the mother of Panacea and Macheon and Podalirius

25.  Panacea:  She was daughter of Asclepius and Epione, and was the goddess of universal remedy. She had a potion that she used to heal the sick.

26.  Hygieia:  She was a daughter of Asclepius, and was the goddess of health, cleanliness and sanitation. She is credited with the word hygiene.

27.  Acesco:  She was one of six daughers of Asclepius, and was the goddess of the healing process.

28.  Aglaea/ Egle:  She was a daughter of Asclepius, and was the goddess of beauty, splendor, glory, magnificence, adornment.

29.  Laso:  She was a daughter of Asclepius, and was the goddess of recuperation from illness.

30.  Meditrina:  She was a goddess introduced in the late Roman era who was the goddess of health, healing and wine.  There was a celebration dedicated to her on October 11 where Romans blended old win with new wine in honor of the new wine.

31.  Podalirius:  He was one of the three sons of Asclepius.  His mother was Epione.  He was a surgeon and medic.  He was also the god of diagnosis.  He was a healer.  He and his brother Machaon participated in the Trojan war, and he healed Philoctetes to end the war.

32.  Machaon:  He was one of the three sons of Asclepius.  His mother was Epione.  He was also a master surgeon and medic and therefore a healer.  With his brother Podaleirus, he led an army from Thessaly to Eurytos in Troy during the Trojan war.  He possessed herbs that were given to his father Asclepius by centaur Chiron.

33.  Telesphoros:  He was one of three sons of Asclepius, and he was a dwarf. He devoted his life to serving Asclepius and Aratus (his step-brother). He was usually presented as a dwarf with his head covered, and he symbolized recovery.  His name means "the accomlisher," or "bringer of completion."

34.  Aratus of Soli:  Son of Asclepius.  He was a Greek poet who lived from 315-240 B.C.  You can read about him and his poems here.

34.  Chiron:  He was a centaur who was known for his knowledge of herbal remedies, and had knowledge and skill in medicine.  He also had great skill as an astrology and reading oracles, making him capable of reading the words of the gods, and therefore of providing diagnosis and prognosis.  He was revered as a teacher and tutor.  He raised Apollo, providing him with much of his medical wisdom. He was also tutor to many other Greek heroes, such as Asclepius, Achilles, Hercules, Phoenis, Dionysus, etc.

35.  Paeon: The great Greek poet Homer (who lived sometime around 800 or 850 B.C.) mentioned Paeon as the physician of the Greek gods, and often times other gods were identified with him when worshiped.  For instance, Zeus, the king of gods, was referred to as Zeus Paian or Zeus the Healer. Paeon may also have been worshiped as a god of health and healing.

36.  Hecate: The goddess of magic, witchcraft, night, moon, ghosts, and necromoancy (the conjuration of spirits).

37.  Dione:  According to, she was a partner of Zeus, and, according to Homer's Iliad, the mother of Aphrodite.  In Hesiods Theogony she is simply identified as the daughter of Oceanus.

38.  Prosperpina/ lists her as the daughter of Zeus and Demeter and the wife of Hades, the god of the underworld.  Demeter was always happy when she was around.  She was given as a bride to Hades, and when Demeter learned of this she became angry, threatened the world with great dearth until Zeus gave Demeter her beloved daughter back.

39.  Helen:  Goddess of birth of Spartan Women.

40.  Pyrrha:  She was the daughter of Pandora.  She was married to Deukalion, and together they were the only two to survive the great deluge.  To repopulate the world they each cast stones over their shoulders.  The stones cast by Deukalion formed man, and those cast by Pandora formed women. This is according to

There are many other members of Greek and Roman mythology, and many of them also had healing powers.  However, those mentioned here should provide a good overall understanding of how disease would have been treated in ancient Greece and Rome. Chances are, as a Greek or Roman citizen, you would worship one or more of these characters for health and healing. eir temples for healing.  

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2640 B.C.-1820 A.D.:First descriptions of hay fever

Like asthma, allergies were probably prevalent early in human history.  Yet the symptoms of a runny nose, sniffy, sneezes and wheezes, along with red and watery eyes, were probably confused with other maladies, such as asthma or influenza. So there were only random notations describing the malady before it was formally defined by the medical community in 1819.  

About 2,640 years before the birth of Christ, King Menes of Egypt was reported to have died after being stung by a wasp. As far as historians are aware, this is the first account of an allergic reaction.  So it's evident allergies go all the way back to the ancient world.   
King Menes (circa 2925 B.C.)

Right around this time a Middle Eastern Physician named El-Razi observed redness and swelling of the nasal passages in some of his patients.  He described what we might consider allergic rhinitis or hay fever.  Yet those terms weren't used until the 19th and 20th centuries.

Arnoldo Cantani, in his book, "Pediatric Allergy, Asthma and Immunology," described how Caesar Augustus suffered from asthma and seasonal rhinitis (allergies/ hay fever).  Caesar is also believed to have suffered from asthma. (1)

Roman Emperor Claudius (10-13 B.C to 54 A.D) is believed to have suffered from allergy symptoms, and his son Brittanicus (41?-55 A.D.) is believed to have suffered from an allergy to horses. Historical reports have it that when exposed to horses his eyes would swell up and he'd develop a rash.

Princes Nero and Brittanicus
Brittanicus was heir apparent to the throne.  Yet due to his allergies he was limited in what he could do.  And when his mother died, Claudius remarried to Agrippina the Younger.  She had a son named Nero, and Claudius adapted him.  Nero almost immediately won the favor of the public, and Nero ultimately eclipsed his younger brother and was named Emperor in 54 A.D.

Nero would ultimately become famous for throwing Christians to the Lions.  Yet within only a few months of his reign, he is believed to have poisoned his weaker, older brother Brittanicus to death.

Paul M. Ehrlich and Elizabeth Shimer Bowers, in their 2008 book "Living with Allergies," note that it was an Ancient Roman Physician who was the first to describe allergies.  The authors quote Lucretius, who lived from 99-55 B.C., as saying, "What is good for some may be fierce poisons for others." (2, page 4)

Physicians around 850 A.D. observed many of their patients developed sneezing, nasal stuffiness and runny noses when the roses were blooming.  Upon further examination they observed redness and swelling in the nasal passages that resulted in the runny nose, and they referred to this condition as rose fever.

The medical term catarrh was first used to describe the miserable condition that result in a runny nose around 1350 and 1400 A.D, according to The term catarrh comes from the Greek word katarrous which means "literally down-flowing."  So the term catarrh refers to the redness and swelling of the nasal passages that results in nasal drainage regardless of the cause.  It was a term commonly used by physicians through the 19th century.

2838: Chinese discover worlds best asthma remedy

While Nei Ching is the oldest known recorded Chinese medical treaties, Shen Nung, who lived from 2838-2698 B.C., is often considered as the founder of Chinese Medicine as well as the "Fire Emperor."  (1) 

Shen Nung (2838-2698)
Shen Nung created the Pen Ts'ao, or "Divine Husbandman's Materia Medica."  It's basically a pharmacopoeia describing how to create remedies from drugs and plants to treat various diseases. He was the first to mention using the plant Ma Huang for treating respiratory disorders.

The leaves and/ or stems of the Ma Huang plant were dried prepared in such a way that it was served as a drink, often as a bitter tasting tea. Nung believed Ma Huang worked by reversing the flow of Qi.

Leaves of the plant were crushed and served in a bitter tasting yellow tea.

Western medicine reached China early in the 17th century. But, another 300 years would go by before ephedrine was discovered by the modern world. (2).

We might fairly assume that the Chinese had the best asthma remedy in the ancient world. It was taken by mouth and offered quick breathing relief.

So, while Ancient Chinese asthmatics obtained quick asthma relief by using ephedra, the rest of the world (except for maybe Japan and Korea) would have to wait.

  1. Saunders, M, J.B. Dec, "Huang Ti Nei Ching Su Wen -- The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Mediciner,"  Calif Med1967 July; 107(1): 125–126
  2. Veith, Ilza, author /translator, "The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine," 2002, Los Angeles, pages 4-6
  3. Ibid, page 97-8
  4. Ibid, pages pages 98 and 10-14
  5. "Qi Theory,,
  6. Ibid,
  7. Veith, op cit, pages 49 and 50
  8. Veith, op cit, pages 57-8, also see chapter 26 beginning on page 217
  9. Navara, Tova, "The Encyclopedia of Asthma and Respiratory Disorders," 2003, New York, page 177
  10. Veith, op cit, page 1
  1. Navara, Tova, "The Encyclopedia of Asthma and Respiratory Disorders," 2003, New York, page 177
  2. Veith, Ilza, author /translator, "The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine," 2002, Los Angeles, pages 4-6

2697 B.C.: The oldest description of asthma (sort of)

The oldest recorded medical document is the Nei Ching Su Wen (Classics on Internal Medicine) which was written about 2697 B.C. by the Yellow Emperor Huang Ti or, according to some sources, by sometime around 1000 B.C. and attributed to Huang Ti to give the document more value.

The document mainly consists of dialogue between Huang Ti and his physician Ch'i Pai. Whether Ti truly existed or was a work of legend is still debated to this day.
While diseases weren't mentioned in the Nei Ching, there were definitely several references to breathing disorders. One such example can be found in chapter 34, or final chapter of the document. The discussion between Ti and Pai went like this:
The Yellow Emperor said: " Man is afflicted when he cannot rest and when his breathing has a sound (is noisy) -- or when he cannot rest and his breathing is without any sound. He may rise and rest (his habits of life may be) as of old and his breathing is noisy; he may have his rest and his exercise and his breathing is troubled (wheezing, panting); or he may not get any rest and be unable to walk about and his breathing is troubled. There are those who do not get a rest and those who rest and yet have troubled breathing. is all this caused by the viscera? I desire to hear about their causes."
Ch'i Po answered: "Those who do not rest and whose breathing is noisy have disorders in the region of Yang Ming (the 'sunlight'). The Yang of the foot in descending causes the present disturbance and is ascending it causes the breathing to be noisy. The pulse of the stomach is located in the region of the 'sunlight'. The stomach is the ocean of the five viscera. If the breath (of the stomach) does not function there is a disorder in (the region of) the 'sunlight' and it cannot follow its course; the consequence is inability to rest. In ancient classics it is said: 'If there is no harmony within the stomach, there is no peace (contentment, comfort, ease).
"Hence if the habits of life are as usual and the breathing is noisy, then the veins of the lungs are in disorder. The vessels are not in harmony with the main vessels which ascend and descend. Hence the main vessels are restrained and cannot function, and the man suffers from a disease of the veins.
"If, however, the habits of life are as usual and breathing is noisy; and if one cannot rest, or if one rests there is troubled breathing, then something has temporary residence in the breath; water follows the saliva and moves. The water of the kidneys influences the saliva, disturbs the rest, and causes the troubled breathing."
The Emperor said: "Excellent!"
Now, if that's not a line a B.S. I don't know what is, but it was a legitimate theory regarding medicine in Ancient China.  It was based on this that breathing disorders, like asthma, were diagnosed and treated. To the health experts living at the time this explanation was completely rational.

  1. Veith, Ilza, "The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine," Los Angeles, 2002, page 252-3 (Veith wrote the introduction and translated for us the Nei Ching as written by Huang Ti, the Yellow Emperor.)

2000 B.C.- 1538 A.D.: Civilization arrives in Mesoamerica

Figure 1 -- This is a map of Mesoamerica with some modern and some ancient
names.  The first American civilizations originated in this region.
So what would it be like if you had breathing trouble and lived among the ancient cultures of North and South America.  To answer this question, it's best to understand the people who lived there.

The experts estimate that people migrated across the Bering Land Bridge, Beringia, probably sometime between 50,000 and 10,000 years ago, and probably continued to find ways to communicate even after that.  After arriving in Alaska from Siberia, some people continued to migrate south, some ending up in Mexico, Belize, northern Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatamala, and El Salvador.

Historians refer to the stretch of land from central Mexico to Honduras as Mesoamerica, and it was here, perhaps in the tropical forests around Peru, where the first American lands were cultivated.  This would have been done for food, but also for fiber, raw material for baskets, mats, houses, boats, and fuel, said William Brandon in his 2003 book "The rise and fall of North American Indians." (8, page 22, 23)

Around 5,000 B.C. this knowledge spread around the Americas, creating an American Agricultural Revolution.  It was also around Peru where the first civilizations in the Americas arose.  Here is a brief chronology of Mesoamerican civilizations, and a brief discussion of what it would be like to live among them. (some dates are estimations):

Migration to America
Bering Land Bridge:  30,0000-10,000 B.C.
A land bridge across the Bering Straight, and connecting Asia with North America, allowed humans, animals and plants to migrate between the two continents. Some crossed on foot, and others crossed on boats in shallow water along coastal lines.  Once the glaciers melted, the waters were cold and treacherous, and crossing them would have been difficult.  Over time, the poeple of the Americas were isolated from the rest of the world.  
Agricultural Revolution in Mesoamerica
The beginning of agriculture: Around 5000 B.C.
Cities based on farming spread: 2000-250 B.C. 
People living in Mesoamerica would have been able to fish, and hunt monkeys, jaguars, iguanas, deer, turkey, wild boar, and birds. There was also an ample supply of maize, squash, potatoes, beans, chili peppers, tomatoes, and tobacco. They also made chocolate from the cocoa plant. By around 5,000 B.C. people around Peru, perhaps in the tropica forests, learned how to cultivate and harvest these crops, and this knowledge spread. The people made tools and other materials of wood, stone, and obsidian (hardened lava). 
The Olmec 
Ceremonial centers in Peru: 2000 B.C.
Olmec civilization flourished: 1500 B.C.-200 B.C.
Chavin Civilization formed:  900 B.C.
Olmec Collossal Heads made: 900 B.C.
Olmec Civilization formed:  800 B.C.
Olmec civilization begins decline: 100 A.D.  
They Lived on the eastern Gulf Coast of Mexico.
Similar to how the Sumerians influenced later Mesopotamian societies, the Olmecs influenced the Mayans, Aztecs, and Incas in math, architecture, astronomy, and religion.  They are most famous for large colossal heads they carved out of basalt boulders (see figure 2)
Zapotec civilization:  600-800 A.D.
They Lived in southern states of Mexico.  The Mixtecs had a system of writing where they drew pictograms on deer skins.  
Mixtec civilization:  800-1500 A.D.
Lived in southern states of Mexico.  Zapotecs invented a system of writing called hieroglyphs, and wrote on stone tablets (did they learn this from a Mesopotamian trader?).
First Mayan Settlements:  2600 B.C.
Maya Civilization flourished:  200 B.C.-900 A.D.
Written language invented (hieroglyphics): 700 B.C
Solar calendar carved in stone: 400 B.C.
Maya "Golden Age:" 250-900 A.D
Mayans flee southern city-states: 900-1600 A.D.  
90% of population dead: 950 A.D. 
Mayans flee northern city-states: 1200 A.D.
Spanish Arrive: 16th Century

At its peak, over 13 million people lived under Mayan rule. The ancient Maya lived in Mesoamerica for over 3,000 years, until their last city fell to Spanish invaders in 1697 A.D.  
They lived in rain forests of Central America in what are now Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras. They studied the stars and planets without the aid of a telescope.  They developed exemplary skills in mathematics, astronomy and astrology. They created a system of writing, a calendar, and a religion based on legends.  Cities banned together to form city-states, each with its own king.  The king was well respected, and could communicate with the gods.  Wars were only fought to obtain slaves, and some of which were sacrificed so life could continue.  No life was taken, whether animal or human, except out of need.  Spanish Conquistadors invaded, robbed, and destroyed their cities in the 16th century. 
Mornarchy began  667 A.D.
Toltec Civiliation: 800-1200 A.D.
Empire ended:  1052 A.D.
They were banished from their home country in the year 1 of their calendar (596 A.D.)  They were the cultural predecessors  of the Aztecs.  They settled in the basin of Mexico (what Aztec referred to as the Anahuac), and their capital was Tula. According to Aztec legend, their monarchy lasted 384 years, and there were only 7 kings, each ruling for 52 years.  Many stories were told of them by the Aztec, although it's difficult to determine how accurate these stories (and dates) were.  They were known more for their art than as warriors. Drought caused famine, and monarchy ended with death of last emperor in 1052 A.D.. (4, page 86-7)
Aztecs settle in Mexico:  1200 A.D.
Aztec civilization flourished:  1325-1500 A.D.
Tenochtitlan built on island: 1325 A.D.
Aztec Empire:  1400-1519
20,000 sacrificed at religious ceremony: 1460
Attempt to conquer Mixtecs fails: 1470
Attempt to conquer Zapotecs fails: 1470
Great temple built in Tenochtitlan: 1481-1486
Spanish arrive and destroy empire: 1521

At the peak, there were over 15 million people living under Aztec rule.  The largest city was Tenochtitlan, which had over 50,000 residents. 
Ruled much of southern and central Mexico.
Unlike the Mayans, they had one king who ruled over all society, and he lived in the great city of Tenochtitlan (modern day Mexico City). Around 1400 they started attacking neighboring tribes for food, land, and human captives to sacrifice to the gods. Like the Mayans, they performed human sacrifices to make sure life would continue.  They were fierce warriors, and many simply fled rather than face them.  They were also skilled in wwriting, building, arts and crafts.  Spanish Conquistadors invaded, robbed, and destroyed their cities in 1521.
First ceremonial centers built in Peru: 700 B.C.
First civilizations arose:  1200? A.D.
Inca Empire: 1438-1538
The Inca owned the largest empire in pre-Columbian America.  The capital was Cusci (modern day Peru). They also settled the Andean Mountain ranges, Peru, and parts of Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile, and Columbia. They referred to themselves as Tawantinsuyu, which means 4 parts.  The land was divided into 4 parts to make it easier to rule.  It was a centralized government, where everyone was housed and there was no crime due to harsh laws.

Figure 2 -- Large Obsidian heads carved out of basalt
 boulders by the Olmecs around 900 B.C. Some are
estimated to weigh about 50 tons, and some were even
transported up to six miles "through the surrounding
mangrove swamps. (8, page 26)(9)
Most of the people that settled in Mesoamerica started out as nomads, roaming the land from place to place, eventually settling in one area.  They built houses made from mud-brick thatched straw and reeds.

Homes had very little furniture if any, and the people usually slept on mats that were spread on the floor. Legends (some from the Old World perhaps) were shared by word of mouth until a written language was learned, and they were recorded. These legends formed the basis of society and life among the various tribes and civilizations of the area.

Most people lived off crops of maize, beans, chili peppers, squash, tomatoes, and tobacco.   Volcanic soil, lakes and underground streams made this land good for growing such crops.  During times when crops did not grow, there were plenty of animals in the area to hunt, such as monkeys, jaguars, iguanas, deer, turkey, wild boar, and birds.  (2, page 6-7, 10)

It is still debated what tribes formed the first civilization in Mesoamerica, although many believe it was the Olmecs, as noted in the chart above.  However, Brandon notes that there is evidence of "undoubted Maya communities as early as, or maybe earlier than, the Olmec centers.  (7, page 27)

Another debate that rages is who created the first calandar.  Many historians believe it was the Mayans, although some speculate it was the Olmec.  However, Brandon explains the calandar was more commonly used by the Maya, particularly during their classic age.  He describes the calandar this way:
The Maya calandar was in its totality a family of related calandars locked together in a gearbox of considerable complexity.  The simplest was the tzolkin, or book of the days, a ceremonial round of 260 days, eventually in use all over ancient Mesoamerica; it may have originated in the annual coming and going of Venus, or it may have been founded originally on the period from autumn through spring, since the other 105 days of the year were devoted to the planting and growing season... The 260 days of the tzolkin involved a series of twenty different day names revolving through an endlessly repeated number series of one to thirteen.  This series meshed with the haab, a solar calendar using nineteen named months (eighteen of twenty days each and one of five days); the two calendars repeated their original conjunction after revolving through 18,980 days, or fifty-two years... the calandar swallowed itself, like the two headed serpent, every 260 days and every fifty-two years, spinning out the revelation that everything comes to an end and yet is reborn, everything changes and yet remains the same, only the circle, revolving forever, remains unchanged... The sacrifice of flowers, birds, dogs, human beings -- the sacrifice, in short, of life -- was an act meant to recognize and sustain this process of the gods." (8, page 27. 48)
All of these societies believed in a vast number of gods, and they believed these gods must be kept happy in order for life to continue. They also believed that the gods must be kept happy for good health, healing, and for victory in war.  For this reason, they made human sacrifices to make sure that life continued, and to make sure of victory in war.  The Aztecs were known to make mass human sacrifices prior to wars, and they would perform them on top of the great temples, and hold the still beating hearts up high so the gods would be sure to see. Other cultures sacrificed humans as well, although various animals, insects, and even plants were also sacrificed.

Figure 3 -- North Acropolis, Tikal, Guatemala. Photo from Wikepedia.  The Maya were
among the many civilizations of Mesoamerica to "build pyramids and surround them
with courts and avenues and buildings dedicated to religion," explained William
Brandon. (8, page 44)
When these peoples went to war, they usually did so in order to obtain slaves to perform labor, and to be used for sacrifices. They usually did not go to war to obtain material possessions or to obtain land.  They went to war, and killed, out of need, not out of greed.  Although, there were occasional wars between Mayan cities, and the victors combined the various captured cities under one government, ruled by one king.  These groups of cities were called city-states (similar to ancient Mesopotamia and Greece).

Sometime around 300 B.C. the Mayans adapted a hierarchical society, whereby their was an upper class that consisted of the king and nobles (about 10% of the people), and a lower class that was ruled by the king and his nobles (about 90% of the people).  The lower class consisted of serfs and slaves who worked the land owned by the wealthy nobles.  (2)

Although, it is believed by some experts, that farming "occupied only 105 days of the year," explains William Brandon.  "The possibility must therefore be considered that some farmers may have been also practicing artists, masons, and so on, and some artists may have been farmers.  That farmers, in their off time were used only for properly low-class manual labor (dragging heavy stone about, for example, under the whips of overseers) can scarcely be made to fit the population proportions." (8, page 34)

During Mayan civilization, each city-state had its own gods and king.  The king was the mediator between the gods and the people, and so he was usually loved and adored and well respected by the people.  The Aztecs were ruled under one king, and they too loved, adored, and respected their king.  Their king was called emperor, and he was treated as a god.  Only the nobles were allowed to have contact with him, and as he traveled the land, perhaps carried by his slaves, the serfs were required by law to look at the ground, and, therefore, not to look at him.

It was the kings job to keep the gods happy, often by making human sacrifices, in order for life to continue.  Each individual could also worship the gods, although this was the main job of the king.  So, it was in this primitive and perhaps grotesque and freakish fashion that health and healing was performed by ancient societies in America.

The Zapotec and Mixtec civilizations were the first to have a system of writing in America, although the Mayans were the only civilization to have a "developed" system of writing. They used hieroglyphs (pictures representing ideas) that modern linguists continue to struggle with deciphering.  They wrote books called codices, although most that survive were written in post-Columbian times, with material dating back to 300 A.D. (3, page 140-541, 546)

Figure 3
Mayan Hieroglyphs are also found on pottery and structures, and considering most  of the codices were probably burned by the Spaniards because they contained religious content, this is probably where most of our knowledge of the Mayan culture comes from. It is from these writings historians can get a good idea of their legends, myths, religious practices, laws, and medicine.  (3, page 140-541, 546)

Like the Mayans, the Aztecs had a calendar that they wrote on using ideograms (symbols representing ideas, see figure 3), although they never developed a formal system of writing.  (3, page 547)

Their official language was called quechua, although the people spoke a variety of other languages.

The Inca built great structures to view the stars and moon, and they had a calendar, and to write on it they "did not evolve a writing system (not even pictographic representation like the Aztec) and, for recording events, they used a device, called quipa, to aid the memory of functionaries whose job was to remember the past.  (3, page 545)

The quipa, or knot record, consisted of a complicated system of tying knots in strings to produce a mnemonic record... The quipa was used primarily for recording numbers and was used to remember historical events, lists of rulers, and probably even poems and stories."  (3, page 545)

The Inca had perhaps one of the best road systems in all the ancient world, and these roads were paved and even consisted of a series of bridges over gorges in the mountains.  There were guards at various stages of the roads, and there were also boarding houses so government officials could rest for the night and eat.  They were mainly used to transfer food to the citizens, and during times of natural disasters, food, blankets and other items needed to survive.  

If local tribes tried to invade or attack the empire, the Inca simply burned the bridges and there was no way for them to get in.  The Inca were surrounded by natural barriers: The Andes Mountains, the coastal dessert, and the Amazon Jungle in the east.  They did not expand their empire into the jungle, and instead expanded it north and south.  However, they did find various fruits in the jungle, and they also found many plants and herbs to be used as natural remedies for healing (I will get to these natural remedies in a future post).  

One other thing that is interesting about them is they had a very strong central government.  According to one legend the Inca were created by the sun god Inta, and so they referred to their ruler, the emperor, as the "Sapa Inca," or the "child of the sun."  Because he was the "child of the sun" he had a close relationship with the gods, and therefore, while each person could worship the gods, the Sapa Inca had special power.  It was by his doing that the gods were kept happy, and it was mainly this belief that made him loved and respected by his people. So the people willingly worked hard for the Sapa Inca, and they even paid a tax each year to support the central government.  Since there was no money, they paid by donating hours each year to work on the roads, and build palaces for the rulers, aqueducts to control flow of water to homes, etc. (5)

Another really good incentive for the Inca populace to be respectful citizens was a harsh series of laws.  If you were caught insulting the gods, or if you committed murder, you were tossed off a cliff.  If you were caught stealing, you had your hands or feet cut off.  If you were caught stealing a second time, you were killed. If you committed a lesser crime, you were stoned.  If you survived, your new job was to sit by begging bowls which were situated by the gates to the city, and you had to tell of your crimes to anyone passing by.  If your stories were interesting they tossed food or trinkets into your bowl, and this was how you proved you did your work.  This was a major deterrent for those passing by to respect Inca laws.  (5)

These criminals did not try to escape because only government officials were allowed on the roads, and the gates of the city were heavily guarded.  If a criminal was caught escaping, he lost his life.  So in this way, even the criminals had an incentive to perform their jobs willingly.  (5)
Map of Inca lands from Wikepedia. Notice
that their territories spread north and south,
as opposed to east.  They had no interest in
living in the tropical forrests

The Inca believed health and disease were caused by the gods, and they also believed they were responsible for life continuing. They therefore celebrated one of their gods each month with music, dances, stories and sacrifices. Most sacrifices were animals, although for special events they did sacrifice humans. The Inca believed health and illness were caused by the gods, and they believed that the only way to be reborn into the next world was to die in battle, or to be sacrificed.

After the fall of the Toltec Empire the "anahuac remained desert, almost depopulated, for the space of a century until the arrival of the Chechemecas."  Like the Toltecs they were nomads until they settled in the anahuac, thus creating a civilization there, of which many kings ruled for many years. They were hunters who lived off game and fruit of land, although they were not barbarous.  They worshiped the sun, and provided sacrifices of flowers (as opposed to animals or humans) to satiate or propitiate the gods. (4, page 90)

I would love to go on and on writing about life in ancient Mesoamerica, because it is quite fascinating. However, for the sake of our asthma and respiratory therapy history,  this is the basic information we need. Also keep in mind there were various tribes who lived under the rule of the above civilizations, or as barbarians in the surrounding lands. So while this history describes some of the more prominent cultures, there were many, perhaps hundreds, more.  Some of these tribes may have had access to medicine that might benefit the asthmatic, although are probably lost to time and history.

Overall, change was slow to occur in the New World prior to the Spanish Invasion. The only change that did occur may have been self imposing, perhaps due to religious belief that some things are "supposed" to end.  The Mayan Classic Era ended without any signs of war, famine, or disease.  Many wonder why it ended, even to this day.  Brandon explains one possible theory:
Death, renewal, divination, being key factors in Maya religion, may also have been factors in the ending of the Maya Classic age.  A story was told centuries later of Maya resistance to Spanish invasion in a particular region, that the resistance ended because calendric divination said that at this point it would.  Could one factor in the departure of the Classic Maya from their shining cities have been that divination told them to go?
This is the way it was in the ancient Mesoamerican world.  Life was based on cycles, and for the cycle to continue the people must obey the will of the gods, and keep them happy.  The best way to keep them happy was by feeding them, and among the best foods was provided through sacrifice: of humans, animals, insects, birds, and even, perhaps, the entire Mayan civilization.

If you lived with asthma during this era, pretty much you were at the whims of nature and the gods. Although, as you will see in this post, there were actual healers, and there was medicine available.

References: (All these references were used in creating the chart above)
  1. Bell-Rehwoldt, Sheri, "Amazing Maya Inventions," 2006, Chicago, Nomad Press
  2. Maxwell, Harold, Sydney Selwyn, "A history of medicine," 2nd edition, 1947, U.S., Alfred A. Knopf Inc. 
  3. Prioreschi, Plinia, "A History of Medicine: Primitive and Ancient Medicine," volume I, 1991, New York, The Edwin Mellon Press
  4. Gordon, Thomas Frances, "The History of ancient Mexico, from the foundation to its destruction by the Spaniards," volume I, from the "Cabinet of American History: Mexico," volume IV,  1832, Philadelphia, printed and published by the author, 
  5. "Aztec Empire for Kids: The Awesome Aztec,", accessed 5/14/13
  6. Wilder, Alexander, "History of Mediicne: A brief outline of medical history and sects of physicians, from the earliest historic period; with an extended account of the new schools of the healing art in the nineteenth century, and especially a history of the American Eclectic practice of medicine, never before published," 1901, Maine, New England Eclectic Publishing Co.
  7. "Bering Land Bridge National Preserve,",, accessed 5/20/14
  8. Brandon, William, The rise and fall of North American Indians from prehistoric through Geronimo," 2003, Lanham, New YHork, Toronto, Oxford, Taylor Trade Publishing
  9. "Olmec Colossal Heads,",, accessed 5/23/2013. The picture is also from Wikepedia.
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