During the history
was considered a sub-specialty
of the scribal arts
. The goddess concerned with healing was Ninkarrak
whose city was Isin, famous for its medical school
. Most of the medical text
s were written in Akkadian
and many of them were found in Assurbanipal
. Internal evidence points to origins in the Old Babylonia
. Only one text from the earlier Sumer
period has been found, but it shows that the Sumerians had quite a large arsenal
of medicines used to treat illness
It was generally thought that illness was caused by angering the gods, by demon possession and the like. To treat this kind of sickness the asipu was called in to pacify the gods or drive away the demon. The asipu was skilled in divination and the interpretation of omens. His treatments included conjurations, magical rituals and incantations.
In contrast, another kind of physician, the asu, attempted cures with truly medical preparations, which included herbals, beer, wine, poultices and oil massage. As an example, a Sumerian tablet from the end of the 3rd millennium BC, probably the first pharmacopeia in the world, prescribes the following:
Pour heated water over a dried and powdered watersnake, the amamashumkaspal-plant, roots of the thorn plant, powdered naga (an alkali-yielding plant), powdered turpentine and faeces of bat. After having lathed the affected area, rub with oil and cover with shaki(?)
As we've seen heal
ing took off into two direction
s: the asu
, dating back to Sumerian
times, and the asipu
, arising later from Akkadian
and Amorite source
's Materia Medica include
Plants were so closely associated with healing, that the word for plant, sammu, also meant medicine. Several narcotics were known, like opium, hemp, belladonna, madragore and the water-hemlock. Camomile was prescribed for upset stomach and mustard seed as a laxative.
For the most part these were not effective and probably were used for their magical properties, like dried watersnake, powdered tortoiseshell and the like.
It is doubtful that minerals had any influence on a cure, but they were included for their magical properties. Examples of minerals included powered copper and lapis lazuli, salt and bitumen.
Frequently specific liquids were prescribed as the medium for other ingredients, like milk, honey, wine and beer. Oil was often used for enemas.
In spite of the number of medical texts that have been discovered, it is doubtful that physician
ed the exalted position
they did in either Egypt
or in our own time. Of course, the status
of the client
s they manage
d to attract
rubbed off on the doctor
. Consequently court
physicians were held in high esteem
and were sometimes sent to foreign
courts on special mission
s, as now, varied with the status of the client and with the kind of service render
ed. Members of the upper class
were expected to pay from 5 to 10 shekel
s while commoner
s might pay from 3 to 5 shekels. In those days the asipu
visited the home of the patient
s and quite likely also the asu
Hawkes, Jacquetta. The first great civilizations. 1973, Knopf, NYC.