Group no. 04
1st Year 2nd Semester
• The Greek form Babylon (Βαβυλών) is an
adaptation of Akkadian Babili. The Babylonian
name as it stood in the 1st millennium BC had
been changed from an earlier Babilli in early
2nd millennium BC, meaning "Gate of God" or
"Gateway of the God" (bāb-ili) by popular
Area- 9 km2 (3.5 sq mi)
Founded- 1894 BC
Babylonia was an ancient Akkadian-speaking Semitic
nation state and cultural region based in central-
southern Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq). It emerged as
an independent state c. 1894 BC, with the city of
Babylon as its capital. It was often involved in rivalry with
its fellow Akkadian state of Assyria in northern
Mesopotamia. Babylonia became the major power in
the region after Hammurabi ( 1792 - 1752 BC middle
chronology, or 1696 – 1654 BC, short chronology)
created an empire out of many of the territories of the
former Akkadian Empire. King was the ruler.
From records available in Babylonia, both magic and
medicine served as strategies for healing the sick,
marshaling the authority of religion whenever possible.
What was obvious from early studies was that Babylonian
medicine contained a fair amount of magic:incantations
appeared alongside recipes within the medical corpus,
and diseases were often thought to have been brought
on by various gods and demons.
There are three “preconceptions” for theory: 1.Imagination
(the process of clarifying the randomness found in nature),
2.Deductive logic (finding logical, causal relationships), and
3.Observation (a formalized and calibrated set of data).
The second model for determining the scientific nature of
Babylonian scholarship is that the more mathematical a
discipline, the more scientific it was.
THE SYSTEM OF MEDICINE
The system worked as follows:
In the Babylonian view of the world, gods decided all matters dealing with
human fate. Babylonian scholars grounded much of their scientific
knowledge in an ancient belief system incorporating magic, in which
illnesses were ultimately caused by demons or angry gods, or perhaps
indirectly caused by these same factors through, for example, ingesting
This belief system formed a useful general background explanation for the
ultimate causes of illness, which the patient could readily accept. This
general explanation of illness, however, would never be expounded as
theory per se in any Babylonian tractate. On the other hand, in comparison
with the Greek theory of “humors,” the Babylonian idea of demons as
invisible bearers of disease conforms in some ways more closely to modern
notions of bacteria and viruses.
Babylonian Queen of Night Ishtar
TYPES OF MEDICAL
PRACTITIONERS AND HIERACHY
Concentrates on the exorcist and the physician, but also considers the
evidence for the diviners. By examining the terminology used in medical and
lexical texts for exorcists and physicians.
While the terminology for physician is consistently asû, there are two mutually
exclusive terms for exorcist, mašmaššu and āšipu. Through analysis of the
lexical lists and the context in which these terms were used it can be
concluded that the two terms do not mean the same thing, but are
synonyms. āšipu was a more prestigious term used in scholarship and
literature while mašmaššu was a term used more generally. Importantly, our
translation of āšipu and mašmaššu as “exorcist” is far too narrow for the
“exorcist” performed a wide variety of rituals of which exorcism was just one.
MEDICINE BASED ON
LAW & ETHICS
The first instance is the regulation of physicians (asû) and barbers (gallābu) in
Hammurabi’s Laws from the Old Babylonian period. The Babylonian king
regulated what physicians could charge patients of the different social classes
and what the penalties were for both physicians and barbers who committed
malpractice. Noteworthy is the absence of exorcists from Hammurabi’s Laws. The
prominence of the physician in the laws reflects the text’s focus on civil law and
hence its interest in surgery.
The second instance is in the letters discovered at the city of Mari from the Old
Babylonian period. The letters from the time of Yasmah-Addu and later show that
there were staff physicians at the royal court. However, it is clear that the kings
preferred the service of foreign physicians over the local staff. The prominence of
the physician in the Old Babylonian courts is mirrored in the medical texts from the
period, for the medical texts do not contain magical elements, rather they
typically comprise medical prescriptions with a prognosis.
UNIVERSAL SYSTEM OF LAWS
Hammurabi is the best known and most celebrated of all
Mesopotamian kings. He ruled the Babylonian Empire from 1792-50
B.C.E. Although he was concerned with keeping order in his
kingdom, this was not his only reason for compiling the list of laws.
When he began ruling the city-state of Babylon, he had control of no
more than 50 square miles of territory. As he conquered other city-
states and his empire grew, he saw the need to unify the various
groups he controlled.
A Need for Justice
Hammurabi keenly understood that, to achieve this goal, he needed
one universal set of laws for all of the diverse peoples he conquered.
(King Hammurabi at Royal Court)
Code of Laws
is Inscribed on this.
FOR MEDICAL PRACTITIONERS
215.If a physician make 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
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.
To Next Page;
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
224. If a veterinary surgeon perform a serious operation on an ass or
an ox, and cure it, the owner shall pay the surgeon one-sixth of a
shekel as a fee.
225. If he perform a serious operation on an ass or ox, and kill it, he
shall pay the owner one-fourth of its value.
This chart outlines fees and penalties for successful and unsuccessful procedures. There are
no fees for unsuccessful bone setting and sinew mending because outcomes are usually not
fatal; operations can be repeated until the result is satisfactory. Omission of fees for
mushkenum (the middle class) indicate that the scribe failed to copy a section containing a
penalty. Awelum were the upper class; wardum were slaves.
Hammurabi's Code required accusers to bring the
accused into court by themselves.
A number of the laws refer to jumping in the Euphrates
River as a method of demonstrating one's guilt or
innocence. If the accused returned to shore safely,
they were deemed innocent; if they drowned, they
were guilty. This practice follows the Babylonians's
belief that their fates were controlled by their gods.
VARIOUS TYPES OF TREATMENT AND
SURGERY THAT WAS PREVAILANT
Hundreds of drugs cited in Babylonian medical recipes, in addition to
long lists of plants and minerals used for medicinal purposes, often with
descriptions of the drugs and of the diseases for which they could be
One redeeming feature of Babylonian medicine is the lack of surgery,
because of the substantial risks involved. Almost all Babylonian medical
texts are limited to pharmacological preparations administered mostly as
potions, salves, ointments, fumigations, or suppositories. Surgery would
have been dangerous without either proper antiseptics or anesthesia,
nor is there any firm evidence from Babylonia of bloodletting. For this
reason, the Babylonian physician probably caused less harm to his
patient than his later colleagues in medieval Europe.
Seal of a Babylonian Azu with reverence to the gods, a self-portrait and depictions of
bronze knives, cups and needles. Translation: O Edinmagi, servant of the god Girra,
who helps mothers in childhood, Ur-Lugaledina the physician is your servant. (From A.
Leix. Medicine and the Intellectual Life of Babylonia. Ciba Symposia 1940; 2:663 - 674.)
DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENT OF
SICKNESSES AND AILMENTS
It is not particularly easy to classify diseases within Babylonian medicine, although they
fall generally within similar categories in Hippocratic medicine. Some diseases are simply
associated with parts of the body, such as head disease, tooth disease, eye disease,
nose disease, even foot disease, as well as kidney disease and anus disease. Baldness
was treated as a disease. There are varieties of skin diseases, including rashes and pocks,
as well as leprosy-like conditions affecting the nose and mouth ,but it is impossible to
diagnose these conditions according to modern disease terminology.
They cover a wide range of ailments grouped roughly according to the part of the body
chiefly affected. The leading treatises deal with ailments of the head, including mental
troubles, infections, baldness, and affections of the eyes, ears, and temples; ailments of
the respiratory and digestive organs, and of the muscles and ligaments. There were,
besides, specialized works on pregnancy, child-birth, obstetrics, and diseases of the
Clay model of a sheep's liver used for divination. Each of the designated individual
fields has explanatory text with specific diagnoses. (From A. Leix. Medicine and the
Intellectual Life of Babylonia. Ciba Symposia 1940; 2:663 - 674.)
HEALTH AND WELLBEING OF THE CITIZENS
The textual evidence reveals some differences between the activities of
exorcists and physicians. It seems the exorcist was responsible for the
magical prevention of disease (warding off demons, angry gods, and
witchcraft), visited the sick and made prognoses, and held priestly
responsibilities at the temple.
The physician, however, seems to have been involved in treating existing
symptoms (insect bites, kidney stones, etc.) and preparing medical recipes
for sale and apothecary. These differences in practice can be somewhat
understood in the light of their place of occupation. The exorcist was a
member of the temple administration while the physician seems largely to
have been independent, probably operating a street stall.
The exorcist received temple prebends (of which we have records) while
the physician was an entrepreneur who could travel from land to land.
Model Liver of a lamb used in exorcist treatment
KINDS OF MEDICINE USED, THEIR SOURCES,
PREPARATION AND USAGE
of Babylonian recipes consisted of trees and plant matter (seeds, roots,
sprouts, leaves, fruit, branches, even wood), grains such as barley and flour,
and various spices and vegetables. There are
variety of liquids into which drugs could be dissolved, such as water, milk, fish
brine, sesame oil, and urine, and in some cases drugs were filtered and
distilled; alcohol (beer and wine) were excellent agents for dissolving drugs.
In many cases, drugs could be mixed with animal products such as sheep
fat and lard, and less regularly in fish brine, blood, and bone marrow. Some
exotic animal products were also used as
Materia medica, such as mongoose blood, turtle and mussel shells, and
other animal viscera. Mineral stones could also be ground up, and the
recipes call for animal or even human excrement (e.g. bat guano), but such
Dreckapotheke have been shown to be secret names for ordinary plants
The materia medica employed in treatment of these ailments includes a long
list of vegetable, mineral and animal substances (including excreta), most of
which are impossible to identify. A frequent method of use, after special
preparation, was by direct application to the affected part, or by binding it
on. The commonest method of administering was by mouth, and occasionally
by the use of a rectal suppository.
There is no clear indication that the physician knew anything of the real
nature of the ailment encountered or, except in the more obvious cases, the
function of the organs affected. Among the long list of available remedies, a
oil for stiff limbs, or
milk for stomach troubles,
salt peter and crushed ostrich shell for kidney stones, may have been
beneficial, but some of the remedies employed seem to be entirely valueless.
This may even have been realized at the time as indicated by the seeming
indifference with which the physician moved through a long list of
medications, shifting from one to another for the same disease.
Preparation and Usage
Once the plants or other items have been gathered, there is a long list of how they must
be treated and used to make up the recipes themselves:
materia medica need to be “taken” in the first instance (i.e. gathered or selected), then
weighed, washed, immersed, dried and desiccated, roasted and burned, crushed,
pounded, cut up, beaten, diced, chopped, grated, pulverized, sifted, pressed out,
soaked and dissolved, kneaded, stirred, sprinkled, saturated, spread, blended and mixed,
poured out into vessels, warmed up and heated in an oven, cooked and boiled, and
finally cooled .
Each of these actions is governed by a rich and varied medical technical vocabulary,
with parallels in Greek medical recipes. Drugs, consisting mostly of plants and minerals,
were prepared in the form of potions, salves, powders, pills, tampons, and pessaries, to
being ingested, rubbed onto the body, applied as a bandage, or inserted into the anus,
urethra, ears, or vagina through lubricated copper tubes or reeds. Not only was there a
large variety of drugs, but there was an equally important variety of ways in which drugs
could be utilized, in both simples and compound recipes.
No data was compiled, since there were no clinical trials to
prove whether they were successful and reliable.
Ancient scholars were trained and what evidence there is for professional development and
scholarly practice. The scribes’ titles and the terminology used for tablet copying to
reconstruct how a scribal school functioned. The scribal titles provide clues to some form of
hierarchy, but no overall picture emerges of how scribes could progress. Particularly interesting
is the analysis of the terminology in colophons which indicate the purpose of the tablet. Much
attention is paid to the phrase ana tāmarti, literally “for viewing,” but often understood to
mean “for reading.” A convincing argument that ana tāmarti had a more specific meaning,
which was “reading for academic scrutiny.”
Assessing the evidence for theory in Babylonian scholarly practice, The late Uruk medical
commentaries provide information about what the ‘professors’ (ummânu) taught their students.
While the commentaries are not full treatises, they are evidence that the Hellenistic Babylonian
schools were reinterpreting and explaining the received medical texts. Such evidence strongly
suggests that theory was part of the teaching and learning procedures in the scribal schools of
this period. The commentaries, and the archives in which they were found, indicate that the
division between medicine and magic was gone, and that exorcists in particular studied all
areas of Babylonian science. In this way, the Uruk commentaries provide an insight into one
reason the exorcists were more prominent than the physicians in later Babylonian history.
Some famous Babylonian Physicians
The division between magic and medicine seems to have continued into the Middle
Babylonian period as evidenced in an archive of letters from Nippur. Many of the letters in the
archive were written by a medic, Šumu-libši, and his colleagues who worked in a temple.
Unfortunately, Šumu-libši does not refer to his title so it cannot be determined whether he was
a physician in the temple or if he was an exorcist with a good understanding of medicine .
Šumu-libši used non-magical therapies for patients. Thus, in the second millennium, there was
little overlap of magic and medicine in therapy.