Science Trips – Where are the oldest hospitals?

From ancient Greece to the Middle Ages, these are some of the oldest hospitals in human history.

In the unforgettable comedy “Land as you can”, the doctor played by Leslie Nielsen warns a sick passenger “He’s in very bad shape, we have to get him to a hospital”. “What’s wrong, doc?” asks a flight attendant. “A big building full of beds,” Nielsen replies without batting an eye.

Hospitals are an inseparable part of our civilization. There, health professionals have been dedicated for centuries to the diagnosis, treatment and care of sick or injured people of all kinds. But hospitals are not a new idea. Long before modern hospitals, people flocked to temples for healing.

Ancient Greece


Asklepion ruins in Pergamum, Turkey. Photograph: Yilmaz Oevuenc

Temples of the healing god Asclepius served as sites of diagnosis, prognosis and healing in ancient Greece. Asclepeia fulfilled many of the criteria for institutions dedicated to healing and provided carefully regulated environments that promoted healing.

At these shrines, patients experienced enkomimesis, a hallucinogen-induced trance state in which they received instructions from the deity in dreams. The names, medical histories, complaints and cures of some 70 patients who brought their problems to the temple and had them resolved are preserved on three large marble plaques from the Asclepieion of Epidaurus dating from 350 BC. removal of foreign material from the body.

ancient Rome

The Romans built buildings called valetudinaria to care for slaves, gladiators, and sick soldiers. There are remains of these Roman hospitals that date back to 100 BC, however it is doubtful whether they were as widespread as previously believed, as many have been identified only from the arrangement of the remains of the buildings rather than through surviving records. .or finds of medical supplies.

The declaration of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire provoked an expansion of hospitals. After the first Council of Nicaea, in the year 325, the construction of a hospital began in each cathedral city. Among the first are those built by the physician San Sampon in Constantinople and by Basil of Caesarea in present-day Turkey at the end of the fourth century.

ancient persia


Gondishapur Hospital Ruins

Gondishapur Academy was a hospital and medical training center in Gundeshapur, a city in Persia. Under the reign of Khusraw I, Nestorian Greek Christian philosophers were given refuge, including scholars from the Academy of Athens, who arrived in Gundeshapur in 529 after the closure of the academy by Emperor Justinian. They dedicated themselves to the medical sciences and started the first projects for the translation of medical texts. This marks the beginning of the Gundeshapur hospital and medical center. Indian physicians also contributed to the Gundeshapur school, most notably medical researcher Mankah. Later, after the Islamic invasion, the writings of Mankah and the Indian physician Susruta were translated into Arabic at the House of Wisdom in Baghdad.

India and Southeast Asia

Ruins of a Buddhist hospital in present-day Sri Lanka

Ruins of a Buddhist hospital in present-day Sri Lanka

The first medical practices emerged very early on the Indian subcontinent with the practice of Ayurvedic medicine, of which one of the first preserved texts is the Sushruta Samhita, which is considered the first medical text and dates from the last centuries before the current era, although the version that survived to the present day was compiled around the fourth century.

Some of the earliest Buddhist communities established communities in monasteries that were centers of medical learning. Some monasteries reserved a room where sick monks could be treated. The first clear reference to a real hospital in Southeast Asia appears in the accounts of the traveler Fa Xian in the 5th century, describing hospitals in the city of Pataliputra on the banks of the Ganges. Later, in 12th-century Cambodia, a system of hospitals was established under King Jayavarman VII, associated with the healing Buddha.

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