Skip to content
Skip to navigation menu


Greek and Roman Medicine - 10 credits (HS3372)

Staff: Laurence Totelin

No medical qualifications existed in the Greek and Roman world; anyone could become a physician. In such an environment, it was crucial for any head of household to know some medicine in order to gain the best treatment for his family. As a consequence, medical authors wrote treatises accessible to a large audience, as well as more technical texts. This module takes ancient medical sources as a starting point to explore important issues such as how the ancients conceived of their bodies, their identities (including gender identities), their place in society and, more generally, in the physical world. A wealth of literary, epigraphic, papyrological, and visual sources are drawn upon to address the relevance of ancient medicine to social, economic, cultural, and even political history.

Optional for: all Ancient History degrees
Availability: autumn semester in alternate years
Teaching: 10 lectures and 2 seminars
Assessment: one essay (50%) and one 1-hour examination (50%)

Syllabus content

The module examines the history of medicine from c. 500 BC (when written texts started to emerge) to c. AD 250 (after the death of Galen). Medical ideas will be placed in their intellectual, social, economic, and political context. Subjects studied will be:

  • the sources for the study of ancient medicine
  • the works of the Hippocratic Corpus and Galen
  • the development of anatomy in the Hellenistic period
  • the links between medicine, religion and magic
  • the links between medicine and philosophy
  • Greek and Roman therapies
  • medicine and gender
  • deformity and disability in the ancient world


  • To study medicine in the ancient Greek and Roman world from c. 500 BC to AD 250.
  • To understand how and in what social, political and economic contexts medical theories developed and were transmitted.

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of the module, the student will demonstrate:

  • a knowledge of the history of ancient medicine, c. 500 BC–AD 250.
  • a knowledge and understanding of the most important sources for the study of ancient medicine.
  • a knowledge and understanding of key approaches and debates about interpretation of ancient medicine.
  • an ability to demonstrate an understanding of the history of ancient medicine and deploy it effectively in addressing issues and problems.
  • an ability to apply critically the literary evidence as well as the material evidence in studying the history of Greek and Roman medicine.
  • an ability to read ancient technical literature in translation.
  • an ability to analyse and discuss the issues in written work with coherent and logical arguments, clearly and correctly expressed.
  • an ability to contribute to group discussions, ask pertinent questions and co-operate with and learn from peers.

Preliminary reading

L. I. Conrad et al., The Western Medical Tradition, 800 BC to AD 1800 (1995), sections on ancient medicine by V. Nutton.
R. Jackson, Doctors and Diseases in the Roman Empire (1988)
H. King, Hippocrates’ Woman: Reading the Female Body in Ancient Greece (1998)
H. King, Greek and Roman Medicine (2001)
G. E. R. Lloyd, In the Grip of Disease: Studies in the Greek Imagination (2003)
J. Longrigg, Greek Medicine from the Heroic to the Hellenistic Age: A Source Book (1998)
V. Nutton, Ancient Medicine (2004)

Related modules

Prerequisite modules: HS3101 Introduction to Ancient Greek History or HS3102 Introduction to Roman History

Other modules to consider taking in conjunction with this one:

HS3330 Gods and the Polis

HS3331 Roman Religion

HS3362 Gender and Sexuality

HS3373 Science and Technology in the Graeco-Roman World