n Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe - Geneeskundige bydraes uit Noord-Afrika in die Grieks-Romeinse era

Volume 46, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0041-4751


North African contributions to the field of rational medicine in Graeco-Roman times, approximately 6th century BC to 6th century AD, are reviewed. Pharaonic medicine, as represented mainly by 13 so-called Medical Papyri with significant rational (based on empiric observations) as well as religious components, was in decline. In the 6th century BC Greek settlers who had colonised Cyrene on the North African coast, founded a school of medicine of which we know little. Ptolemaic rulers of the newly founded Hellenistic city of Alexandria in the Nile Delta (4th century BC) introduced a culture of learning which attracted scholars from all over the Mediterranean (mainly Greek) basin. A medical school which arose in Alexandria rapidly became and remained a centre of excellence for centuries. Based on extensive dissection of human cadavers (and probably vivisection), physicians like Herophilus and Erasistratus laid the basis for an understanding of anatomy and physiology unsurpassed up to the Renaissance. Alexandrian medicine, based on the best of Hippocratic medicine, probably learnt little besides elements of pharmacology from Pharaonic medicine, and continued to produce excellent training in rational medicine (as understood at the time) up to the 5th century. Following on the economic and cultural blossoming of Carthage in the Roman province Africa Proconsularis, this city in the 4th and 5th centuries AD also proceeded to produce physicians of excellence who inter alia introduced Latin into the science of medicine, making it more available to the general populace of the Roman Empire.

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