Thessalia and the Evolution of Western Medicine

Neolithic Times

In the long history of modern western medicine development, our home city, Larissa, and the region of Thessalia links with the activity of Hippocrates, who spent the last years of his life in Larissa, taught to students (“healers”) and treated patients according to scientific evidence from the relevant literature.


Figure 1: A, B, D. Teracotta figuring a woman from the Neolithic period, of 2.5 cm height, found in the province of Stefanovikio in 1970. The woman apparently suffers from “Tuberculus Spondylitis” with kyphosis at her back (B, D, right side view). The statue is exhibited at the Archaelogical Museum of Volos (catalogue No: 3402). Photos of the figure have also been published in the book “Neolithic Hellas”, a publication of the National Bank of Greece (1973, p.310, Fig. 174). C. X-rays from a contemporary patient suffering from the same disease.

In the 20th century and up to our dates, archaeologists have excavated and unearthed the remainings of at least five sanctuaries dedicated to Asclepius -the physician-god (named Asclepieia). The ruins of the largest and oldest Asclepieion of Greece is in Trikala [the Homeric Trikka (or Trikki)], one of the areas thought as the birthplace of Asclepius. The sanctuary was a healing temple, a kind of medical centre, from which the worship of Asclepius gradually spread.

Hippocratic Era

Hippocrate 's life

Hippocrates was born in the Greek island of Kos and he was the son of Heracleides and Fainareti, while there were rumours that he was a descendant of Asclepius.* Legend likewise places him in the family line of the hero Hercules. He was a student of Doctor Herodikus, Gorgias, a rhetorician from Leontinous (Sicily), and Democritus, a philosopher from Abdera (Thrace). He was born in the first year of the 80th Olympias and acted mainly during the Peloponnesian war. After completion of his studies and his parents' death, he left from his country island with the intention to observe the situation in other cities-countries and further practise medicine. Soranus reports that he followed a dream of his to live in Thessalia.

By practising the medical profession throughout Greece, he won the admiration of the king of Macedonia, Perdikas (suffering from tuberculosis), who invited him to join Doctor Evrifontas. He lived in Macedonia where he held a strong relationship with Perdikas. Then he was asked by the inhabitants of Abdera to go there to cure Democritus and save the city from the famine. But when famine appeared in the area of the barbaric Illirians and Paiones, their king asked him to visit their place, however, Hippocrates did not appear, for it was a barbarian place. After his being informed by the barbarians' ambassador of the winds blowing over their countries and he reckoned that the famine is possible to arrive in Attika, he warned about those which would occur concerning the cities he lived in as well as his students.

He loved very much his Greek compatriots. His reputation was widely spread around as far as Persia, and the king of Persians, Artaxerxes, called him via Hestanes, the commander of Hellespont, and promised him valuable gifts to tempt him to come. However, Hippocrates refused, for he was a modest person, non-avaricious and a patriot. He saved his country from being involved in wars with Athens, after he begged the Thessalians to help. He was honoured with bright celebrations not only by the people of Kos, but also by the Thessalians, the Argives and the Athenians.

He taught the medical profession to his students without any sentiments of jealousy and according to the due oath. He wrote a lot of scientific works and became famous. His writings are known to all of the physicians who pay them respect and accept them as inspired from God. Of those we report the Oath, the Prognosis book, the Aphorisms Book, which comprise an excellent example of medical wisdom. Fourth in row is reported the much-admired Exekontabiblus that includes every item of medical knowledge and wisdom.

He obtained two sons, Thessalus and Dracon - both of whom became brilliant scientists - and a lot of students. He died in Larissa at the age of 104 and was buried somewhere between Gyrtoni and Larissa.

Excerpts from (a) Soranus Ephesius Med.,Vita Hippocratis
(ed. I. Ilberg), and (b) SudaLexicon, io ta 564 (ed. Adler).
Translated by V. Boukouvala, Linguist, MA

Hippocrates v.I (edited & translated by W.H.S. Jones, London, 1984)*


*It is uncertain whether this descent was by family or merely by his becoming attached to the medical profession.



 2019 Department of Orthopaedic Surgery & Musculoskeletal Trauma, University of Thessalia

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