The First Hospital

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Asclepius and the Temples of Healing
statue of Asclepius
the god Asclepius - a Roman statue

There was no hospital in the ancient world - physicians would sometimes allow patients to stay in their homes while they were treated, but there was nothing like a hospital until the cult of Asclepius and the Temples of Healing. Asclepius was in Greek myth the son of the god Apollo and Coronis, daughter of King Phlegyas of Trikka in northern Greece. He is associated with the physician staff with a snake wrapped around it. Today this is the symbol of the medical profession. The cult of Asclepius spread throughout Greece and in about 430 BC a great temple was

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built to Asclepius at Epidaurus, near the east coast of sourthern Greece. Hippocrates, the famous ancient Greek physician and founder of the Hippocratic Oath taken by all physicians today, was an Asclepiad. The temple at Epidaurus began as a healing shrine. The process of healing was known as incubation. The patient spent the night at the temple. During the night they would be visited by the god in a dream. Priests would then interpret the dreams and prescribe treatment.

Epidaurus also took in seriously ill patients, providing them with sanctuary. The Roman emperor Antoninus Pius later expanded the site at Epidaurus by building a 180 room structure for the dying and for women in childbirth. Most of the Temples of Healing were built in wooded valleys close to springs and caves where 'good spirits' were thought to dwell.

picture of votive tablet
votive tablet from the Temple of Asclepius at Athens, depicting a case of scalpels and cupping instruments

In ancient times the cock was sacrificed at his altar. According to Plato's Phaedo, the last words of the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates were a reminder to Crito to sacrifice a cock for him to Asclepius.






Ancient Greece

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