Drug Use in Hellenistic and Roman Times

Drug Histories
Drug Histories
Drug Use in Hellenistic and Roman Times

In this episode we look at Drug Use in Hellenistic and Roman times. We are specifically interested in Greece after the demise of Alexander the Great in 321 BC, up to the period of Imperial Rome, which ended around 476 AD. 

As we discussed in our episode on Drug Use in Ancient Greece, by the time we get to the beginning of the Hellenistic period, the major influences on medical practice are those arising from the Hippocratic school of thought and a move away from superstition to scientific belief. The Hippocratic Corpus introduced the theory of humors, which was to hold sway for several centuries, even after the passing of the Roman Empire. 

The Encyclopaedia Britannica[1] tells,

“After the time of Aristotle, the centre of Greek culture shifted to Alexandria, where a famous medical school was established about 300 BCE. … Alexandria continued as a centre of medical teaching even after the Roman Empire had attained supremacy over the Greek world, and medical knowledge remained predominantly Greek.” 

There were challenges to the teachings of the Hippocratic Corpus.

“Asclepiades of Bithynia (born 124 BC),” differed from Hippocrates … and … denied the healing power of nature.” He “insisted that disease should be treated safely, speedily, and agreeably. He opposed the humoral theory and drew upon the atomic theory of 5th-century Greek philosopher Democritus in advocating a doctrine of strictum et laxum — the attribution of disease to the contracted or relaxed condition of the solid particles that he believed make up the body. To restore harmony among the particles and thus effect cures, Asclepiades used typically Greek remedies: massage, poultices, occasional tonics, fresh air, and corrective diet.” In the process he made Greek medicine much more acceptable to Rome.


roman forum at night
Rome: Photo by LucaryTV on Pexels.com

[1] https://www.britannica.com/science/history-of-medicine/Hellenistic-and-Roman-medicine

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