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BA Latin and Spanish / Course details

Year of entry: 2020

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Course unit details:
Ancient Medicine

Unit code CAHE30381
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by School of Arts, Languages and Cultures
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


History of medicine from 800BC to AD600

This course looks at the roots of ‘Western’ university medicine. These roots lie in the Graeco-Roman medical traditions. We will investigate both the development of the theoretical underpinnings of medicine as they develop over time, as well as the practical and social aspects of the dispensation of healthcare within a constantly changing environment. Humoral pathology as developed by Hippocrates and Galen continued to be the scientific framework of medical theory until the nineteenth century, and we will investigate why it was so attractive to generations and generations of physicians. Divergent voices, however, will also be heard.


The focus will be on the Graeco-Roman world. How did ‘rational’ medicine emerged in a highly religious environment? Hippocrates, the so-called father of medicine, and the writings within the Hippocratic corpus will come under scrutiny, as well as the medical tradition of Alexandria, where major anatomical progress was made (partly as a result of vivisection of convicted criminals). We will look at medicine in the Roman world, notably at the emergence of different schools such as Methodism, and ask ourselves how Galenism was able to eradicate most alternative medical theory. Finally the medical institutions and practices in Late Antiquity will come under scrutiny.


  •  To explore how medical theories and practices developed in the Graeco-Roman tradition;
  • To introduce students to relevant work in classical studies and medical history;
  •  To assess critically the various forms of evidence—textual, archaeological, palaeopathological;
  • To consider the in a diachronic and cross-cultural perspective problems of intellectual, social, and medical history
  • To develop the linguistic skills to work with primary sources in Greek, Latin, and Arabic (for those students taking this as a language option);
  •  To develop students’ skills of written expression and production of coherent arguments, at a level appropriate to work that will form part of the final assessment
  • To develop students skills of oral expression


Week 1:           Introduction: What is Medical History?

Week 2:           Hippocrates, Father of Medicine?¿               

Week 3:           Hellenistic Medicine: Erasistratus and Herophilus, doctors or butchers?

Week 4:           Galen of Pergamum (129–216): the man and his works¿                   

Week 5:           Medicine in Late Antiquity: Alexandria in a World of Pagans and Christians¿                    

Week 6:           READING WEEK

Week 7:           Medical Ethics: the Doctor and the Charlatan¿                     

Week 8:           Medicine and Religion: from the Sacred Disease to the Temples of Aclepius¿                    

Week 9:           Melancholy and Madness: between Body and Mind¿                      

Week 10:         Hospitals or Hospices?¿                      

Week 11:         Classical medicine in the European Renaissance¿                 

Week 12:         REVISION

Teaching and learning methods

2 x 1 hour lectures per week;

1 x 1 hour seminar per week;

1 dedicated consultation hour per week;

Knowledge and understanding

•   A knowledge and understanding of medical theories and practices developed in the Graeco-Roman tradition

•   An ability to use the textual, archaeological, palaeopathological evidence and relate it to current theoretical and historiographical debates

•   An awareness of the problems of intellectual, social, and medical history

•   A linguistic skill of read, translate, and analyse critically the primary source texts

Intellectual skills

  • An ability both to evaluate various forms of evidence and to relate it to current debate
  • Enhanced skills of comparison and analysis shown by the ability to comprehend and critically assess various narratives of how medicine developed and what place it occupied within society

Practical skills

  • use of all relevant library resources
  • Use of relevant databases and search engines
  • Ability to locate material for discussion, presentation and assessment purposes. 

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • An ability to plan and carry out independent research projects shown in the formative presentation and in the assessed coursework essay.
  • The ability to participate productively in the seminar discussions (for example, of oral presentations) and to work independently (in the assessed essay and examination).
  • The development of enhanced analytical skills and skills of written and verbal communication and argument.
  • Show evidence of skills in close reading necessary to appreciate the complexities of the texts studied;
  • An ability to construct and defend complex arguments through textual evidence (literary, historical, and / or theoretical), in written assessment, formative oral presentations and in seminar discussions;
  • Communicate effectively with peers in seminar and small group situations, including through giving and responding to the formative oral presentations;
  • Demonstrate appropriate written skills for contributions to the final degree classification; 

Employability skills

The course involves a large number of important employment skills, most notably an ability to analyse and examine complex information, an ability to synthesise an argument in a cogent form, the ability to collaborate with experts in different fields, the retrieve information from complex sources and present it in a compelling and cogent fashion.

Assessment methods

Assessment task

Formative or Summative


Weighting within unit (if summative)

essay 1




essay 2






2.5 hours





Assessment task



2.5 hours


Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

Written feedback


Oral feedback



Recommended reading

William Bynum, The History of Medicine: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: OUP, 2008)
A. Cruse, Roman Medicine (2nd ed., Stroud: Tempus, 2006)
Ph. J. van der Eijk, Medicine and Philosophy in Classical Antiquity: Doctors and Philosophers on Nature, Soul, Health and Disease (Cambridge: CUP, 2005)
R. Flemming, Medicine and the Making of Roman Women (Oxford: OUP, 2000)
H. King, Greek and Roman Medicine (Bristol: Bristol Classical Press, 2001)
V. Nutton, Ancient Medicine (2nd edition; London: Routledge, 2013)
Peter E. Pormann, Cambridge Companion to Hippocrates (Cambridge: CUP 2018) [available online]

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 22
Seminars 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Peter Pormann Unit coordinator

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