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Saturday, December 20, 2014

2000-539 B.C.: Babylonians describe first lung diseases

Ancient Babylonian texts describe both diseases of the lungs and heart, and they even describe diseases such a`s chronic bronchitis and pneumonia. These respiratory diseases were more frequent than in ancient Egypt, and the reason may be due to the climate of Mesopotamia which can result in scorching hot days as hot as 120 degrees, and very cold nights. (Sigerist, page 381)

Generally, what is described are the symptoms, which was generally how it was in the ancient world  These ailments that caused you to become short of breath, or to develop a cough, were caused by demons sent by the gods. The gods made you get inured or sick because either you or your ancestors had sinned.  Another way you might get sick or injured was when dark magic was used by other people, either in the form of words or poisons. (Garrison, page 420)

If, for example, a demon possessed your lungs or heart, this resulted in shortness of breath, chest pain, increased sputum, wheezing, and similar symptoms.  Other diseases described were rumination, acid stomach, nerualgia, and various diseases of the eyes. They also knew about epilepsy and contagion, which was epilepsy caused by demons.  (Garrison, page 56)

They new that some diseases were hereditary, and this was probably caused by a sin of your ancestors.  They also observed some diseases were contagious, and this was probably due to demons possessing anyone who comes into contact with the diseases.  It was probably for this reason people with diseases like leprosy or syphilis were forced to live in exile, and people were discouraged from coming into contact with them. They were also struck by various plagues, and of course these were during times when the gods were exceptionally irritated. (Garrison, page 426)

Many of their remedies, especially exorcism and herbal, were picked up by later societies, including the Egyptians, Hindu, Chinese, Islam, and Medieval Christians.  So what was learned by one society greatly impacted future societies. (Garrison, page 56)

If you were sick or injured, if you were short of breath, you had a variety of options.  You could grin and bear it.  You could treat yourself with your own incantations, prayers and herbal remedies.  You could go to a smaller temples and perform a ritual for health and healing.  You could rely on the priests to perform such rituals at the larger temples.  You could lie in the streets.  You could call for a priest/ physician.

Primitive indeed the options were, you did have options for health and healing in ancient Babylonia.  Around 700 B.C. the Babylonians were defeated by the Assyrians, and sometime around 612 B.C. they conquered the Assyrians and there was a resurgence of sorts, with the capital city of Babylon reaching the peak of its glory.

However, Babylonian civilization grew weak, and was conquered by the Persians and Medes in 539 B.C. The Persian Empire rose to glory, becoming the preeminent civilization of the Near East, and in itself helped to advance medicine.

However, while knowledge was growing in ancient Greece and Rome, the Near East, Mesopotamia included, went into a dark ages of sorts, meaning knowledge was stalled, even regressed.
References:  See post "2000 B.C.:  Assyrian physicians will treat your dyspnea"

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