slideshow widget

Thursday, December 18, 2014

2000 B.C.: Chaldeans introduce physicians to Babylon

Various groups of people continued to emigrate into Mesopotamia even as the Sumerian civilization was fading. Among these were the Syrians, Babylonians, Hebrews, Phoenicians, Akkadians and Arabs. Some of these matured to form villages, towns, cities, empires and even civilizations. Yet it was another group of people who had the greatest impact on medicine: the Chaldeans (Chaldees). (Baas page 25)

No one knows when they emigrated into the area, although many speculate they came from the north. The Hebrew Bible says they came from the "extremities of the earth," which may be Armenia, Cephenin, and Arrapachitis. Job mentions gold, and Jeremiah the iron of the north. It's also believed they left their homeland (and nobody knows why) over a century before they landed in Babylonia and Persia, or "before they besieged Jerusalem." (Asiatic Journal, page 36-37)

As time went by they were assimilated into Babylonian and Persian society to the point that they were often referred to as Babylonians and Persians, as opposed to Chaldeans. (Asiatic Journal, page 36-37) 

The dominant element of their way of life "consisted of servants to the deity," (Baas, page 25) and they are even referred to in the Bible as the "Magi" or the "Wise men," or "haruspices."  (Asiatic Journal, page 37)(Baas, page 25)

Magi or wise men were magicians, priests who were proficient in all the knowledge of the universe.  They specialized in mythology, religion, and medicine.  They were, perhaps, the most well educated people among society, and they were, in essence, magicians.

Haruspices, according to, refers to the study of organs, such as the liver, and astronomical phenomenon, such as thunderstorms, lightning, alignment of stars, planets, comets, etc.  This was all done for the purpose of divination, or predicting the future.

The Chaldeans were known for their knowledge of mathematics, astronomy, astrology, interpretations of dreams, and medicine. Some referred to them simply as "skygazers."

Perhaps by gazing at the stars they developed the first calendars based on the phases of the moon.  Perhaps they are the ones who introduced Babylonians and Persians to a numerical system based on the number 60.  This system included the 360 degree circle, 60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour, and so forth. They are also sometimes credited as helping the Babylonians advance mathematics, astronomy, astrology and medicine. 

Henry Sigerist, in his 1922 history of medicine, said that ancient societies did not study the sky because they were interested in the alignment of the planets, stars, comets, etc. What they were interested in was interpreting the words of the gods, and this alignment, so they thought, was how the gods communicated. It was the job of the Chaldean priests, and later the Babylonian priests, to interpret astrological signs. (Sigerist, page 392)

Or, as William Osler wrote in his history of medicine:
A belief that the stars in their courses fought for or against him arose early in their civilizations, and directly out of their studies on astrology and mathematics. The Macrocosm, the heavens that “declare the glory of God,” reflect, as in a mirror, the Microcosm, the daily life of man on earth. (Osler, page 24)
As they themselves were, their knowledge and culture were assimilated into Babylonian culture, and this is how medicine evolved into a science of divination through astrology and hepatoscopy in ancient Babylonia, or so it is believed. (Baas, page 25)(Sigerist, 392)

Actually, not only were the Chaldean Priest known for their astrology and hepatoscopy, they were also known for their herbal remedies and incantations. In fact, it was probably due to the Chaldean Priests that the Babylonians became well known for their poisons. (Baas, ?)

Babylonian medicine was initially referred to as poison because it was used for its poisonous effects, which sometimes included killing people who were not wanted.  It was this effect, some believe, that gave Babylonian medicine, at least initially, a bad name.  Perhaps for this reason most physicians were seen as bad people, and for this reason they worked behind the scenes.

Perhaps this was among the reasons that when the Greek historian Herodotus traveled through Mesopotamia, he wrote that "they have no physicians."  Various historians have noted ample evidence that there were, especially after the assimilation of the Chaldeans.

RT Cave Facebook Page
RT Cave on Twitter
Print Friendly and PDF

No comments: