Woman, Healer, Goddess? Famous (and Forbidden) Female Physicians in the Ancient World | Ancient Origins Members Site


Woman, Healer, Goddess? Famous (and Forbidden) Female Physicians in the Ancient World

Woman, Healer, Goddess? Famous (and Forbidden) Female Physicians in the Ancient World

Throughout history, women have always been healers. They were pharmacists, cultivating healing herbs and exchanging the secrets of their uses. They were also nurses, counselors, midwives who traveled from home to home and village to village. The history of women in medicine dates to 3500 BCE. Queen Puabi of Ur was buried with surgical instruments so that she might practice surgery in the afterlife. In ancient Egypt, priestesses of Isis were regarded as physician-healers who obtained their healing powers from the goddess Isis herself. Egyptian records show that women studied at the royal medical school at Heliopolis as early as 1500 BCE.

Cylinder seal featuring Queen Puabi of Ur.

Cylinder seal featuring Queen Puabi of Ur. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

With the fall of Corinth in 150 BCE, Greek female prisoners were taken to Italy where those with medical knowledge fetched the highest price. In his collection of work, called Sixteen Books on Medicine, Aëtius of Amida, a Byzantine Greek physician, describes the surgical techniques of Aspasia, a Greco-Roman female surgeon. These books served as prominent surgical texts well into the 11th century where an Italian woman by the name of Trotula, herself an established physician, became well-known for teaching male doctors about the female body and childbirth.


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