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The First Hospitals in the Western World

The Western World’s first general hospitals. Hippocrates’ texts and the advanced surgical tools that were found during the excavations at Epidauros indicate that in the classical era medicine was not mastered by magic and superstitions.
Among the approximately 300 Asclepius Healing Centers of the ancient world, the Asclepieion at Epidauros was the most significant and has been claimed as the maternal of many others.

The art of medicine had a long tradition in Greece, before the Classical times, when the Asclepieion at Epidauros was founded. The Homeric texts describe herbal and wound healing treatments during the Trojan War. Surgical tools and skeleton remains indicate the application of surgical acts as early as the Bronze Age.
They had developed considerable medical knowledge based on systematic observation in order to heal their precious human capital. Consequently the question is, what more would the Asclepieion at Epidauros offer the patients?

It is widely known that for the Ancient Greeks, body, soul and mind exist as a unity, in terms of health as well. How was this belief translated into healing processes and healing centers’ infrastructure? Unfortunately, only one description of the healing process at Epidauros has survived: Aristophanes in Ploutos refers to the incubation from a sarcastic point of view. It is often mentioned that Ancient Greek medicine determined the transition from magic to science. This is true. At the enclosed Avaton of Epidauros a considerable number of specialized surgical tools have been found.

Besides the Avaton, other buildings existed, that could host additional healing practices: the stadium, ritual estiatoreia, thermal baths, the theater, and rooms for the dream incubation. The buildings at the Asclepieia show the application of a combination of practices. We know that not only rituals with water but the theatrical plays as well could contribute to the catharsis of the soul by the acting out of difficult emotional situations. Ancient Greek writers’ texts mention the power of music for the healing of various ailments.

The temple of Asclepius and the altars show the role of faith. A puzzling building is the Tholos built above an underground maze. The comparative study of the buildings at the Asclepieia of the ancient world and the synthetic study of the archaeological and written evidence indicate that Epidauros offers a unique applied example of a healing concept that treats the body, the soul and the mind as an indivisible unity. Medication, diet, work outs and surgery, probably the hypnosis and dream healing, the music and the theater, experiences in the nature and the faith could have played a role in the healing of the patients’ ailments.

It seems that this healing approach was justified by its good results. Asclepius became the most significant opponent of Christ and the Asclepieion of Epidauros kept its role during the Christian Byzantine era, till the 5th century AD.

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