Greek History

Many modern physicians today have adopted the "Caduceus" as the symbol of their profession, with its two intertwined snakes grasping a staff.

In the ancient world however, the caduceus was a symbol of Hermes, the Roman Mercury, who was primarily a messenger God linked with commerce.

Aesculapius symbol was a single snake entwined around his staff, the Asclepian staff. The snake symbolised rejuvenation and healing to many ancient Mediterranean cultures. This is the basic design of the badge of the Royal Army Medical Corps. Aesculapius was killed it is said from a thunderbolt from Zeus after attempting to resurrect a dead body.

Where the staff originated from is a subject of myth, however there is an interesting argument from the book of Numbers 21:8-9

And the LORD said to Moses,

"Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live."

 So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.

So as the story of Moses is older than that of Aesculapius, it would seem that the biblical account is a more valid origin of this medical symbol.

As mentioned, Aesculapius sons joined the combined Greek forces against King Priam, Hector and Paris at the 10 year siege of Troy. Macheon was a surgeon and some writers say he was a victim of the 10 year war and was killed by the Amazon Queen Penthesileia but most agree it was more likely Eurypylus the son of Telephus. 

There is a writing that tells of Macheon cutting away the dead flesh from a wound and pouring in wine, and applied healing herbs and a serpentine stone.

The early Greeks and Romans used vegetable and mineral styptics on wounds received in battle; it was with these that Macheon ministered to Menelaus before the walls of Troy.

It was how ever his brother Podalarius who was in charge of the case. The physician was the superior partner 48 The Greek Physicians were like their Egyptian predecessors, held in high esteem.

A reference from Homer states that:

"One surgeon is worth an army of men".

The Roman Empire recognized the worth of Greek physicians by granting them the freedom of the eternal city (Rome) initially by Julius Caesar


"He who suffers much will know much"49




About This Site

The History of Surgery and Anaesthesia was created as a free resource to educate Students or indeed anyone wishing to understand the beginings of surgery and Anaesthesia.

Get in Touch