Medicine among the Sumerians


There is a spatial and temporal proximity between ancient Sumerian and Akkadian cities in particular, which led to a clear cultural overlap, and the presence of many Semitic words in Sumerian medicine is evidence of this overlap of the two civilizations.

In addition, the continuation of writing in the Sumerian language for a long time among the Akkadians and Babylonians confirms that there was no hostile or jealous view of the Sumerian culture, especially with the intermingling of gods and theological myths among these peoples.

In this regard, Will Durant says in his book The Story of Civilization, “The relationship between the Babylonian and Assyrian languages and the Sumerian language is similar to the relationship between the French and Italian languages on the one hand and the Latin language on the other hand''.

Medicine developed in Sumer and Mesopotamia throughout the ages before the Sumerians until it reached them, the Sumerians benefited from the accumulation of experiences and benefited from the experiences of neighboring peoples who came into contact with the Sumerians and Mesopotamians.

There is no doubt that this happened in the ancient and modern Stone Ages, but the advantage of the Sumerian era is that it came at the beginning of the invention of Sumerian writing, which also constitutes a continuation of the more primitive beginnings of writing that have reached us.

The writing recorded what existed and was inherited, as well as what was added in their era, writing also recorded the appearance of gods in Mesopotamia, which had existed since ancient times before writing, so writing revealed everything unknown and became what was prevalent in all fields.

Medicine among the Sumerians and its relationship with the gods

Sumerian medicine existed, as did the gods responsible for disease, and healing also existed, whether through herbs, spells, or primitive surgery and splints. We find that Sumerian medicine relied on the theory that diseases were caused and treated by God.

That is, the cause of diseases is divine anger due to a mistake, or direct divine reproach due to failure to implement divine moral teachings, and thus healing depends on appeasing these gods, the theory goes back to the theory of the universe, creation, and its elements, represented by annihilation, immortality, birth, and death.

The Sumerians believed that illness was a type of death, because it came out of the lower world (the world of death), and there was only one of two paths before a person: either he would be cured and return to normal life, or he would go to the world of death permanently (the world of the gods), and this was a matter to be decided, Gods and executed by gods.

Medicines and herbs such as the elixir of immortality, or herb, appear to us, as they come from an immortal world, it comes from the body of the mother goddess, reaching immortality, reproduction, and health, therefore, we see that herbs have more luck than others because they grow from the earth, which is the first mother.

The symbol of the snake is only a form of the mother goddess, whose body contains the cure or the antidote, the poison is a medicinal compound, and the skin of the snake that it sheds every year indicates renewal, youth, and health.

The inhabitants of Mesopotamia also believed that rivers had the ability to sweep away evil substances and forces that cause diseases, and for this reason a small hut was sometimes placed next to the river in which the sick person was located.

Cultural evidence among the Sumerians

But life experiences began to impose themselves, such as general hygiene and disease preventive measures, as the oldest manifestation of public health care is the presence of dirty water sewers in Kish dating back to 3000 BC.

There are also bathrooms with floors that do not allow water to pass through, and drains from them to a warehouse outside the house, which is cleaned at intervals by professional workers, toilets were also found in Ur in the period 2000 BC, in one of these houses, the toilets date back to about 3500 BC.


The story of the origins of medicine among the Sumerians is told to us by Berossus from the third century BC, he wrote a book for Alexander the Great about Babylonian sciences, he said that during the reign of King Alorus, who ruled before the flood, the monster Oanis came out of the sea and was in the form of a human in the clothing of a fish, and taught his people various types of crafts, laws, and sciences, including medicine.

In his image, the monster Oanis resembles the form of the god Aiya, whom they represented in the form of a human in a fish’s clothing, this means that when King Alulum (Aloros) ruled in Eridu, the god Aiya appeared from the sea and gave the sciences, including medicine, to the king, and thus the king was the first doctor in history.

There is a family of gods responsible for medicine and healing. It begins with the first water goddess, who controls disease and medicine simultaneously, then is embodied in the god “Anu,” who presents them separately in the god “Ea,” the healer (the god of water) and the god “Enlil,” the disease (the god of the air), and give birth to anyone; "Nergal" and "Marduk", which express illness and recovery.

In the fifth generation, “Nanazu” and his wife Kula appear. Jacobson called “Nanazu” and his descendants the gods of the gardens, and they are all gods of the underworld, the meaning of the name Nanazu is one who knows water (and the doctor was described by this name), and the tree was one of his symbols. He has a son whom he will give birth to in the underworld. "Nenkishida."

In the seventh generation, “Nenkishida,” the god of medicine, and his wife, “Bao,” the black-headed goddess (Sumerians), appear, the literal meaning of Nankishida is (Lord of the Tree of Life) and in divine praise he is called the servant of the vast earth - literally - the mover of the seat of the vast earth, that is, the underworld.

Despite all these good qualities, he was overcome by terrifying bad qualities such as, the god of death, epidemics, and the scorching rays of the sun, he used to take the role of ablution in the underworld. His worship was widespread in the Diyala region (the Kingdom of Eshnunna) until the era of Ur III, and he was later replaced by the god Chaik.

The tree of life differs among the Babylonians and Akkadians, but its essence remains the same:


The divine origin of medicine since the god Ea.

The dialectical relationship between illness and recovery.

The gods of illness and the gods of healing are children of the gods.

The Sumerian emblem of medicine appears as a symbol of the god “Nenkishida,” which represents two snakes around a stick. This emblem continues in history until our days.

A healer's ring dating back to 3000 BC was found in Lagash, on this ring was found a decree of the god Eru, the god of pestilence and disease. A healer was also mentioned in a clay tablet called “Lulu”, found in the city of “Ur”, dating back to 2700 BC.

As for “Ur Lugal-idna,” his cylinder ring and the inscription on a votive stone arrived, he held an important position under the rule of “Ur Ningursu ben Gudea,” and some medical instruments appear on his ring that resemble a flask, needles, scalpels, oil containers, and medicinal herbs.

The healer is called “Azu” (perhaps the origin of the Arabic word Asi, which was used to refer to the healer at the beginning of the Islamic era), meaning one who knows water, or “Yazoo,” meaning one who knows oil, the connection between medicine and water comes from the fact that water is the basis of life, and that the god “Aya” The chief of the gods is the Lord of Water, which is the source of life.

The second type of medical worker is the Moaz, or “Ashibu,” who is one of the priests. He expels evil spirits from the bodies of patients and is the spiritual doctor in addition to his other religious functions.

The third type of medical worker is also a priest and is called “Barum,” meaning the fortune-teller, he reveals fortunes and interprets dreams, the fourth type is the detector or “kashfu,” who uses magic and is an extension of the ancient shamans of the Stone Ages, the influence of these types of medical practice remained until Nowadays in most parts of the world.

The two oldest medical tablets came from the Sumerians, emphasizing the importance of clinical medicine devoid of magical, mythological, and religious aspects, as the Sumerian doctor resorted to plant, animal, and mineral sources to prepare medical prescriptions.

His favorite materials were sodium chloride (table salt), river pitch, and crude oil. Wool, milk, turtle shell, and river snake were used from the animal kingdom, but most of his medicines were prepared from the plant world. Such as thyme, mustard, plum tree, pear, fig, willow, fir, and pine, and from manufactured products such as beer, wine, and vegetable oil.

The temples in Mesopotamia were the first centers in which religious and worldly sciences and knowledge arose, the priests possessed medical information and thus practiced medicine, and some temples contained well-known medical schools.

The Nefer school was mentioned, which taught the pure medical sciences practiced by the Aso, as well as Porsia and Uruk, there is also a medical tablet found in Nebo dating back to the end of the third millennium BC.

Perhaps the most important thing about this painting is that the recipes and treatments it contains are devoid of any mention of spirits, magic, or spells, and they rely entirely on the substance for treatment, thus repelling what was attached to ancient medicine in Mesopotamia by being based on magic and quackery.

A plaque was found in Lachish with a similar date, in which there was a mention of a surgical instrument, and a method for preparing some medicines, signed by a healer named (Urdkalidina), and this may be the first recorded healer.


The first constitution of medical drugs (Aqrabadhin), which is the first constitution in history, dates back to the end of the third millennium BC. It was found in the city of Nefer. it explains:

Sources of the three medicines: 

Plants, animals, and minerals.

Their shapes and forms, such as ointments and drops.

How to prepare.

External use method: spray, massage, or wash.

Internal use: preparing it, mixing it with beer, and using it as sterilizers, disinfectants, and astringents.

Not mentioning diseases and mentioning the amounts and number of times of use.

No mention of gods, demons, incantations or spells.

Sumerian medicine heritage

Sumerian medicine inherited all previous human experiences and was able to codify them, and he undoubtedly added, but we cannot distinguish what is ancient and what is new, although we can be certain that classification and arrangement indicate a higher level of human civilization, despite its preservation of magic and its influence, as well as the unseen origin, for diseases and treatment.

Sumerian medicine was distinguished in that it left a great legacy of information and therapeutic methods, and left us with the slogan of medicine that is still used in all parts of the world. He also left us the first things, the first doctor, the first relatives, and the first medical books.

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