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Review Article

Med Arch. 2018; 72(6): 449-452

Stroke in Ancient Mesopotamia

Saad Kazim Karim, Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin.


Introduction: More than 6000 years ago, the cradle of civilization, Mesopotamia, grew-up in what is known today as Iraq. The history of cerebrovascular diseases in Mesopotamia is insufficient to supply scholar needs. Therefore, the goal of this review is to highlight some remarkable points in the history of what we may coin as “stroke medicine” during the ancient Mesopotamian eras and to explore the knowledge and expertise of ancient healers. The neo-Sumerian period (2112-2004 BCE) documented, through clay tablets, many medical records about two kinds of medical specialists; the āšipu (exorcists) and the ašu (physician-priests). Methods and findings: The information herein was gathered through literature review using online resources, such as NCBI, Google Scholar, PubMed, UCLA, and HİNARİ. Initially, most of the knowledge we have got was acquired mainly from two well-known transliterated cuneiform texts. Both tablets had clearly addressed stroke. One tablet, part of the “diagnostic” series is currently in the Louvre Museum in Paris, while the other one is in the British Museum in London and is part of the “therapeutic” series. The Mesopotamians had noticed and documented vascular disorders of the brain and some pertinent diseases. The ašu and the āšipu demonstrated an observational knowledge of anatomy and but no knowledge of the nervous system, the concept of pathology, or physiology as we call them today. Not all paralysis cases were viewed as a curse or an impact incurred by a supernatural deity. Physical treatment was mentioned to the patients. The familial occurrence of stroke was a well-known trait in that ancient period. Conclusion: This descriptive review tells us that the history of stroke in the medical practice was well-encountered in the first half of the second millennium BCE and that physicians were keen observers to describe stroke presentation and prognosis.

Key words: Mesopotamia, stroke, cerebrovascular disease, history of medicine.

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