Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
Institut für Altertumswissenschaften
Project title: Medicine and physicians abroad. Circulation of experts and expertise in the Second Millennium BCE in the Ancient Near East
Supervisors: Prof. Dr. Doris Prechel, Prof. Dr. Alexander Pruß
Focus of the project is the study of the mobility of foreign specialists and, or the requests for ingredients to prepare remedies among different realities of the Ancient Near East during the Second Millennium BCE. Medicine, and ritual medicine for the matter, was definitely a point of contact between cultures in ancient times as much as it is now, and this is mirrored in ancient near-eastern textual sources from the Second Millennium BCE. The need for physicians or incantation priests was as urgent in the past as it is now for specialists in the medical field. Numerous letters have been found from all over the Ancient Near East that testify the requests from private citizens for either specialised personnel coming from a certain area (that could be a specific city or kingdom) or for either already prepared medicaments or ingredient to make them; in some occasion, we even have the request for statues of deities related to healing practices.
Specialists of any kind of expertise and ‘corporation’ often travelled around areas of the Ancient Near East: we have accounts of foreign experts being presents in Anatolia, Mesopotamia and Babylonia proper, but also in Egypt. Usually, the migration movement of these experts followed two routes: from Babylon they moved to the North and North-West, while from Egypt they moved to North and North-East.
Scholars have already assessed the matter of specialists travelling around the Ancient Near East, but we lack an in-depth inquiry about the mobility of medical experts in particular, and the eventual spread and acculturation of practices that might have followed them.
Research will move mainly on two parallel aspects. The first will try to answer the question: what kind of expertise was requested ‘abroad’? The second, on the other hand, will have as its key question: what kind of products were exchanged for medical purposes?
To be able to answer the first question, i.e., what kind of experts were called from foreign countries, further subjects need to be investigated; first of all, we need to understand who were the specialists who moved abroad, and, most importantly, whence and whereto.
To address the second matter, i.e., which medical products were requested and exchanged, the following questions are to be considered: from whom and to whom were these products requested? Were these products already prepared medicines and drugs, or also plants, minerals, and herbs?
Of course, the question that lies under all of these questions is: why were these experts and substances called for from another country? Was foreign medicine considered more effective and, or authoritative? Was there a specifical medical tradition that was considered somehow superior to the others, which thus influenced certain local aspects of (ritual) medicine?
Purpose of the research will, consequently, be that to try to answer all of these questions, possibly, at the same time, collecting and listing in one place all the material on the subject, in order to also be able to take stock of what is already known, but scattered in different papers and publications.
Naturally, knowledge of local practices (i.e., Hittite, Egyptian, etc.) is required in order to understand the extent of the influences. Part of the research will, consequently, consist in analysing known local practices in order to discern points of contacts or differences.