A Short Review on the History of Anesthesia in Ancient Civilizations

Document Type: Original Article


1 BS Student at Department of Anesthesiology, Alborz University of Medical Science, Alborz, Iran

2 BS Student at Scientific Research Center, Tehran University of Medical Science, Tehran, Iran; BS Student at Department of Anesthesiology, Tehran University of Medical Science, Tehran, Iran

3 PharmD, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of History of Medicine, School of Traditional Medicine, Tehran University of Medical Science, Tehran, Iran


Anesthesia is one of the main issues in surgery and has progressed a lot since two centuries ago. The formal history of surgery indicates that beginning of anesthesia backs to the 18th century, but reviewing the history of medicine shows that pain management and anesthesia has a long history in ancient times. The word “anesthesia”, comes from Greek language: an-(means: “without”) and aisthēsis (means: “sensation”), the combination of which means the inhibition of sensation. The oldest reports show that the Sumerians maybe were the first people that they cultivated and harvested narcotic sedative like the opium Poppy as early as 3400 BC and used them as pain killers. There are some texts which show us that Greek and Mesopotamia’s doctors prescribed alcoholic beverages before their surgeries. In the Byzantine time, physicians used an elixir known as “laudanum” that was a good sedative prior the patient’s operation. Ancient Persia and China were as the biggest civilizations, of which medicine anesthesia had a great role in. Also, Persian and other Muslim physicians developed the field of anesthesiology in early medieval era which is called Islamic Golden Age.


Adkins L, Adkins RA. Handbook to life in ancient Rome. New York: Infobase, Facts on File; 2014.
Alembizar F, Hosseinkhani A, Salehi A. Anesthesia and Pain Relief in the History of Islamic Medicine. Iran J Med Sci. 2016; 41(3 Suppl): S21.
Askitopoulou H, Ramoutsaki IA, Konsolaki E. Analgesia and anesthesia: etymology and literary history of related Greek words. Anesth Analg. 2000; 91: 486-491.
Askitopoulou H. Greek Antiquity. In: history of anesthesia VII (proceedings of the 7th international symposium on the history of anesthesia), France: Crete university press; 2012.
Askitopoulou H. Sleep and dreams: from myth to medicine in ancient Greece. Anesthesia Hist. 2015; 1: 70-75.‏
Astyrakaki E, Askitopoulou H. The first Greek pharmacist to administer a Hypnotic. In: The history of anesthesia. Proceedings of the Sixth International Symposium on the History of Anesthesia, Conservatree, Berkshire; 2007. p. 81-85.
Astyrakaki E, Papaioannou A, Askitopoulou H. References to anesthesia, pain, and analgesia in the Hippocratic Collection. Anesth Analg. 2010; 110(1): 188-94.
Bath K, Aggarwal S, Sharma V. Sushruta: Father of plastic surgery in Benares. J Med Biogr. 2016 Nov 24. [Epub ahead of print]
Blomstedt P. Imhotep and the discovery of cerebrospinal fluid. Anat Res Int. 2014; 1: 2014.
Bresson J, Liu N, Fischler M, Bresson A. Anesthesia, sleep and death: from mythology to the operating room. Anesth Analg. 2013; 117(5): 1257-9.
Bruno E, White MC, Baxter LS, Ravelojaona VA, Rakotoarison HN, Andriamanjato HH, Close KL, Herbert A, Raykar N, Saluja S, Shrime MG. An Evaluation of Preparedness, Delivery and Impact of Surgical and Anesthesia Care in Madagascar: A Framework for a National Surgical Plan. World J Surg. 2016 Nov 30. [Epub ahead of print]
Bushak L. Medical Daily. 2016 Jan 21. Available at: http://www.medicaldaily.com/brief-history-medical-cannabis-ancient-anesthesia-modern-dispensary-370344 (accessed in 17 Dec. 2016)
Chakravorty RC. Surgical Principles in the Sutrasthanam of the Susruta Samhita. Indian J Hist Med. 1970; 5(1): 113-8.
Chu NS. Legendary Hwa Tuo’s surgery under general anesthesia in the second century China. Acta Neurologica Taiwanica. 2004; 13: 211-216.
Combes K. The Epoch Times, Anesthesia in ancient China. Association for Asian Research (AFAR); 2004.
Dabbagh A, Rajaei S, Golzari SE. History of anesthesia and pain in old Iranian texts. Anesth Pain Med. 2014; 4(3): e15363.
Dehesh S. Pre-Islamic medicine in Persia. Middle East J Anaesthesiol. 1975; 4: 377-382.
Fu L. Surgical history of ancient China: part 1. ANZ J Surg. 2009; 79: 879–885.
Ghaffari F, Naseri M, Movahhed M, Zargaran A. Spinal Traumas and their Treatments According to Avicenna’s Canon of Medicine. World Neurosurg. 2015; 84(1): 173-7.
Goodrich JT. History of spine surgery in the ancient and medieval worlds. Neurosurgical Focus. 2004; 16: 1-13.
Heydari M, Hashempur MH, Zargaran A. Medicinal aspects of opium as described in Avicenna’s Canon of Medicine. Acta Med Hist Adriat. 2013; 11(1): 101-12.
Kariminejad MH, Khorshidian A. Science of breeding and heredity from ancient Persia to modern Iran. Indian J Hum Genet. 2012; 18(1): 34-9.
Kirkup J. Surgery before general anesthesia. In: Mann RD, editor. The History of the Management of Pain. Casterton Hall: Parthenon Publishing Group; 1988. p. 15–30.
Leake CD. The Chief Egyptian Medical Papyri. In: The Old Egyptian Medical Papyri. Kansas: The University of Kansas Press; 1952.
Maher MA. Anesthesiology in Ancient Egypt. Abou Alhool. 2012. Available at: http://www.abou-alhool.com/english1/details.php?id=24098#.V8J94E9iLIU (accessed in 17 Dec. 2016)
Miler RD, Eriksson LI, Fleisher LA, et al. History of anesthesia practice, scope of modern anesthetics practice. In: Miller’s anesthesia. Seventh Edition, United States: Natasha Andjelkovic; 2010.
Nasser M, Tibi A, Savage-Smith E. Ibn Sina’s Canon of Medicine: 11th century rules for assessing the effects of drugs. J R Soc Med. 2009; 102(2): 78-80.
Ntaidou TK, Siempos II. The art of providing anaesthesia in Greek mythology. Anaesth Intensive Care. 2012; 40(Suppl 1): 22-7.
Robinson V. Victory over Pain, a History of Anesthesia. Anesth Analg. 1947; 26: 62-63.
Sachs M, Bojunga J, Encke A. Historical evolution of limb amputation. W J Surg. 1999; 23: 1088-1093.
Sajadi MM1, Mansouri D, Sajadi MR. Ibn Sina and the clinical trial. Ann Intern Med. 2009; 150(9): 640-643.
Savaei M. A comparative study of the properties of the opiate in Canon of Avicenna and modern medicine. J Med Ethic Hist Med. 2010; 3: 37-45.
Sellegren KR. An early history of lower limb amputations and prostheses. Iowa Orthopaedic J. 1982; 2: 13.
Spore M. A Day in Ancient Rome. Element School J. 1962; 62: 356-359.
Takrouri MS. Historical essay: An Arabic surgeon, Ibn al Quff’s (1232-1286) account on surgical pain relief. Anesth Essays Res. 2010; 4(1): 4-8.
Takrouri MS. Surgical, medical and anesthesia in the Middle East: Notes on ancient and medieval practice with reference to Islamic-Arabic medicine. Internet J Health. 2006; 5:1.
Tubbs RS, Riech S, Verma K, et al. China’s first surgeon: Hua Tuo (c. 108–208 AD). Childs Nerv Syst. 2011; 27: 1357.
Vanderwerker EE. A Brief Review of the History of Amputations and Prostheses. Inter-Clinic Inform Bull. 1976; 15: 15-16.
Xiaomei Feng, Buwei Yu, Xuerong Yu, et al. A History of Anesthesia in China. In: The Wondrous Story of Anesthesia. New York: Springer; 2014.
Zargaran A, Fazelzadeh A, Mohagheghzadeh A. Surgeons and surgery from ancient Persia (5,000 years of surgical history). World J Surg. 2013; 37(8): 2002-4.
Zarshenas MM, Zargaran A, Abolhassanzadeh Z, Vessal K. Jorjani (1042-1137). J Neurol. 2012; 259(12): 2764-5. ‏
Zarshenas MM, Zargaran A. A review on the Avicenna’s contribution to the field of cardiology. Int J Cardiol. 2015; 182: 237-41.