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Is anything known about anaesthetics in the Graeco-Roman world? I mean, were there ways to kill the pain of wounded soldiers? Herbal medicine? Which herbs? Anyone any thoughts?
The Roman and Greeks did use opiates for medicinal and recreational purposes, there is a book all about drug use in the classical world called The Chemical Muse that you might be interested in.
Mandrake juice

The classic authors are many to quote the utilisation of the juice of mandrake as anesthesic. This plant is rich in alkaloids delirifacient: atropine, scopolamine, and especially hyosciamine.

In Rome, Celsus (15 BC), in " De Arte Medica " described his narcotic action as well as a custom in eye drops as Galenus (131-205 AD)
Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD), in his " Natural History ", specifies that 1 cyathe (= 0,45l of wine of mandrake), pulls a soporific action, and numbed the sensibility, and recommends it before punction and incision.
Dioscorides (40-90 AD), surgeon of Nero, in "Materia Medica ", recommends Moria, variety of "male" mandrake per-bone or in inhalation before the amputations and the childbirths.
Apuleius, in 4th century, drafts " De virtutibus herbarum " in whom he specifies " if we have to cut or cauterize some member, to bring the iron, the patient drink a half ounce of mandrake in wine, and sleep until the member is cut off, without feeling any pain.


The use of poppy (from which we extract the opium and morphine) is very old and already known by the Scythians. The Greek god Hypnos (in Latin, Somnus) shows a poppy flower in hand.

In "De Medicina", Celsus describes harmless "pills" that relieve pain by inducing sleep. These pills were prepared poppy stirring and mixing it with wine. He gave advice to use it wisely. Celsus observed that the juice of opium had been used by the ancient Greeks, to calm the bad mood and provide pleasant dreams, and that this decoction had remained popular and appreciated.
However, "physicians should be used with caution, because dreams can be sweet, but they are more severe will be the awakening".


Other commonly used anesthetics were: black henbane and hemp in particular.
Dioscorides advises the use of opium (milked from the relevent poppy type in the usual way) or wine made from mandragora on those who are to be 'cut or cauterised'.
Thanks! This is most helpful!!
I have the impression that the treatment of pain was not considered a single discipline in ancient medicine. I believe that they thought of it much different than we do.

For example, if I have a headache today I might take some ibuprofen. If I sprain a knee tomorrow I might take some ibuprofen. Ancient doctors didn’t think this way. If we use my example Celsus recommends two different treatments: bleeding for headaches (II.7.9), and exercise, cold and rest for aches in the limbs (I.9.1).

Aristides long diary is similar. He mentions painful symptoms over and over again, affecting different parts of his body, but the treatments offered to him by the god of healing or doctors affiliated with the temple changed. Sometimes he used cold, or exercise, or different foods (very common) or various medicines. Each treatment depended upon that exact pain, with all accompanying symptoms, at that exact moment. (Sorry I can’t give specific quotes – I read Aristides from the university library over the summer and don’t have him handy.)

However, in your question you mention wounds. In this case there might have been more uniformity in treatments, though. I doubt if they would prescribe different medicines for a cut to the arm and a cut to the head. In this case the cause of the pain is clear.
Willow bark has the original aspirin and salicin (anti-inflammatories). I think it's mentioned by Pliny the Elder and Dioscorides. You might also want to look into the acanthus leaf, which is found on everything from architecture to sword scabbards, and was used to treat dislocated joints and burns IIRC.

Quote:Ancient doctors didn’t think this way.
I disagree ;-) Pretty much any modern medicine is a synthesis of a natural agent. The modern synthesis simply allows for it to be reproduced en masse and consistently, with the specific molecules isolated.
This is somewhat difficult, but I’ll see if I can put my thoughts into a somewhat-coherent post.

Much of ancient medicine revolved around humorism, meaning that diseases were caused when the four elements of the body – blood, phlegm, black bile and yellow bile – were out of balance. The basic role of a doctor was to understand these imbalances and give the proper medicinal application to help the elements get back in balance. This could be done in a variety of ways, depending upon:
1) which organ was out of balance
2) what that imbalance was (too much yellow bile, for instance, or not enough blood), and
3) the stage of the disease.
All three steps needed to be followed correctly to make a proper diagnosis. This could get frighteningly complex. One mistake anywhere and the treatment wouldn’t work.

(This also didn’t necessarily need a doctor, by the way, because cures to fix these imbalances were often given via dreams. Marcus Aurelius, Aristides and Galen all discuss this. The god of healing’s first instruction to Aristides was to run outside in the winter in order to get his low phlegm back into balance.)

In such a belief system pain was not an independent entity that could be alleviated with one drug. If they believed that a pain in the head was caused by too much blood while pain in the stomach was caused by not enough black bile (for example), to their mind one drug could obviously not relieve both problems, because they were fundamentally different.

One possible exception to this would be a panacea, such as theriac, or magical cures. A panacea was a rare and wonderful concoction that could relieve any imbalance of the humors and so fix any disease. We know that Galen gave Marcus his version of theriac, which probably contained opium. Again, though, in their minds a panacea was not treating pain, but treating the imbalances.

And, like I mentioned previously, this probably didn’t apply to external injuries. In cases like this it wasn’t an imbalance of the humors that caused pain. They didn’t need to make a diagnosis to know the problem.