IRI Medical Council

Date:30 August 2014

Medicine in Ancient Iran

The history of medicine in Iran is as old as and as rich as its civilization. In the Avesta, science and medicine rise above class, ethnicity, nationality, race, gender, and religion.

The practice and study of medicine in Persia has a long and prolific history. The Iranian academic centers like Jundishapur (Gundeshapur) University (3 century AD) were a breeding ground for the union among great scientists from different civilizations. These centers successfully followed their predecessors' theories and greatly extended their scientific research tharough history.

Some of the earliest practices of ancient Iranian medicine have been documented in the Avesta and other Zoroastrian religious texts. The sixth book of Zend-Avesta contains some of the earliest records of history of ancient Iranian medicine. The Vendidad in fact devotes most of the last chapters to medicine. 

The Vendidad, one of the surviving texts of the Zend-Avesta distinguishes three kinds of medicine: Medicine by the knife (surgery), Medicine by herbs, and Medicine by divine words; which according to the sacred text, the best medicine was healing by divine words.

Iranian Magi (who were renowned for their wisdom beyond the borders of Iran) and Mobeds (Zoroastrian clergy of a particular rank) were unsurpassed in their knowledge of medicine, philosophy, and plants.

Avesta texts also tell of consultation among Surgeons, Herbalists, and Psychiatrists which indicates a form of medical association at the time.

The first physician documented by Avesta texts was Vivangahan. Other notable physicians mentioned were Mani, Roozbeh, and Bozorgmehr.

Undoubtedly, credit for the establishment of hospital & training system must be given to the ancient Persians. Jundishapur (Gundeshapur) is particularly thought to have had a significant role in establishing the institution of the teaching hospital for the first time. According to the certified records of history, by the decree of Sassanid king, Jundishapur International University founded in 271 AD due to methodically cure and treat diseases while simultaneously train the students of medicine.

Jundishapur International University as an outstanding center of learning and study in the field of medicine, philosophy, theology, and science was a gathering place of noted and renowned ancient scholars and physicians from across the globe. According to the Cambridge History of Iran, Jundishapur University was the most important medical center of the ancient world (defined as Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Near East) during the 6 and 7 centuries.

The library of the University known as the "City of Hippocrates" consisted of eight floors and 259 halls including an estimated 400,000 books. Jundishapur medical students who practiced on patients under the supervision of renowned medical scholars & physicians had to pass special examination due to obtain license to practice.

Jundishapur scholars and graduates were appointed to important governmental positions. The Minister of Health (Iran Dorostbod) was chosen from the physicians and the Minister of Education (Iran Farhangbod) was an accomplished scholar of philosophy, logic, mathematics or psychology.

Furthermore, regarding the historical records, the world's first medical conference was held upon Sassanid King's order in Ctesiphon in which hundreds of mobeds and physicians from Persia and other countries attended this congress; a historical event that Ferdowsi versified in eternal epic Shahnameh.

Among the torchbearers of ancient Persia's scientific heritage are Muhammad ibn Zakarya Razi (known in west as Rhazes or Rasis), Abu Nasr Farabi (known in west as Alpharabius) and Ibn-Sina (know in west as Avicenna) whose discoveries tangibly have improved human health.

Muhammad ibn Zakarya Razi was a Persian polymath, physician, alchemist and chemist, philosopher and important figure in the history of medicine. A comprehensive thinker, Razi made fundamental and enduring contributions to various fields of science and is particularly remembered for numerous advances in medicine through his observations and discoveries. An early proponent of experimental medicine, he became a successful doctor; he was appointed a court physician, and served as chief physician of Baghdad and Rey hospitals. He was among the first to use humorism to distinguish one contagious disease from another and has been described as the father of pediatrics and a pioneer of ophthalmology. He is well known as the discoverer of alcohol and vitriol (sulfuric acid) as well.

Farabi is noted for his contributions to psychology. Farabi's Social Psychology and Model City were the first treatises to deal with social psychology. He stated that:" An isolated individual could not achieve all the perfections by himself, without the aid of other individuals."

Avicenna known as Prince of Physicians in west and chief master of all sciences in Muslim world is the celebrated Iranian physician and philosopher who was particularly noted for his contributions in the field of Aristotelian philosophy and medicine. He composed the Canon of Medicine that became the preeminent source of medicine among western medical scholars from the early 14 to the mid-16 century.


Dr. Shima Naghavi, Director of International Affairs