How Was Epilepsy Regarded and Treated in Ancient Times?

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that affects millions of people worldwide. However, our understanding of this condition and its treatment has come a long way since ancient times. Let’s explore how epilepsy was regarded and treated in the past.

Ancient beliefs about epilepsy

In ancient times, epilepsy was often believed to be caused by supernatural forces or spiritual possession. Many cultures believed that epileptic seizures were a sign of demonic possession, and those who suffered from seizures were often shunned or feared.

In ancient Greece, for example, epilepsy was known as the “sacred disease” because it was believed to be a punishment from the gods. The Greek philosopher Plato even suggested that those with epilepsy should be banned from political office because they were thought to be under the influence of evil spirits.

Ancient treatments for epilepsy

Given the belief that epilepsy was caused by supernatural forces, it’s no surprise that many ancient treatments involved rituals or magical practices. For example:

  • In ancient Egypt, some believed that wearing amulets containing specific symbols could prevent seizures.
  • Some Native American tribes would burn herbs and perform dances to drive away evil spirits thought to cause seizures.
  • During the Middle Ages in Europe, it was common practice to drill a hole in a person’s skull (known as trepanation) to release “evil spirits.”

Of course, these treatments had no scientific basis and were not effective in treating epilepsy.

Advancements in understanding and treating epilepsy

It wasn’t until the 19th century that our understanding of epilepsy began to improve. In 1873, British physician Sir William Richard Gowers published “Epilepsy and Other Chronic Convulsive Diseases,” which helped establish Epileptology as a medical specialty.

Over time, scientists and doctors began to understand that epilepsy was a neurological disorder caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain. This led to the development of new treatments, including antiepileptic drugs and surgical procedures.


While the treatment of epilepsy in ancient times may seem primitive or even barbaric by today’s standards, it’s important to remember that people were doing the best they could with the knowledge and resources available to them. Our understanding of epilepsy has come a long way since then, and we now have effective treatments that can help manage this condition.