How Was Surgery in Ancient Greece?

In ancient Greece, surgery was a significant part of medical practice. Although the techniques and tools used were primitive compared to modern standards, ancient Greek surgeons made remarkable contributions to the field. Let’s dive into the fascinating world of surgery in ancient Greece.

The Role of the Surgeon

Surgeons in ancient Greece held a respected position in society. They were highly skilled individuals who were well-versed in anatomy and various surgical techniques. These surgeons were known as “iatroskopoi” or “iatraliptai,” meaning “those who observe” and “those who anoint,” respectively.

Surgical Tools

Ancient Greek surgeons used a variety of tools during surgeries. Some commonly used instruments included:

  • Scalpel: A small, sharp knife used for making incisions.
  • Hemostat: A tool designed to stop bleeding by clamping blood vessels.
  • Forceps: Used for grasping and holding tissues during procedures.
  • Bone Saw: A serrated saw specifically designed for cutting through bones.

Surgical Techniques

Ancient Greek surgeons performed various surgical procedures, including:


Lithotomy was a procedure performed to remove bladder stones. The patient would be placed in a lithotomy position with their legs raised and bent at the knees. The surgeon would then use a specialized tool called a lithotome to make an incision and remove the stone from the bladder.


Trepanation involved drilling or scraping a hole into the skull to treat head injuries or relieve intracranial pressure. The ancient Greek surgeons used trepanation to remove bone fragments, blood clots, or tumors from the brain.


Amputations were performed to treat severe injuries or infections. Surgeons would use a bone saw to remove the affected limb and then cauterize the wound to stop bleeding.

The Role of Religion and Rituals

In ancient Greece, surgery was often accompanied by religious rituals and prayers. Surgeons believed that invoking the gods would bring them favor and increase the chances of a successful operation. These rituals aimed to establish a spiritual connection between the patient, surgeon, and divine beings.


Surgery in ancient Greece was a complex and respected field of medicine. Despite limited resources and primitive tools, ancient Greek surgeons made significant strides in surgical techniques, paving the way for future advancements in medicine. Understanding their contributions helps us appreciate how far we have come in modern surgical practices.