Nursing and Caring: An Historical Overview from Ancient Greek Tradition to Modern Times

Nursing and Caring: An Historical Overview from Ancient Greek Tradition to Modern Times

By Dimitrios Theofanidis and Despina Sapountzi-Krepia

International Journal of Caring Sciences, Volume 8:3 (2015)

Nurse and patient - from a lithograph by Noël Dorville, c. 1901.
Nurse and patient – from a lithograph by Noël Dorville, c. 1901.

Abstract: Nursing as a humanistic profession is closely related to the core of caring which embraces the human essence in both illness and good health. This position paper examines the fundamental humanistic elements of caring and nursing particularly from a Greek perspective.

Aim: to discuss critically the implications of care delivery mainly in Greece by looking at the deeper ‘roots’ of these notions, within their historical and geographical contexts.

Method: a historical literature search was undertaken in a ‘time series snapshots’ methodology whereby key events and historical contexts were critically appraised with regard to the evolution of nursing as an art and science. Both international and national library databases were used.

Results-Discussion: Just like modern medicine, nursing also uses the Hippocratic Medical heritage as its base and therefore Hippocrates could be seen as a ‘ shared forefather’ for health care professionals. It is often argued that in his early writings he described in detail what is now the nursing profession as he did not mention ‘nurses’ but referred to doctor assistants! Nursing has now become an independent scientific discipline with discrete evidence based knowledge but certainly the care side still has powerful historic, cultural and traditional roots.

Conclusions: drawn from a review of the literature show that historically the roots of Nursing and Caring in Greece have a triple dimension. a) Caring care was provided within the family mainly by members, slaves and servants. b) Wartime nursing care was provided by private citizens but also by nobles who possessed the art of healing and caring. c) Organised nursing care was provided in many hospitals in the early Byzantine Empire. Hostels and Nursing Homes were run by monks and laity, voluntary men and women initially as a token of Christian love and later on payment.

medieval-mag-40Excerpt: Women therapists of all social classes were conveyors of knowledge of the medicinal properties of herbs and ‘drug’ preparation. They actively continued these traditions and applied knowledge in the care of sick women throughout the medieval period. Until the thirteenth century A.D., despite the already established persecutions, women continued to work either as therapists or as caregivers. During the C13th A.D. it is estimated that in Europe approximately 200,000 nuns and commoners, provided organized care services under the auspices of the church.

In northern Europe the medieval period brought plague and pestilence as people held an indifferent attitude towards sanitation and hygiene. Quarantine was adopted as a means to arrest the spread of such epidemics. Late in the 12th and 13th centuries nursing became differentiated from medicine and surgery as medicine went into a period of advancement while nursing remained limited to basic caring duties.

Click here to read this article from the International Journal of Caring Sciences

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