History to 1798

  • Edmond I EgerII
  • Lawrence J. Saidman
  • Rod N. Westhorpe


Surgeons in ancient times undertook diverse operations, usually at great speed to diminish the duration of suffering. Skulls from 5,000 BCE show trephination, the removal of a piece of bone from the head. Egyptians in 3,600 BCE performed circumcisions and tracheotomies. In 1700 BCE, Babylonians excised tumors. Egyptians cauterized breast tumors and excised peripheral aneurysms. The Roman surgeon, Galen, in the second Century CE, treated cataracts to restore sight, and he cut out the uvula to cure chronic coughing. Surgeons in Europe might be physicians, monks or barbers who in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries wrote books on surgery. They gained recognition by their study of the anatomy of cadavers. Thus, in 1543 Vesalius published “On the Fabric of the Human Body”, demolishing centuries of errors, and opening the door to the performance of accurate surgery.


Anesthesia before 1798 History of anesthesia Surgery before anesthesia Ancient use of anesthesia Egyptian and Greek surgical practices 



The authors appreciate the editorial suggestions made by Ms. Shawnee Shahroody Spitler.


  1. 1.
    Plowman T, Rivier L. Cocaine and cinnamoylcocaine content of thirty-one species of Erythroxylum (Erythroxylaceae). Ann Botony (Lond) 1983;51:641–59.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Draelos ZD The ability of onion extract gel to improve the cosmetic appearance of postsurgical scars. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2008;7:101–4.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Juvin P, Desmonts JM. The ancestors of inhalational anesthesia: the Soporific Sponges (XIth–XVIIth centuries): how a universally recommended medical technique was abruptly discarded. Anesthesiology. 2000;93:265–9.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Nuland SB. The origins of anesthesia. Birmington: Adams, Jr.; 1983. p. 11.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Eger EI II, Zhang Y, Laster MJ, Flood P, Kendig JJ, Sonner JM. Acetylcholine receptors do not mediate the immobilization produced by inhaled anesthetics. Anesth Analg. 2002;94:1500–4.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Rutkow IM. The origins of modern surgery, surgery-basic science and clinical evidence. New York: Springer; 2001. pp. 2–19.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Haeger K The Illustrated 2 of surgery. Houston: Bell Publishing Co.; 1988.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Keys TE. The history of surgical anesthesia. Park Ridge: Wood Library-Museum of Anesthesiology; 1996. p. 9.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Ball C, Westhorpe R. Ether before anaesthesia. Anaesth Intensive Care. 1996;24:3.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Gallucci JM. Who deserves the credit for discovering ether’s use as a surgical anesthetic? J Hist Dent. 2008;56:38–43.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Snow J. On chloroform and other anaesthetics: their action and administration. London: John Churchill; 1858. pp. 1–443.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Roberts MF, Wink M. Alkaloids. Biochemistry, ecology, and medicinal applications. New York: Plenum Press; 1998. p 34.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Beach GO, Fitzgerald RP, Holmes R, Phibbs B, Stuckenhoff H. Scopolamine poisoning. N Engl J Med. 1964;270:1354–55.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Brichcin S, Filipova A. Atropine coma therapy and a proposal for using scopolamine in psychiatric treatment. Act Nerv Super (Praha). 1965;7:248.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Brichcin S, Filipova A. [2 years of experience with cholinergolytic comas]. Cesk Psychiatr. 1967;63:248–51.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Major DJ. Chirurgia infusoria placidis CL: vivorium dubiis impugnata, cun modesta ad Eadem, Responsione. Kiloni, 1667.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Dagnino J. Wren, Boyle, and the origins of intravenous injections and the Royal Society of London. Anesthesiology. 2009;111:923–4. (author reply 924).PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    de la Condamine M. Relation abrégée d’un Voyage fait dans l’intérieur de l’Amérique de, dpuis l Côte de la Mer du Sud, jusques aux Côtes du Brésil et de la Guiane, en descendant la rivière des Amazones. Histoire de l’académie Royale des Sciences 1745:391–492.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Bancroft E. An essay on the natural history of Guiana and South America. London: T Becket & PA De Hont. 1769.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Brodie BC. Experiments and observations on the different modes in which death is produced by certain vegetable poisons. Philos Trans Roy Soc Lond. 1811;102:178–208.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Brodie BC. Further experiments and observations on the action of poisons on the animal system. Philos Trans Roy Soc Lond. 1812;102:205–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Sykes K. Harold Griffith memorial lecture. The Griffith legacy. Can J Anaesth. 1993;40:365–74.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Edmond I Eger, MD 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Edmond I EgerII
    • 1
  • Lawrence J. Saidman
    • 2
  • Rod N. Westhorpe
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Anesthesia and Perioperative CareUniversity of CaliforniaSan FranciscoUSA
  2. 2.Departments of AnesthesiaStanford UniversityStanfordUSA
  3. 3.MelbourneAustralia

Personalised recommendations