A geographic notion of South Asia generally includes India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka (Ceylon), and Nepal. But although these countries may be thought of as constituting a single region, they contain a multitude of ethnic groups. Nonetheless, during the medieval ages, they had a common medical heritage rooted in the Greco-Roman world. At the extremities of the system, in northern or northwestern Europe and along the Russian river system, the Greco-Roman medical inheritance was thin. But in southern Europe and throughout the Muslim-Byzantine world, that heritage was rich. The geographic position of the Arabs in Asia Minor close to Greek sources had provided them with the opportunity to know the old Greek authors, especially in philosophy and medicine; therefore, the Arabs became the channels through which Greek influences were carried back into the West once more. Many new observations about diseases and a vast materia medica of the available drugs and medicaments in central Asian countries traveled through channels containing contributions by the eminent physicians of the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu religions. Building on Hippocrates and Galen, they all wrote in the common Arabic language, the official language of the Caliphate.

By the beginning of the ninth century, some of the most famous medical men from the East and the West were meeting in Baghdad and ushering in a Renaissance. Indian physicians learned the examination of pulse at Baghdad from Greek and Arab physicians, who were expert in this sort of diagnosis. Knowledge of and interest in alchemy, along with the use of opium and many metallic compounds for treatment of various diseases, were also acquired from contact with the Greeks and the Arabs.

The concept of the modern hospital is a Persian contribution. When the Muslims conquered large parts of the Indian subcontinent, they introduced the concept of hospitals along with other institutions and traditions, and since then hospitals have been a part of city life. One of the 12 commandments issued by the Emperor Jehangir on ascending the throne in the seventeenth century was for the establishment of a hospital in all the larger cities in his domain. Allauddin II was the earliest Muslim king of the Deccan to build a hospital, Dar-ul-Shifa, at Bidar, his capital during the fifteenth century where food and drugs were provided to patients free of charge.

The hospitals were mainly staffed by Muslim physicians well versed in Greek and Arabic (now called Unani) systems of medicine. Many of them had Ayurvedic physicians on the staff as well. From the ninth century, this tradition of having both Hindu and Muslim physicians in the hospitals continued, particularly in India.

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