Animal medicine and surgery are undoubtedly very ancient activities dating back to at least the time when species were domesticated. However, the first written documents did not appear until Antiquity. Authors in the Greek classical period, such as Xenophon (c. 430-354 B.C.) and Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), provide some information in their works on animal care and sometimes even speak of ailments identifiable today. The largest body of work appeared in the Roman Empire and the works of Roman agronomists such as Cato the Elder (234-149 B.C.), Varro (116-27 B.C.) and Columella, who was the first person in the common era to mention the term veterinarius in his De Re Rustica by speaking of the medicina veterinaria. This and the following century also saw the development of a corps of horse caregivers in the Roman army, the so-called mulomedici.

Ancient therapists treated horses with means typically applied to humans: bleeding, purging, polypharmacy...

However, the first truly specialised body of work on the subject stemmed from authors living in the Eastern Roman Empire during the first four centuries of the common era. They were the hippiatrists, from the Greek hippos -horse- and iatros- physician-, and worked wherever there was a great number of horses, in the army and the imperial post, or operated on valuable animals such as racehorses. These twenty or so authors are known from their letters, which were collected in the 10th century in a collection, the Hippiatrica. These equine therapists utilised techniques such as bleeding, purging and polypharmacy, treating horses with means typically applied to humans.

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