Greek Health Secret: What Did Our Ancient Greeks Use Phlebotomy For?

What is Phlebotomy?

Phlebotomy is the process in which people get their blood drawn by puncturing a vein. 

Phlebotomy Procedure:

In phlebotomy, an apparatus called a cannula is used for drawing blood, and the procedure is called “venipuncture”. Diagnostic tests, blood donations, and transfusions are carried out using this process. 

What is Bloodletting?

Phlebotomy is just the modern name for “bloodletting”. The process of surgically drawing the patient’s blood for medical purposes was called “bloodletting” in the past.

Who is a Phlebotomist?

Phlebotomist is the title of the technician who performs phlebotomy. Simply put, a phlebotomist is the person who draws blood. It’s worth noting that all nurses and medical professionals practice bloodletting as a part of their duties. 

While the actual process of getting the blood drawn may sound quite morbid, it’s actually not that uncommon. For example, in ancient times, phlebotomy was considered as a universal solution to practically all ailments. Thankfully, advancements in medical science have given birth to safer and far more effective treatments.

Greek Health Secret: What Did Our Ancient Greeks Use Phlebotomy For?

Before we reveal their health secrets, it’s important to understand: What is therapeutic phlebotomy?

Well, back in the day, the practice of getting blood drawn was the one cure for practically every disease. Be it acne, or madness, every single ailment was believed to be cured by bloodletting. Today, our sophisticated medical knowledge and equipment has changed the definition of bloodletting, limiting it to a purely diagnostic (and occasionally therapeutic) environment.

The earliest form of getting blood drawn can be traced back to the ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian cultures. Here’s a brief history of its timeline:

Egyptian Ages:

    • Around 1000 BC, the ancient Egyptians believed that letting go of their “impure blood” can cure a host of problems, ranging from acne to the plague. They would get their blood drawn for all ailments.

The Egyptians used a precarious combination of religion, magic, and science as medicine. The priest doubled as a physician in those times.

    • There most likely were positive results once in a blue moon, because this practice soon spread its roots in Europe.

Ancient Greeks and Romans:

    • The ancient Greeks believed that the body has four humors, one of which is blood. 
    • Any imbalances in these four humors can cause varied illnesses. Bloodletting, or phlebotomy, can cure these illnesses.
    • A prominent Greek physician named Galen of Pergamon discovered that arteries and veins both carry blood. He devised a complex system of getting blood drawn that described the parts of the body that blood should be drawn from, and the amount of blood to be drawn.
    • This was a big discovery in the Grecian ages, since until then, arteries were thought to be filled with air. Galen of Pergamon also believed that bloodletting should be performed close to the diseased area for fruitful treatment. 

The Medieval Times:

    • Bloodletting continued in all its glory until the 12th Century. Pope ALexander III decreed that clergies were no longer allowed to perform any procedures involving blood.
    • Due to the popularity of getting blood drawn, and the concept of four humors in those days, the clergy in turn relied on their barbers.
    • Back in the day, barbers would traditionally work in monasteries to keep the monks clean shaven at all times. With the Pope’s decree, the barbers started doubling as “barber-surgeons”, thus providing a wide range of services such as tooth extractions, minor operations, and bloodletting.
    • The popular red and white striped pole outside barber shops today is a testimony to those days when physicians would recommend barbers to perform bloodletting. 

Why and When People First Start Blood Drawn

How Are Leeches Used in Medicine?

    • Leech therapy was used since ancient times for purifying blood and curing any diseases. People believed that getting blood drawn by leeches will help them get healthier due to the medical properties in its saliva.
    • Although surgeons developed more sophisticated treatments, the 17th and 18th centuries were still rife with all forms of bloodletting treatments. One of the most interesting (and possibly dangerous) practices was leeching. 
    • Since leeches carry blood ten times their body weight, they were used to drain blood from a patient’s body until they fainted.
    • Using leeches in medicine is still not an uncommon practice. The anticoagulant in their saliva, called “Hirudin”, is used as a medicine to prevent blood clotting. 
    • Although the practice of leeching is still prevalent, the objectives and uses have greatly evolved since the 18th century.

Needless to say, the primitive practice of getting blood drawn did far more harm than good. It is argued that most of the benefits this may have generated is largely down to the placebo effect. The practice of getting blood drawn is said to have made the plague far, far worse than what it could have been. It’s interesting to note that today, the first reaction we have when we see an open wound is to sterilize and bandage it. Can you believe that just three centuries ago, our ancestors might have considered the open wound to be therapeutic? Read more about how medieval medicine helped people to survive.

It’s easy to observe that there was not much known about the human circulatory system. It is only after William Harvey’s groundbreaking discovery that the heart is at the center of the circulatory system, and pumps blood all over the body, that diagnosis and treatment became far easier. 

It’s hard to imagine the leaps and bounds in medical treatments today if it was not for the invention of microscopes, mapping of blood circulation, and the discovery of blood groups. Hundreds of such inventions and discoveries have made modern medical therapy and diagnosis possible today.

leeches in medicine

Phlebotomy in Modern Medicine

However, just like a barber’s job description, the science of getting blood drawn has evolved as well. The popularity of bloodletting was at its peak in the 1800s, when it was used to cure diseases like cancer, acne, asthma, cholera, diabetes, and much more. Today, bloodletting is limited to a diagnostic environment, although some forms of therapeutic phlebotomy is still in use.

What Does a Phlebotomist Do?

Phlebotomy, or bloodletting is still in great demand today. While it might not have the universal applications it did in the past, it is still one of the most primary methods of diagnosis. As a person who draws blood, today’s phlebotomist is commonly employed for the following applications: 


  • Blood tests remain the most effective way to determine the scope of infections.
  • About 80% of diagnosis in modern medicine is a result of blood tests.
  • Some types of cancer, bacterial, and viral infections (including the extent of COVID-19) are diagnosed through phlebotomy.

Caring For Difficult Patients

  • Needle phobia prevents most people from getting a good diagnosis. A trained phlebotomist will do a great job of ensuring you feel little to no pain while drawing blood.
  • Uncommunicative patients, such as those with dementia and memory loss, are not great at expressing their pain. To help them out, phlebotomy can provide a better insight to what is actually going wrong inside, as blood diagnosis can reveal inconsistencies in the human body.
  • Phlebotomy assures the pregnant mother of her child’s health while in the womb. Blood tests expose any underlying issues in the womb, both for the mother and the child.  

Therapeutic Phlebotomy 

  • Therapeutic phlebotomy is used to treat polycythemia vera, a condition where red blood cell count is elevated.
  • It also helps decrease the amount of iron in blood for those suffering from hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and hemochromatosis.

Many places also offer free phlebotomy training. Once you learn how to draw blood, you can be assured of a secure and gainful profession in the medical services. 

Phlebotomy Today

Fortunately now in abler hands, phlebotomy is a sophisticated medical science requiring certification to be practiced, and phlebotomists follow strict procedures as safety and sanitation are paramount. 

In addition, the purpose of getting blood drawn is mostly to collect samples that are used for clinical or medical testing, transfusions, donations, or research. Not only has the modern phlebotomist abandoned the ineffective knife, but they use tourniquets to slow blood flow, alcohol swabs for disinfecting, and sterilized needles and gloves to avoid contamination.

Although phlebotomists work primarily in clinical laboratories and hospitals, they are trained to handle on-demand venipuncture procedures as well. The standard procedure is quick, safe, and virtually painless. But is it as convenient as it could ideally be? 

Lenco Diagnostics challenges and molds the existing landscape of phlebotomy to make venipuncture more accessible than ever. Lenco’s sophisticated mobile healthcare technology system ensures that the entire journey of your blood test – from sample collection and diagnostic tests to test reports and delivery is available at a click’s distance! Lenco’s highly-skilled phlebotomists make  bloodletting a  safe, sophisticated, and painless experience.