Skip to Content

Nahua Health and Medicine

Before the Spanish invasion, Mesoamericans had developed a sophisticated understanding of health and medicine. Health comprised all facets of life, not only physical but also spiritual, mental, and emotional. Good health entailed moderation in diet and behavior, and emotional and sexual excesses were thought to make people vulnerable to illness. Hygiene and cleaning were considered of the utmost importance, fundamental for physical and moral well-being. There were dozens of medical specializations, including ophthalmologists, obstetricians, apothecaries, traumatologists, dentists, and spiritual healers. Men and women practiced medicine, and medical training was usually passed from parents to children. Nahuas developed anesthetics, refined surgical procedures, and experimented with plants to develop herbal remedies.


Image Source

  • Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, MS Mediceo Palatino 220 (Florentine Codex), book 11, fols. 92v93r (3:244v–245r). Courtesy of the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana.

Further Reading

  • Ortiz de Montellano, Bernard R. Aztec Medicine, Health, and Nutrition. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1990.


Exhibit Items