The History of Hijama (cupping)

Greetings, dear readers

Hijama or cupping therapy has been around for centuries. At least, it has existed in various forms throughout history. Though many believe Hijama to be a religious practice, historical evidence suggests that the Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Chinese, Arabs and Early Western civilisations performed Hijama using different techniques as early as 3000 BC. From applying suction to the skin via a tube bone by Wintun shamans to blood-letting or leeching in barber shops, removing toxins from the body as a means of preserving and improving health has been passed down over time.

The Ebers Papyrus, written approximately 1550 BC and known as one of the oldest medical books in Western history, recounts the birth of Hijama by the Egyptians and Saharan people and details their use of it. It was believed that bleeding via wet cupping removed foreign matter from the body and was seen as a natural remedy for almost every kind of disorder. According to historical texts, the Egyptians passed the art of cupping onto the people of ancient Greece.

Hieroglyphics depicting a patient about to undergo cupping (1)

Hippocrates of Kos, born roughly 400 BC, was a Greek physician who has often been referred to as the Father of Western medicine. Records have shown that he used cupping as a means of combating the internal diseases and problems linked to the anatomical structure of his patients. Galen of Pergamon, a prominent physician, surgeon and philosopher, was a staunch believer in the benefits of cupping, going so far as to criticise Erasistratus, a fellow noted physician, for not making use of the method available. Herodotus, a famous Greek historian and physician, wrote about cupping and its uses in 413 BC:

“Scarification with Cupping possesses the power of evacuating offending matter from the head; of diminishing pain of the same part; of lessening inflammation; of restoring the appetite; of strengthening a weak stomach; of removing vertigo and a tendency to faint; of drawing deep-seated offending matter towards the surface; of drying up fluxions; checking hemorrhages; promoting menstrual evacuations; arresting the tendency to putrefaction in fevers; allaying rigors; accelerating and moderating the crisis of diseases; removing a propensity to somnolence; conciliating natural repose; removing heaviness. These, and many analogous maladies, are relieved by the judicious application of the Cucurbits (Cups), dry or bloody.”

Though it may have differed in terms of technique and apparatus, the ancient Greeks practised Hijama too (2)

It is believed that cupping was passed on from ancient Greeks and Roman practitioners to the people of Persia and Arabia, via the Alexandrians and Byzantines. The term ‘Hijama’ originated from the natives of each country, who used it to refer to the art of cupping. After the advent of Islam, it was greatly recommended by Prophet Mohammed as a religious act and as a form of curing many kinds of ailments, both spiritual and physical. The technique was further developed by Muslim scientists and is still practised to this day.

There is more than enough Hijama in this picture (3)

In ancient China, the famous alchemist and herbalist, Ge Hong (281-341 AD), also practised cupping. He applied suction to acupuncture points as a way of stimulating stagnated Qi and blood that was present in local body parts or specific organs. This method became part of the physiotherapy system of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), alongside other forms of therapy such as Tui Na Massage and moxibustion. Available in clinics and shops worldwide as well as being portrayed in films, the chinese method of dry cupping is one of the most internationally acknowledged forms of Hijama.

Ancient Chinese practitioners watching over their patient (4)

In different parts of the world, both Hijama and blood-letting or leeching was performed in barber shops. The red and white pole symbol usually found on the outside of barber shops is proof of this fact. The red colouring was used to symbolise the blood taken from the patients, be it via cupping or the letting of blood, whereas the white lines indicate the cloth that the barber would have used to wrap around the patient’s arm during the treatment, preventing excessive and dangerous blood loss. The shape of the barber sign, often depicted as a pole, refers to the stick-like instrument inserted into the vein during a blood-letting session, through which the blood was able to come out. In Eastern European, the Jewish community had the art of cupping recommended to them as a way of treating haemorrhoids by Maimonides, a Jewish philosopher and astronomer in his book on health.

Bet you’re never going to see a barber sign in the same way ever again (5)

Other examples of Hijama and similar techniques being performed exist within historical records and have been researched by those interested. After the creation of medication, Hijama was pushed to the side as a form of primary treatment. However, it is still practised by isolated civilisations and, due to the revelation of detrimental, medicinal side effects, patients have begun to turn back to Hijama as an effective therapy once again.

We hope that this information has benefitted you, our dear readers, and we would love to hear from you. Comments, questions and weekly topic suggestions are always welcomed and greatly appreciated.

Thank you for reading!

The Pure Therapy Team

Images referenced from:

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