First aid is defined as the assistance given to someone after a sudden illness / injury. It is often viewed as a modern innovation, with the prevalence of workplace first aid training, technological equipment, and an ambulance network (which is ready to assist). Less thought goes into the early origins of first aid and how it came into existence.

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Ancient Egyptians & Greeks

There is no one period where first aid was definitively invented. However studies of early civilisations have found that the ancient Egyptians may have been some of the first people to utilize the protective and healing properties of bandages.

Imhotep, a famous ancient Egyptian official, was in fact amongst other titles known as a talented physician. The most well known example of their use of  bandages would be those used to create mummies - less is known about their use in treating wounds from the battlefield.

Ancient Greek scholars who studied and lived amongst the Egyptians returned to Greece to share their newfound knowledge. You can even see an array of bandage techniques depicted in Greek pottery, highlighting their usage in historical battles.

Did you know - The parable of the good samaritan depicts a man who is left for dead during biblical times. The ‘good samaritan’ who helps him is described as using bandages at the scene.

Roman Army

As times moved on, civilisations evolved and new, more technologically advanced, first aid techniques were invented. None were more advanced for their time than the Romans.

At a time when battles were raging across the European continent, the Romans protected their army legions with a range of makeshift ambulances, surgeons and even field hospitals. These very same techniques (although more sophisticated) are still used today in modern warfare.

Did you know - Early Roman battlefield first aiders were called the ‘Capsarri’. In fact modern day combat medics can even trace their techniques back to this time.

Napoleon's Ambulance Corps

If there was an early ‘hall of fame’ of First Aid pioneers then surely the great Dominique Jean Larrey would be the most decorated of them all. Dominique was in essence Napoleon's right hand man and some have dubbed him the first modern day military surgeon.

However it is perhaps not his surgical techniques but the creation of the very first ‘ambulance corps’, which puts him in the hall of fame. The ambulance corps at its peak was roughly 340 strong. It comprised of a network of carriages, stretcher barriers and field surgeons.

Pride was taken in how quickly men could be carried off the battlefield and then treated. The pioneering system and techniques were hugely successful and were eventually adopted by the British.

Read part 2 here to explore how first aid evolved even further during the subsequent centuries