Prosthetic limbs have become incredibly advanced throughout the centuries. Surprisingly, however, these artificial devices and the function they serve are far from being new. Many different prostheses were used for aesthetic and functional purposes for thousands of years before their advent. 

Whether you have recently lost a limb in an accident or risk losing one, learning more about prosthetic limbs’ history can be an important step towards accepting a new way of life. 

Prostheses Probably Started with an Artificial Toe in Ancient Egypt 

The very first documented use of a prosthetic limb happened in Ancient Egypt. Rather than replacing a missing arm or leg, this device effectively replaced a missing big toe. 

Designed to strap securely to the foot, the artificial toe closely mimicked the appearance of a real one and even featured several details to ensure as much. However, what is surprising about this toe is that it shows that even early prostheses were used to improve function. 

Given that sandals were the traditional footwear of Ancient Egyptians, the first prostheses were necessary for keeping a standard pair of sandals on. What is also remarkable is that the prosthesis’ maker did not opt to redesign the individual’s sandals but chose to replace the missing toe instead. 

Moving forward in Egyptian history, several mummies were buried with wooden arms or legs. 

The Iron Hand of Marcus Sergius 

Marcus Sergius was an Ancient Roman general who fought in a number of battles despite losing his right hand at war. His prosthetic limb was a functional iron fist that made it possible for him to continue gripping and carrying his shield. Not only was his iron hand practical, but it was used all throughout a long and impressive military career.


With his prosthetic hand, Marcus Sergius successfully:


  • Escaped capture twice
  • Saved Placentia (today’s Piacenza)
  • Raised the siege of Cremonia.

Although Sergius’ hand had to be tied on, it was secure enough to bear his hefty shield reliably. 

Prosthetic Limbs Throughout the Middle Ages 

In their earliest incarnations, prosthetic limbs had very limited functionality. For instance, these devices were meant to hold shields or keep sandals on, but were not streamlined for comfort, ease of movement, or continual use. Even in the middle ages, simple peg legs were still being fashioned for those with a single missing limb. 

Those artificial limbs had not reached the age of articulating fingers, and they did not allow for secure, seamless attachment. Throughout the Dark Ages and the Middle Ages, missing hands were being replaced with a single hook that improved daily functions but poorly mimicked missing hands’ former abilities. 

Dr. Ambroise Pare and the Significant Advancement of Prosthetic Limbs 

In the early part of the 16th century, Dr. Ambroise Pare introduced the first artificial human hand with moving fingers. Shortly after, he also introduced a prosthetic leg that featured a locking knee joint. 

These advancements were so beneficial in supplying improved function and ease of use that many of Pare’s techniques are still being used to this day. Dr. Pare worked with a skilled locksmith named Lorrain, who could replace heavy iron prostheses by using lightweight materials such as paper, leather, and strong adhesives. 

The Blueprint for the Joint and Corset Devices of Today 

An inventor named Pieter Verduyn introduced the first below-knee prosthesis with a non-locking design in 1696. This successful invention serves as the blueprint for modern joint and corset devices. New designs built upon the achievements of Verduyn were created in the 1800s, including a leg that was controlled from knee to ankle with catgut tendons. 

In 1846, an anterior spring was added, the catgut tendons were concealed, and the overall aesthetics of the artificial leg was vastly improved. It was at that point that innovators managed to strike a successful balance between function and form finally. 

The First Aluminum Prosthesis 

The first aluminum prosthesis was introduced in 1912 by Marcel Desoutter. Designed with his brother’s aid, an engineer named Charles Desoutter, this artificial leg capitalized on Gustave Hermann’s 1868 design ideas. The result was a far more lightweight prosthesis with a multi-articulated foot, a suction socket, and a polycentric knee. 

The Present and Future of Prosthetic Limbs 

When it comes to prosthetic limbs, there are always innovations being made. With technologies evolving since the days of Ancient Egypt, these devices are still being streamlined to offer improved comfort and flexibility, a greater range of motion and articulation, and reduced friction. 

In the 1970s, an amputee named Ysidro M. Martinez designed a prosthetic leg with a strong focus on improving ease of movement and limiting friction. This model made walking and running comfortably with prostheses a possibility and greatly revolutionized how prosthetic limbs were designed and manufactured. 

Today, artificial limbs are primarily comprised of lightweight elements such as composite materials, aluminum, and plastic. Moreover, they are increasingly incorporating advanced computer technologies to mimic the look better, feel, and performance of the limbs that they are designed to replace. 

Final Thoughts

Prosthetic limbs made a humble debut in Ancient Egypt, were quite widespread in Ancient Rome and the Middle Ages, and have been perfected to our day. Even though modern artificial limbs can restore a lost bodily function to a tee, they do require constant upkeep and upgrades. Plus, they can never replace the real deal.

So, if you lost a limb or a limb’s function in a work-related accident or traffic incident due to another person’s or organization’s negligence, don’t forget to keep those liable for your loss and pain accountable. A personal injury lawyer can help you unlock the necessary resources for your treatment and get the compensation you are due while giving you plenty of room for a full recovery.