HEALTH CARE IN ANCIENT ROME
Surgical instruments found at Pompeii include scalpels, forceps and needles. Common treatments included recommendations, exercise, medicine purging and bleeding. People with health problems generally went to a temple rather than a doctor. Payment consisted of an offering to the God Asclepius. Some temple had sanctuaries staffed by priests who dispensed treatments, which usually consisted of a solemn ceremony and an overnight stay in a sacred dormitory. Treatments were often based on analysis of dreams the patient had while the dormitory.
According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “Medicine in classical antiquity was a collection of beliefs, knowledge, and experience. What we know of early medical practice is based upon archaeological evidence, especially from Roman sites—medical instruments, votive objects, prescription stamps, etc. — and from ancient literary sources. Most of the literary evidence is preserved in treatises attributed to the Greek physician Hippocrates (ca. 460–370 B.C.) and the Roman physician Galen. “From the earliest times, treatments involved incantations, invoking the gods, and the use of magical herbs, amulets, and charms. “In ancient Greece and Rome, Asklepios was revered as the patron god of medicine. [Source: Colette Hemingway, Independent Scholar,Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2004, metmuseum.org \^/]
According to the Canadian Museum of History: “There were several factors that influenced the development of medicine in ancient Greece. First, there was the potent force of religion with its gods and goddesses who dealt with healing, death and pestilence. Then there was the influence of trading contacts such as Egypt (which had learned much from its mummification practices) and Mesopotamia (which had published comprehensive medical documents on clay tablets well before 1000 B.C.). From these and other Eastern areas, the Greeks also developed an encyclopedic range of herbal medicines. [Source: Canadian Museum of History historymuseum.ca |]
“To cap it off, there was the sad result of war - a variety of wounds and amputations caused by arrows, swords, spears and accidents- and described so vividly and accurately in Homer's Iliad. Just dealing with these casualties provided lots of experience and practical information applicable elsewhere. Although Greek religion frowned on human dissection in the Archaic and Classical periods, after the founding of the Alexandrian School that changed. Physicians and researchers made advances in some areas that were not surpassed until the 18th Century.” |
Roman believed a sneeze was an indication of the expulsion of a person' disease and every effort was made to make them sneeze. Sneezing was stopped by kissing the nose of a mule. Bull urine and sulphur were described as a remedy for dandruff and hair loss.
Websites on Ancient Rome: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Forum Romanum forumromanum.org ;
“Outlines of Roman History” forumromanum.org; “The Private Life of the Romans” forumromanum.org|; BBC Ancient Rome bbc.co.uk/history; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; Lacus Curtius penelope.uchicago.edu;
The Roman Empire in the 1st Century pbs.org/empires/romans;
The Internet Classics Archive classics.mit.edu ;
Bryn Mawr Classical Review bmcr.brynmawr.edu;
De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors roman-emperors.org;
British Museum ancientgreece.co.uk; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive beazley.ox.ac.uk ;
Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org/about-the-met/curatorial-departments/greek-and-roman-art;
The Internet Classics Archive kchanson.com ;
Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources web.archive.org/web; Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy iep.utm.edu;
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy plato.stanford.edu; Ancient Rome resources for students from the Courtenay Middle School Library web.archive.org ; History of ancient Rome OpenCourseWare from the University of Notre Dame /web.archive.org ; United Nations of Roma Victrix (UNRV) History unrv.com
Health Care Practitioners in Antiquity
According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “Drug sellers, root cutters, midwives, gymnastic trainers, and surgeons all offered medical treatment and advice. In the absence of formal qualifications, any individual could offer medical services, and literary evidence for early medical practice shows doctors working hard to distinguish their own ideas and treatments from those of their competitors. The roots of Greek medicine were many and included ideas assimilated from Egypt and the Near East, particularly Babylonia.” [Source: Colette Hemingway, Independent Scholar,Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2004, metmuseum.org \^/]
“Medical practitioners frequently traveled from town to town, but there is little evidence to suggest that they were hired to provide free care for the general population. In Rome, for instance, where traditional Italian medicine competed with foreign imports, many doctors were Greek. Anyone could practice medicine, although most were free citizens. Medical training in ancient Greece and Rome might take the form of an apprenticeship to another doctor, attendance at medical lectures, or even at public anatomical demonstrations. \^/
“Two of the most famous healing sanctuaries sacred to the god were at Epidauros and on the island of Kos. The success of the cult of Asklepios in antiquity was due to his accessibility—although the son of Apollo, he was still human enough to attempt to cancel death. Those who sought a cure in the temples erected to him were subjected to ritual purifications, fasts, prayers, and sacrifices. A central feature of the cult and the process of healing was known as incubation, during which the god appeared to the afflicted one in a dream and prescribed a treatment.” \^/
Doctors in Ancient Rome
Harold Whetstone Johnston wrote in “The Private Life of the Romans”: “Some physicians were well paid in the Imperial period, if we may judge by those attached to the court. Two of these left a joint estate of $1,000,000, and another received from the Emperor Claudius a yearly stipend of $25,000. In knowledge and skill in both medicine and surgery they do not seem to have been much behind the practitioners of two centuries ago. Surgery seems to have developed in early times chiefly in connection with the necessary treatment of wounds in warfare. Medicine, apart from religious rites to gods of health or disease, must have been limited for a long period to such household remedies and charms as Cato describes in his work on farming. [Source: “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) forumromanum.org |+|]
“The first foreign surgeon, a Greek, came to Rome in 219 B.C. Physicians and surgeons were as a rule slaves, freedmen, or foreigners, especially Greeks. The great number of Greek medical terms in use today testifies to Greek influence in the history of medicine. Caesar gave citizenship to Greek physicians who settled in Rome, and Augustus granted them certain privileges. The great houses were apt to have carefully trained physicians among their own slaves. We can judge of ancient medical and surgical methods from books on the subject that have come down to us, such as those of Celsus, a Roman who wrote in the first century of our era, and Galen, the great Greek physician who came to Rome in the reign of Hadrian. Surgical instruments, too, have been found at Pompeii and elsewhere. Galen says that by his time surgery (chirurgia) and medicine (medicina) had been carefully distinguished. |+|
“There were oculists, dentists; and other specialists, and occasionally women physicians. In the second century of our era many cities had regularly salaried medical officers for the treatment of the poor, and gave them rooms for offices. By Trajan’s time there were regular army doctors attached to the legions, as there probably had been before, though we know little of them. There were no medical schools. Physicians took pupils, and let them go with them on their rounds. Martial complains of the many cold hands that felt his pulse when a doctor called with a train of pupils.” |+|
Ancient Roman Spas
Romans were also one of the first people to credit mineral water with healing powers. The Greeks had known about mineral water but they considered it unhealthy. Romans drank and bathed in it and sought relief in mineral water for liver and kidney trouble and a host of other ailments.
The Romans set up baths at natural hot springs in Baiae (near Pompeii) and Badoit and Vittel in what is now France. Julius Caesar bathed at Vichy. Later these were abandoned in favor of cold water resorts like Gabii near Rome.
The cold water bath of Chiancian Terme in Tuscany, known promoting "a healthy liver," consisted of various buildings arranged around a 60-x-130-foot swimming pool paved with roof tiles. At one end of the pool was a podium, presumable for a statue of a god or emperor. The pool was three-feet deep, adequate for bathing but not swimming, and was 64̊F.
Dental Care in Ancient Rome
In Roman times. men lost an average of 6.6 teeth before they died, compared to 2.2 teeth 30,000 years ago and 3.5 teeth in 6,500 B.C.
The Romans filled cavities with gold, replaced missing teeth with bridgework and promoted dental hygiene. Still a fair of amount of ignorance prevailed. Pliny the Elder wrote that tooth aches could be cured by spitting on the mouth of frog under a full moon, chanting "Frog, go and take my toothache with thee!"
Many ancient people believed that tooth pain was caused by creatures called toothworms. Describing a remedy for such creatures a physician to Emperor Claudius wrote: "Suitable against toothache are fumigations made with the seeds of Hyoscyamus [probably belladonna] scattered on burning charcoal; these must be followed by rinsing the mouth; in this way, sometimes, as it were, small worms are expelled."
The Romans used human urine in mouthwashes and tooth paste and as a detergent. Portuguese urine was regarded as being of the best quality. Urine was believed to make teeth white and hold them in place in the gums. For a toothache Pliny also advised people to rinse their teeth with a mixture of vinegar and boiled frogs.
Galen (A.D. 130-200), a physician from Pergamum in Asia Minor, is considered the father of medicine. For 1,400 years, doctors in ancient Rome, Medieval Europe and the great Islamic empires based their treatment on literature written by Galen, who saw the inside of a body only a few times and the closest he had ever come to examining a cadaver (a practice considered taboo in Greek and Roman times) was looking at a skeleton picked clean by vultures on the side of a road. His anatomy texts were based primarily on the dissections of pigs and monkeys. [Source: "The Discoverers" by Daniel Boorstin,"]
Galen Galen began studying medicine at the age of fifteen and continued his studies until he was 28 with professors of medicine in Smyrna, Corinth and Alexandria. His first job as a doctor was patching up maimed and wounded gladiators in Pergamum, and he probably learned more practical information from this job than he did doing anything else. Later he treated the rich in Rome and became the court physician of philosopher-emperor Marcus Aurelius."
Galen was one of the most prolific writers of antiquity. He produced five hundred treatises in Greek — on anatomy, physiology, rhetoric, grammar, drama and philosophy. More than a hundred of these works survive, including a treatise indexing his own writings."
Galen once conceded if "he had not called on the mighty in the morning and dined with them in the evening" he probably wouldn't have had much success. Despite his notoriety and wealth he despised material possessions and once said all he really needed in life was two garments, two slaves, and two sets of utensils.
Galen's Theory of Medicine and Observations
Galen believed that air was transformed into pneuma by the lungs and bile was changed into blood in the liver. As the pneuma and blood moved through the body they evolved into higher forms. When the blood left the liver, for example, it carried "natural spirit." When the natural spirit entered the left ventricle of the heart it became "vital spirit," which in turn became "animal spirit" when it passed through the brain. [Source: "The Discoverers" by Daniel Boorstin,"]
Each soul, according to Galen, possessed faculties corresponding to their "pneuma-producing power." The heart, liver and veins possessed a blood-making faculty, and the stomach had a digestive faculty. Like Hippocrates and Aristotle, Galen believed the driving force behind the entire body was innate heat , which distinguished the living from the dead. The source of most of the heat was the heart, thought to be the hottest organ in the body."
Among Galen's observations were that arteries carried blood, not air, and that blood didn't flow, it sloshed back and forth within the circulatory system. The Greeks and Romans believed that three "souls," or pneuma , governed the body: the rational in the brain ruled sensation and motion; the irascible in the heart controlled the passions; and concupiscible in the liver produced nutrition.
In his book On the Usefulness of the Parts of the Body Galen noted that men were more advanced than animals "not because he has hands or that he is the most intelligent...but because he is the most intelligent and has hands." Galen, Hippocrates and other believed in physiognomy, the practice of defining a person's character or illness though reading his or her face. ∞
Galen false presumptions endured for centuries. The views purported by Galen were so widely followed that when descriptions in his book did not match up with observations, it was believed that human body had changed since the book was written, not that Galen's work was flawed.
Galen coined the word gonorrhea (meaning "a flow of seed"). He also tied off an artery of a living animal in a famous experiment to prove that blood vessels contained blood not "spirit."
Galen on Medicine
Galen pig vivisection Galen wrote in the Second Century B.C.: “There are in all three branches of the study of medicine, in this order. The first is the study of the result by analysis; the second is the combining of the facts found by analysis; the third is the determining of the definition, which branch we are now to consider in this work. This branch of the science may be called not only the determining of the definition, but just as well the explication, as some would term it, or the resolution, as some desire, or the explanation, or according to still others, the exposition. Now some of the Herophilii, such as Heraclides of Erythrea, have attempted to teach this doctrine. These Herophilii and certain followers of Erasistratus and of Athenaeus, the Attalian, studied also the doctrine of combination. But no one before us has described the method which begins with the study of the results, from which every art must take its beginning methodically; this we have considered in a former work. [Source: Oliver J. Thatcher, ed., “The Library of Original Sources” (Milwaukee: University Research Extension Co., 1907), Vol. III: The Roman World, pp. 286-292]
“Chap. I. Medicine is the science of the healthy, the unhealthy, and the indeterminate, or neutral. It is a matter of indifference whether one calls the second the ill, or the unhealthy. It is better to give the name of the science in common than in technical terms. But the healthy, the unhealthy, the neutral, are each of them subject to a three-fold-division: first, as to the body; second, as to the cause; and third, as to the sign. The body which contains the health, the cause which affects or preserves the health, and the sign or symptom which marks the condition of the health, all these are called by the Greeks hygienia. In the same way they speak of the bodies susceptible to disease, of causes effecting and aiding diseases, and of signs indicating diseases, as pathological. Likewise they speak of neutral bodies, causes, and signs. And according to the first division the science of medicine is called the science of the causes of health, according to the second, of the causes of ill-health, and according to the third of the causes of neutral conditions.
“Chap. 2. The healthy body is simply that which is rightly composed from its very birth in the simple and elementary parts of its structure, and is symmetrical in the organs composed of these elements. From another point of view, that is also a healthy body which is in sound condition at the time of speaking.”
Roman-Era Medical Scholars on Surgical Instruments
John Stewart Milne wrote in “Surgical Instruments in Greek and Roman Times”: “Rufus of Ephesus (98-117 A.D.) has left little to interest us for our particular purpose, as he merely mentions, without describing, a few instruments, all of which are already known to us from other sources. [Source: “Surgical Instruments in Greek and Roman Times” by John Stewart Milne, M.A., M.D. Aberd. Oxford: Clarendon Press (1907) forumromanum.org ^*^]
“Aretaeus of Cappadocia has left us a work on Acute and Chronic Diseases. He has few references to instruments, but such as they are they are interesting, as he names some which are given by no other author. He has a tantalizing allusion to a work by himself on surgery which has not been preserved. ^*^
“Galen (130-200 A.D.) was a most voluminous writer, much of whose work remains and teems with matter of interest to us. Much information about instruments is to be gained from even his purely anatomical writings. ^*^
“Oribasius (325 A. D.) wrote an encyclopaedia of medicine, which is called Collecta Medicinalia, in seventy books, only about one third of which remain. This is the most interesting of his works from our point of view, but he has left also a synopsis of the encyclopaedia and a sort of first aid manual. ^*^
“Soranus of Ephesus has left us a most valuable treatise on obstetrics and gynaecology, which, though written only for midwives, contains many interesting references to instruments such as the speculum, uterine sound, cephalotribe, decapitator, and embryo hook. He lived in the reign of Trajan. Some of the chapters, of which the Greek is lost, have been preserved to us by his abbreviator Moschion..^*^
“Caelius Aurelianus Siccensis, an African of the fourth or fifth century, translated the works of Soranus, both those on gynaecology and those on general diseases, and he preserves some of Soranus which we would not otherwise possess; but he writes in a barbarous Latin which, like the Latin of some other African writers on medical subjects, is calculated to cause great pain to anyone not familiar with this particular style. ^*^
“Marcellus Empiricus (300 A.D.) wrote a work on pharmacy, of large size but little value, and in a poor style. There are a few passages bearing on implements of minor surgery. A good deal is copied from Largus. ^*^
“Theodorus Priscianus, alias Octavius Horatianus, lived in the fourth century and has left a work, in three books, called Euporiston. It is a compilation in African Latin of extracts from Galen, Oribasius, &c. The style of the Latin is so barbarous that it really must be seen to be believed. There is a little information to be gathered about minor instruments.
“There are a few interesting references to instruments in the works of the early Christian fathers. Tertullian is the only one of these I can claim to have systematically searched, but in one of his sermons he refers to no less than four surgical instruments, one of which is not described by any other author. ^*^
Asclepius, the Healing God
Marianne Bonz wrote for PBS’s Frontline: “The son of Apollo by a mortal woman, Asclepius was taken by his divine father at birth and apprenticed to a wise centaur (a mythical creature, half man and half horse). This centaur, whose name was Chiron, taught Asclepius the healing arts so that he could reduce the sufferings of mortals. With his miraculous cures, Asclepius quickly earned great fame. Motivated by compassion, he even succeeded in restoring the dead to life. But this proved his undoing. Hades complained to Zeus that if this were allowed to continue, the natural order of the universe would be subverted. Zeus agreed and struck Asclepius down with a thunderbolt. In some versions of the story, Asclepius was transformed into a star after his death. [Source: Marianne Bonz, Frontline, PBS, April 1998. Bonz was managing editor of Harvard Theological Review. She received a doctorate from Harvard Divinity School, with a dissertation on Luke-Acts as a literary challenge to the propaganda of imperial Rome. ]
“Asclepius was an immensely popular god, originally in Greece but later also in Rome. By the fourth century before the common era, he had established a number of sanctuaries in Greece, the most important ones being in Cos and Epidauros. Early in the third century B.C., his cult was brought to Rome after the city had been struck by a plague. Asclepius's medical knowledge and divine healing powers fostered two distinct traditions within the Greek world. On the one hand, he served as a divine mentor to the doctors who treated patients at his sanctuary at Cos. On the other hand, at the sanctuary of Epidauros, the god performed miraculous cures in response to the direct petitions of suppliants.
“In the early Roman imperial era, Asclepius assumed an even greater religious importance. He had become a savior god. The physically or emotionally afflicted received long-term care and guidance at his sanctuaries, and in return they devoted themselves to his worship and service.
“The most famous of devotee of Asclepius during the Roman imperial period was the rhetor and sophist (professional public speaker) Aelius Aristides. Having just embarked on his public career, Aristides was stricken by a complete physical and mental breakdown. After seeking the help of another god to no avail, he visited the shrine of Asclepius in his adoptive city of Smyrna.
“During this visit, the god appeared to Aristides in a dream-vision, and this encounter changed his life. Asclepius not only prescribed treatments for his chronic bouts of illness, the god also offered guidance for the conduct of all aspects of his life. Thereafter, Aristides placed himself and his career under the god's protection, making numerous extended visits to the renowned Asclepius sanctuary in Pergamon. In his autobiographical narrative of his numerous encounters with the god, Aristides reveals his special relationship with Asclepius by most often addressing the god as "Savior."
Asclepius: A Model for Jesus?
L. Michael White of the University of Texas at Austin told PBS: “When Christians talked about salvation we have to understand how a pagan would have heard that term. Salvation actually is a term of healing. It's medical, and it apparently was understood to mean deliverance from disease and death. Healing, magic, medical cures are part of the Jesus tradition going way back to ... the early gospel sources, and it continues to be a very important part of Christian tradition. One of the most prominent scenes in all the catacombs is of Jesus as healer. Jesus as magician. This is really something very important within the Roman culture, and apparently health and disease were very important issues all around. It's often suggested that the mortality rate among members of Roman cities might have been as high as fifty percent of all children born died within the first five years of life. So death and disease were all around.... [Source: L. Michael White, Professor of Classics and Director of the Religious Studies Program University of Texas at Austin, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 ]
“One of the most popular deities of all is Asclepius, the healing God, and it's often suggested that Jesus is kind of modeled after a new or a younger Asclepius. Asclepius is often portrayed in some ways similar to Zeus as this great, old bearded god and he also has his wife or consort. Her name is Hygeia. Her name means health in Greek, and so the worship of Asclepius the healer and of health personified as his wife are very prominent cults. Indeed, the equivalent of hospitals for ancient society was really the temple of Asclepius, and we see these in a number of places around the Greek and Roman world. ...[T]he Asclepius cult, very much like Christianity and some of the other new religions of the Greco-Roman world, was a portable cult. You could have temples of Asclepius almost anywhere. Anywhere you're willing to have one built and pay for it.
“[W]hat happened in a temple of Asclepius was that one went there to take the cures. It was kind of like a spa. You could go and sleep in the temple. They call that incubating in the temple, and bathe in their ritual baths and offer incense and prayers and buy sacrifices from the cult priests. In order to try to get the god to perform a healing, and it's interesting that we have a mixture of real medicine. That is, real scientific medical practice going on side-by-side with these religious magical kinds of healing practices. So the ancients really thought of the two things going very much hand in hand and everyone knew about Asclepius. He was one of the most important gods around. After all, who else could give you health?”
Healing Temples of Ancient Greece
Strabo wrote in “Geographia” (c. A.D. 20): “On the road between the Tralleians and Nysa is a village of the Nysaians, not far from the city Acharaca, where is the Plutonium, with a costly sacred precinct and a shrine of Pluto and Kore, and also the Charonium, a cave that lies above the sacred precinct, by nature wonderful; for they say that those who are diseased and give heed to the cures prescribed by these gods resort there and live in the village near the cave among experienced priests, who on their behalf sleep in the cave and through dreams prescribe the cures. These are also the men who invoke the healing power of the gods. And they often bring the sick into the cave and leave them there, to remain in quiet, like animals in their lurking-holes, without food for many days. And sometimes the sick give heed also to their own dreams, but still they use those other men, as priests, to initiate them into the mysteries and to counsel them. To all others the place is forbidden and deadly. [Source: Strabo, The Geography of Strabo: Literally Translated, with Notes, translated by H. C. Hamilton, & W. Falconer, (London: H. G. Bohn, 1854-1857)
Philostratos wrote in “Life of Apollonios of Tyana” (c. A.D. 190): “When the plague broke out at Ephesos and there was no stopping it, the Ephesians sent a delegation to Apollonios asking him to heal them. Accordingly, he did not hesitate, but said, "Let's go," and there he was, miraculously, in Ephesos. Calling together the people of Ephesos, he said, "Be brave; today I will stop the plague." Then he led them all to the theater where the statue of the God-Who-Averts-Evil had been set up. [Source: Philostratus, the Athenian, “The Lives of the Sophists,” translated by Wilmer Cave Wright, (London: Wm. Heinemann, 1922)
“In the theater there was what seemed to be an old man begging, his eyes closed, apparently blind. He had a bag and a piece of bread. His clothes were ragged and his appearance was squalid. Apollonios gathered the Ephesians around him and said, "Collect as many stones as you can and throw them at this enemy of the Gods."The Ephesians were amazed at what he said and appalled at the idea of killing a stranger so obviously pitiful, for he was beseeching them to have mercy on him. But Apollonios urged them on to attack him and not let him escape. When some of the Ephesians began to pitch stones at him, the beggar who had his eyes closed as if blind suddenly opened them and they were filled with fire. At that point the Ephesians realized he was a demon and proceeded to stone him so that their missiles became a great pile over him. After a little while Apollonios told them to remove the stones and to see the wild animal they had killed. When they uncovered the man they thought they had thrown their stones at, they found he had disappeared, and in his place was a hound who looked like a hunting dog but was as big as the largest lion. He lay there in front of them, crushed by the stones, foaming at the corners of his mouth as mad dogs do.”
Sanctuary of Asklepios at Epidaurus: Healing Cult Sanatorim
According to UNESCO: “In a small valley in the Peloponnesus, the shrine of Asklepios, the god of medicine, developed out of a much earlier cult of Apollo (Maleatas), during the 6th century B.C. at the latest, as the official cult of the city state of Epidaurus. Its principal monuments, particularly the temple of Asklepios, the Tholos and the Theatre - considered one of the purest masterpieces of Greek architecture – date from the 4th century. The vast site, with its temples and hospital buildings devoted to its healing gods, provides valuable insight into the healing cults of Greek and Roman times. [Source: UNESCO World Heritage Site website =]
“The Sanctuary of Asklepios at Epidaurus is a remarkable testament to the healing cults of the Ancient World and witness to the emergence of scientific medicine. Situated in the Peloponnese, in the Regional unit of Argolis, the site comprises a series of ancient monuments spread over two terraces and surrounded by a preserved natural landscape. Among the monuments of the Sanctuary is the striking Theatre of Epidaurus, which is renowned for its perfect architectural proportions and exemplary acoustics. The Theatre, together with the Temples of Artemis and Asklepios, the Tholos, the Enkoimeterion and the Propylaia, comprise a coherent assembly of monuments that illustrate the significance and power of the healing gods of the Hellenic and Roman worlds. =
“The Sanctuary is the earliest organized sanatorium and is significant for its association with the history of medicine, providing evidence of the transition from belief in divine healing to the science of medicine. Initially, in the 2nd millennium B.C. it was a site of ceremonial healing practices with curative associations that were later enriched through the cults of Apollo Maleatas in the 8th century B.C. and then by Asklepios in the 6th century B.C.. The Sanctuary of the two gods was developed into the single most important therapeutic center of the ancient world. These practices were subsequently spread to the rest of the Greco-Roman world and the Sanctuary thus became the cradle of medicine. =
“Among the facilities of the classical period are buildings that represent all the functions of the Sanctuary, including healing cults and rituals, library, baths, sports, accommodation, hospital and theatre. The Theatre of Epidaurus is an architectural masterpiece designed by the architect from Argos, Polykleitos the Younger, and represents a unique artistic achievement through its admirable integration into the site as well as the perfection of its proportions and acoustics. The Theatre has been revived thanks to an annual festival held there since 1955. =
Significance of the Sanctuary of Asklepios at Epidaurus
“The site is one of the most complete ancient Greek sanctuaries of Antiquity and is significant for its architectural brilliance and influence. The Sanctuary of Epidaurus (with the Theatre, the Temples of Artemis and Asklepios, the Tholos, the Enkoimeterion, the Propylaia, the Banqueting Hall, the baths as well as the sport and hospital facilities) is an eminent example of a Hellenic architectural ensemble of the 4th century B.C.. The form of its buildings has exerted great influence on the evolution of Hellenistic and Roman architecture. Tholos influenced the development of Greek and Roman architecture, particularly the Corinthian order, while the Enkoimeterion stoa and the Propylaia introduced forms that evolved further in Hellenistic architecture. In addition, the complicated hydraulic system of the Sanctuary is an excellent example of a large-scale water supply and sewerage system that illustrates the significant engineering knowledge of ancient societies. The exquisitely preserved Theatre continues to be used for ancient drama performances and familiarizes the audience with ancient Greek thought. =
“The Sanctuary of Asklepios at Epidaurus exerted an influence on all the Asklepieia in the Hellenic world, and later, on all the Roman sanctuaries of Esculape. The group of buildings comprising the Sanctuary of Epidaurus bears exceptional testimony to the healing cults of the Hellenic and Roman worlds. The temples and the hospital facilities dedicated to the healing gods constitute a coherent and complete ensemble. Excavations led by Cavvadias, Papadimitriou and other archaeologists have greatly contributed to our knowledge of this ensemble. = The Theatre, the Temples of Artemis and Asklepios, the Tholos, the Enkoimeterion and the Propylaia make the Sanctuary of Epidaurus an eminent example of a Hellenic architectural ensemble of the 4th century B.C.. =
“The emergence of modern medicine in a sanctuary originally reputed for the psychically-based miraculous healing of supposedly incurable patients is directly and tangibly illustrated by the functional evolution of the Sanctuary of Epidaurus and is strikingly described by the engraved inscriptions on the remarkable stelai preserved in the Museum...The facilities that have been discovered in the Sanctuary represent all its functions during the entire duration of its use up until Early Christian times. These include the acts of worship, the procedure of healing with a dream-like state of induced sleep known as enkoimesis through the preparation of the patients, the facilitating of healing with exercise and the conduct of official games.
Temple of Apollo Epicurius at Bassae
According to UNESCO: “The columned temple of Apollo Epicurius rises majestically within the sanctuary of Bassae in the mountains of Arkadia. It is one of the best-preserved monuments of classical antiquity and an evocative and poignant testament to classical Greek architecture. It is highly significant for its architectural features and influence.” The temple is dedicated to the god of healing and the sun, has the oldest Corinthian capital yet found, and combines the Archaic style and the serenity of the Doric style with some daring architectural features. [Source: UNESCO World Heritage Site website =]
“The temple was built at the height of the Greek civilization in the second half of the 5th century B.C. (420-400 B.C.). It was dedicated to Apollo Epicurius by the Phigaleians, who believed the god of sun and healing had protected them from plague and invasion. In 174 AD the ancient traveller Pausanias admired the beauty and harmony of the temple and attributed it to Iktinos, the architect of the Parthenon. =
“The temple appears to have been forgotten for almost 1700 years until it was rediscovered in the 18th century and attracted intense interest from scholars and artists. The isolation of the site ensured many significant features survived largely intact. The temple is one of the earliest post-Parthenonian edifices and the earliest monument in which all three ancient Greek architectural orders – Doric, Ionic and Corinthian – are found together. It also included the earliest surviving Corinthian column capital. The temple further exhibits a number of bold and innovative architectural designs that mark a turning point in the development of temple-building. Through a series of ingenious devices, the architect successfully balanced contrasting elements and blended the old with the new, contributing to the unique architectural and artistic value of the monument. The temple, as well as its sculptural decoration consist one of the best-preserved samples of the ancient Greek civilization, from the period of its heyday (5th century B.C.). =
“The Temple of Bassae represents a unique artistic achievement, remarkable for its archaic features (elongated surface, an exceptional proportion of 15 columns on the longer side and 6 columns on the facade, and a north-south exposure), and for its daring innovations: use of Ionic and Corinthian orders for a Doric edifice, the variety of materials used, and the originality of the layout of the cella and the adyton. The capital of the central column of the Temple of Bassae is the most ancient conserved Corinthian capital, and as such the temple may be considered a model for all “Corinthian” monuments of Greek, Roman and subsequent civilisations. Isolated as it is in a conserved environment, the temple of Apollo is an outstanding example of a Hellenic votive sanctuary in a rural setting. =
Ancient Roman Medicines
Romans took medicinal tablets made from soil and goat's blood. Frankincense was used as a treatment for cuts and bleeding. For headache relief Pliny the Elder advised people to crush snails and apply them to the forehead; to rub ointments into the nostrils made of vulture brains; and eat boiled owl brains and rub the temples with a rope used in a suicide. He also reported that "ashes of seahorse...mixed with toad and pig's large" cured baldness.
The Romans regarded honey as a medicine and drank coriander mixed with honey as a remedy for childbirth fever. Eye and skin diseases were treated with a mixture of crushed lead oxide, water, rock salt, and sodium carbonates, Water that had feet washed in it was considered a remedy for stomach aches. In addition to medicines Galen made cold cream from white wax melted with olive oil, rose buds, and lanolin from sheep's wool.
Medicines based on ancient Roman recipes were use in Italy until fairly recently. An acid from willow leaves, the source of aspirin, was as a pain reliever. Formic acid taken from red ants was used as a disinfectant. Greeks and Romans used mosquito netting.
Cato the Elder wrote in “De Agricultura”: “For gripes, for loose bowels, for tapeworms and stomach-worms, if troublesome: Take 30 acid pomegranates, crush, place in a jar with 3 congii of strong black wine, and seal the vessel. Thirty days later open and use. Drink a hemina before eating. [Source: Cato the Elder, “De Agricultura”, Loeb Classical Library, 1934] “Remedy for dyspepsia and strangury: Gather pomegranate blossoms when they open, and place 3 minae of them in an amphora. Add one quadrantal of old wine and a mina of clean crushed root of fennel; seal the vessel and thirty days later open and use. You may drink this as freely as you wish without risk, when you wish to digest your food and to urinate. The same wine will clear out tapeworms and stomach-worms if it is blended in this way. Bid the patient refrain from eating in the evening, and the next morning macerate 1 drachm of pulverized incense, 1 drachm of boiled honey, and a sextarius of wine of wild marjoram. Administer to him before he eats, and, for a child, according to age, a triobolus91º and a hemina. Have him climb a pillar and jump down ten times, and walk about.”
Ancient Roman Treatments for Headaches, Acne and Warts
Michael Van Duisen wrote for Listverse: “Acne was probably the scourge of nearly every Roman teenager, so the Romans tried to come up with a cure. Crocodile meat was effective at getting rid of spots, even freckles, when combined with cyprus oil. If the pimples persisted, the Romans suggested taking a bath with oil and sour cheese to remove the pimples. Leek leaves could get rid of pimples when rubbed on the skin. Lastly, the juice of myrrh, when mixed with cassia and honey, was said to be effective at relieving what the Romans referred to as varus. If all of that failed to rid one’s face of acne, the court physician of Theodosius, a Roman emperor in the fourth century, told his patients to wipe their faces with a cloth while watching a falling star. For unspecified reasons, this was said to cause the pimples to fall off the face. [Source: Michael Van Duisen, Listverse, April 11, 2016 |=|]
“Warts had a wide range of cures. Often, Romans would burn cow dung, mouse dung, or the fat of a swan to rid themselves of warts. Pliny suggested taking a freshly podded pea and touching it to each nodule. Then he instructed his readers to wrap the peas securely in a cloth and throw them backward. Rubbing the wart with sea foam or white sea sand was also supposed to work. If the person could afford it, gold was considered to be an effective remedy for warts. However, if a Roman couldn’t get any of these cures, he could wait until after the 20th day of the month, lie faceup on a path, look at the Moon, grab whatever was nearby, and rub it on the wart. |=|
“Headaches: There were a number of cures for headaches, most of which involved animals in some way. For example, wine in which a chameleon had been soaked could be sprinkled on the sufferer’s head. If that failed, an elephant’s trunk could be touched to the head. (It was considered much more effective if the elephant sneezed.) A Roman could also drink the water left behind by an ox or ass which had been drinking it. A liniment made from burned cloth which had been stained with menstrual blood and mixed with the oil of roses was said to be an effective cure. As a last resort, the severed genitals of a fox could be fastened around the head to cure a stubborn headache.” |=|
Ancient Roman Treatments for Constipation, Nausea and Flatulence
Michael Van Duisen wrote for Listverse: “Constipation: When the ancient Romans had trouble going to the bathroom, there were a number of cures from which to choose. For example, eating raw quinces preserved in honey could help.Placing wolf’s gall (bile) on the navel with different kinds of milk, salt, and honey could also be effective at loosening the bowels. For those who didn’t like the idea of a wolf’s gall resting on their navel, a bull’s gall could be smashed up with wormwood and applied as a suppository. Fresh beets that were ground into juice were also beneficial for constipation sufferers. Oddly enough, this remedy was also supposed to work for those afflicted with diarrhea. Almost every kind of fruit was said to be good as well. Finally, men like Cato the Elder prescribed cabbage as a great treatment for constipation and a multitude of other ailments. [Source: Michael Van Duisen, Listverse, April 11, 2016 |=|]
“Nausea: For those suffering from nausea—whether from natural causes or as a reaction to one of the Romans’ many “cures”—a three-finger pinch of cumin was said to work wonders. Pennyroyal, a common herb in Europe, was also said to help if it was cooked in vinegar. Rose juice could be effective, although the Roman might fall into a deep sleep because it was also a cure for insomnia. Oddly enough, the ancient Romans believed that drinking lots of wine was a cure for nausea. (They had a cure for the next day’s nasty hangover, too.) However, a Roman woman who was pregnant and feeling nauseous was supposed to eat a pomegranate or drink its juice. As a last resort, human breast milk could be used to cure nausea. It was supposed to be especially effective if the woman had already weaned her child—and doubly so if she had given birth to a boy. |=|
“Flatulence was a common side effect of many Roman “cures” and could be treated through a variety of methods. Chicken broth was said to be an excellent purgative for the bowels. If it was made from an old rooster and strongly salted, it was even more effective. A hen’s white droppings were also beneficial for those suffering from uncontrollable flatulence. When mixed with cobbler’s blacking, basil supposedly eased ferocious flatulence. However, if this cure was used too frequently, it could result in madness or put the patient into a coma. Pliny also said that mixing cumin and asparagus was helpful, although this cure often caused other unspecified problems. As a last resort, ground beaver meat with vinegar and rose oil could be used as long as it was in liquid form. If eaten, it was for epilepsy.” |=|
Ancient Roman Medical Treatments for Dysentery, Gout and Epilepsy
Michael Van Duisen wrote for Listverse: “Dysentery is caused by any number of bacteria, viruses, or parasites. It inflames the colon and results in diarrhea with blood for the sufferer. However, in ancient Rome, they didn’t know the cause of this disease, so the cures were quite far-fetched. Chicken soup was considered to be a cure. Bitumen, a native asphalt of Asia Minor, was also supposed to work. Bitumen could also hasten menstruation for women. The flesh of a spotted lizard was also an effective cure. But it had to be imported from a foreign country and boiled before it was eaten. The actual type of lizard was not recorded. Egg yolks without the whites could be mixed with poppy juice and wine. The flowers of pomegranates, a wonder drug in ancient Rome, could be picked and eaten to cure dysentery. Also, vomited blood was supposed to work if it was mixed with wine and a vulture’s lungs. [Source: Michael Van Duisen, Listverse, April 11, 2016 |=|]
“Incontinence could be cured by taking the bladder of a hyena, soaking it in wine, and eating it. Roasted boar’s bladder was supposed to be quite effective as well. If you could catch them, roasted seahorses were a common cure for incontinence. A smaller fish that was found inside a larger fish’s belly was also a good cure. If the sufferer was a child, Pliny suggested that they eat boiled mice with their food. Maybe the oddest cure was taking papyrus or linen and touching it to the tip of one’s genitals. If that failed, tying a string of linen or papyrus around the genitals and then around the leg might do the trick. Stranger still, incontinence could be cured by burning a pig’s penis, mixing it with wine, and drinking the concoction. Then, while the Roman was drunk from “swine wine,” he had to pee in the bed of a dog while saying the following in Latin: “This I do that I may not wet my bed as a dog does.” |=|
“Gout, a recurrent attack of acute inflammatory arthritis, could be cured in a number of ways. The combination of mustard, saffron, the fat of a male goat, and the dung of a female goat was supposed to be effective at alleviating the symptoms. Rubbing a sea hare along the affected parts and wearing shoes made of beaver’s skin was also prescribed. The skin of what Pliny described as the “Pontic beaver” was supposed to be the most effective. Pliny also believed that the touch of a menstruating woman could relieve the symptoms. Calf dung boiled with lily bulbs was believed to be a useful cure as well. One of the sadder cures was the use of a live fox that was tied to a stake and boiled in oil. It was supposed to make an effective drink to cure gout. |=|
“Epilepsy: Although epilepsy is still challenging to treat in modern times, the ancient Romans believed that they had a number of successful remedies. For example, an affected Roman could drink water that was taken from a spring during the night and then placed in the skull of a dead man. The next step was to eat the flesh of a beast that had been killed with an iron weapon. The weapon must have killed a man previously. If all of that failed, putting an iron nail into the ground where someone had suffered a seizure was supposed to help. The testes of a bear or wild boar dipped in mare’s milk or water was considered to be a highly effective treatment. The smell of the afterbirth of a female ass, especially if it had just borne a male, was beneficial to those who were about to have a seizure. However, this was neither a practical nor timely solution. If nothing else worked, the affected Roman could take a dried camel’s brain, put it in vinegar, and eat it.” |=|
Spiderwed Bandages and Urine Mouthwash
The Romans used bandages made of spider webs. Andrew Handley wrote for Listverse: “The book Military Medicine: From Ancient Times to the 21st Century discusses how medics in the Roman army would often bandage wounds by using a mixture of cobwebs, honey, and vinegar. It’s only very recently that we’ve even begun to look into using spider silk as a medical aid—and Romans were doing it thousands of years ago. By weight and tensile strength, spider silk is stronger than steel and could possess antibacterial properties. These guys were geniuses.: [Source: Andrew Handley, Listverse, February 8, 2013]
Mark Oliver wrote for Listverse: “In ancient Rome, pee was such big business that the government had special taxes in place just for urine sales. There were people who made their living just from collecting urine. Some would gather it at public urinals. Others went door-to-door with a big vat and asked people to fill it up. [Source: Mark Oliver, Listverse, August 23, 2016]
“The ways they used it are the last ones you’d expect. For example, they’d clean their clothes in pee. Workers would fill a tub full of clothing and pee, and then one poor soul would be sent in to stomp all over the clothing to wash it out.
“Which is nothing compared to how they cleaned their teeth. In some areas, people used urine as a mouthwash, which they claimed kept their teeth shining white. In fact, there’s a Roman poem that survives today in which a poet mocks his clean-toothed enemy by saying, “The fact that your teeth are so polished just shows you’re the more full of piss.”
Gladiator Blood Medicine
Romans believed that the blood of a slain gladiator could cure epilepsy. In some cases, after a gladiator was killed and his body removed from the arena, the blood was quickly collected and sold still-warm by vendors. After gladiatorial combat was outlawed around A.D. 400, people began using the blood of executed criminals for the same cure. [Source: Andrew Handley, Listverse, February 8, 2013]
Mark Oliver wrote for Listverse: “Several Roman authors report people gathering the blood of dead gladiators and selling it as a medicine. The Romans apparently believed that gladiator blood had the power to cure epilepsy and would drink it as a cure. And that was just the civilized approach—others would pull out the gladiators’ livers and eat them raw. [Source: Mark Oliver, Listverse, August 23, 2016]
“This was so popular that when Rome banned gladiatorial combat, people kept the treatment going by drinking the blood of decapitated prisoners. Strangely, some Roman physicians actually report that this treatment worked. They claim to have seen people who drank human blood recover from their epileptic fits.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Forum Romanum forumromanum.org ; “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~\; “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) forumromanum.org |+|; BBC Ancient Rome bbc.co.uk/history/ ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, oll.libertyfund.org ; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, BBC and various books and other publications.
Last updated October