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Ancient Rome: Medical Beliefs and Treatments

Ancient Rome: Medical Beliefs and Treatments



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This brief video examines the various beliefs regarding medicine in ancient Rome, as well as the treatments discovered in response to medical ailments.


Roman medicine: 6 ways people stayed healthy in ancient Rome

“Baths, wine and sex corrupt our bodies, but baths, wine and sex make life worth living”. This inscription – from the tomb of a Roman merchant of Ephesus, Tiberius Claudius Secundus – indicates that, like us, the Romans sought a sensible balance between an enjoyable existence and a healthy one. Dr Nick Summerton shares six tips from ancient Rome for living a healthy life…

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Published: March 16, 2021 at 5:52 pm

They’re known for their roads, military strategy and inventing the book – but what advice might our Roman forebears issue on the subject of staying healthy? Dr Nick Summerton shares six Roman medicine practices…

Take responsibility

The Romans attached great importance to preserving health

The second-century physician Galen emphasised that it was a person’s responsibility to take care of their bodies, writing that people must “take it upon [them]selves to preserve health” by following a particular lifestyle (or `hygiene`). He highlighted the importance of taking fresh air and getting enough sleep, in addition to carefully considering diet, exercise and hydration. Galen certainly led by example, writing: “After I reached the age of twenty-eight, having persuaded myself that there is an art of hygiene, I followed its precepts for the rest of my life and was never sick with any disease apart from the occasional fever.”

It was seen as extremely important to tailor the ‘hygienic approach’ to individuals, ensuring that a person was not under-or over-emphasising any specific element as part of their health plan. As Galen explained: “For just as it is impossible for cobblers to use one last for all people, so too it is impossible for doctors to use one plan of life that is beneficial to all. Because of this, then, they say it is most healthy for some to exercise sufficiently every day, whereas for others, there is nothing to prevent them passing their lives wholly in idleness. Also, for some it seems to be most healthy to bathe, whereas for others it does not.”

What were the four humours?

The Romans believed that all matter within the universe – including human bodies – was made from four elemental substances (fire, air, water and earth) and four elemental qualities associated with them (hot, cold, wet and dry). It was thought that the human body contained four corresponding humours – blood (hot and wet) yellow bile (hot and dry) black bile (cold and dry) and phlegm (cold and wet). These four humours needed to be in the correct amounts and strengths for a body to be healthy. The proper blending and balance of the four humours was known as ‘eukrasia’ – whereas imbalance of humours – or `dyskrasia` – led to disease. Illness occurred when there was an imbalance of the four humours in the body. ‘Hygiene’ (which was used in a slightly different sense to its definition today) was about restoring the normal equilibrium of humours and qualities – thereby preventing disease and preserving health.

Eat a healthy diet

Food and fresh air were key to good health

Much like today, a healthy diet was considered part of a balanced health plan. Recent evidence based on an examination of material from several Roman sewers has shed some light on the foodstuffs being consumed by the average Roman. By modern standards, the diet of the population in Herculaneum at the time of the eruption of Vesuvius was extremely healthy and mineral rich, containing high levels of seafood and vegetable protein. (In fact, the residents of Herculaneum probably ate considerably more fish than are consumed by the area’s population today!)

Gardens were also popular with the Romans and, aside from cultivating plants and vegetables, had a much broader role in enhancing wellbeing. In one of his letters, Pliny the Younger described walks along tree-lined pathways and avenues edged by box hedges at his villa in Tuscany. He also commented on the wholesome air with splendid views, cool breezes and sweet aromas.

Choose your doctor carefully

The Romans were wary of placing too much trust in physicians

The Roman historian Pliny the Elder cautioned his fellow citizens about trusting the medical profession – especially the Greeks: “Physicians acquire their knowledge from our dangers, making experiments at the cost of our lives. Only a physician can commit homicide with complete impunity.”

Despite numerous references to ‘physicians’ across the Roman empire, it is often unclear what led to an individual acquiring the title ‘doctor’. There were no examinations, no diplomas, no degrees and no professional licensing procedures in the Roman world a doctor was simply an individual who claimed the title and carried out treatment for some type of remuneration.

Also, for the Romans, the concept of having a personal professional physician was an anathema. It was at odds with the Roman values of self-sufficiency and looking after your own. On Roman farms the head of the household (pater familias) assumed the role of chief healer with responsibility for the health of his family and any estate workers. As the scholar and agriculturalist Varro explained: “There are two divisions […] in the treatment of human beings: in the one case the physician should be called in, while in the other even an attentive herdsman is competent to give the treatment.”

The exact circumstances when the advice of a physician might be sought are somewhat vague. However one of the writing tablets discovered at Vindolanda, a Roman auxiliary fort just south of Hadrian’s Wall, suggests that the women of military families were expected to deal with the day-to-day health problems that arose in their households. They kept a selection of medicines on hand for this purpose. Paterna, the wife of the garrison prefect at Vindolanda, supplied medicine to her sister, Lepidina: “I shall supply you with two remedies”, she wrote in a letter to her – one of which was for fever.

Unfortunately, for the Roman patient, there were no lists of approved practitioners that could be checked for those wishing to enlist the help of a physician. To get an insight into a doctor’s abilities (and perhaps for entertainment, too), it was not unusual to attend public displays of anatomical skills or to watch medical competitions. In addition, Roman medicine was often practised in public with many folk clustering around the bed of a sick individual, critically scrutinising the care being proffered. Galen outlined how strangers even joined in on house visits: “Boethus seized me and took me along home to see the boy. People who met us in the street, of whom you were one, also came.”

Look after your eyes

Eye problems were a particular concern for Romans

To the Romans the eyes were a privileged body part, and the transition point between the soul and the outside world. Several representations of eyes – in gold, bronze and plaster – have been found at Wroxeter in Shropshire. Such religious votive objects were left in anticipation of a cure or as an offering of gratitude.

Inadequate hygiene and dusty roads would have contributed to the large numbers of individuals with eye problems. A military strength report of the First Cohort of Tungrians from Vindolanda specifically categorises the 31 soldiers signed off as unfit into three distinct groups: aegri (sick – 15) volnerati (wounded – 6) and lippientes (eye troubles – 10).

Two dozen oculist (or collyrium) stamps have been discovered in Britain – including two at Wroxeter. These small green stones were used for impressing the name of the maker as well as the nature and purpose of an eye treatment onto a hardened block of medication (collyrium). The stamps usually consist of small thin square blocks, generally with an inscription on each of the four edges. In a few instances the stone is oblong with two inscribed sides and in one from Wroxeter, it is circular. The letters are cut in intaglio form and written from right to left so that when stamped on the collyrium they make an impression that reads from left to right.

In his De Medicina, the first-century writer Celsus devoted a whole chapter to eye care and provided a very clear description of cataract surgery:

“He is to be seated opposite the surgeon in a light room, facing the light, while the surgeon sits on a slightly higher seat the assistant from behind holds the head so that the patient does not move: for vision can be destroyed permanently by a slight movement…

“Thereupon a needle is to be taken pointed enough to penetrate, yet not too fine, and this is to be inserted straight through the two outer tunics at a spot intermediate between the pupil of the eye and the angle adjacent to the temple, away from the middle of the cataract, in such a way that no vein is wounded.

“The needle should not be, however, entered timidly… When the [correct] spot is reached, the needle is to be sloped…..and should gently rotate there and little by little guide it [ie, the lens with the cataract] below the region of the pupil.”

Eye couching needles to undertake the procedure have been found at Carlisle and Piddington Roman Villa, Northamptonshire.

Secure expert wound care

The survival rate of Roman soldiers after battle was better than that of their opponents

Slashing and cutting wounds from long swords would have been particularly common injuries for Roman soldiers battling across Britain. Other weapons used by the local tribes included spears, knives, axes, stone sling shot and, less commonly, arrows. The consequences for some unfortunate Roman soldiers were fractures, head and eye injuries – in addition to penetrating abdominal or chest wounds.

All cuts and abrasions needed cleaning and dressing: some others required stitching too. Occasionally, more complicated surgery was necessary to remove bone fragments, stop bleeding or to extract spear points.

Traumatic wounds were at particular risk of getting infected and honey dressings were frequently used by the Romans. The military physician Dioscorides wrote that “honey is cleansing, opens pores, and draws out fluids. Boiled and applied it heals flesh that stands separated”.

A lot of basic wound care would have been provided by fellow soldiers, some of whom – the capsarii – were trained first aiders. The capsarii were under the control of a doctor with the rank of a centurion, such as Anicius Ingenuus, medicus ordinarius of the first cohort of Tungrians from Housesteads, on Hadrian’s Wall.

The repair of a simple flesh wound was the most performed surgical procedure undertaken by individuals such as Anicius Ingenuus. Basic surgical kits consisting of probes, hooks, forceps, needles, cautery tools and scalpels were readily available, and many items have been discovered in excavations at Roman sites across Britain.

Stitching cuts with a needle and thread was not dissimilar to the approach used today, but if there were any concerns about infection or inflammation the fibulae technique was often preferred. This entailed passing copper-alloy skewers through the wound and then looping threads around them in a figure-of-eight fashion. The Roman medical writer and thinker Celsus wrote that “fibulae leave the wound wider open […] in order that there may be an outlet for any humour collecting within”.

Focus on overall wellbeing

To the Romans, physical and mental health were closely linked

Looking after the psyche – or the soul – was viewed as integral to the care of the body and it was a key element of keeping in shape alongside exercise, fresh air, sleep and diet.

Many Romans citizens sought a philosophy of life and one approach popularised by the likes of the emperor Marcus Aurelius was Stoicism. The overriding aim was to replace negative emotions such as grief, anger and anxiety with positive emotions such as joy.

Other individuals, such as the emperor Caracalla, frequented healing sanctuaries. These focused on providing holistic care (including psychological wellbeing) by offering a broad range of treatments, as well as enlisting the assistance of healing deities including Aesculapius.

Across Britain several inscriptions to Aesculapius have been discovered in addition to two healing sanctuaries at Lydney, in Gloucestershire, and Bath, dedicated to Nodens and Sulis Minerva respectively. The site at Lydney has been comprehensively excavated revealing a temple, a guest house, a well-equipped suite of baths and a long narrow building containing many cubicles (abaton).

The abaton was where visitors would have been taken to experience ritual temple sleep and dream healing – termed incubation. During this process priests circulated among the sleepers with serpents or dogs, the curative dreams being augmented by licks from the animals.

At Lydney numerous representations of sacred Irish wolfhounds have been found, in addition to a mosaic decorated with fish and sea monsters bearing the inscription: D M N T FLAVIUS SENILIS PR REL EX STIPIBUS POSSUIT O[PITU]LANTE VICTORINO INTERP[RE]TIANTE (translated as “for the god Mars Nodens, Titus Flavius Senilis, superintendent of the cult, from the offerings had this laid Victorinus, the interpreter (of dreams), gave his assistance”).

Individuals visiting healing sites would have been subjected to a raft of psychological interventions designed to restore their tranquillity: group therapy, talking therapy, various arts therapies, dream healing all combined with rest and relaxation. There was also an emphasis on locotherapy – the psychological benefits of locomotion as well as being in a specific place (location). There is evidence for eye care and surgery being undertaken at Lydney too.

Water was also an extremely important element of many sanctuaries and was drunk for its healing properties as well as being used for bathing, hydrotherapy and ritual cleansing. Some sites, such as Bath, were associated with hot springs or waters with specific mineral constituents. At Lydney the iron-rich nature of the waters might have encouraged individuals suffering from anaemia to visit, based on the finding of a votive hand exhibiting koilonychia (spoon-shaped nails), a sign of iron-deficiency.

Nick Summerton is a medical doctor with a longstanding interest in Roman Britain. His fifth book Greco-Roman Medicine and What It Can Teach Us Today will be published later this year by Pen and Sword Books. You can find him on Twitter @YorkshireGP


1. Snake Oil—Salesmen and Doctors

Collection of elixirs. (Credit: Efrain Padro/Alamy Stock Photo)

While today a “snake oil salesman” is someone who knowingly sells fraudulent goods, the use of snake oil has real, medicinal routes. Extracted from the oil of Chinese water snakes, it likely arrived in the United States in the 1800s, with the influx of Chinese workers toiling on the Transcontinental Railroad. Rich in omega-3 acids, it was used to reduce inflammation and treat arthritis and bursitis, and was rubbed on the workers’ joints after a long day of working on the railroad.Enter Clark Stanley, “The Rattlesnake King.” Originally a cowboy, Stanley claimed to have studied with a Hopi medicine man who turned him on to the healing powers of snake oil. He took this new found “knowledge” on the road, performing a show-stopping act at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, where he reached into a bag, grabbed a rattlesnake, cut it open, and squeezed it. He labeled the extract snake oil, even though the FDA later confirmed that his products didn’t contain any kind of snake oil, rattlesnake or otherwise. That didn’t stop other unscrupulous doctors and fraudulent salesmen, who also started traveling the American West, peddling bottles of fake snake oil, giving the truly beneficial medical treatment a bad name.


Hot Springs and Thermal Medicine are an important cultural background all around the world. The authors briefly describe the history of the spa from its origins to today.

Thermal Medicine is a discipline which studies and teaches the characteristics of thermal treatments, their biological and pharmacological actions, and therapeutic effects.

The beneficial effects of thermal cures are well-known since the ancient time, when men discovered the importance of water as an essential element for human life, and built the first civilities near to seas and rivers [1]. Indians and Greeks thought that the water was on the basis of the world (Archè) and of the human being. Also in the Genesis of Bible, water has been described as the origin of cosmos.

It was not long before men were discovering the beneficial properties of water, like its healing and disease-protecting effects. Due to its importance, water was seen as magic and considered a gift of the divinity. Egyptians and Israelites used to plunge themselves in the sacral water of Niles and Jordan, Hindus in the Ganges river for healing their soul and body.

In Egyptian times the water has also been used for hygienic and cosmetology purposes. It seems that Egyptian women used to practice water vapours to be more beautiful, and the legendary Cleopatra used to make wraps with mud from the Dead Sea, to maintain her legendary beauty. Nevertheless, it was by the Greeks that thermalism was born [2].

Due to the supernatural power attributed to the warm waters and their vapours, it’s not surprising how the first Thermal arose near the temples and natural hot springs. Ancient Greeks well-knew the beneficial properties of sulphurous springs, especially for healing skin diseases and for relieving muscular and joint pain. In the Homeric poems and Hesiod, many references are made to the use of restorative baths. Also, some of Greece’s famous philosophers, such as Hippocrates and Plato, wrote of the benefits of hydrotherapy. Hippocrates dedicated a large section to thermal water in his work � is, a quiz at loci”, in which he described the chemical and organoleptic water features, and the effects of hot and cold baths on the human body. The philosopher proposed the hypothesis that all the human diseases started in an imbalance of the bodily fluids. To restore the balance, changes of habits and environment were advised, included bathing, perspiration, walking, and massages. For this reason, baths were often associated to a gymnasium. A body massage with oil and unguents was introduced after the bath, to restore the skin properties and to relax the patient.

Over time, new baths, both public and private ones, were built inside of various cities.

Even the Etruscans have given great importance to the use of water, not only for its cleanliness and cosmetic properties but also for the healing one. That is why they built spring terms near their town.

If thermalism was born in the ancient Greek, was only by the Roman time that it experienced its gold age [3]. Taking the lead from the Greeks, Romans considered bathing as a regular regimen for health.

With Romans thermal baths became a social experience for everyone. In a first time, numerous baths (Balnea), both private and public, had been constructed in Rome and conquered lands all over Europe. Balnea were also built in private houses, often with special areas dedicated to the sauna or the massage. The advent of the aqueducts, led to the building of magnificent edifices (Thermae) with a capacity for hundreds or thousands of people. From being a good regimen for human health, thermalism became an important experience for socialising, relaxation and working. The new thermal centres (or SPA, “Sanus per Aquam”), in addition to balnea, consisted of gardens, shops and libraries. The Roman Thermae also had a medicinal emphasis, and they were largely used as recuperation centres for the wounded military soldiers. Roman legionaries, fatigued by wars, used to relax and to treat their sore wounds and tired muscles through natural spring water. Many physicians, such as Galen and Celso, studied the water compositions, its effects and clinical indications. Some of the Thermae were addressed for their therapeutical properties. Hydrology became a real science: thermal treatments were prescribed with specific indications to follow and underwent to a medical surveillance [4].

Unfortunately, in the middle age, the progressive decline of the Roman Empire, the barbarian invasions and the spread of Christianity, lead to the thermal crisis. Thermae became progressively desert. Baths were accepted only as a cleaning or a therapeutic tool [4]. On the other hand, at the same time, physicians continued to study the different types of water, underlining their specific clinical indications (e.g. sulphurous water was recommended for skin diseases, while the salsobromoiodic one was recommended for female sterility).

In the Renaissance era, spas and hydrology were revalued [5]. New scientific studies have been conducted and, due to the introduction of printing, they began to spread on a large scale. Spa treatments became more targeted and specific for the treatment of various medical conditions.

Laicality of medical thermalism reinforced more and more during the illuminism and consolidated in the XVIII and XIX centuries. At this age, the scientific progress made the medical hydrology an experimental science and not more an empirical one. The biochemical studies on mineral waters underlined their properties and clinical indications. Doctors were convinced that for each disease there was an appropriate medicinal spring. By this point of view, Vincent Priessnitz [6] and Sebastian Kneipp may be considered as the two fathers of the modern balneotherapy (medicinal use of thermal water) and hydrotherapy (immersion of the body in thermal water for therapeutic purposes).

Combined treatments, such as herbal baths, mud packs, active physical exercises, massages, and diets, were developed too. Often large and beautiful gardens were built near the new spas, underling the importance of the combination ecology-hydrology [7]

Finally, in this period, important scientific institutions and famous academy schools were founded to study thermalism in many European countries.

The next Belle Epoque saw the emergence of 𠇎litist Thermalism”. Throughout Europe and the Americas, the Spas were on the rise. Grand hotels, casinos, bar and restaurants arose, near the spa resorts. The new thermal centres were integral parts of gentility life, a meeting centre for the elite and a place of creativity for painters and composers.

After two World Wars, the popularity of the thermal baths decreased again. The destruction of the baths reduced to ruins, the socio-economic crisis, the progress of chemistry and pharmacology radically changed the way of taking baths.

Thermalism became a social form of hydrotherapy, open to a larger public, and thermal cures were included in the therapeutic program of the national health system ( Table 1 ).

Table 1

Main dermatological diseases which may be treated with thermal medicine

With the beginning of the twenty-first century, water has regained its importance due to the therapeutic experience of the physicians, and to the new studies of hydrology, pharmacology and biochemistry [8, 9]. In particular, due to the contribution of Chinese, American and Spanish studies [10], thermal cure have now assumed a preventive, therapeutic and rehabilitative value in many diseases including collagen vascular disease [11].

Maybe the most important innovation in thermalism is that the classical concept of cure is now joined to the concept of wellness, with an extraordinary flourish of parallel and complementary activities. New spas tourism is developing [12, 13].

Nowadays, health and wellness tourism is a rapidly growing sector of the tourism industry, and it has increased its activity worldwide. The tourism is directed not only to a physical and psychological improvement but also because it is a cultural and relaxing experience.


Medical services of the late Roman Republic and early Roman Empire were mainly imports from the civilization of Ancient Greece, at first through Greek-influenced Etruscan society and Greek colonies placed directly in Italy, and then through Greeks enslaved during the Roman conquest of Greece, Greeks invited to Rome, or Greek knowledge imparted to Roman citizens visiting or being educated in Greece. [1] A perusal of the names of Roman physicians will show that the majority are wholly or partly Greek and that many of the physicians were of servile origin. [2]

The servility stigma came from the accident of a more medically advanced society being conquered by a lesser. [ citation needed ] One of the cultural ironies of these circumstances is that free men sometimes found themselves in service to the enslaved professional or dignitary, or the power of the state was entrusted to foreigners who had been conquered in battle and were technically slaves. In Greek society, physicians tended to be regarded as noble. Asclepius in the Iliad is noble.

Public medicine Edit

A signal event in the Roman medical community was the construction of the first Aesculapium (a temple to the god of healing) in the city of Rome, on Tiber Island. [3] In 293 BCE some officials consulted the Sibylline Books concerning measures to be taken against the plague and were advised to bring Aesculapius from Epidaurus to Rome. The sacred serpent from Epidaurus was conferred ritually on the new temple, or, in some accounts, the serpent escaped from the ship and swam to the island. Baths have been found there as well as votive offerings (donaria) in the shape of specific organs. In classical times the center covered the entire island and included a long-term recovery center. The emperor Claudius [4] had a law passed granting freedom to slaves who had been sent to the institution for cure but were abandoned there. This law probably facilitated state disposition of the patients and recovery of the beds they occupied. The details are not available.

It was not the first time a temple had been constructed at Rome to ward off plague. The consul, Gnaeus Julius Mento, one of two for the year 431 BCE, dedicated a temple to Apollo medicus ("the healer"). [5] There was also a temple to salus ("health") on the Mons Salutaris, a spur of the Quirinal. There is no record that these earlier temples possessed the medical facilities associated with an Aesculapium in that case, the later decision to bring them in presupposes a new understanding that scientific measures could be taken against plague. The memorable description of plague at Athens during the Peloponnesian War (430 BCE) by Thucydides does not mention any measures at all to relieve those stricken with it. The dying were allowed to accumulate at the wells, which they contaminated, and the deceased to pile up there. At Rome, Cicero [6] criticized the worship of evil powers, such as Febris ("Fever"), Dea Mefitis ("Malaria"), Dea Angerona ("Sore Throat") and Dea Scabies ("Rash").

The medical art in early Rome was the responsibility of the pater familias, or patriarch. The last known public advocate of this point of view were the railings of Marcus Cato against Greek physicians and his insistence on passing on home remedies to his son.

The importation of the Aesculapium established medicine in the public domain. There is no record of fees being collected for a stay at one of them, at Rome or elsewhere. The expense of an Aesculapium must have been defrayed in the same way as all temple expenses: individuals vowed to perform certain actions or contribute a certain amount if certain events happened, some of which were healings. Such a system amounts to gradated contributions by income, as the contributor could only vow what he could provide. The building of a temple and its facilities on the other hand was the responsibility of the magistrates. The funds came from the state treasury or from taxes.

Private medicine Edit

A second signal act marked the start of sponsorship of private medicine by the state as well. In the year 219 BCE (Lucius Aemilius Paullus and Marcus Livius Salinator were consuls), a vulnerarius, or surgeon, Archagathus, visited Rome from the Peloponnesus and was asked to stay. The state conferred citizenship on him and purchased him a taberna, or shop, near the compitium Acilii (a crossroads), which became the first officina medica. [7]

The doctor necessarily had many assistants. Some prepared and vended medicines and tended the herb garden. There were pharmacopolae (note the female ending), unguentarii and aromatarii, all of which names are easily understood by the English reader. Others attended the doctor when required (the capsarii they prepared and carried the doctor's capsa, or bag.). Jerome Carcopino's study of occupational names in the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum turned up 51 medici, 4 medicae (female doctors), an obstetrix ("midwife") and a nutrix ("nurse") in the city of Rome. These numbers, of course, are at best proportional to the true populations, which were many times greater.

At the bottom of the scale were the ubiquitous discentes ("those learning") or medical apprentices. Roman doctors of any stature combed the population for persons in any social setting who had an interest in and ability for practicing medicine. On the one hand the doctor used their services unremittingly. On the other they were treated like members of the family i.e., they came to stay with the doctor and when they left they were themselves doctors. The best doctors were the former apprentices of the Aesculapia, who, in effect, served residencies there.

Medical values Edit

The Romans valued a state of valetudo, salus or sanitas. They began their correspondence with the salutation si vales valeo, "if you are well, I am" and ended it with salve, "be healthy". The Indo-European roots are *wal-, "be strong", a wholeness were to some degree perpetuated by right living. The Hippocratic oath obliges doctors to live rightly (setting an example). The first cause thought of when people got sick was that they did not live rightly. Vegetius' brief section on the health of a Roman legion states only that a legion can avoid disease by staying out of malarial swamps, working out regularly and living a healthy life.

Despite their best efforts people from time to time did become aeger, "sick". They languished, had nausea (words of Roman extraction) or "fell" (incidere) in morbum. They were vexed and dolorous. At that point they were in need of the medica res, the men skilled in the ars medicus, who would curare morbum, "have a care for the disease", who went by the name of medicus or medens. The root is *med-, "measure". The medicus prescribed medicina or regimina as measures against the disease. [8]

The physician Edit

The next step was to secure the cura of a medicus. If the patient was too sick to move one sent for a clinicus, who went to the clinum or couch of the patient. Of higher status were the chirurgii (which became the English word surgeon), from Greek cheir (hand) and ourgon (work). In addition were the eye doctor, ocularius, the ear doctor, auricularius, and the doctor of snakebites, the marsus.

That the poor paid a minimal fee for the visit of a medicus is indicated by a wisecrack in Plautus: [9] "It was less than a nummus." [10] Many anecdotes exist of doctors negotiating fees with wealthy patients and refusing to prescribe a remedy if agreement was not reached. Pliny says: [11]

"I will not accuse the medical art of the avarice even of its professors, the rapacious bargains made with their patients while their fate is trembling in the balance, …"

The fees charged were on a sliding scale according to assets. The physicians of the rich were themselves rich. For example, Antonius Musa treated Augustus' nervous symptoms with cold baths and drugs. He was not only set free but he became Augustus' physician. He received a salary of 300,000 sesterces. [12] There is no evidence that he was other than a private physician that is, he was not working for the Roman government.

Legal responsibility Edit

Doctors were generally exempt from prosecution for their mistakes. Some writers complain of legal murder. However, holding the powerful up to exorbitant fees ran the risk of retaliation. Pliny reports [11] that the emperor Claudius fined a physician, Alcon, 180 million sesterces and exiled him to Gaul, but that on his return he made the money back in just a few years. Pliny does not say why the physician was exiled, but the blow against the man was struck on his pocketbook. He could make no such income in Gaul.

This immunity applied only to mistakes made in the treatment of free men. By chance a law existed at Rome, the Lex Aquilia, [13] passed about 286 BCE, which allowed the owners of slaves and animals to seek remedies for damage to their property, either malicious or negligent. Litigants used this law to proceed against the negligence of medici, such as the performance of an operation on a slave by an untrained surgeon resulting in death or other damage.

Social position Edit

While encouraging and supporting the public and private practice of medicine, the Roman government tended to suppress organizations of medici in society. The constitution provided for the formation of occupational collegia, or guilds. The consuls and the emperors treated these ambivalently. Sometimes they were permitted more often they were made illegal and were suppressed. The medici formed collegia, which had their own centers, the Scholae Medicorum, but they never amounted to a significant social force. They were regarded as subversive along with all the other collegia.

Doctors were nevertheless influential. They liked to write. Compared to the number of books written, not many have survived for example, Tiberius Claudius Menecrates composed 150 medical works, of which only a few fragments remain. Some that did remain almost in entirety are the works of Galen, Celsus, Hippocrates and the herbal expert, Pedanius Dioscorides who wrote the 5-volume De Materia Medica. The Natural History of Pliny the Elder became a paradigm for all subsequent works like it and gave its name to the topic, although Pliny was not himself an observer of the natural world like Aristotle or Theophrastus, whose Enquiry into Plants included a book on their medicinal uses.

Republican Edit

The state of the military medical corps before Augustus is unclear. Corpsmen certainly existed at least for the administration of first aid and were enlisted soldiers rather than civilians. The commander of the legion was held responsible for removing the wounded from the field and insuring that they got sufficient care and time to recover. He could quarter troops in private domiciles if he thought necessary. Authors who have written of Roman military activities before Augustus, such as Livy, mention that wounded troops retired to population centers to recover.

Imperial Edit

The army of the early empire was sharply and qualitatively different. Augustus defined a permanent professional army by setting the enlistment at 16 years (with an additional 4 for reserve obligations), and establishing a special military fund, the aerarium militare, imposing a 5% inheritance tax and 1% auction sales tax to pay for it. From it came bonus payments to retiring soldiers amounting to several years' salary. It could also have been used to guarantee regular pay. Previously legions had to rely on booty.

If military careers were now possible, so were careers for military specialists, such as medici. Under Augustus for the first time occupational names of officers and functions began to appear in inscriptions. The valetudinaria, [14] or military versions of the aesculapia (the names mean the same thing) became features of permanent camps. Caches of surgical instruments have been found in some of them. From this indirect evidence it is possible to conclude to the formation of an otherwise unknown permanent medical corps.

In the early empire one finds milites medici who were immunes ("exempt") from other duties. Some were staff of the hospital, which Pseudo-Hyginus mentions in De Munitionibus Castrorum [15] as being set apart from other buildings so that the patients can rest. The hospital administrator was an optio valetudinarii. The orderlies aren't generally mentioned, but they must have existed, as the patients needed care and the doctors had more important duties. Perhaps they were servile or civilians, not worth mentioning. There were some noscomi, male nurses not in the army. Or, they could have been the milites medici. The latter term might be any military medic or it might be orderlies detailed from the legion. There were also medici castrorum. Not enough information survives in the sources to say for certain what distinctions existed, if any.

The army of Augustus featured a standardized officer corps, described by Vegetius. Among them were the Ordinarii, the officers of an Ordo or rank. In an acies triplex there were three such ordines, the centuries (companies) of which were commanded by centurions. The Ordinarii were therefore of the rank of a centurion but did not necessarily command one if they were staff.

The term medici ordinarii in the inscriptions must refer to the lowest ranking military physicians. During his reign, Augustus finally conferred the dignitas equestris, or social rank of knight, on all physicians, public or private. They were then full citizens (in case there were any Hellenic questions) and could wear the rings of knights. In the army there was at least one other rank of physician, the medicus duplicarius, "medic at double pay", and, as the legion had milites sesquiplicarii, "soldiers at 1.5 pay", perhaps the medics had that pay grade as well.

Augustan posts were named according to a formula containing the name of the rank and the unit commanded in the genitive case e.g., the commander of a legion, who was a legate that is, an officer appointed by the emperor, was the legatus legionis, "the legate of the legion." Those posts worked pretty much as today a man on his way up the cursus honorum ("ladder of offices", roughly) would command a legion for a certain term and then move on.

The posts of medicus legionis and a medicus cohortis were most likely to be commanders of the medici of the legion and its cohorts. They were all under the praetor or camp commander, who might be the legatus but more often was under the legatus himself. There was, then, a medical corps associated with each camp. The cavalry alae ("wings") and the larger ships all had their medical officers, the medici alarum and the medici triremis respectively.

Practice Edit

As far as can be determined, the medical corps in battle worked as follows. Trajan's Column depicts medics on the battlefield bandaging soldiers. They were located just behind the standards i.e., near the field headquarters. This must have been a field aid station, not necessarily the first, as the soldiers or corpsmen among the soldiers would have administered first aid before carrying their wounded comrades to the station. Some soldiers were designated to ride along the line on a horse picking up the wounded. They were paid by the number of men they rescued. Bandaging was performed by capsarii, who carried bandages (fascia) in their capsae, or bags.

From the aid station the wounded went by horse-drawn ambulance to other locations, ultimately to the camp hospitals in the area. There they were seen by the medici vulnerarii, or surgeons, the main type of military doctor. They were given a bed in the hospital if they needed it and one was available. The larger hospitals could administer 400-500 beds. If these were insufficient the camp commander probably utilized civilian facilities in the region or quartered them in the vici, "villages", as in the republic.

A base hospital was quadrangular with barracks-like wards surrounding a central courtyard. On the outside of the quadrangle were private rooms for the patients. Although unacquainted with bacteria, Roman medical doctors knew about contagion and did their best to prevent it. Rooms were isolated, running water carried the waste away, and the drinking and washing water was tapped up the slope from the latrines.

Within the hospital were operating rooms, kitchens, baths, a dispensary, latrines, a mortuary and herb gardens, as doctors relied heavily on herbs for drugs. The medici could treat any wound received in battle, as long as the patient was alive. They operated or otherwise treated with scalpels, hooks, levers, drills, probes, forceps, catheters and arrow-extractors on patients anesthetized with morphine (opium poppy extract) and scopolamine (henbane extract). Instruments were boiled before use. Wounds were washed in vinegar and stitched. Broken bones were placed in traction. There is, however, evidence of wider concerns. A vaginal speculum suggests gynecology was practiced, and an anal speculum implies knowledge that the size and condition of internal organs accessible through the orifices was an indication of health. They could extract eye cataracts with a special needle. Operating room amphitheaters indicate that medical education was ongoing. Many have proposed that the knowledge and practices of the medici were not exceeded until the 20th century CE.

By the late empire the state had taken more of a hand in regulating medicine. The law codes of the 4th century CE, such as the Codex Theodosianus, paint a picture of a medical system enforced by the laws and the state apparatus. At the top was the equivalent of a surgeon general of the empire. He was by law a noble, a dux (duke) or a vicarius (vicar) of the emperor. He held the title of comes archiatorum, "count of the chief healers." The Greek word iatros, "healer", was higher-status than the Latin medicus.

Under the comes were a number of officials called the archiatri, or more popularly the protomedici, supra medicos, domini medicorum or superpositi medicorum. They were paid by the state. It was their function to supervise all the medici in their districts i.e., they were the chief medical examiners. Their families were exempt from taxes. They could not be prosecuted nor could troops be quartered in their homes.

The archiatri were divided into two groups:

  • Archiatri sancti palatii, who were palace physicians
  • Archiatri populares. They were required to provide for the poor presumably, the more prosperous still provided for themselves.

The archiatri settled all medical disputes. Rome had 14 of them the number in other communities varied from 5 to 10 depending on the population.


Ancient Rome: Medical Beliefs and Treatments - History

I’m not a student or scholar but I subscribe to Biblical Archaeology. I could have listened to her all night. I would have liked to know what the medical training was like. I guess I learned about dissections and anatomy they didn’t happen. I was wondering about that before she gave her lecture. I wonder if they had schools of medicine. Class lectures. Internships.

It was interesting that they were a lot more sophisticated medically than I thought they were. I’m going to have to kick my butt and read my Marcus Aurelius that’s in my Great Books.

Features of the Two Spices Offered to Jesus

Both frankincense, or olibanum, and myrrh came from resinous gum that was obtained by making incisions in the bark of small trees or thorny shrubs.

The frankincense tree grew along the southern coast of Arabia, and the myrrh bush thrived in the semidesert countries of present-day Somalia and Yemen. Both spices were highly esteemed for their fragrance. Jehovah himself chose them in connection with his worship—myrrh was a component of the holy anointing oil, and frankincense of the holy incense. (Exodus 30:23-25, 34-37) But they were used differently.

Frankincense, commonly used as incense, had to be burned to release its fragrance. The resin extracted from myrrh, on the other hand, was used directly. Myrrh is mentioned three times in accounts about Jesus: as a gift when he was a baby (Matthew 2:11), as an analgesic offered with wine when he was hanging on the stake (Mark 15:23), and as one of the spices used in the preparation of his body for burial (John 19:39).
http://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/2015172

Sarah Yeoman’s presentation was absolutely fascinating and one item got me thinking. The account of the magi in Matthew makes it clear that they were looking for the “the King of the Jews” because they wanted to “worship” him. Athough it also says they leave gifts of frankincense and myrrh, it does not say to what purpose these aromatic gums were to be put. Could the magi have intended the frankincense and myrrh for Mary as a protection against postpartum infection?

[…] [ad_1] During this time of the year, the world celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Around t… Magdalene and Mary went to the gravesite, the angels outside His tomb proudly declared those words […]

Very interesting! I really enjoyed your thorough understanding of ancient Rome! God bless!

Thanks for this enlightening lecture. One surgical instrument was not present among those presented from Rimini archaeological finds that I assumed would be there, the pipettes for draining fluid from crushing wounds.

Very interesting and informative lecture. Many thanks to Sarah Yeomans. Hopefully we will be able to view a lecture next year on her findings regarding religion and Christianity during this era.

Fascinating – ironically I go to Rimini every year, next time I’ll be sure to go to the Domus del Chirurgo!

The Bible—A Book of Accurate Prophecy, “The Last Days”
Prophecy: “In one place after another pestilences.”—Luke 21:11.
Fulfillment: Despite medical advances, millions still die each year as a result of infectious diseases. International travel and the world’s growing urban population have increased the likelihood that disease outbreaks will spread rapidly.
What the evidence reveals:
● Smallpox killed an estimated 300 million to 500 million people in the 20th century.
● The Worldwatch Institute reports that during the past three decades, “more than thirty previously unrecognized diseases such as Ebola, HIV, Hantavirus, and SARS have emerged as new threats.”
● The World Health Organization has warned of the rise of drug-resistant germs, saying: “The world is heading towards a post-antibiotic era, in which many common infections will no longer have a cure and, once again, [will] kill unabated.”
http://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1200272858#h=0-1&selpar=0

Interesting lecture. Well organized.

Fascinating and most interesting – however one point is that the Egyptian Oxyrhynchus records of just about all periods show the village inhabitants ‘ran away’ (anachoresis) when ever things got sticky – from too high tax demands to local bandits and even when a Roman grandee came visiting (locals did not want to bear the cost), so I’d like to see more evidence the records show the absences were due to the plague at that period. The other thing that worries me are the ‘arguments from a negative’ – simply because records stop does not mean the practice stops (the Balkan Roman army discharges), only that the records are not there, so I’d like to know there was other positive evidence that this cessation was due to stopping discharges. But, despite these minor thoughts, again many thanks for a most interesting lecture.

Ms. Yeomans has given a fascinating talk. Well presented. I learned a great deal. Thank you.


Listing of even more Ancient Roman medicinal plants

I t is quite evident that the Romans used a great variety of medicinal plants. For example Melissa against insect bites and as a tea against melancholy. A few herbs used by the Romans are given below apologies for the lack of order, rather like a garden.


Sage (salvia officinalis) — The Roman name for the plant was Salvia coming from the word “salvare” or “ salus” meaning health. It was regarded as sacred and was gathered with pomp and ceremony after an offering of bread and wine and not to be cut with ferrous tools (which apart from anything would have been extremely expensive in those days).
Laurel (laurus nobilis) — famously used to crown emperors and great men, the Laurel was dedicated to the god Apollo and the god of medicine Aesculapius. Laurel (bay leaf) is lightly narcotic and as such was closely associated with trances and oracles. Laurel garldands soon became an architectural element as the plant was believed to protect from disease, evil spells and lightning. It was also used as a remedy against the plague (remember that Aesculapius was brought over to Rome in the event of a plague).
Oak (Quercus robur) — the bark, leaves and galls are powerful astringents. The high tannin content can also be used for tanning leather. A crushed leaf could be applied directly to wounds.
Mint (mentha spicata) — used to flavour wines and sauces. The poet Ovid mentions it as a symbol of hospitality. It was used as a diuretic and digestive as well as for coughs and colds.
Parsley (petroselinum hortense) — the Greeks had a variety of uses, the Romans are believed to have been the first to use it as a food.
Oregano (origanum vulgare) was a well known herb throughout the Roman world for its frangrance and antiseptic properties.
Cinnamon (cinnamum zeylanicum) — a rare herb during Roman times it was highly prized, like pepper. It would be imported from India.Cinnamon is one of the oldest known spices, and in the Ancient World it was worth more than gold. Its medicinal properties are astounding. In Ancient Rome, cinnamon was useful in the treatment of inflammation, poisonous bites, and menstrual disorders. It was very helpful in treating the symptoms of the common cold or flu, as well as other respiratory infections. Cinnamon was also claimed to be an exceptional cough medicine. To fight infection, cinnamon was known for its antibacterial, antiseptic, and anti-fungal properties, and was often applied externally to wounds, and troublesome skin conditions. Cinnamon was also used in embalming procedures. Body cavities were filled with sweet smelling spices. During childbirth, mothers were given cinnamon, as a sedative, to help with the pain and discomfort. It was commonly used for gastro-intestinal upsets, such as indigestion, nausea and diarrhea, and it was recognized as a good digestive aid. Many people today take cinnamon as a treatment for acid reflux. Cinnamon has stimulant properties, and was used to warm the body, and aid in circulation. It was applied as an astringent, and as a parasitic treatment. It was also used in food preservation.


Rosemary (ros marinus, meaning “sea dew”) — burnt for purification. In fact its antiseptic properties meant it would be used to preserve foods.

Usage of rosemary dates back to 500 b.c. when it was used as a culinary and medicinal herb by the ancient Greeks and Romans. It is still a popular medicinal herb today. Pedanius Dioscorides (ca. 40 to ca. 90) Greek physician, pharmacologist and botanist practiced in Rome during the time of Nero. His most famous writing,the five volume "De Materia Medica" is one of the most influential herbal books in history. Dioscorides recommended rosemary for its "warming faculty". In addition to its importance in the history of herbal science, the "Materia Medica" also enlightens us about the herbs and remedies employed by the Greeks, Romans and other cultures of antiquity.

When mixed with curdled milk, beer, and honey, rosemary was considered by the ancients to be good for heart trouble. Ancient Greek students ate rosemary to improve their memory students also wore rosemary garlands when studying for examinations.

Hellenistic and Roman gardens almost always contained rosemary bushes. Moreover, rosemary was believed to grow only in the gardens of the righteous and protected one from evil spirits. The Romans believed that the odor of rosemary preserved dead bodies, and the green color of the leaves symbolized eternity. Rosemary was placed in the hands of the dead.


Violets (viola odorata) — The Romans used violets for the eyes or as a cure for hangovers. Both the Greeks and the Romans used Violets for all sorts of other things such as herbal remedies, wine (Vinum Violatum), to sweeten food and for festivals. The Romans liked the Vinum Violatum so much they spent more time cultivating violets than olives, much to the irritation of Horace (65-8 BC.). Violets, associated with resurrection, were secretly planted on Nero’s grave.

The Greeks also used violets “to moderate anger, procure sleep and comfort and strengthen the heart.” Violet wine was a delicacy for ancient Romans.

Violet leaves and flowers contain beta-carotene, vitamin C, salicylates, the flavonoid rutin, mucilage, and the flowers contain essential oil. Violets are pungent, bitter, and sweet, cool and moist and correspond to Venus, and the element of water.


Poppy (Papaver Rhoeas) — it’s calming effects have been widely known in most if not all civilisations and cultures since primordial times.
Basil (ocimum basilicum) — was introduced into Europe by the Romans. Amongst the various stories it is said to have been found growing on the spot of Christ’s crucifixion by the Empress Elena (mother of Emperor Constantine) and from hence exported across the empire.
Chestnut (castanea sativa) — Pliny tells us it was eaten roasted/toasted by the priests of Cibele as they were forbidden from eating cereals. It is also mentioned by the poet Homer and by Galen, Martial and Virgil.
Artichoke (cynara scolymus) —Pliny gives one of the very first full descriptions of the artichoke as we know it. It had a variety of reputations, some of them negative for example dreaming of them was deemed to mean bad luck. It was a poor food with little nourishment and stood as a symbol of pain and bad luck. However, wehave also read of it being deemed to be an aphrodisiac.
Pomegranate (punica granatum) — Entered Roman life around the time of the Punic wars. It’s roots were cooked and used as a cure for worms. The skin was used for intestinal problems. It’s copious seeds made the fruit to be associated with Venus/Aphrodite and according to the Greeks it’s juice was meant to be the blood of Dionysus.
Cabbage (brassica oleracea) — Pliny goes as far as saying the Romans used cabbage as the only medicine for a number of centuries. Catullus defended it and its virtues in the senate against other foodstuffs and herbs being imported from the orient. The poor ate all parts of it whilst the rich had a preference for the young shoots only. Recent cancer research sugests that indeed it is an effective cancer defence and should be eaten twice a week if possible!
Fennel (foeniculum vulgare) — Pliny advocates it for problems with the eyes and sight. Something weird about noticing how moulting snakes would rub their eyes against it.
Lettuce (lactuca scariola) has been known to be rich in sap — hence the name lactuca which means “rich in milk". It was used against rheumatisms and colds. It was very appreciated during meals and in the republican period was often eaten at the end of the meal. In later times it made its way to the beginning of the meal as an appetizer. The sap would be collected and dried for use.
Cherry (prunus avium) — Galen advocated its use for the intestine and against gall stones. The kernel was found useful for arthritic pain, acne and verucas. The resin/gum, collected in summer, would be mixed with wine against cough and to aid appetite.
Barley (hordeum vulgare) — was very common but eventually overtaken by wheat as the most common cereal in ancient Rome. The Romans took barley with them across Europe and the Middle East, establishing it everywhere they went as a staple food, an ingredient for brewing beer and a medicine. One of its most popular medicinal uses was as an anti-inflammatory, a property for which barley still has a sound reputation today, being widely recommended as a treatment for osteoarthritis, gastric ulcers and other inflammatory diseases. Barley is also known as an emollient used in cases of pancreas and biliar ailments and other digestive problems and in infections of the intestinal mucous membrane and urinary tract, and as a febrifugal used especially for fevers in children, who are also given it for minor infections, diarrhea and dry coughs. It is also traditionally renowned as a galactogogue and a promoter of hormonal balance in women, and its benefits to the hormonal system have been reinforced in modern times by research suggesting that it stimulates the release of prolactin and human growth hormone. Barley's reputation as a woman's herb has grown even further in recent years, since it has become increasingly used as an ingredient in breast enhancement formulations. Another therapeutic use of barley is to lower blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels and to regulate blood sugar levels. Studies suggest that these effects are caused by beta glucan, a type of fibre which barley contains, which is also claimed to be protective against the risk of bowel cancer. Barley also contains astounding amounts of proteins, vitamins and minerals, incuding potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, phosphorus, manganese, zinc, beta carotene, B1, B2, B6, C, folic acid, and pantothenic acid, making it one of the most nourishing foodstuffs known to man. It also contains high levels of chlorophyll, a substance said to inhibit cancer, and several antioxidants, thought to help prevent many degenerative diseases, such as cancer, heart disease, stroke and premature ageing. Made into a poultice and applied externally, barley has demulcent properties which make it helpful in soothing and reducing inflammation in sores and swellings. A hot poultice eases stiff and painful joints and draws the poison from boils, abscesses, stings, bites and infected cuts. A cold poultice relieves swellings and helps with weeping eczema and other itchy skin conditions.

2. Medicine requires trust

While using ancient Greek medicine as a source of remedies is problematic, drawing on it to understand the doctor/patient relationship is more straightforward. We still say, “Trust me, I’m a doctor”. But there was clearly a lot of unease about doctors in the ancient world. They weren’t family members so it felt risky to let them near your body, especially when you weren’t feeling very strong. Being ill was seen as a loss of self-control and therefore damaging to a man’s masculinity.

To gain a patient’s trust, a doctor had to make sure his image was right. Today it’s the white coat. In ancient Greece it was all about wearing plain, simple clothing, avoiding strong perfumes and never quoting the poets at the patient’s bedside. If you’ve read any Greek tragedy, you’ll see why not. When you are feeling ill, it isn’t cheering to hear “Death is the only water to wash away this dirt” or “alone in my misery I would crawl, dragging my wretched foot”. As a doctor, you needed to understand what your patients were thinking, and help them to trust you. And if they trusted you, then they’d take the remedies.


6 Bizarre Childbirth Myths From Ancient History

For most of human history, childbirth was one of the most dangerous things that a woman could do indeed, it still is for many women. So, understandably, a lot of ancient civilizations had rituals, spells and ceremonies to try and make every aspect of childbearing go smoothly, from assuring the fertility of a woman to easing the delivery of a baby — and many ancient cultures had detailed birth manuals, because getting the rituals right could get seriously complicated.

We still have many beliefs about birth and the "right" way to do things: witness the many online arguments about the various virtues of hospital birth versus home birth, giving birth naturally versus using painkilling medications, working with a doulas versus only seeing doctors, and basically any other choice involved in the birthing process. So you can imagine how intense the conversations probably got, back in the ancient world, when expectant mothers were choosing between drinking goose semen or sitting on a dog's placenta, or wondering whether you truly needed four strong women to shake you intensely in order to get some contractions going. We're lucky no one had invented parenting message boards yet.

Here are six ancient beliefs about childbirth that will either make you want to cross your legs, or feel pangs of serious sympathy for the women who had to go through this thousands of years ago. Modern gynecology looks like magic in comparison.

1. Determine Your Fertility By Sitting On Dirt And Beer

If we believe a gynecological document called the Kahun Medical Papyrus that is currently archived at the University College in London, the ancient Egyptians were very invested in the idea of childbearing capability itself. Before you even got into the whole "birthing" problem, you had to figure out whether you or your chosen lady could get knocked up. The Kahun Papyrus — which, incidentally, is the oldest medical text in history — details some pretty interesting tests to determine fertility. Spoiler: they're not exactly dignified.

One particularly brutal method was to hit the woman on a particular part of her lip if it didn't hurt, she was thought to be infertile forever. (Ouch.) But the worse one, in my opinion, was the test involving a heap of dirt. How's this for fertility testing: a woman sits on a mound of dirt that's been soaked in old beer, and possibly mixed with fruit and dates. For every time she throws up while sitting there, that's one child she'll have in the future. If she's got a strong stomach, though, no kids for her (which seems to fly in the face of everything we know about motherhood now, i.e. that having a strong stomach is a pretty great asset).

2. Put Hemp & Corn In Your Vagina To Induce Labor

The ancient Egyptians also had some interesting rituals when it came to actually getting birth itself started. One was to cast spells on an amulet placed on the forehead of the pregnant woman, which doesn't sound particularly bad — but there were a number of more invasive options. Another medical text, the Ebers Papyrus, suggests putting a few concoctions — including honey soaked with hemp, or a handful of ground corn — up the vagina itself to make labor begin. No word on how the babies born via this method felt about coming into this world basically breaded like a cutlet.

3. Keep All Knots Out Of The Delivery Room

Ancient Greek mothers-to-be were subject to a number of superstitions about the whole birthing process and what could be done to make it go more smoothly. One notable belief was that a poultice tied to the thigh could ease the difficulty of labor (which, you've got to admit, sounds better than the above-mentioned corn tampon).

Another more abstract superstition was the idea that having any knots in the delivery room would serve as a magical "obstacle" to the baby's birth, so they all had to be undone. From the mother's belt to wreaths on the walls, everything in the vicinity had to be rapidly unknotted. Knots were regarded as nasty symbols of general evildoing, so woe betide you if you happened to attend an ancient Greek birth with a fancy plait in your hair.

4. Let Four Women Shake You Until You Have Contractions

Ancient Greek beliefs about the medical treatment of various problems during childbirth were preserved well into the Middle Ages — meaning that the treatments recommended by people like Hippocrates and Galen would have been pretty familiar to medieval ladies. (Poor them.) So when medical texts from ancient Greece recommend, say, being shaken violently by four women to induce labor, you know it happened for at least a thousand years.

Yes, you read that right. One remedy for starting contractions involved getting four women (one for each limb on the pregnant woman), and demanding that they shake her extremely hard at least ten times — plus a few more after she'd lain down. The idea, presumably, was to "shake" the baby loose, though it can't have been much fun for the mom.

5. Step Over One Dead Man And One Living Man To Ensure Easy Delivery

According to Delores LaPratt, a researcher at McGill University, ancient Anglo-Saxon women had their own peculiar way of guaranteeing that their pregnancies would be easy and their births without complications: perform a ritual dance involving one dead man and one live one.

The woman in question would first step over the grave of a dead man, reciting a charm in Anglo-Saxon: "This is my remedy for hateful slow birth, this is my remedy for heavy difficult birth, this is my remedy for hateful imperfect birth." She'd then get her husband to lie down on the ground and step over him, reciting, "Up I go, step over you with a living child, not a dead one, with a full-born one, not a doomed one." It's not clear whether the two elements of this ritual could be performed on separate occasions, or if Anglo-Saxon cemeteries were filled with pregnant women stepping over their husbands.

6. Drink Goose Semen To Cope With A Difficult Delivery

When it comes to seriously disgusting medical remedies and beliefs, the ancient Greeks — and Pliny The Elder in particular — are kind of inspiring. There's not a single substance in nature that they didn't contemplate using for some medical purpose or other. Getting yourself well in ancient Greece required a total lack of squeamishness, and that included childbirth.

Pliny did, at least, give lots of options. If you were having a difficult delivery, and you (for some inexplicable reason) didn't want to drink goose semen mixed with water, you could also drink the liquid from the uterus of a weasel, or a concoction of powdered sow's dung. Not thirsty? Then the fat of a hyena could be burned underneath you if you like, or perhaps you'd prefer having the placenta of a dog placed on your thighs? The menu was endless. To be honest, that may have been the point: make the remedies so disgusting that birth, itself, looks like an easy job.


Historical perspective on the use of garlic

The objective of this review is to examine briefly the medical uses of garlic throughout the ages and the role that it was considered to play in prevention and treatment of disease. Interest in the potential benefits of garlic has origins in antiquity and is one of the earliest documented examples of plants employed for treatment of disease and maintenance of health. Garlic was in use at the beginning of recorded history and was found in Egyptian pyramids and ancient Greek temples. There are Biblical references to garlic. Ancient medical texts from Egypt, Greece, Rome, China and India each prescribed medical applications for garlic. In many cultures, garlic was administered to provide strength and increase work capacity for laborers. Hippocrates, the revered physician, prescribed garlic for a variety of conditions. Garlic was given to the original Olympic athletes in Greece, as perhaps one of the earliest "performance enhancing" agents. It is of interest that cultures that developed without contact with one another came to similar conclusions about the efficacy of garlic. Modern science is tending to confirm many of the beliefs of ancient cultures regarding garlic, defining mechanisms of action and exploring garlic's potential for disease prevention and treatment.


Watch the video: Ancient Roman Religion (August 2022).