Roman Medicine and its Influence on Modern Medicine

Ancient Rome medicine, with its mix of science and superstition, brought about many advances in the area which are still seen in our times.

Roots

Roman medicine was derived from Greek medicine, and influenced by knowledge from conquered civilizations, such as the Etruscans, Egyptians, and the Persians. The knowledge from the conquered people combined with the knowledge developed in Rome, mostly derived from the battlefield, made the Romans have an advanced medical system for their age.

The romans combined their scientific knowledge, greatly limited by today’s standards, with religious beliefs. Romans believed that diseases were a result of displeasing the gods, and that rituals such as sacrifices to the gods would cure them. Aesculapius was particularly important in ancient roman medicine. The Romans adopted the Greek god of healing in 292 BCE, when they stole Aesculapius’ sacred snake.  Despite of their belief in the gods, romans still used the services of doctors to heal sickness.

The doctors in rome were craftsmen, and learned the profession through apprenticeships. Civilian doctors had different levels of education and skills, many being Greeks. On the other hand, the military has experienced medical personnel.

Battlefield

Roman Army

The romans were the first in history to build hospitals, generally for the military. The medics in the military had a more practical approach to medicine than the civilian doctors, as they were observant and methodical, documenting which treatments worked so other doctors could do the same.  An important event for roman medicine was the civil war which happened after the assassination of Julius Caesar. The new emperor, Augustus, formed a professional military medical corps. Giving doctors titles, lands, and retirement benefits. This changes, combined with the large amount of war injuries, led to great medical advancements, in a way that would not be seen until the late 19th century.

The roman legions had the best doctors in Rome. Much of the roman knowledge of anatomy and physiology came from the battlefield, as dissections were not allowed. Surgeons also acquired their experiences in the military.

Public Health

The Ancient Romans made many advances in what nowadays would be considered public health. The Romans believed that the workers should also be in good health, as the soldiers and the rich. Therefore, they could be considered the first to have public health for all social classes.

Roman Aqueduct

One of the most important aspects of Roman public health was the use of aqueducts. They had a system of fresh running water and a sewer system, as clean water was considered essential. The water supply to the city of Rome was designed by Julius Frontinus in 97 AD, and it supplied around 1000 million liters of water a day. This helped to prevent the proliferation of diseases that were either transmitted through dirty water, or that relied on standing water . The romans also had public toilets which were flushed by clean water, and a sewer system to make sure all waste was removed from the city.

Bad hygiene was one of the prominent causes of disease transmission in the ancient world. The Romans had great hygiene, as they regularly washed themselves. Roman baths, for example, played a major role in society, as they were part of the citizens daily lives.

Roman Bath

Another important factor were the cities themselves. The cities were built in places that were considered healthy, or were modified to become a healthier environment. For example, marshes were draining to avoid malaria carrying mosquitoes. Julius Caesar not only drained the Codetan Swamp, but planted a forest in its place.

Influence in modern medicine

There are currently 6210 hospital in the US. The hospital system started in the ancient Rome military, and it is the prominent form of care in America.

Roman medicine saw the beginning of specializations, as physicians were divided into different specialties. Nowadays, doctors have to specialize in a certain area after medical school. There are more than 120 options to choose from.

Roman surgeons had basic knowledge of the importance of sanitation. They boiled all the surgical instruments prior to the start of the experiment, and used acetic acid to clean the wounds.

Public health is a major part of modern medicine, as it focuses on preventing diseases. Clean Water is one of the most important elements of health. 884 million people still do not have access to clean water. Many of those people need to walk long distances to get water, which can be contaminated with diseases such as cholera, typhoid, and dysentery. Access to proper disposal of sewage is also of extreme importance to public health.Currently, 2.3 billion people live without access to sanitation. Approximately 1 million people die every year from diseases related to the lack of access to clean water and sanitations.

Medical terminology is based on Latin and Greek. The Romans developed the field of medicine and anatomy based on the Greek knowledge. Since many anatomical parts were elucidated by the Greeks and the Romans, their names are in those languages. Latin was the predominant language used in medicine until the eighteenth century.

The Ancient Romans believed that diet was essential for health, and that moderation of food should be practiced. Nowadays it is known that good nutrition is key to health, as lack of certain elements in a diet can disrupt the normal functioning of the body and lead to diseases.

Works Cited

  1. O’Rahilly. “Etymology”. Basic Human Anatomy. Retrieved from : https://www.dartmouth.edu/~humananatomy/resources/etymology.html
  2. “ The Water Crisis.” Water.org. Retrieved from : https://water.org/our-impact/water-crisis/
  3. “Medicine in Ancient Rome.” The History of Learning. Retrieved from: https://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/a-history-of-medicine/medicine-in-ancient-rome/
  4. “Ancient Roman Medicine.” UNRV Roman History. Retrieved from: https://www.unrv.com/medicine.php
  5. Brazier, Yvette. “ Ancient Roman Medicine.” Medical News Today. Retrieved from: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323600.php
  6. Cartwright, Mark. “ Roman Medicine.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from: https://www.ancient.eu/Roman_Medicine/
  7. “Importance of good nutrition.” HHS.gov. Retrieved from: https://www.hhs.gov/fitness/eat-healthy/importance-of-good-nutrition/index.html

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