Medicine in Ancient Rome

MedicineĀ in Roman times

Medicine in Ancient Rome developed over some time. The Roman Empire lasted a period of in excess of one thousand years. The Empire was held together by a complex and extremely advanced political network and communications system. This extended knowledge and introduced a way of life that dramatically improved the standard of living of many of their citizens. This had a huge impact on the development of medicine, surgery and public health.

A basic Roman belief in the importance of cleanliness, combined with a desire to ensure a comfortable life for the citizens within the army or living in the provinces led to a unique system of sewers and aqueducts that rival even the finest examples of Victorian public health structures. Do not be fooled into thinking that everybody in Ancient Rome enjoyed high quality supplies of water and waste disposal though. The slums in Rome were large and plagues were frequent.

Roman Life revolved around Trade and War. A structured government allowed political decisions to be made relatively swiftly and the vastness of the empire led to certain relaxations of the previously strict rules relating to medical practice: although some of these, it could be argued were inherited from the Greeks.

Medicine in the Roman Empire

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Ancient Rome: the basics

The Romans were highly pragmatic. As the empire expanded and they developed trading links, they borrowed and used ideas that they came across. The City States of Ancient Greece were absorbed into the Roman Empire at an early stage. The ideas of the philosophers such as Hippocrates and Aristotle were taken on board. Likewise, religious beliefs spread and the Cult of Asclepius continued to be popular.

Evidence of the Romans commitment to public health is relatively easy to find. In England it is possible to find archaeological remains at numerous sites. Hadrian’s Wall, for example, has lots of forts which retain evidence of baths, drainage ditches and water storage facilities. Other other examples include larger public health works in cities. In Rome itself, these are clearly evident at several sites.

We have a number of activities about Roman Medicine available via the Teachers’ Resource page.