Sunday, August 23, 2009

Health Care and Medicine - In Ancient Rome

All the debates about health care reform in the United States made me feel as if I had to weigh in on the topic of health care as well. However, I am putting my thoughts and preferences aside to focus on a much more colorful time in history, that of Ancient Rome. For Rome, cultural change came as much from without as from within. Ancient Rome eagerly devoured Ancient Greece's medical practices and cures and learned from their renowned doctors. Some of these practices are long out of date, but surprisingly to many people, some of these ideas are still used today.

Some Fun Advice from the Ancients:
* Pliny the Elder offered this cure: "
bathe the eyes with a decoction of the liver and to apply the marrow to those that are painful or swollen". Perhaps this was the predecessor to the cooling cucumber.

* Celsus gave this widely used piece of health advice: "[A man] should always make sure that he gets enough exercise especially before a meal."

* Cinnamon was used to boost brain power, control bleeding, and hide the stench of decaying bodies - all all around spice that was considered more valuable than gold by many of the ancients.

* The most famous doctors of ancient Rome were not Romans, but Greeks. One of the most famous was Galen of Pergamum who lived from 131-201 AD and worked with injured Gladiators before beginning his career as a teacher of medicine. In particular, Galen focused on clinical observation, a step away from many Romans who believed most medical recoveries to be in the hands of the gods.

* Over 40 Roman medical instruments were found in Pompei. They were double-ended, making it easier for doctors to switch from one to the other. When patients could bleed to death quickly, time was of the essence.

* Herbs and flowers were the most common "drugs". Violets, for example, were used to cure hangovers, and cherry kernels were used for arthritic pain.

If you're interested in reading more about Ancient Roman medicine, take a look at one of the following links:

Ancient Roman Medicine
A primer in Ancient Roman Medicine. Particularly noteworthy is a list of common flowers, herbs, spices, fruits and vegetables used for medical purposes.

Medicine & Surgery in Ancient Rome
A history and primer on Ancient Roman Health Care. At the end are pictures of a terrifying array of ancient medical instruments, designed to keep you awake at night.

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