Roman Medicine

Roman Surgical Instruments at Museo di Napoli
Roman Surgical instruments at Museo di Napoli

Coming Soon: Several articles on many aspects of Roman medical practice, including nutrition for good health and treatment of diseases, infection control for wounds, and cataract surgery.

Celsus wrote his 8-volume medical treatise during the reigns of Augustus and Tiberius. It is an amazing compilation of a wide array of Roman medical practices, ranging from the discussion of proper nutrition to remain healthy, specific foods that are good for treating various ailments, medicines and their applications, external problems related to internal disorders, and two volumes of surgical details. There’s a volume for the eye, ear, and throat practitioner, with a lengthy section on eye disorders that were a common problem in the ancient world. The surgical volumes even include directions for cataract surgery and what to do for a fractured skull.

I’ll be writing about some of the more interesting treatments, but note this full disclaimer:

My Ph.D. is in chemistry. I am not a medical doctor. I make no claims to medical knowledge beyond that of the normal layman. Whatever I post, I will NOT be recommending that anyone actually treat anyone or anything with what the Romans used or did. In fact, I’d recommend that you NOT try the Roman approach yourself.

Celsus is my go-to reference for how to treat the injuries and ailments of the characters in my historical novels, but any malpractice on my part won’t contribute to their premature deaths (unless I deliberately make it a plot element).

Until the mid-1800’s, Roman medical practice was probably equal or superior to any available, but that doesn’t mean we should follow it today.

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Celsus, Aulus Cornelius and Collier, G. F. A Translation of the Eight Books of Aulus Cornelius Celsus on Medicine (1831). London: Kessinger Publishing, LLC, 2008.

Edelstein, Ludwig. Ancient Medicine: Selected Papers of Ludwig Edelstein. Translated by C. Lilian Temkin. Edited by Owsei Temkin and C. Lilian Temkin. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987.

Phillips, E. D. Aspects of Greek Medicine. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1973.

Scarborough, John. Roman Medicine. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1969.

Fact and Fiction by Carol Ashby