Sunday, December 09, 2007

Ancient Roman Medicine

From the Telegraph:
An ancient doctor's surgery unearthed by Italian archaeologists has cast new light on what a trip to the doctor would have been like in Roman times. Far from crude, the medical implements discovered show that doctors, their surgeries and the ailments they treated have changed surprisingly little in 1,800 years.
Sore joints were common, patients were often told to change their diets, and the good doctor of the seaside town of Rimini even performed house calls.
Archaeologists have spent the past 17 years at the Domus del Chirurgo - House of the Surgeon - painstakingly excavating the site and compiling the world's most detailed portrait of medical treatment in Roman times. Their discoveries go on public display for the first time on Tuesday.
"This is the largest find of surgical instruments anywhere," said Dr Ralph Jackson, the curator of the Romano-British collection at the British Museum and an expert in ancient medicine.
Among the 150 different implements is a rare iron tool used to extract arrowheads from wounds, which suggests the doctor had experience as a military surgeon.
"It tells us a great deal of how he worked and the range of procedures he undertook because of its completeness. All previous finds have been only partial," Dr Jackson said. "The healer almost certainly concocted anaesthetic preparations of white mandrake, henbane and opium poppies."
Perhaps the most unexpected find was a piece of equipment that would delight a modern podiatrist: a ceramic hot water bottle in the shape of a foot, into which oil or water could be poured when the foot was inserted.
"Joint problems were the single most common complaint in Roman times, and they were probably treated with heat and cold," said Dr Jackson.
The discovery suggests that the doctor used diet as a first approach to treating a disease, then drugs prepared from plants in a pestle and mortar, and finally surgery. That could include anything from pulling teeth - dental forceps were part of his equipment - to opening a patient's fractured skull to remove bone fragments.
"One of the most exciting finds was a lenticular, a small chisel used for opening the skull safely after gouging a channel into it with another instrument," said Dr Jackson.
Ome of the thoughts that occasionally crosses my mind is whether there's anything we could learn about Roman physicians and their patients' perceptions of same which would refine our understanding of the use of the image of Christ as physician in the writings of the Latin Fathers.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

*briefly considers inserting your last musing into my thesis work...then remembers that the thesis work doesn't need any help being too broad*