Ancient Roman Medicine

Revision notes for GCSE History Ancient Roman Medicine (OCR)

HideShow resource information


- Most Romans did not think they needed doctors as the head of each household looked after his family's health through the use of: charms, prayers & herbs

- Upper class Romans would not have dreamt of becoming doctors

- The doctor's work was manual and therefore, beneath them

- There were people practising medicine, but they were slaves, root-gatherers, body builders and school teachers

- Romans regarded themselves as strong, fit and healthy; they did not need doctors like the weak and feeble Greeks did

- Greek became the language of the rich and educated, their children were taught by Greek tutors and much of the medicine was Greek too

- By 80BC, Greek doctors were common in Rome, due to Asclepiades, a Greek doctor who became popular in Rome, making Greek doctors respectable

1 of 11

Why were Greek doctors mistrusted?

- They were foreigners

- The Romans had conquered the Greeks and so saw them as inferior

- Greek doctors were always disagreeing with each other about illness and how to treat it (eg Asclepiades rejected Hippocrates ideas)

- Some patients treated by Greek doctors did die!

2 of 11

Ideas about medicine

The Romans were not interested in thinking about the causes of disease

Nor did they add many new ideas about treatments

3 of 11

Public Baths

The Public Baths were magnificent buildings and played an important part in the everyday lives of Roman people

They went to stay clean, as treatment for a complaint (like backache,) to meet new friends or to conduct business

There were warm baths, cold baths, and steam baths with professional masseurs on hand

Central heating was provided by hot air circulating beneath the floor

There were spectacular gardens with fountains and springs, and tree-lined promenades for walking

By 4th century AD, Rome had 11 public baths and 856 baths in private houses

4 of 11

Lavatories and Sewers

To keep Rome clean and healthy, used water and sewage had to be disposed of

To do this, they built the Cloaca Maxima, a complex system of sewers and conduits running under buildings and streets and emptying into the River Tiber

Prisoners were used to clean out these sewers and they became a popular place for women to leave unwanted babies

5 of 11

Galen the Showman

He rescued the ideas and methods of Hippocrates and made many discoveries which developed them.

He was also a big head.

He dislike other doctors, especially Asclepiades.

Most of the information we have about him now was written by himself, so it's difficult to know how good he really was

6 of 11

Public Performace Example

In Rome he made a name for himself by his public demonstrations; giving lectures and showing anatomy

He liked to cut the neves in the neck of a pig while the pig continued to squeal

He then announced he would stop the pig squealing and he cut one of the nerves in the throat

When the pig stopped making a noise everyone was very impressed

Withing a year he had become the Emperor's doctor and remained in Imperial service for the rest of his life

7 of 11

Galen's Methods

Diagnosing Patients

He could diagnose patients from what they told him about their lifestyle, but he also examined them carefully (eg blood, nasal passages, and faeces)

Carrying out Experiments

Galen insisted that doctors must know about the structure of the human body. He dissected apes, sheep, pigs and an elephant's heart. He stressed the need to repeat dissections over and over to check the results.

8 of 11

What he found out


His descriptions of bones and muscles were often accurate. BUT because much of his work was based on animals, he did make mistakes. He claimed that human jaws are made from 2 bones, like animals, but they are really made from a single bone. He also said the right kidney is higher than the left- this is wrong for humans, but right for apes.

Galen understood the importance of the heart regulating the flow of blood.He knew veins and arteries are separate from each other. BUT he thought that

- blood was made in the liver, Some blood travelled through the veins to organs and took nourishment to them and was used up

- other blood went through veins to the right ventricle of the heart. Some went to the lungs, some went through invisible pores in the dividing wall in the middle of the heart where it mixed with air and went through arteries to the rest of the body where it was used up

9 of 11

His Treatments - use of opposites

He still believed in the 4 humours and brought them back into fashion after being rejected by Asclepiades

He accepted that the stomach turned food into the humours, which had to be kept in balance

He added the idea that 'opposites' could be used to keep the humours in balance

He was famous for encouraging blood-letting as a treatment for most illnesses; if a disease was caused by an excess of a humour then blood-letting would get rid of the excess (Hippocrates would have disagreed as he believed to keep treatment to a minimum)

Galen believed in blood-letting so much that he claimed women were protected from many diseases because they menstruated

He also recommended other treatments based on the same idea, eg cucumber would cool if illness was caused by too much heat, pepper used when too cold

10 of 11

His Influence - Why were his ideas believed for th

- He wrote so many books (over 350.) Much of what he wrote was a summary of the best bits of Hippocratic medicine; he brought it all together into one body of writing. He gave the impression he was perfecting Hippocrates' work

- By writing so much, he gave the impression he had solved everything, so when he died, people didn't bother to do any more research. People believed he knew everything!

- His books summarised the best of Hippocratic and other medicine, put it into a system and added his own advances. His books tell how good he was and how bad other doctors were; he accused other doctors of being greedy for money

- Chance played a big part. After he died, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, gradually spreading across Europe and the the church became very powerful. Galen was not a Christian but he did believe in only one God. A lot of his work shows how the body works as one system. He also believed the body was ruled by the soul. This made Galen's ideas acceptable to the Church and to Muslims.The idea that the human body had been perfected by God led to the church banning human dissction and so nobody could check his ideas

11 of 11


No comments have yet been made

Similar History resources:

See all History resources »See all Medicine through time (OCR History A) resources »