Roman Medicine and Medical Knowledge


The Roman Empire > Roman Medical Knowledge and Practices >





Prev | Next | Contents


IN THE REIGN OF THE CÆSARS--TO THE DEATH OF NERO.

Augustus--His illnesses--Antonius Musa--Mæcenas--Tiberius--
Caligula--Claudius--Nero--Seneca--Astrology--Archiater--Women
poisoners--Oculists in Rome.



Long before the settlement of the constitutional status of Augustus in 27 B.C., he had undertaken many reforms. In 34 B.C., Agrippa, under the influence of Augustus, had improved the water supply of Rome by restoring the Aqua Marcia, and Augustus had repaired and enlarged the cloacæ, and repaired the principal streets. Road commissions were appointed 27 B.C. The Aqua Virgo was built 19 B.C. Many of the collegia, or guilds, founded for the promotion of the interests of professions and trades had been misused for political purposes, and Augustus deprived many of them of their charters. Curæ, or commissions, were appointed to superintend public works, streets and the water-supply; and the Tiber was dredged, cleansed and widened, and its liability to overflow reduced. No new building could be built more than 70 ft. high. Augustus also established fire brigades. It has been said that he found the city built of brick and left it built of marble.

He revived many old religious customs, such as the Augury of Public Health, and identified himself closely with the rites and customs of the people. He inculcated that sense of duty which the Romans called pietas, and attempted to improve the morals of the citizens by the enactment of sumptuary laws; the philosophers hoped to do good in the same direction by appealing to the intellect and reason, a method that was equally ineffectual. Marriages and an increased birth-rate were encouraged, and parents were honoured and given special privileges. The wisdom and prudence of Augustus were strangely accompanied by credulity and superstition. He was a profound believer in omens, and attached great importance to astrology. His horoscope showed that he was born under the sign of Capricorn.

He suffered from various illnesses, although in his younger days he looked handsome and athletic. He carefully nursed his health against his many infirmities, avoiding chiefly the free use of the bath; but he was often rubbed with oil, and sweated in a stove, after which he was bathed in tepid water, warmed either by a fire, or by being exposed to the heat of the sun. When, on account of his nerves, he was obliged to have recourse to sea-water, or the waters of Albula, he was contented with sitting over a wooden tub, (which he called by a Spanish name, Dureta), and plunging his hands and feet in the water by turns.[18] His physician was Antonius Musa, to whom was erected, by public subscription, a statue near that of Æsculapius. During an attack of congestion of the liver when heat failed to give relief, Antonius Musa advised cold applications for the Emperor, which had the desired effect. Suetonius, the historian, wrote that this was "a desperate and doubtful method of cure." A more desperate and doubtful method of cure, however, was carried out by the same physician. He successfully banished an attack of sciatica that greatly troubled Augustus by the expedient of beating the affected part with a stick. Antonius Musa received honours from Augustus, and the Emperor also exempted all physicians from the payment of taxes, and from other public obligations.

In the time of Augustus natural philosophy made little progress, and Virgil strongly desired its advancement. Human anatomy, as a study, had not been introduced, and physiology was almost unknown. In medicine, the standard of practice was the writings of Hippocrates, and the Materia Medica consisted of remedies suggested by the whimsical notions of their inventors.

Pliny wrote that the water cure was the principal remedy in his day, as it was indeed throughout the Empire, and it was certainly the most popular. Seneca was very severe on the sentiment of a poem written by Mæcenas, the friend and counsellor of Augustus, but it serves to reveal some of the most dreaded maladies of the time:--

"Though racked with gout in hand and foot, Though cancer deep should strike its root, Though palsy shake my feeble thighs, Though hideous lump on shoulder rise, From flaccid gum teeth drop away;
Yet all is well if life but stay."

Malaria was one of the principal causes of mortality in and near Rome in the reign of Augustus Cæsar.

Augustus's fatal illness occurred in A.D. 14 from chronic diarrhoea, and the Emperor, like the true Roman that he was, displayed great calmness and fortitude in his last days.

Tiberius succeeded to the throne in A.D. 14, and began a career of infamy. How little knowledge was likely to gain from his patronage is shown by the fact, recorded by Pliny, that the shop and tools of the artist who discovered how to make glass malleable were destroyed. Assassins and perpetrators of every abomination were the fit companions of this tyrant.

Thrasyllus, the astrologer, lived with Tiberius, who was a firm believer in the magic arts. This reign is made illustrious in the history of medicine by the work of Celsus.

Caligula, who became Emperor in A.D. 34, was guilty of the most inhuman conduct. Criminals were given to the wild beasts for their food, and even people of honourable rank had their faces branded with hot irons as a punishment by order of this mad tyrant.

Claudius, the successor of Caligula, completed some very important public works in his reign, including great aqueducts and drains, but learning was at a low ebb in his day. Claudius Etruscus, the freedman of the Emperor Claudius, erected baths referred to by Martial. The ruins of the arches of the Aqua Claudia still remain.

Thrasyllus, a son of the astrologer who lived in the time of Tiberius, is said to have predicted to Nero the dignity of the purple. Nero would have been favourably disposed towards physicians if he had heeded the advice of his tutor, Seneca, who wrote: "People pay the doctor for his trouble; for his kindness they still remain in his debt." "Great reverence and love is due to both the teacher and the doctor. We have received from them priceless benefits; from the doctor, health and life; from the teacher, the noble culture of the soul. Both are our friends, and deserve our most sincere thanks, not so much by their merchantable art, as by their frank goodwill."[19] The practice of necromancy in the time of Nero had grown to such an extent that an edict of banishment was issued against all magicians, but this did not lessen the popularity of the magicians, who indeed prospered under the semblance of persecution, and were honoured in times of public difficulty and danger. The practice of astrology came from the Chaldeans, and was introduced into Greece in the third century before Christ. It was accepted by all classes, but specially by the Stoic philosophers. In 319 B.C., Cornelius Hispallus banished the Chaldeans from Rome, and ordered them to leave Italy within ten days. In 33 B.C., they were again banished by Marcus Agrippa, and Augustus also issued an edict against them. They were punished sometimes by death, and their calling must have been lucrative to induce them to continue in spite of the severe punishments to which they made themselves liable. The penal laws against them, however, were in operation only intermittently. They were consulted by all classes, from the Emperor downwards.

There were many physicians in the reign of Nero, but none of great eminence. Andromachus was physician to the Emperor, and had the title of archiater, which means "chief of the physicians."

An account of the archiaters is of interest. The name was applied to Christ by St. Jerome. There were two classes of archiaters in time, the one class called archiatri sancti palati; the other, archiatri populares. The former attended the Emperor, and were court physicians; the latter attended the people. Although Nero appointed the first archiater, the name is not commonly used in Latin until the time of Constantine, and the division into two classes probably dates from about that time. The archiatri sancti palati were of high rank, and were the judges of disputes between physicians. The Archiatri had many privileges conferred upon them. They, and their wives and children, did not have to pay taxes. They were not obliged to give lodgings to soldiers in the provinces, and they could not be put in prison. These privileges applied more especially to the higher class. When an archiater sancti palati ceased attendance on the Emperor he took the title of ex-archiater. The title comes archiatorum means "count of the Archiatri," and gave rank among the high nobility of the Empire.

The archiatri populares attended the sick poor, and each city had five, seven or ten, according to its size. Rome had fourteen of these officers, besides one for the vestal virgins, and one for the gymnasia. They were paid by the Government for attending the poor, but were not restricted to this class of practice, and were well paid by their prosperous patients. Their office was more lucrative but not so honourable as that of the archiaters of the palace. The archiatri populares were elected by the people themselves.

Suetonius describes the treatment Nero underwent for the improvement of his voice: "He would lie upon his back with a sheet of lead upon his breast, clear his stomach and bowels by vomits and clysters, and forbear the eating of fruits, or food prejudicial to his voice." He built, at great expense, magnificent public baths supplied from the sea and from hot springs, and was the first to build a public gymnasium in Rome.

There is reason to believe that in the time of Nero there was a class of women poisoners. Nero employed one of these women, Locusta by name, and after she had poisoned Britannicus, rewarded her with a great estate in land, and placed disciples with her to be instructed in her nefarious trade.

There was also a very ignorant class of oculists in Rome in the time of Nero, but at Marseilles Demosthenes Philalethes was deservedly celebrated, and his book on diseases of the eye was in use for several centuries. The eye doctors of Rome employed ointments almost entirely, and about two hundred seals have been discovered which had been attached to pots of eye salves, each seal bearing the inventor's and proprietor's name. In the time of Galen, these quack oculists were very numerous, and Galen inveighs against them. Martial satirized them: "Now you are a gladiator who once were an ophthalmist; you did as a doctor what you do as a gladiator." "The blear-eyed Hylas would have paid you sixpence, O Quintus; one eye is gone, he will still pay threepence; make haste and take it, brief is your chance; when he is blind, he will pay you nothing." The oculists of Alexandria were very proficient, and some of their followers, at various times throughout the period of the Roman Empire, were remarkably skilful. Their literature has perished, but it is believed that they were able to operate on cataract.

With the death of Nero in A.D. 68, the direct line of the Cæsars became extinct.


Footnotes:

[18] Suetonius: "Lives of the Cæsars," lxxxii.

[19] Seneca "De Benefic.," vi.




Table of Contents


  OUTLINES OF
  GREEK AND ROMAN
  PREFACE.
  EARLY ROMAN MEDICINE.
  EARLY GREEK MEDICINE.
  MACHAON (SON OF ASKLEPIOS),
  HIPPOCRATES.
  "THE LAW.
  "THE OATH.
  PLATO, ARISTOTLE, THE SCHOOL OF ALEXANDRIA AND EMPIRICISM.
  THE ALEXANDRIAN SCHOOL.
  ROMAN MEDICINE AT THE END OF THE REPUBLIC AND THE BEGINNING OF THE
  IN THE REIGN OF THE
  PHYSICIANS FROM THE TIME OF AUGUSTUS TO THE DEATH OF NERO.
  THE FIRST AND SECOND CENTURIES OF THE CHRISTIAN ERA.
  GALEN.
  I.--WORKS ON ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY.
  II.--WORKS ON DIETETICS AND HYGIENE.
  III.--ON PATHOLOGY.
  IV.--ON DIAGNOSIS.
  V.--ON PHARMACY, MATERIA MEDICA, AND THERAPEUTICS.
  VI.--SURGERY.
  THE LATER ROMAN AND BYZANTINE PERIOD.
  INFLUENCE OF CHRISTIANITY ON ALTRUISM AND THE HEALING ART.
  ROMAN HOSPITALS.
  GYMNASIA AND BATHS.
  GYMNASTICS.
  GREEK AND BATHS
  SANITATION.
  THE WATER-SUPPLY.
  DRAINAGE.
  DISPOSAL OF THE DEAD.
  APPENDIX.
  FEES IN ANCIENT TIMES.
  INDEX.


Prev | Next | Contents








Roman Medicine
Advertisements: