The transforming influence of the Greeks on Roman medical practice

  • Louise Cilliers University of the Free State
  • Francois Retief University of the Free State

Abstract

When Rome conquered Greece in the second century BC, she had no equivalent to Greek rational medicine as established by Hippocrates and the Alexandrians. Roman medicine was of a quasi-religious nature, with a strong element of folk traditions and herbal medicine; the paterfamilias would treat any sickness in the family (including slaves and even animals) with his array of folk remedies. Greek rational medicine was initially received with great skepticism by the Roman elite, in particular, but it gradually transformed the scene, replacing superstition and magic with a reliance on rational science as it was understood at the time. However, the belief in herbal remedies and the Asclepian cult of temple medicine remained strong. Rome also made its own unique contributions in the fields of hygiene (effective water supplies, sewage and drainage) and military medicine (including the introduction of the first hospitals). Roman doctors gradually replaced their Greek colleagues, and by the fifth century Latin had established itself as a significant medical language. In practice Roman folk medicine was not necessarily much inferior to Greek rational medicine, because the latter was based on ill-understood and largely erroneous concepts of medical science.

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Published
2007-12-21
Section
Articles