Public Health In Rome. To what extent was the Roman period an age of progress in public health?

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Samantha Canvin                  Mr. Mungles

10DA                History

Public Health In Rome.

To what extent was the Roman period an age of progress in public health?


Public health was an issue in the Roman period due to the scale of their cities and the spread of disease. The vastness of their empire and the great numbers of soldiers who travelled  across it, led to greater communication of illnesses. The emperor and senate realised this, and began to introduce public health measures to reduce the risk of disease. There was a massive amount of progress by the end of the Roman era in public health and great improvements over the Ancient Greek methods.


The empire of Rome had very large cities, Rome itself had a population of over 1 million people. Because plagues and disease spread easily throughout the cities, health was a very big issue. The Romans believed that cleanliness would lead to good health. As a practical people, they observed that death rates were higher in and around marshes and swamps. This led the Romans to believe that the causes of illness were, amongst other things:

  • bad air
  • bad water
  • swamps
  • sewage
  • debris and a lack of personal cleanliness.

As places such as Rome could not avoid some of these conditions unless something was physically done to prevent it, the government implemented the first public health scheme. Bringing fresh water in from the country with aqueducts, having public baths, fountains and latrines.  This was a breakthrough for public health, a great improvement from previous times.

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The wealthy benefited more from the new public health systems than those from the lower classes, and most slaves, because the facilities were not readily available to them.

Rome had a vast empire, and had to employ a huge army to control it. Soldiers were very costly to train, they had a pension scheme, and if they died, their family would get the money anyway. So it was in the government’s best interests to keep their soldiers alive and well. They were given clean, healthy places to live, exercise, good diets and if they fell ill, they had hospitals ...

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