What Factors Were Most Significant to Roman Health and Medical Practice?

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What Factors Were Most Significant to Roman Health and Medical Practice?

Rome started being built in 753 BC.  Rome first conquered the rest of Italy, and most of the Mediterranean world.  By 275 BC it had conquered the Greek cities in Italy.  Rome had a very powerful army which needed to be kept healthy, so the Romans started to look into the idea of medical practices.

The Romans were not the first civilisation to practice medicine.  There is evidence of medical knowledge from the Ancient Egyptians as early as 3000 BC.  The most important early Egyptian medical books were the ‘Books of Thoth’.  They were kept in the temple of Thoth by priests.  Thoth was the god of writing and wisdom.  None of the books survived, although a medical book called the ‘Papyrus Ebers’, which dates back to about 1500 BC, was probably based on them.  

The Greeks had many ideas about medicine as well, like the ‘Four Humours’, which was the idea that the body was made up of four fluids; blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile.  Hippocrates (460 – 377 BC), a Greek, is acknowledged as the founding father of modern medicine and wrote the Hippocratic corpus, which were a collection of books written by Hippocrates or his followers.  A man called Aristotle developed Hippocrates’ ideas and the city of Alexandria became a centre of medical development.  The library in Alexandria attempted to amass all the knowledge in the world and made copies of its books for other libraries.  It was also the first place to allow human dissection for a period of time, which meant that the human anatomy could be studied in detail.

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The Romans thought that their culture was better than the ‘decaying’ Greek culture.  They initially rejected the ideas of Greek medicine, which was still practised by the Greeks.  When Rome conquered Greek cities, Greek doctors became slaves to the Romans.  In 293 BC, a plague led the Romans to build an Asclepion, a Greek hospital named after the Greek doctor Asclepios.  The Asclepion soon became a public hospital and the Greek doctors slowly rose in status until Julius Caesar allowed the practitioners to become Roman citizens in 46 BC.  When the Romans realised that they needed a healthy army ...

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