Health in Ancient Rome

Alexis Elinkowski

Blog Post #3: First Hospitals

The first hospitals were established in ancient Rome. Even today’s hospitals have a history that dates back to the Roman Empire. During the Roman Empire, military hospitals were set up to treat and care for the soldiers of the powerful Roman army. Unlike the hospitals we use today, Roman hospitals were only for slaves and soldiers. Physicians were assigned to follow certain armies or ships, where they would care for the injured. Unfortunately, medical care for the poor was nearly non-existent. Because of this, the poor would resort to spiritual aid (“Medicine in ancient Rome”).

The earliest hospitals we know of were built under the reign of Emperor Trajan, during the first and second century A.D. The Roman army expanded beyond the Italian Peninsula, so the wounded could not be cared for in private homes any more. Because of this, The Valetudinarium was established (“Medicine in ancient Rome”). Valentudinarium is a Latin word. In English, it simply means “hospital” (“Valentudinarium”).

The Valentudinarium was also known by other names, including the Field Hospitals or Flying Military Camps. It started as a small group of tents and fortresses for wounded soldiers. As time went on, the fortresses turned into permanent facilities. The original hospitals were built along main roads. However, they later became part of Roman fort architecture and most of the time they were put near the outer wall in a quiet part of the fort (“Medicine in ancient Rome”).

A regular valentudinarium was a rectangular building, like most hospitals today are. It had “…four wings that were connected by an entrance hall that could be pressed into the service of a triage center.” Each legion hospital could serve 6-10% of the legion’s 5,000 men. There was also a kitchen, dispensary, large hall, reception ward, staff quarters, and washing and latrine facilities (“Medicine in ancient Rome”).

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Plan of Valentudinarium. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medicine_in_ancient_Rome

As we can see, the main reason why the Romans established the first hospitals was because they really wanted to have an effective army. In order to have an effective army, they needed to have strong, healthy, soldiers. When their soldiers got sick or injured, which was bound to happen, they wanted them to be back on their feet as soon as possible. The Roman ethic of military improvement expanded from the battlefield to actual military hospitals. The sick and wounded soldiers were treated in buildings that were specifically reserved for them. These buildings had large halls that were well lit. The halls had individual cells and large rooms off of the corridors. They also had baths, latrines, and areas for food preparation. Roman soldiers were treated with respect and honor in daily life. This special treatment extended to their medical care as well (“Hospital and Treatment Facilities in the Ancient World”).

Roman military hospitals were discovered as far north as Rhine River, which is in Germany. Inside hospitals, surgeries, drainage tubes, splints, and healing salves were applied to injuries. Roman gladiators also received treatments in clinics from the best physicians available. One of the best physicians was a man named Galen (“Hospital and Treatment Facilities in the Ancient World”). We will learn more about Galen in the next blog post, called “Important Figures”.

Prior to these military hospitals, in Greece, there were no hospitals. However, there were specific temples called healing temples. Healing temples were established as sacred places for the sick to receive divine help. They usually had public baths and spa-type facilities. Here, priest-physicians would lead healing rituals. They would also administer massage and herbal medicines (“Hospitals and Treatment Facilities in the Ancient World”). Herbal medicines used by the Romans will later be examined in the blog post called “Roman Medicines”.

 

Works Cited

“Hospitals and Treatment Facilities in the Ancient World.” Science and Its Times: Understanding the Social Significance of Scientific Discovery. Encyclopedia.com. 15 Dec. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

“Medicine in Ancient Rome.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.

“Valetudinarium.” Valetudinarium definition | Latin Dictionary. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.

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