Health in Ancient Rome

Alexis Elinkowski

Blog Post #5: Roman Medicines

 The ancient Roman culture, the diet was viewed as medicinal. A good diet was seen as essential to healthy living. Food was viewed as having a healing effect or a causative affect on disease. The effect that transpired was determined by the impact the food had on the humors. For more information on the humors, see the previous blog post, titled “Important Figures”. Food and diet put an emphasis on prevention instead of treatment. Eating foods in moderation was an extremely important principle in ancient Rome. When the diet did not work to promote health for a person anymore, drugs, phlebotomy, cautery, and/or surgery were used. Patient autonomy seemed to have been valued because people managed their own preventative medical diets. They had control of their lives and could seek doctors if they wanted to (“Medicine in ancient Rome”).

The use of herbal medicine was very popular during the Roman Empire. The ancient names of the herbal medicines used were often derived from Greek. However, they are not necessarily the same thing as individual modern species, even if the name is the same (“Medicine in ancient Rome”).

Some herbal medicines used in ancient Rome were Fennel, Rhubarb, Gentian, Birthwort, Liquorice, and Aloe (“Medicine in ancient Rome”).

The Latin/Greek name for Fennel was Ippomarathron. It was used to cure painful urination, expel menstrual flow, stop bowel discharge, bring out breast milk, and break kidney and urinary stones (“Medicine in ancient Rome”).

The Latin/Greek name for Rhubarb was Ra. It was used to help with convulsions, intestinal disorders (stomach, spleen, liver, kidneys, womb, peritoneum) sciatica, asthma, and rickets. It was also used to help with flatulence and dysentery (“Medicine in ancient Rome”).

The Latin/Greek name for Gentian was Gentiane. It was used to help with poisonous bites and liver disorders. Gentian was also used to treat deep ulcers and eye inflammation (“Medicine in ancient Rome”).

The Latin/Greek name for Birthwort was Aristolochia. It was used to assist in childbirth (“Medicine in ancient Rome”). The function of Aristolochia was to expel the placenta in women who were ready to have a baby. Today, there is evidence suggesting that Aristolochia is a carcinogen and a kidney toxin (“Aristolochia”).

The Latin/Greek name for Liquorice was Glukoriza. It was used to calm the stomach. It was also used for chest, liver, kidney, and bladder disorders (“Medicine in ancient Rome”). Today, Liquorice is used as a flavoring for many products including tobacco, candies, and sweeteners. “Additionally, Liquorice may be effective in treating hyperlipidaemia (a high amount of fats in the blood). Liquorice has also demonstrated efficacy in treating inflammation-induced skin hyperpigmentation. Liquorice may also be useful in preventing neurodegenerative disorders and dental caries” (“Liquorice”).

The Latin/Greek name for Aloe was also Aloe. It was used to heal wounds, remove boils, and treat alopecia (“Medicine in ancient Rome”). Today, Aloe is used externally for skin discomforts. It is also used as a laxative, and Aloe Vera juice is used internally for digestive comfort (“Aloe”).


Aloe. Retrieved from

Wine was also used in ancient Roman medicine. It is well know today that alcohol is used to extract the active elements from plants. Wine was the only form of alcohol available to the ancient Romans. Herbs were often soaked in wine, so the active elements in the plants would come out (“Ancient Roman Medicine”).

Ancient Roman houses often included herb gardens, and ancient Roman recipes are full of herbs. The typical Roman herb garden would have included Angelica, Aniseed, Coriander, Elecampane, Fennel, Hyssop, Mint, Rosemary, Speedwell, Tansy, Thyme, Violets, and Wormwood, to name a few. Some herbs would be imported from the East, even though it was very expensive. One example of an imported herb would be Cinnamon (“Ancient Roman Medicine”).


Works Cited


“Aloe.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.

“Ancient Roman Medicine.” Ancient Roman Medicine. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.

Aristolochia.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.

“Liquorice.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.        

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

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