Health in Ancient Rome

Alexis Elinkowski

Blog Post #1: Greek Influence

The time period of the Ancient Greeks was around 1000- 400 B.C. They were the first early culture to put an emphasis on disease prevention. They believed in the balance of the physical, mental, and spiritual aspects of a person. Among early Greeks, religion was an important aspect of health care. However, later, the role of a doctor began to take on a clearer shape. Because of this, a more scientific view of medicine emerged. In Greek mythology, Asclepius was the Greek god of Medicine. Hippocrates was an important figure in Greek healthcare. He was the first epidemiologist and the father of modern medicine. He distinguished between endemic and epidemic diseases and discovered the theory of disease causation (Cottrell).

Ancient Romans accepted many health ideas, practices, and procedures from the Greeks (“Medicine in ancient Rome”). According to Prioreschi, “The ancient Greeks were the creators and founders of Western Civilization and the Romans were its builders.” Rome started out as a primitive agricultural society and then came in contact with a more sophisticated and advanced society- The Greek civilization. When it comes to medicine, it is commonly accepted that Roman medicine is basically Greek medicine practiced in Rome. However, this does not mean that there were not differences between the two (Prioreschi).

The Romans conquered the Mediterranean world, so this included the Greeks (Cottrell). That is why they received an abundance of medical information from the Greeks. Also, there was one major conquest that led to a lot of Greek information being available to the Romans. This was the conquering of Alexandria, a city in Egypt. The Romans conquered Egypt in 30 B.C. (“Library of Alexandria”). Alexandria was known for its incredible libraries and universities. For example, “In ancient times, Alexandria was an important center for learning, and its Great Library held countless volumes of ancient Greek medical information” (“Medicine in ancient Rome”).

Greek symbols and gods also influenced the Romans. The Caduceus was one of those symbols. The Caduceus is “…a winged staff with two snakes wrapped around it” (“Medicine in ancient Rome”). It was first associated with a Hermes, the Greek god of commerce. Hermes carried around a staff with two snakes wrapped around it. During the Roman Empire, the caduceus became associated with Mercury, one of the Roman gods (“Medicine in ancient Rome”). Today, the caduceus is technically misused in North America. It is seen as a symbol of healthcare and medicinal practice. This is because of confusion with the original medical symbol, which is called the Rod of Asclepius. The Rod of Asclepius has only one snake wrapped around it and it does not have wings (“Caduceus”). The Rod of Asclepius, or the Staff of Asclepius, was held by the Greek god Asclepius, a deity associated with healing and medicine (“Rod of Asclepius”).


The Caduceus. Image retrieved from

Just like Greek physicians, Roman physicians usually used naturalistic observations over spiritual rituals to heal the sick. However, spiritual belief was still prevalent in ancient Rome. For example, famines and plagues were often thought to have come from divine punishment, with spiritual rituals being the way to relief (“Medicine in ancient Rome”).

The Romans did not build upon everything the Greeks did concerning healthcare, however. They only kept the things they saw as beneficial for their large empire. According to Strabo, a Greek geographer, “The Greeks are famous for their cities and in this they aimed at beauty. The Romans excelled in those things which the Greeks took little interest in such as the building of roads, aqueducts and sewers” (“Medicine in Ancient Rome- History Learning Site”) The details about Roman roads, aqueducts, and sewers will be examined in greater detail in the next blog post, called “Roman Technology and Advancements”.

Works Cited

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

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

Cottrell, Randall R., James T. Girvan, and James F. McKenzie. Principles & Foundations of Health Promotion and Education. San Francisco: Pearson/Benjamin Cummings, 2009. Print. 15 Dec. 2016.

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

“Medicine in ancient Rome – History Learning Site.” History Learning Site. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.

Prioreschi, Plinio. A History of Medicine: Roman Medicine. Vol. 3. Edwin Mellen Press, 1996. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.

“Rod of Asclepius.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.

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by | December 15, 2016 · 11:31 pm

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