Military Medicine in Action

Prior to the Augustan age, there was no formal military medical apparatus.  (Byrne, 267) It was most likely that soldiers helped each other, providing basic first aid and field surgery.  Upper ranking officers might have brought along their own personal physicians, but they were not widely utilized by the rank and file.  There are references to the treatment of the sick and wounded, particularly that they were sent to the back of the company while they recovered, but there is no mention of care they might have received while falling back in the ranks.

If a soldier was wounded or sick enough to not be able to keep up with the army, they were often quartered in civilian homes to be cared for during their convalescence. (Byrne, 268) The ideal situation for a soldier in this condition would have been to enter the house of an upper class citizen, who had more comforts and likely employed a physician in-house.  Outside of Roman settlements, garrisons of wounded and sick soldiers would have been left behind with adequate supplies to see them through. (Wesseleigh, 2)

Eventually, medics were trained and assigned duties within the army.  There were three orders of medics – medicus ordinaries, medicus legionis and medicus cohortis. (Byrne, 269) The first order was a regular soldier who had extra medical training.  He would have fought alongside his comrades, and offered aid when needed.  The second was over the legion, and would likely have had some rank or additional standing outside of regular soldier.  The last rank was over the whole cohort, and likely remained in the rear of the company to care for the worst of the sick and wounded.  The medicus cohortis would likely have been in charge of the field hospital, or valetudinarium.


Physician treating a patient. Red-figure Attic aryballos.

Valetudinaria, also referred to as “flying military camps,” were first just a designated tent or group of tents and later became permanent buildings.  The buildings were built with great care, with sanitation being a first concern. (Wesseleigh, 4) On average, each hospital was built to accommodate up to 5% of the legion it served.  One can therefore assume that the aim of the hospital was not for long term convalescence, but for acute care following injury and treatment.  Archaeological evidence of the valetudinarium near Baden suggests a well equipped pharmacy and surgical theater, along with wards for the recovering soldiers. (Byrne, 271)


Roman latrine

To conclude, the military medical program was an orderly undertaking.  With clear denotations of duties, it helped the care of the sick and wounded to happen with little confusion or fuss. The last post will look at specific treatments used in military medicine, and examine some of the military health records that have been found.


Byrne, Eugene Hugh. “Medicine in the Roman Army.” The Classical Journal 5, no. 6 (1910): 267-72.

Wesselingh, Robb. “From Milites Medici to Army Medics – A Two Thousand Year Tradition of Military Medicine.” Journal of Military and Veteran’s Health 16, no. 4 (2018):1-5.

== {{int:filedesc}} == {{Information Louvre |artist= {{en|Clinic Painter (name-piece)}} {{fr|Peintre de la Clinique (vase éponyme)}} |description= {{en|Physician treating a patient. Red-figure Attic aryballos, ca. 480–470 BC.}} {{fr|Médecin soigna

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