Specific Treatments in Military Medicine

The main bread and butter of military field medicine was woolen bandages.  Every medicus ordinarie would have been equipped with a stash of them.  There is a section of Trajan’s Column that depicts the actions of a medicus ordinarie.  After a battle, there are wounded soldiers being aided by other soldiers (indicated by the same uniform style).  One has a wound on his thigh that is being treated and bandaged, and another has a shoulder wound. (Richmond, 13-15)


The Reliefs of Trajan’s Column by Conrad Cichorius. Plate number XXXI: Major Battle against the Dacians (Scene XL)

A common procedure was to apply honey to the woolen bandage before using it on a wound.  Modern science has proven that raw honey is well suited to wound healing, as it inhibits bacterial growth and provides an immune boost, aiding the body’s own healing mechanisms. (Molan, 141) Wool itself is a superior choice for bandages because it wicks moisture away from the skin, also promoting a healthier healing environment for wounds sustained in battle.

Eye problems were a common complaint noted in ancient records.  It would seem likely that the complaint causing most of the trouble stemmed from conjunctivitis, or pink eye.  Highly contagious and debilitating to a soldier’s fighting abilities, it was an illness taken seriously by military medici.  (Allason-Jones, 137)  Eye salves of various types would have been used to treat the condition.

Another issue faced by the army was the spread of feces-borne diseases like dysentery as well as parasites.  Even with sanitation, the close quarters and high density population would have been a favorable breeding ground for such issues. (Allason-Jones, 138-139)

Caches of medical tools have been found, dating back to the Roman Empire.  Most of the tools are forceps or other surgical tools for the removal of weapon remnants or foreign objects.  There are also catheters and bladder sounds, rectal speculums, cautery tools, and cupping vessels.

Though not as common in the Roman army, sometimes a wounded soldier was in need of amputation.  Opium, henbane and white mandrake were the strongest medicines available for anesthetic purposes, and would have been employed on such occasions along with copious amounts of alcohol.  Tools used for the procedure were scalpels, bone saws, and tile cautery tools.  I was able to find a picture of a bronze prosthetic leg, but could find no supporting information to describe how widespread their use was during this period of time.

M0012307 Roman artificial leg of bronze.

Roman artificial Bronze leg

In conclusion, the Roman army’s medical corps was impressive for its day.  It was orderly, just like the military itself, and effective.  In fact, modern militaries have similar systems in place to facilitate the care of soldiers during battle.  Warfare today may look very different, but there are some things that the Romans were ahead of their time about.  Military medicine happened to be one of them.





“Medicine in Ancient Rome.” Wikipedia. Accessed December 15, 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medicine_in_ancient_Rome

Allason-Jones, Lindsay. “Health Care in the Roman North.” Britannia 30 (1999): 133-46. doi:10.2307/526676.

Molan, Peter and Tanya Rhodes. “Honey: A Biologic Wound Dressing.” Wounds: A Compendium of Clinical Research and Practice 27, no. 6 (2015): 141.

Richmond, I. A. “Trajan’s Army on Trajan’s Column.” Papers of the British School at Rome 13 (1935): 1-40. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40310440.

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. https://jmvh.org/article/692/

Conrad Cichorius: “Die Reliefs der Traianssäule”, Erster Tafelband: “Die Reliefs des Ersten Dakischen Krieges”, Tafeln 1-57, Verlag von Georg Reimer, Berlin 1896

=={{int:filedesc}}== {{Artwork |artist = |author = |title = Greek and Roman surgical instruments |description = Greek and Roman surgical instruments from the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum <p>Wellcome Ima…

=={{int:filedesc}}== {{Artwork |artist = |author = |title = Greco-Roman cupping vessels and Roman bronze rectal speculum |description = Greco-Roman cupping vessels and Roman bronze rectal speculum from the We…

=={{int:filedesc}}== {{Artwork |artist = |author = |title = 6 Roman surgical instruments |description = 6 Roman surgical instruments: A)Rreplica of Roman bronze scalpel, from Silchester. B) No information. C)…


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s