Health in Ancient Rome

Alexis Elinkowski

Blog Post #4: Important Figures

 Many of the Roman physicians came from Greece. Some of the most famous include Dioscorides, Soranus, and espcecially Galen (“Medicine in ancient Rome”).

Pedanius Dioscorides was a Greek botanist, as well as a doctor and pharmacologist. He lived from 40-90 A.D. He practiced in Rome during the reign of Nero. He was a well-known Roman Army physician. One of Dioscorides’ great works was an encyclopedia he wrote called De Materia Medica. It contained over 600 herbal cures, which formed a powerful and long-lasting pharmacopeia (“Medicine in ancient Rome”). A pharmacopeia is “a book published usually under the jurisdiction of the government and containing a list of drugs, their formulas, methods for making medicinal preparations, requirements and tests for their strength and purity, and other related information” (“pharmacopoeia”). For the next 1,500 years, his encyclopedia was used by many doctors (“Medicine in ancient Rome”).

The next physician we will discuss was named Soranus. He was a Greek doctor from Ephesus. Soranus was alive around 98- 138 A.D., during reigns of Trajan and Hadrin. According to the Suda, he practiced in Alexandria and Rome. “The Suda or Souda is a massive 10th-century Byzantine encyclopedia of the ancient Mediterranean world…” (Suda wiki). He became the chief representative of the Methodic school of medicine. His work called Gynaecology is still in existence. It was first published in 1838. In 1882, it was published by V. Rose, including a 6th century Latin translation by Muscio. Muscio was a physician of the same school as Soranus (“Medicine in ancient Rome”).

Galen of Pergamon was known to be a very famous Greek physician. He was born in 129 A.D. and died around 200 or 216 A.D. His impressive theories ended up dominating Western medical science for over 1,000 years. By age 20, he had already served for four years in his local temple as a therapeutes, which means attendant or associate, of the god Asclepius. For more information about the god Asclepius, see the first blog post titled “Greek Influence”. Galen extensively studied the human body, but dissection of human cadavers was against Roman law. Because of this, he used pigs, apes, and other animals for dissection (“Medicine in ancient Rome”). The reason why Galen thought that anatomy was so important was because he believed in the Aristotelian doctrine that forms follow function. For example, he believed that in order to understand how a specific organ works, we must first understand what that organ looks like (K., David).


Galen. Retrieved from

Galen moved to Rome in 162 A.D. While in Rome he lectured and wrote. He also performed demonstrations about his anatomical knowledge. His reputation as an experienced physician grew, which led him acquiring many clients. One of his clients was named Flavius Boethius. Flavius introduced him to the imperial court, where he had the privilege of becoming Emperor Marcus Aurelius’ physician (“Medicine in ancient Rome”).

Even though he was a member of the Court he did not like Latin. He preferred to speak in Greek, his native tongue. He treated Roman role models Lucius Verus, Commodus, and Septimus Severus. In 166 A.D. he returned to Pergamon until he went back to Rome permanently in 169 A.D. (“Medicine in ancient Rome”).

Galen believed in Hippocrates theory of the four humors, which explained that a person’s health had to do with the balance between the four main fluids of the body- blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm. Food was supposed to be the main component that stabilized the humors (“Medicine in ancient Rome”).

Hippocratic medicine survived because of Galen. Galen referenced Hippocrates many times in his writings. He thought that Hippocratic literature should be the basic for physician conduct and treatments. Galen wrote about how a physician should have reasoning skills. He should practice temperance and despise all money. He should also treat every patient fairly (“Medicine in ancient Rome”).


Works Cited

K., David. “Galen.” Greek N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2016

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

“pharmacopoeia”. Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 15 Dec. 2016. <>.

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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”).


Plan of Valentudinarium. Retrieved from

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. 15 Dec. 2016 <>.

“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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Health in Ancient Rome

Alexis Elinkowski

Blog Post #2: Roman Technology and Practices

Some of the greatest technological advancements the Romans built came from an issue they had. The issue was poor sanitation. To help alleviate this problem, the Romans built an efficient, extensive aqueduct system. Today there is evidence of around 200 aqueducts from Spain to Syria and also from Northern Europe to North Africa. From the 13 aqueducts that delivered water to Rome, it is estimated that total capacity was 222 million gallons every two hours. It is incredible that an aqueduct system from thousands of years ago was able to deliver that much water to Rome every single day. Even at the peak of the Roman Empire, this was enough water to provide every Roman citizen with at least 40 gallons of fresh water every day. Measures were taken to make sure the water stayed clean and pure. Along the aqueduct, there were settling basins, where sediment could be deposited (Cottrell).


Roman Aqueduct. Retrieved from

The aqueducts provided water for drinking, bathing, and other needs. “A system of eleven aqueducts supplied the city with water from as far away the river Anio” (“Roman aqueduct”). The biggest systems were called Anio Novus and Aqua Claudia. All wastewater would drain into a sewage system called the Cloaca Maxima. During the end of the first century A.D., the emperor Nerva appointed a man named Frontius to be the water commissioner. Some of his duties included surveying and mapping the entire system, and investigating abuses of the water supply. An example of an abuse would be tapping into the pipes illegally. He also organized workmen for maintenance of the system. He tried to make sure that the best water went to drinking and cooking, while the lower quality water went to fountains, baths, and sewers- in that order (“Roman aqueduct”). Frontius wrote about his work in a two-book official report called De aquaeductu, which was published near the end of the first century A.D. (“De aquaeductu”).

Another technological advancement that stemmed from poor sanitation was underground sewers. These sewers carried away water and sewage. The main sewer in Rome emptied into the Tiber River. This sewer was 10 feet wide and 12 feet high, and during the 20th century, it was still being used as part of the sewer system in Rome (Cottrell).

While the issue of sanitation had been improved with aqueducts and underground sewers, it was still a problem because of improper garbage disposal. House-to-house garbage collection was not practiced. Garbage was left to collect in alleys between buildings in the poor sections of Rome. At times it was so thick, that stepping-stones were needed to walk through the alleys (“Roman aqueduct”).

The ancient Romans also made health advancements besides those linked to the poor sanitation issue. They observed the consequences of occupational hazards on health. They were also the first to build hospitals. The first hospitals will later be explained in detail in the next blog post called “First Hospitals”. By the 2nd Century A.D. a public medical service had been organized. Physicians were appointed to different towns and establishments. A system of private medical practice was also organized in ancient Rome (Cottrell).

Furthering the work of the Greeks, the Romans studied human anatomy and surgery. Unfortunately, some of the Roman anatomists dissected living human beings as a way to learn more about the human body. After getting royal permission, they would dissect prisoners. Some opposed the practice and others supported it. The people who supported these live dissections made the argument that because the people being dissected were prisoners, the practice was somehow acceptable. They also thought that the knowledge that came from dissections could help many people (Cottrell).

          Works Cited

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.

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

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

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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

Cavalry through the Middle Ages

Steven Dabb

December 15, 2016

Cavalry Use in the Early Ages

Horses used over time

Long before the ancestors of humanity walked upright, horses could be found roaming the earth. Evolving nearly 55 million years ago, horses did not have the same appearance as what we commonly see when we go to a ranch nowadays. The horses of today range in size, weight, speed, and purpose, while equines originally were about the size of dogs and lived mostly in forests. For more than 30 million years they maintained the same general appearance before mutant groups increased in size and weight, until they developed into a shape very similar to the appearance we associate with the horses of today (The Evolution of Horses).

We must remember that while the horse collar was invented during the 3rd and 4th century BCE it was not widely used in Europe until nearly the 12th century (Horse Collar). This means that for the majority of the western world, horses were not particularly useful in pulling large amounts of weight because the collars would choke them. As such, horses were most often used for moving people around, or for pulling relatively light chariots. For most early societies, cavalry as it is generally imagined was impractical because of many factors around that time. Although there is debate regarding when saddles were invented, some say as early as 700 BCE while others say around 300 C.E., if they were used at all. They were very primitive, they provided very little support and they were mainly used as a seat. Stirrups were not commonly found nor widely used in the west until about the 8th century C.E. (Stirrup), though they had been developed in Asia much earlier. As such, for many civilizations, the use of mounted soldiers was often a serious tradeoff: in many societies, firing a bow from a horse was not unheard of, but that particular maneuver often required a second horseman to grab the reigns so that the first could fire (Cavalry)

As the use of cavalry increased, and the tactical importance of it became recognized, it wasn’t long before horses began to be bred for war. This typically meant that larger, stronger breeds of horse became desirable because of their weight carrying capacity, as well as their natural aptitudes for dealing with the exhausting nature of warfare.

Weaponry used from horseback over time

The weaponry that has been used over time when making war has ranged depending on what was available at specific times of development and in specific geographical areas. Since the invention of the stirrup came so much later than that of the saddle or the domestication of horses, the weaponry used by mounted soldiers over time has evolved to accommodate the needs of warfare. The earliest mounted fighters were typically nomads and they were primarily armed with bows. Their primary purpose in being armed was to defend herds and livestock. A perfect example of a mounted archer who would have defended livestock is shown in the picture below:


There are some important distinctions between ancient mounted archers and the one pictured here, especially because the stirrups and the bow are easily visible. As previously mentioned, stirrups would have appeared in Asia much earlier than in Europe, but the earliest nomadic mounted archers would not have had these. The bow depicted in the picture above has similarities to the modern recurve bow, which was originally developed in the east, nomadic archers of the past would likely have been armed with some version of its predecessor. Something that could be assumed is that the relative size of the archer to the horse is similar to what would have been seen in the beginnings of the mounted archery forces. Although horses have increased in size through the ages, far eastern breeds of horses are usually smaller than western breeds.

Over time, some cultures like the Greeks moved away from the bow in favor of the javelin of the time. By the time of the Greek empire, horses were a bit larger, and could therefore carry more weight as well as armor for both the horse and the rider. In accordance with the change in size, weapons changed as well. The Greeks preferred the javelin over the bow used in far east cultures. The use of javelin had some pros and cons, for instance, javelin use on horseback did not require a second rider to hold onto the reins, and javelins hit harder than arrows, but because of the nature of javelin-driven combat, ammunition loss was great. To counter the decrease in ammunition available to the riders who used their javelins, the Greeks armed their cavalry riders with a short sword as a secondary weapon, the use of the sword by cavalry riders would continue through the ages up until the “phasing out” of cavalry from mainstream military roles altogether (Cavalry).

While spears and lances were used by the Greek cavalry, it was Alexander the Great that truly popularized them with his application of the xyston. The xyston was in essence a long spear. This spear, however, was equipped with a point on both ends. This allowed the weapon to be used even after it had been broken on first contact, by flipping it over and using the other end (Companion Cavalry). Cavalry played a much larger role in Alexander the Great’s conquests than it did during Greek campaigns, for reasons that will be discussed in the tactical usage of cavalry post. For the Romans, spears transitioned into the Spatha as the primary weapon.

The Spatha replaced the gladius as the main sword used by the Romans. While the gladius was much shorter and more suited for stabbing, the Spatha was closer in appearance to the swords than can be seen in modern times: it was long and straight, allowed for far better reach on horseback than the gladius, and lacked the ammunition constraints of bows and javelins.

As the cavalry evolved into the Middle Ages, it is important to remember that all aspects of warfare were also evolving. Larger horses became more desirable for war, because of the perception that the bigger they were, the more weapons and armor they could carry. Stirrups were becoming increasingly more widespread, which encouraged the increases in the weight that was carried on horseback. Thus, we see that the knight started to become the primary cavalry unit. Those cavalry officers known as knights wore heavy armor and were often armed in the stereotypical way, although not always all at once. The lance had its time in the sun, enhanced by the use of stirrups and the cantle saddle. Unlike the spears of the past, the lance had little to no thrusting use—its length and weight also made it unwieldy in melee (close quarters) combat. That being said, the stirrups and the cantle saddle used in conjunction allowed for a knight to apply all of his force, as well as the full momentum of the horse through the lance and the point, making it a powerful and dangerous weapon on horseback. There is some debate, however, about the efficacy of the lance in warfare. It often broke from its impacts, and when it didn’t, it was difficult to set up for another run at the adversary. During combats, knights were typically equipped with swords or maces for close quarter fights as well. The swords used by the knights were very similar to the Spatha used by the Romans, with only superficial alterations.

Armor on horseback over time

For many people, the knights in shining armor and on horseback seem to be the epitome of cavalry. However, for most of the effective life of cavalry, armor was either nonexistent or quite minimal. This was mostly due to the size of horses, and what their intended use was when they were bred. Large horses were uncommon before the middle ages, and not many cultures would have attempted to breed horses for size. The seeming lack of interest in breeding big horses would have been mostly related to the amount of food that those horses would have required, as well as the amount of waste they would have produced. When smaller horses were bred, an unintended consequence was the fact that they had a diminished capacity to carry large amounts of weight.

The earliest nomadic cavalrymen would likely have worn whatever their daily garb was on their horses. In times of war, lightweight armor constructed out of leather was possible, but there is no definitive answer as to its use.


As this relief carving shows, armor at this time (circa 860 BCE) was basically nonexistent for those on horseback. Around 490 BCE, a larger breed of horse began be used more often (Cavalry). This larger breed could carry men with some armor, but not much, as they were still not the size we think of when we generally imagine horses. The Greeks used this larger breed, as we can see here:


As we can see on this amphora, the Greek cavalryman carried a shield on his back, and appeared to be wearing some form of chest armor or tunic, possibly a jerkin. Although this armor might seem rather lacking to us in protective capabilities, we can see by looking at his compatriot, that it was only slightly less than the typical armor of the time.

Under Alexander the Great, cavalrymen had greater protection. His Companion Cavalry, as they were called, wore Boeotian helmets (what you see in the photograph), as well as a cuirass, which was a chest piece with a muscled physique cast into it. This would have provided more protection than that afforded by the Greek armor, which may have played a role in the nearly unprecedented success that they had in battle (Companion Cavalry).



By Mediatus – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The Romans continued in the footsteps of the Companion Cavalry. We can see on the graphic above that the subject of the photo was armed in a very similar manner to those in the Companion Cavalry, and any differences are more superficial than actual modifications. It is possible that we would have seen an increase in armor on horses at the end of the Roman Empire, but only as a build up to the middle ages.

Armoring on horseback was drastically different from that found on its predecessors for one main reason, the advent of stirrups. Thanks to the invention, the need for absolute control and communion between rider and steed was not so critical, balance could now be maintained through both the feet and the knees. This meant that suits of full armor could be used on horseback. As an unintended result of the fact that knights often engaged each other in battle, horses quickly became targets in battle as well, and therefore the need to armor them quickly became crucial. This was not the first-time horses had been armored: cataphracts had been seen possibly as early as 550 BCE under Persian control, and were beginning to see increased use near the middle of the Roman Empire, armoring however still remained a rather small proportion of the overall cavalry forces (Cataphract).


The picture shown above is a modern representation of an ancient cataphract. Completely enshrouded with armor, these units were the predecessor to the modern tank, and required large, strong horses. They also lacked stirrups, so maneuverability was also extremely poor. With the advent of stirrups, heavy armor suddenly didn’t mean that all maneuverability was gone, and horses were able to gain armor as well. Shaffron armor, pictured below:



Shaffrons were typically placed around the head and neck. It provided some protection from lance and sword blows, and it also looked menacing.

Tactical usage of cavalry

            For ancient nomadic tribes, cavalry was primarily desired because of its speed and range. A group of archers on horseback at a time when most warfare was fought hand to hand suddenly made the battlefield much smaller. However, their use cost many of them their control. Without the widespread use of saddles, the reins controlled the horses and this presented a problem when archers where on horses in the battlefield. Bows required two hands to fire, so during a firing sequence, the horse had to be left to its own devices, or a second horseman had to grab the archer’s reins to control his/her horse. Not being able to control a horse while firing was a rather inefficient battle tactic and was a serious drawback for ancient cavalry, which is why for a very long time horses were preferred for pulling chariots, rather than for carrying individual soldiers. Chariots fell by the wayside in warfare near 84 A.D, mostly due to their limited functions. For nomadic groups, cavalry use was often multirole. They were well suited for herding animals and scouting, but inefficient for most other jobs. An important tactic of the nomads fighters was the Parthian shot. This tactic was generally used when the horsemen were retreating, at that point they would turn their bodies so that they were facing to the rear, and fire behind them. While it seems simplistic, if a shield were raised above one’s head to defend themselves, they would assume that they were momentarily safe while the enemy was retreating or regrouping. However, this Parthian shot caught many unaware, and could easily cause chaos and casualties if the enemy wasn’t prepared for it (Parthian Shot).

Many historians believe that cavalry was basically worthless to the Greeks because of the common usage of the phalanx. Existing as basically a shield wall and roof with spears sticking out, the phalanx was thought to outdo cavalry because “Few men wanted to risk impaling their expensive horse on a hoplite’s nine-foot spear.” (Weekley). Aside from the fact that the horsemen did not want to risk their horses, most horses were also not willing to run into spears voluntarily. This maneuver, would also assume that a general would just throw cavalry at the front of the phalanx in the hopes of breaking it. While it is possible that this did occur, it is much more likely that at that time the cavalry would have used their greater speed and maneuverability to harass the enemy from the sides or rear, thus causing disorder in the fray as the phalanx scrambled to attempt to adjust. Whichever method was used, however, cavalry had a definite secondary role, one which was easily optional as well. Most Grecian conflicts tended to be either infantry or naval based, and cavalry didn’t seem to have a major role in land conflicts for the Greeks.

During the time of Alexander the Great, the cavalry really came into its own and became a force to be reckoned with. Alexander worked very closely with his Companion Cavalry. In addition to their armor and weaponry, Alexander employed them very differently from previous generals. First, his cavalry moved in wedges. This allowed them to turn much easier while maintaining their formation, simply having to follow the leader. Next, he used them in a secondary role, but one much more involved than the Greeks. When his phalanx disrupted the enemy’s, the Companion Cavalry would plunge into the hole created in the enemy’s line. This maximized the disruption and chaos, while removing the primary danger to his cavalry, the unbroken phalanx. Using this tactic brought Alexander and his cavalry unprecedented success (Companion Cavalry).

Under Roman rule, cavalry declined in success. It had come to be a social class rather than a fighting force, leading to significant losses. As such, the Romans began hiring mercenaries to be their cavalry, especially Germanic tribes. These groups were used primarily for longer distance operations, spanning the width of the empire, they were also used in skirmishes or scouting expeditions, but they lacked the usage we saw during Alexander the Great’s reign. During the Middle Ages, cavalry was used primarily in warfare as shock troops. These divisions would be typically used separately from the main fighting force, either to attack enemy cavalry or defend or secure areas or high profile targets. The sentiment felt during Roman times of cavalrymen being elite evolved into the class of knights that we see, and likely contributed to the rise of feudalism during these times (Cavalry).

The use of horses over time has varied depending on the leadership of the period, what has been made clear has been the fact that horses have been a crucial part of the development of civilizations and warfare through the ages and human have been dependent on horses for one purpose or another.

Works Cited

Wikipedia contributors. “Cavalry.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free             Encyclopedia, 7 Dec. 2016. Web. 7 Dec. 2016.

Weekley, David J., and Patrick H. College. “The Role of Greek Cavalry on the Battlefield: A       Study of Greek Cavalry from the Peloponnesian Wars to the Second Battle of Mantinea.”    Vexillum Journal. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Dec. 2016.

Wikipedia contributors. “Horse collar.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free             Encyclopedia, 6 Aug. 2016. Web. 6 Aug. 2016.

Wikipedia contributors. “Parthian shot.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free             Encyclopedia, 4 Sep. 2016. Web. 4 Sep. 2016.

Wikipedia contributors. “Ancient Macedonian army.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.            Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 7 Dec. 2016. Web. 7 Dec. 2016.

Wikipedia contributors. “Cavalry tactics.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The     Free Encyclopedia, 7 Nov. 2016. Web. 7 Nov. 2016.

Wikipedia contributors. “Saddle.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free             Encyclopedia, 1 Dec. 2016. Web. 1 Dec. 2016.

Wikipedia contributors. “Companion cavalry.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia,    The Free Encyclopedia, 1 Nov. 2016. Web. 1 Nov. 2016.

Wikipedia contributors. “Stirrup.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free             Encyclopedia, 7 Dec. 2016. Web. 7 Dec. 2016.

“The Chariot.” The Chariot in Ancient Egypt. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Dec. 2016.

West, Gene. “Confederate Bridle Cutter Pike, Louis Froelich.” Civil War Arsenal. N.p.,   07 Feb. 2016. Web. 08 Dec. 2016.

“The Evolution of Horses.” American Museum of Natural History. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Dec. 2016.             <;.

Wikipedia contributors. “Cataphract.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free             Encyclopedia, 2 Nov. 2016. Web. 2 Nov. 2016.



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Part 1: Significance of Gothic Architecture

Josiah Oldham

HNRS 2210: Final Project

Gothic Cathedral Architecture


“Ugh, look at those ugly spires, those pointed ceilings. Not classical in the slightest.”

“I have to agree. It’s all because of the Goths. Those barbarians ruined everything good about architecture when they ended the Empire and its culture!”

“Exactly. This, fellows, is why we’re returning to the classical styles. We’re making things the way they used to be- good.”

Such, perhaps, was the dialogue between Giorgio Vasari and his fellow Italian renaissance writers, who falsely attributed medieval architecture to the Goths. Colored by their overwhelming admiration for classical Roman culture, they believed that the drastic change from Romanesque to medieval building came from the 5th century barbarian cultural takeover, and not from simple evolution of style. “Then arose new architects who after the manner of their barbarous nations erected buildings in that style which we call Gothic (dei Gotthi),” said Vasari in his book Lives of the Artists. Unfortunately, this misconception carried on for almost three hundred years from the renaissance era. “The term retained its derogatory overtones until the 19th century; at which time a positive critical revaluation of Gothic architecture took place” (Martindale). Today, we can look back at Gothic style cathedrals with admiration, for these marvels of art and engineering are certainly the pinnacle of their era.


The Reims Cathedral in France.

Before the Gothic style came into full usage, there was that of the Cistercian order. It may appear as if the simpler Cistercian designs evolved into the more grandiose Gothic style, however, the connection is not so simple. St. Bernard Clairvaux firmly believed in a stark contrast between architecture for the monks and for regular citizens. Rooted in the spirituality of the monastic lifestyle, “He readily conceded that [the secular cathedrals], ‘since they cannot excite the devotion of the carnal populace with spiritual ornaments, must employ material ones,’ in other words, that cathedral art had to make concessions to sensuous experience which the mystic no longer required” (von Simson). Rather than one deriving from the other, the Cistercian and Gothic styles ran parallel, connected to different ways of life.


The Fontenay Abbey, an example of Cistercian architecture.

But the Gothic style is, again, grandiose. Abbeys in the Cistercian style are expansive, but not elaborate. They emphasized function, for their inhabitants focused inward and upward in faith, not outward to everyday life. Gothic cathedrals impressed and inspired the general population with their ornate facades, vibrant colored windows and extravagant statuary. As Bernard claimed, the populous would draw closer to God in this atmosphere, full of tangible reminders and projections of glory. Fitting, considering the overwhelming focus on pointed arches as a theme of the Gothic style.

There was, of course, other significance in Gothic architecture aside from the spiritual, particularly in the construction of cathedrals. In the spirit of progress and innovation, masons would indirectly compete for the tallest, most expansive buildings. This competition, naturally, resulted in powerful engineering inventions- discussed in the next section- with incredible successes as well as spectacular failures. “Competition in height akin to that in twentieth-century American skyscraper construction led to a record spire at Strasbourg of 468 feet, equivalent to the height of a modern forty-six-story building, but also to the collapse of the nave at Beauvais in 1284, which put a damper on the competition” (Gies).

Strasbourg (left) and Beauvais (right) Cathedrals.

Gothic architecture is an incredibly significant aspect of art history. Those who built the cathedrals in the middle ages often knew that the work would not be complete in their lifetime. After all, some cathedrals took tens or hundreds of years to finish! Still, at the same time, these workers must have also known that the work was bigger than them, and would last far beyond them. That sentiment, an important trait of humanity, lasts to this day through these cathedrals, a silent reminder of hope.

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Part 2: Efficient Engineering Innovations

There were many specific breakthroughs in the field of architectural engineering during this period of the Middle Ages. These breakthroughs, though some of them did nothing more than increase building efficiency and safety, are also associated with the beauty inherent in the Gothic style. Many of these innovations, in fact, came about as architects and engineers became more and more daring, making ceilings higher and higher, expanses wider and wider, all to evoke feelings of grandness and awe in visitors.

The first of these, and the one most important to this goal is the rib vault, a form of ceiling construction. Now, to understand why the invention of the rib vault is significant, one must compare it to its Romanesque predecessor, the barrel vault or groin vault. Barrel vaults, much like their namesake, are shaped like a barrel. They are nothing more than a domed ceiling, sometimes supported by periodic arches. This is all well and good, but has a severe limitation. Barrel vaults are limited in height and width by simple physics. If the stones are correctly mortared together and the ceiling is in one piece, all that mass in the dome places the walls under high stress, pushing them outwards. The larger the ceiling, the thicker and stronger the walls need to be, adding tremendous expense to the construction.


In a basic barrel vault (left) the forces from the heavy ceiling push the walls outward. It works, but you need very thick walls, like this Romanesque cathedral in Rome (right).

The advent of the rib vault solved this puzzling ceiling weight problem. The ribs are of stone, arching and crossing back and forth through the ceiling’s expanse. The ceiling itself is composed of much thinner stone plates. No longer do the architects need to lift prohibitively enormous stone bricks so far up. The ribs hold these panels up with little to no trouble, since the weight of the ceiling is now supported along the ribs instead of by the walls. In addition, rib vaults tend to have more pointed inner arches rather than a semicircular dome. This also carries the weight of the ceiling more evenly, in many directions instead of one or two.


The final piece of the puzzle, easily remedied, is the support of the ribs themselves. Piers attached to the walls carry the force from the ribs down through the piers. This architectural choice is twofold: first, it allows for slightly thinner walls, since the piers take the ceiling’s weight, not the whole wall. As discussed later, this is also an important decision where stone transportation is concerned. In addition, since the piers are small relative to the wall’s area, this leaves the wall space open for other ornaments, any kind of art befitting the building.


Rib vault in the Basilica of St. Denis in Paris. The columns in the center and against the walls carry the force of the ceiling ribs. Also note the several pointed arches in the ceiling. The columns leave plenty of room for the stained-glass arched windows.

The second primary innovation in Gothic architecture is the flying buttress. Now, buttressing was a common method of support since antiquity and before, but this variation of buttressing solves the specific problems medieval architects faced, correcting the outer-wall equivalents of the inner-wall and ceiling issues.

A buttress supports a wall by arranging material in such a way that a section of wall is leaning partially on it. Buttresses are used for initial support- i.e. knowing that a wall needs them, as well as replacement, if a wall is in danger of collapsing. Flying buttresses are unique in that unlike traditional buttressing, the whole flying buttress is not in contact with the wall. Instead, an arch is attached from the wall to an outside pier. Because the arch is what transfers the outward force of the wall down through the pier, and the arch is suspended in the air between the two points, it appears to be flying. Hence the name ‘flying buttress.’ Just like the rib vault, the flying buttress opened up the walls to allow for increased display of art, and as a result, beautifully ornate facades and pointed, arched windows greet visitors to the many Gothic cathedrals around Europe.

In a basic flying buttress (left), the wall is only supported by a thin, “flying” arch. The force travels down through the arch into a separate column, as in this example from the Chartres Cathedral (right).

Far from being the Dark Ages, the high medieval era was a period of vibrancy and incredible art. As sculptors and artists completed work after work, the masons, a different kind of artist, plied their own trade to build some of the most beautiful buildings ever made, despite little to no knowledge of modern engineering principles. The result of their labor certainly commands our respect today.

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