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Ancient Roman Doctors

The 'doctors' in ancient Rome were not nearly as highly regarded as the doctors in Greece. The profession itself, outside of the legions, was considered a low social position, fit for slaves, freedmen and non-latin citizens, mainly Greeks. While there were some who were respected, most were considered just as they were, cheaters, liars and quacks. The bulk of doctors, at least early on, were self-taught or apprenticed practitioners who simply claimed to be healers, with little basis in real medical knowledge.

Many doctors did try to find effective treatments and perform a valuable service to the community, but even more were simply in it to con and cheat their patients. As there were no licensing boards, no formal requirements or education for entrance to the profession, anyone could call himself a doctor. If his methods were successful, he attracted more patients, if not, they simply moved on to another career.

Wealthier, and more respected physicians, set up shop like any normal practice today, with an office and staff. Others simply advertised their services on the streets, going so far as to perform simple surgeries in front of crowds to increase their notoriety. Others acted as 'snake oil' salesmen, selling any number of products along with their treatments. Beauty supplies and cosmetics were commonly purchased from doctors. Nearly all would attempt to treat any ailment provided the price was right, knowing their treatments did little good, if not more harm. There is even evidence of doctors acting as assassins, willingly poisoning patients in the guise of giving them care, though this was rare and would lead to a short professional career.

With the introduction of a medical school in the 1st century AD, the health care of ancient world become more uniform and practical; but for the average citizen, life was better without the need for a doctor. Surgeons however, especially those in the legions, were highly skilled and coveted in private life. Research and advances made by doctors on the battlefield became the mainstay of human medicine for nearly 2 millenium.

Women also performed an important service to the field of medicine. As a tradition last lasted for centuries, midwives delivered babies and became experts in women's health. These skilled medical care givers often filled the void left by the ignorance of doctors, and despite high birth mortality rates, went a long way towards providing quality service to Roman women.

Did you know?

The best known roman doctor Galen studied medicine in Alexandria, Egypt and became the surgeon to a school of gladiators. Unusually, for a Greek, he moved to Rome where he revived Hippocrates' view on diseases.


Ancient Roman Doctors - Related Topic: Roman Houses


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