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guy

Evidence for Medics Amongst the Milites

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During a recent visit to the bookstore, while leafing through the most recent copy of Ancient Warfare (Vol VI, issue 4), I came across an article by Duncan B. Campbell "Evidence for Medics Amongst the Milites: Did the Roman army have a medical corps?"

 

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This article reminded me of a previous, somewhat heated discussion we had at UNRV:

 

http://www.unrv.com/forum/topic/14768-valetudinarium/

 

 

The article asks this question:

 

"There is often a temptation to attribute modern thoughts and ideas to the Romans, and many researchers are happy to retroject familiar concepts and institutions from the present back into the Roman World. The Roman army is commonly the subject of such comparisons. It is almost universally assumed, for example, that just as in modern armies -- the Romans had a centrally organized medical service. But does the evidence really measure up? Are we entitled to assume that the Roman army had an organized medical corps?"

 

Interestingly, the article concludes:

 

"It certainly seems that the legions were well-equipped with medical facilites. The spread of evidence -- though not vast, by any means -- is suggestive of an organized service, designed to care for the sick and injured. The great legionary fortresses, laid out like Roman towns, appear to have been equipped with spacious hospitals, run by legionary staff and placed under the protection of the the healing deities Asclepius and his daughter Hygeia, the personification of good health."

"However, the evidence from the auxilia is far less satifactory. A few units, at some stage, appear to have acquired a physician, but we know nothing of the circumstances."

 

Good stuff.

 

My favorite Roman medicus:

 

 

 

 

guy also known as gaius

Edited by guy

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When people begin to learn about the roman legions (I prefer not to call it "the army", they didn't have a national army but instead maintained lots of small ones, calling them legions), they start with the organisational breakdown and reputation. Immediately the human tendency to categorise, not to mention a great deal of military romanticism, leads us to place modern aspects on the legions. The typical glowing description on the internet for instance often looks suspiciously like a wish list for any aspiring general.

 

It is true that the Romans had medics among them. These were invariably greeks, because the Romans themselves did not have these skills. A lot has been said in recent years about medical ability in ROman times. They had become quite adept in healing injuries caused by violence, but remember that even so part of the treatment was ensuring the injured man said his prayers. There were also a lot of treatments for ailments, major or minor, that clearly did more harm than good.

 

The trouble was that many people in Roman times claimed to have medical skills and didn't. Whether these con-merchants survived in legion employment I can't say - I don't recollect any mention of a medic pretending to know what he was doing and getting caught - but then the Romans don't really mention medics do they? Nor do they ever mention a medical corps, because there wasn't one. Yes, they had a primitive hospital in their home fort, and greek medics among them. However, the reality of ancient warfare was that an injured man who couldn't get back to the hospital would very lucky to survive for long.

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One of the central buildings in the Auxiliary fort at Housesteads is porportedly a hospital. I think the truth is, though, that there's no real evidence for it being anything else, so that has become the most likely guess. I'm sure it wouldn't take UNRV members long to think of other possible uses, though.

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Given we're dealing with a different culture it isn't implausible to suggest that the building listed hospital use among its primary purposes, and that it was used for a variety of reasons such as when medicine wasn't a priority. Would the Romans really leave a building almost disused? Or were they beset with malingerers with fallen arches and bad colds?

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Or were they beset with malingerers with fallen arches and bad colds?

 

One of the Vindolanda tablets suggested there was a bit of that went on.

 

But you raise a good point, it is more likeley to have been a general purpose building.

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Or were they beset with malingerers with fallen arches and bad colds?

 

One of the Vindolanda tablets suggested there was a bit of that went on.

 

But you raise a good point, it is more likeley to have been a general purpose building.

 

Memories from the past B) with a different conclusion:

 

http://www.unrv.com/forum/topic/11738-vindolanda-tablets-glimpse-of-legionary-health/

 

 

guy also known as gaius

Edited by guy

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