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Medicine in a Roman city

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The excavated city of Pompeii provides insight into medicine in first century CE Roman life

An examination of the archaeological sites and material at Pompeii related to medical treatment, including surgical instruments and other medical equipment, remnants of drugs and herbal medicines, evidence of traditional practices related to religion and the deities associated with healing and magic, as well as the human remains found, can provide some appreciation of how medical problems were dealt with in Roman society. Many of the medical instruments, procedures and medications used at that time would be familiar to modern practitioners.

Roman medical equipment found at Pompeii’s sites

The collections of medical equipment, containers for medicaments and drug residues found at archaeological excavations in Pompeii have identified sites where medical practices occurred. Surgical instruments have been found at 27 sites, but five sites in particular were found to contain a large variety of medical instruments, with many of these being quite sophisticated.

A large number of medical instruments, including scalpels, spatulae, hooks, bleeding cups and forceps (Box 1, Box 2), were found at one particular site on the Via Consolare (Consular Way) in Pompeii, indicating that this site was the residence of a surgical specialist — the site is known…