Roman Empire: What Was Life Like

There are a number of elements about Roman life which we tossed out in this month’s episode, The Accidental Tourist.  We posted several videos on what Pompeii was like here, but there is so much more than just the destruction by Vesuvius.

Hilaria talks about furtum, which was basically equivalent to modern day theft.  Furtum was considered a civil crime, not a criminal one, because it related to property. Romans also distinguised between manifest and non-manifest theft. Death or flogging was the penalty for manifest theft, later changed to four times the value of the thing stolen. N0n-manifest theft was twice the value.  If the defendant did not bring the item to court or refused a search, additional penalties could be levied.

Medicine is another issue for our travelers back in Pompeii.  The Roman Empire inherited their medical practice from the Etruscans which included both secular and religious aspects of medical healing. Long before the destruction of Pompeii (by nearly 800 years). the College of Augurs had a special divinity for nearly every disease or symptom.  By the time of Pompeii, Pliny wrote, “The Roman people for more than six hundred years were not without medical art but were without physicians.” There were even people who specialized in medical practice by third century B.C.E. Many Greeks were sought after for their medical knowledge. Archagathos of Sparta came over in 291 B.C.E.. Asclepiades of Bithynia was influential in medical arts in the Roman Empire around 100 B.C.E..

While midwives actively practice obstetrics in Greece, in the Roman Empire some women were looked on as doctors.

There is one aspect from Roman medicine we don’t continue to use today, skull drills to cure mental illness. Egyptians and Greeks often employed Trephining, or drilling holes in the head to relieve the pressure (and cure mental illness). This was to release the evil spirits that cause someone to go mad.  Greek physician Hippocrates countered this by suggesting mental illness stemmed from natural causes in the human body, particularly the physiology of the brain. Unlike earlier cultures, Romans often felt the mentally ill were somehow in touch with the gods and therefore held a sacred role in society.

Although we did not use this bit of information in this episode, Asclepiades of Bithynia is reported to have brought a dead body back to life around 80-100 B.C.E.. He also invented the Tracheotomy.




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