Ancient Roman Medicine and Surgery

Laura Cho

Brief history

The Romans used a combination of tools and rituals ( such as examining the liver of a sacrificed animal, which then gave good or bad omens). Many doctors were freed Greek slaves, so their social standing was quite low. But after the emperor Augustus rose to power, he started a military medical corps and gave physicians titles, land grants, and retirement benefits. Soon medical professionals were required to train at a Army Medical School, increasing the success rates of surgeries.

medical tools

Scalpels- made of bronze, steel, or a combination of metals, and are used for various incisions, deep or delicate cuts (such as surgery between the ribs). These scalpels have the same form and function as modern ones today.

Surgical Scissors- cutting hair was considered as a therapeutic measure; there is little evidence that these were used to cut tissue.

Tubes- made of lead or bronze, and used to prevent contractions or adhesions

Hooks- there are two kinds of hooks- blunt and sharp. The blunt hook is used as probes for dissection and raising blood vessels. Sharp hooks are used to hold/lift/extract tissue.

Bone Drills- used to remove bone tissue from the skull and foreign objects (like pieces of a weapon) from the bone.

Bone Forceps- used to extract small fragments of bone, often used along with bone drills.

Abdominal Forceps- used to pull back tissue; the smaller version, epilation forceps, are used for hair removal

Spatula Probes- has a round part attached to a long shaft with a spatula at the end. The round end was for stirring medications, and the spatula for spreading the ointment on the body.

Portable Medicine Chest- portable storage units containing tools, ointments, and drugs.

Surgeons used painkillers such as opium and used acid in vinegar to wash wounds. All tools would be boiled in hot water before their use.


Romans were more concerned in prevention than cure, and believed that being fit could combat illnesses. They also thought bad sewage and water were also the root causes for disease. Because of these beliefs Romans built advanced sewage systems, bath houses, and aqueducts. However they did not realize or understand the concept of germs.

There was a huge Greek influence on Roman medicine, since most of the doctors were prisoners of war, and when the Romans conquered Alexandria, they found libraries and universities with vast knowledge of medicine.


Fennel- used for those with nervous disorders and for the eyes

Rhubarb- used for internal disorders and asthma

Liquorice - used to calm the stomach, and treatment for kidney or bladder disorders

Garlic- said to be good for the heart

Egg Yolk- for those with dysentery

Brambles - chewing a leaf will help heal bleeding gums

Violets- used for the eyes or for hangovers


Many Romans studied the works of Hippocrates, a Greek physician, who was regarded as the father of medicine and the founder of the Hippocratic School of Medicine. He believed that the works of a doctor should be separated than those of a priest and that all diseases had a natural cause. The Hippocrates oath, widely believed to be written by Hippocrates himself, is taken by all doctors, physicians, and other healthcare professionals.


A video of me making surgical scissors (sorry if it's too fast!)

For my Latin project I decided to make a small medical chest and some tools.

Medical Chest- made out of cardboard and wood (the handles are wires)

Scalpel- made out of cardboard and aluminum metal

Forceps- spring from a pen, and wood

Surgical Scissors- aluminum metal (cut slits and bended the ends)

Spatula Tube- aluminum metal, wire, and the bottom of a plastic spoon

I first used a 12 x 9 inch cardboard and cut square corners that were 1.5 in long. Instead of cutting them entirely, I folded them to the side. Then I made two dividers made of cardboard to make 4 slots; 2 that are squares. With thin wood (that I cut up) I covered the sides of the box and made squares as the openings for the 2 square slots. The wood is attached to folded cardboard so it would open like a door. In both the attached wooden squares, I punched holes to insert twisted looped wires as a knobs. Finally I painted the medical box to have an ancient and rusty feel to it.


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Comment Stream

2 years ago

Your video is private so I cannot watch it again to grade the project. Make it "unlisted" instead of "private" if you do not want to make it public.