In the Roman period, it was commonly thought that disease was brought by the alignment of the stars. They believed that looking into astrology was the key thing to finding out why diseases occurred, for example, if a planet was lined up with another. Another belief for why diseases occurred was that there were evil creatures too tiny to be seen that were causing people’s illnesses. This is very much true as nowadays we know about germs and how they can cause illness, showing that the Romans were on the right track for some part. Lastly, poisonous vapours in the air were also to blame for diseases.
These theories were made by scientists in the Roman period, and lasted until the nineteenth century. Treatments for diseases consisted of many herbal remedies that were passed down through generations. A book called the “Herbarium” was written by Dioscorides, a roman army doctor. This book contained around 600 herbal remedies for all different types of illnesses. Some Roman doctors had come over from Greece meaning that they remained to have the belief that the four humours affected a person’s health. For example, if the patient was hot, the doctor would try to cool them down using things such as a cucumber.
People also believed that praying to the Gods would help them recover from their illnesses, as they had Gods for specific things e. g. health. The Romans did develop the first hospitals. These were firstly set up for the soldiers of the time and they were free for them. Working there would be military nurses and skilled surgeons who built on the Greeks ideas about physiology and anatomy. However, as they did not possess the anaesthetic we have today, operations during that time was very painful and due to the fact they still didn’t have a lot of knowledge about infections as we do today, many of the patients that were treated died.
During this period, many medical schools opened and the research that went into medicine was widened. Many doctors were able to train at army hospitals where they would get constant cases of dealing with injured soldiers. This gave the doctors a chance to practice their trade as well as develop ideas about the human body and how to treat particular illnesses. The Romans believed that exercise and a healthy diet did benefit your health. They were also very keen on public hygiene, for this reason, nine public baths were built in Rome.
They believed that a healthy mind led to a healthy body, and they were keen on keeping fit to combat illnesses. They believed that money should be spent on keeping yourself fit rather than spending on a doctor when you get ill. Public health was a great concern for the Romans. They made the link between bad water and sewage causing illnesses, as their drinking water would flow right next to their sewage pipes. Due to this discovery, the Romans made seven sewers so that the sewage could flow away from the drinking water.
They employed government officials to monitor the cleanliness and behaviour of the water as well as giving 300 slaves the job of cleaning the streets every night. Aqueducts were built to bring fresh water into the city; this was so not only the rich could benefit from the necessities of life, but the common people too. They also found that the swamps were big carriers of the disease malaria – due to this, Julius Caesar had a large swamp drained and replaced it with a forest.
After some time, the Middle Ages began and in this period of time the Black Death occurred – an incurable disease which killed 1.4 million of the 4 million people living in Britain at the time. People had different theories about what caused disease, one of them being that bad air. It was thought that the air was corrupted by “dead flesh” or from “standing water in ditches”. Another reason, they believed, for the plague to have occurred was that God had sent the diseases as a punishment for their sins as well as thinking that astrology and the supernatural caused the Black Death. When the stars or planets were aligned in a certain way, they thought that it was the reason for illness.
From Hippocrates and Galen’s ideas, they also thought that the four humours were something you had to keep balanced to avoid illness. Lastly, people resorted to blaming minority groups e. g. the Jewish community for the bad disease that was affecting the nation. Treatments for the Black Death included praying to God for forgiveness. Due to the fact that people believed God had sent the disease as a punishment for people’s sins, they desperately tried to redeem themselves by begging for mercy from God daily and made candles their own height as offerings to Him.
However, Flagellants went even further and whipped themselves; they tried to show God that they had repented their sins and wanted Him to be merciful. As some of the population believed bad air had caused the disease, they thought of the solution that you should surround yourself by other smells as to not breathe in the contaminated air. One method consisted of sticking your head in a bucket that was filled with waste from the toilet. The four humours method was also followed, so people would try to balance them e. g. by draining “excess” blood from the body.
However, some believed that all these methods were a waste of time and nothing could be done to cure the plague. To conclude, I think the progress made in the Middle Ages was much more delayed than the progress made by the Romans. The main reason for this is because of the occurrence of the Black Death. It was essentially an incurable disease and many people died. Despite the shocking number of deaths however, the Black Death did indeed lead to new revelations like the four humours. Overall, although it may have been a more delayed process, the Middle Ages did progress the discoveries and work done by the Romans.