ANCIENT ALEXANDRIAN AND ROMAN MEDICINE. Jonathon Erlen , Ph.D . University of Pittsburgh. Before we discuss the Hellenistic medical world, we need to define what we mean by the Hellenistic period, which is 1 of the most intriguing, yet confusing eras in world history.
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Jonathon Erlen, Ph.D.
University of Pittsburgh
Unfortunately we hit a major roadblock in our examinations of the work of these 2 great Alexandrian medical figures because we have none of their original writings. All we have are the commentaries about their work by Galen of Pergamon who lived in the 2nd century AD and other later medical compilers.
After perhaps this one century of scientific research freedom, outside forces such as religions factors were to create barriers to medical research and education that in some cases lasted into the 19th century in the United States.
In Alexandria, Ptolemy Physcon, during the 2nd century B.C.E., for unspecified reasons, decided to severely limit the academic freedom which had existed under his predecessors at the museon. He ordered the execution of a number of scholars for no apparent reason, and dispersed many more researchers to various points throughout the Mediterranean world.
The remaining medical scholars formed 2 bitterly opposing factions of medical thought, with 1 upholding the anatomical doctrines of Herophilus, while the other staunchly supported the precepts of Empedocles and the 4 elements.
What emerged from the Hellenistic and Alexandrian medical endeavors were 4 competing schools of medical philosophy, all of which were transmitted, to some degree, to ancient Rome.
The first Greek doctor to supposedly arrive in Rome was Archagathus of Sparta in 219 B.C.E., though there certainly were others who preceded him.
As Greek medical concepts became more popular, especially among members of the upper class; however, we find efforts in the Empire period to actively attract Greek doctors to Rome.
high status of Roman citizenship
freedom from military service
no taxation of their incomes
It was in their practicality and their greatness in large‑scale organization that the Romans made their major contributions to medicine and public health.
This point is well illustrated by the massive public works projects during the Roman Empire, undertaken to assure an adequate water supply and acceptable public sanitation.
Roman technical and hygienic public health achievements clearly surpassed any purely medical advances made in this period, and this fact can at least be partially attributed to the Roman belief that it was far more important to maintain one's good health than to depend on medicine’s ability to cure disease.