Doctor, Doctor

Dark Heart, my Roman-era romantic suspense will be published on April 28 through Dragonblade Publishing.

A statue of Aesculapius, the god of medicine for both the Greeks and Romans. Notice the snake rising up the staff. A hint of the caduceus that symbolises doctors and paramedics today.

It might come as a surprise to many to discover that back in ancient Rome there were women doctors.

Those un-PC Romans even had a gendered term for them – medicae – as opposed to medicus for men.

Although their work would likely have been obstetrics and gynaecological, they did more than just midwifery work and had a higher status than midwives – which proves that not much has changed in thousands of years.

Medicaes were citizens, not slaves, so I’ve taken a bit of creative licence on this topic in Dark Heart, but as we learn from Kyna, Philomen Erasmus – the Greek doctor who trained her – was an independent minded chap.

That’s not to say that doctors were universally admired and trusted as they are today. In many respects they were treated a bit like lawyers – with suspicion, accused of doing too little and charging too much.

And again, unlike today, the profession of doctor was not something a Roman would want their children to study. That kind of thing was left to the Greeks who had made the profession their own.

Doctors did go through training often via an apprenticeship and as a medical intern at the temples of Aesculapius – the temples of healing and most famous of which is in Rome on Tiber Island.

Tiber Island. Essentially it was Rome’s medical precinct.

While we had to wait until the medieval period before we see the beginning of the scientific method being codified and applied to all aspects of science, ancient Roman and Greek doctors were nonetheless comprehensively trained with the best information they had at the time.

The Grey’s Anatomy equivalent was the works of Galen whose works formed the basis of medical theory for a good thousand years.

He was fascinated by anatomy and used animal corpses to extrapolate his theories, since Roman Law forbade dissection of human corpses – a prohibition which remained until the Renaissance.

Like many modern health enthusiasts, Galen was a big believer in food being the primary medicine with surgical and drug intervention being a drastic step.

His works were widely referenced by doctors all over the Empire and, in honour of him, I’ve mentioned him as a contemporary of my fictional doctor Philomen, who collected a number of his works.

The survival and amendment of Hippocratic medicine is attributed to Galen. Galen writes that a physician “must be skilled at reasoning about the problems presented to him, must understand the nature and function of the body within the physician world and must ‘practice temperance and despise all money’.

Which brings us to the late Roman Empire, and the introduction of the comes archiatorum, an honorary position of today’s equivalent of a Chief Medical Officer or Surgeon-General. The equivalent of the AMA or the doctor’s registration board was archiatri who arbitrated on all medical disputes. Rome had fourteen of them; the number in other communities varied from five  and up to ten, depending on the population.

The Surgeon-General was a nobleman, so in Dark Heart, I’ve made him a Senator who becomes integral to the plot. Something which connects my heroine Kyna into mystery the hero Marcus wants to get to the bottom of.

Okay this has nothing to do with Ancient Rome – or medicine – but when I was writing this blog post, this was the earworm that came to mind. There is no for cure earworms but to share them.

You’re welcome. 😛

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