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Gordon Henderson  ‘Roman Medicine’

Gordon has been an avid local historian for more than forty years. For the last five years he has been involved with the archaeological investigations at Binchester, one mile north of Bishop Auckland. Binchester was the largest military fort north of York & contains a large amount of artefacts preserved in good condition. Among these relics is equipment used by surgeons treating both soldiers & civilians. Gordon’s talk was comprehensively illustrated with replica Roman medical devices.


Before Julius Caesar the role of doctor, which included dentistry, was the preserve of Greeks. Caesar introduced a more professional approach & Romans, both men & women, were trained as physicians, surgeons & pharmacists, drawing on the knowledge from Egypt & China as well as from Greece.  A physician served an apprenticeship of four years under a qualified doctor. To become a surgeon required a further three years study at one of the medical universities at Rome, Alexandria & Ephesus. The profession was very well paid.Soldiers & Roman citizens received free medical treatment.


On entering the hospital a patient was assigned one doctor who was responsible for both diagnosis & treatment.  Each patient had a room of their own. A second doctor examined the patient before discharge. Vinegar & tincture of boiled rosemary were used as antiseptics. Alcohol & opium were employed as anaesthetics.


A very wide selection of medical instruments was employed, from scalpels, saws, forceps, to arrow extractors & trepans for perforating the skull.  Ingenious clamps were used to prevent blood loss from both veins & arteries.  Surgeons had a great deal of experience of treating battle trauma including removal of limbs & fitting prostheses.  Comprehensive medical records were recorded for each patient & payment was delayed until a full recovery had been demonstrated.

A vote of thanks was proposed by David Houston