Archive for November 6, 2013

I attended an interesting meeting at the weekend on health and medicine in the Roman Empire. One of the presentations was by Dr Nicholas Somerton. He started by looking at Vindolanda tablet 154 which includes a list of legionaries who are unfit for duty. On this particular occasion, this seems to have accounted for about 10% of the total number of soldiers present at the base. 15 were listed as being sick, six as being wounded and 10 as having eye inflammation.

154_1-front_t

Dr Somerton, a GP by trade, went on then to examine some of the remedies that have been recorded in Roman literature for eye inflammation problems. The ingredients of these included antimony, lead, zinc and copper. They also contained non- metallic ingredients such as gum arabic, saffron, opium and frankincense. Interestingly, one ingredient Euphrasia pollen is still available in health stores today, marketed under the name ‘eyebright’. Once the particular mixture of ingredients had been combined and made into a paste, it was divided into lozenges and allowed to dry. This probably made for easy storage and transport. When required, material was ground off of the lozenge and the resultant powder was mixed in either milk, egg, wine, lime juice or water to make a paste, which could be applied to the infected area.

This could be the sort of materials needed for medication preparation

This could be the sort of materials needed for medication preparation

A stamp for stamping lozenges with identification information

A stamp for stamping lozenges with identification information

Dr Somerton then proceeded to present some initial results of the effectiveness of some of these medications by looking at their antibacterial activity. Whilst none had the effect of modern antibiotics, some did show some clear antibacterial activity.