Audrey Cruse
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Roman Medicine: Science or Religion?
in Bulletin of the John Rylands Library
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In ancient Greece and Rome magical and religious healing continued to be practised at the same time as a burgeoning of research and learning in the natural sciences was promoting a seemingly more rational and scientific approach to medicine. Was there, then, a dichotomy in medical treatment or was the situation more complex? This paper draws on historical textual sources as well as archaeological research in examining the question in more detail. Some early texts, such as the Egyptian papyri from about 2,600 bc and the Hippocratic Corpus from the third and fourth centuries bc, contain an intriguing mixture of scientific and religious material. Archaeological evidence from, for example, sites of healing sanctuaries from ancient times, show medical prescriptions used as part of votive offerings and religious inscriptions on surgical instruments, while physicians were prominent among donators to shrines. Other archaeological finds such as the contents of rubbish tips, buried hoards, sepulchral deposits and stray artefacts from occupation levels, have also added to the archive of medical material available for discussion. The paper concludes that such intertwinings of religion and science were not only common in Roman medicine but, in fact, continue into the present time.

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