Bandages and Plasters as Wound Care In Greco-Roman Antiquity: A Review of The Ancient Evidence and Experimental Analysis
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractThis thesis project encompasses a comprehensive overview of visual, literary, and archaeological evidence concerning wound care in the ancient Greco-Roman world. Analysis of this evidence will explore medical themes such as the different types of medical responses to wounds available in antiquity, preparation of treatments, and the importance of instructionally minded prose in medical writing. I have approached wound care from an interdisciplinary perspective in order to develop a more nuanced understanding of treatment types associated with injury during these periods. The scope of this project is diachronic and considers the development of wound care (specifically the use of bandages and plasters) from the 5th century BCE to the 2nd century CE. Wound care can involve a range of treatments, but for this project I focus on bandages and plasters as the essential core of material technology which was used by Greco-Roman physicians to encourage wound healing. Currently, there are zero comprehensive studies of plaster as a unique classification of medical treatment. So, this thesis aims to begin approaching the topic in a comprehensive manner, placing it in association with wound care generally, and in contrast with the more well-known linen bandage. The second chapter begins this exploration by discussing visual evidence of bandages and injury as found in Greek and Roman art, to understand non-medical perspectives of wound care. Here, I argue that bandages can be used as a visual attribute for survival when representing important figures such as Patroclus, and, conversely, the lack of visable treatment represents a figure who will likely perish soon, or has already passed away. In the third chapter, I turn to the medical texts and explore how wound care treatments and recipes exist as instructional materials within the literature. Overall, this chapter further contributes to scholarly understanding of the instructional values, as described through the carefully crafted prose which encourages the dissemination of treatment methods and recipes to the reader. These chapters also explore how the Greco-Roman tradition of wound care expands from a much longer and generally Mediterranean medical tradition, derived in part from early Egyptian practices which directly inform the use of medical technology in the Greco-Roman world. This in turn has fundamentally structured our own modern approaches to injury and still informs the basic tenets of the wound care treatments we use every day. The remaining chapters are dedicated to exploring the logistics of ancient wound care using experimental archaeology techniques. Experimental analysis from these chapters explore how various versions of plaster treatments as described within the Hippocratic corpus, Celsus’ De Medicina, and other sources were created. This approach also shows how treatments written as recipes could be effectively recreated by the reader alone in most cases, and what types of common-sense knowledge might be required of the reader to do so successfully. I describe the sources and methodology used to re-create a few chosen plaster recipes known from antiquity, and present the results of each experiment in detail. These experiments were also undertaken in order to fully clarify what the ancient physician considered a plaster to be as a material product, and through this process I have developed a working definition for plaster treatments specifically. By forming these plaster type treatments in the modern day, it is possible to learn more about the limitations of their use, as well as how the treatments were categorized within medical thought. Discussion studies the variety of these treatments, as well as the common qualities and ingredients. Altogether, this approach confirms without a doubt that the medical treatises of Greco-Roman antiquity do have direct instructional value. The dissemination of knowledge through both medical and non-medical literature, as well as through art thus reflects the strength of these sources, and the relative importance they held in antiquity.
Degree ProgramGraduate College