Ancient Rome

Ancient Rome — 500 BC to 500 AD


Ancient Rome came into its own in the 6th century BC. It grew from a small Etruscian town in the 7th century BC into a thriving republic in the 6th century. The Roman Empire, under the rule of Constantine became Christianized in the 4th century BC. By 265 BC the Roman Republic included the whole of the Italian peninsula, and by 200 it was able to intervene into Greek affairs by engaging in a war with Alexander the Great. When Julius Caesar died in 44 BC, Rome controlled a large part of the countries boarding on the Mediterranean Sea, including Greece, Asia Minor and North Africa.

The Romans took on many of the ways of the Ancient Greeks, including their advances in medicine, rhetoric, and education. But they also had their differences as the following review will point out.

Medicine in Ancient Rome

Under the rule of Constantine medicine became Christianized. The church leaders ruled against the use of Greek shrines for worshipping Asclepius, the health god, and built instead Christian shrines to saints and martyrs who were associated with matters of health.

The worship of St. Damian and St. Cosmos were substituted for Asclepius. Particular saints were associated with particular diseases and complaints. St Vitas, for example, was the saint associated with epilepsy.

Ancient Rome's greatest contribution to medicine was the organization of medical schools, teachers, of public physicians, of public and military hospitals, of clean water supplies and of city drainage. The Romans drew heavily from the medical theories and practices of the Greeks.

Galen (131-201 AD) was most influential of all Roman physicians. He was Greek, but like many other Greek physicians of his time, lived and worked in Rome. Galen served five different Roman emperors, including Emperor Marcus Aurelius and wrote more than 400 treatises on anatomy and physiology. His works were used as a standard authority for 1400 years following his death.

When he was young he served as a resident surgeon at the gladiator school in Pergamum on the Turkish side of the Aegean Sea. This gave him a unique exposure and knowledge to the body’s anatomy—at a time when it was forbidden to dissect human corpses. Galen also dissected animals such as apes and elephants in order to study anatomy and physiology (Spillane, 1981).

Galen drew from the work of Aristotle and Hippocrates basing his medicine on a theory of humors and on pneuma theory. He and his students discovered that the nerves arising from the brain and spinal cord were necessary for the initiation of muscle contraction and he used this information to revise the version of pneuma theory created by Aristotle. Galen also showed that the arteries carried blood and not air or pneuma. These findings allowed him to counter Aristotle’s view that vital pneuma were carried from the air outside through the blood vessels to the brain.

With the use of experiment Galen also came to understand the value of the pulse in diagnosis. However Galen also believed that blood was continuously being made and used up.

Among his remedies were medicines that he created from animal and vegetable extracts, many of the plants being grown in his own garden. He detailed various remedies including how each was made and the recommended correct doses to be given.

Galen’s main contributions were his anatomical discoveries. This was true of his studies of voice. He was the first to describe the laryngeal ventricles, the contribution of the glottis to vocalization, the major cartilages and the paired muscles of the larynx.

Galen also made important functional distinctions related to the voice. He distinguished between voice and speech and differentiated their generating organs. In Galen’s words:

…voice and speech are not the same thing. Voice is produced by the vocal organs, while speech is a product of the conversational organs, while speech is a product of the conversational organs, the nose, the tongue and the teeth being some of these (Yannatos, Heshiki, & Herault, 2000, p. 330).

Galen asserted that stuttering is due to excessive moisture, or, in some cases, dryness of the tongue. His treatment involved heating the tongue (including cauterization), or wrapping it in cloth soaked with lettuce juice.

Galen compared the production of the voice to a musical wind instrument. The glottis served as a reed and the pharynx and palate as a mechanism for voicing. He described the brain as the center of phonation and laid out the motor pathways via the laryngeal nerves to the larynx. Galen identified the larynx as the instrument of the voice and outlined the muscles of the vocal system. Galen differentiated physiologic from pathologic dysphonias, and ascribed different types of hoarseness to various diseases and disorders of the vocal system. He observed that an injury to recurrent laryngeal nerves during thyroidectomy caused hoarseness of the voice.

Oratory and rhetoric in ancient Rome

Rhetoric was key in the governance of Ancient Rome. Laws were passed and governmental officers were elected at citizen meetings. Policies and political ideas were disseminated through conversation and public addresses. Public speaking, therefore had particular power in the government and society.

It is not surprising then that during the first century BC the Romans included rhetoric as a part of their educational training in liberal arts. They, like the Greeks, associated rhetoric with the art of practical politics. Cicero, for example, Rome’s greatest orator, not only practiced oratory in the Roman senate, but also wrote several essays on the topic.

In De Inventione, Cicero separated aspects of the oratory process into different divisions, or what have come to be called the five canons of rhetoric: Invention, Arrangement, Style, Memory and Delivery. Cicero describes these five areas as follows:

Invention is the discovery of valid or seemingly valid arguments to render one’s cause plausible. Arrangement is the distribution of arguments thus discovered in the proper order. Expression (that is, elocutio,--Cicero’s term for style) is the fitting of the proper language to the invented matter. Memory is the firm mental grasp of matter and words. Delivery is the control of voice and body in a manner suitable to the dignity of the subject matter and the styoe. (from Cicero, De Inventione, Paragraph 7 Trans. C. D. Yonge translation , 1888).

This taxonomy was one used by educators and orators from Cicero’s time to the 19th century. In a second essay, De oratore, Cicero offers set of procedures for how to achieve oratory skills. In his essay called Brutus, Cicero described Roman oratory and offers a history of it. Finally, in his essay on Orator, he describes takes to be an ideal orator. Cicero’s ideal orator was one who had encyclopedic knowledge and who obeyed the tenets of civil prudence. St. Augustine followed Cicero’s idea about practical oratory, applying it to religion.

Cicero’s view of speech included not only articulation and voice but also gestures and intonation. He believed that nature had endowed every word spoken with an appropriate hand and facial gesture as well as tone of voice. He introduced the idea that the text of every speech be delivered with attendant physical movement and fullness of emotion (De oratore, I 29-34, 45).

Marcus Fabius Quintilian (35-100 AD) a Roman orator, writer, and teacher of rhetoric, expanded upon Cicero’s theories. Following Cicero, Quintilian organized the practice of oratory into five canons or arts. In Quintilian’s words:

The whole art of oratory, as the most and greatest writers have taught, consists of five parts: invention, arrangement, expression, memory, and delivery or action.

Quintilian opened a public school for rhetoric in Rome. Perhaps for that reason he paid more attention than did Cicero to education and the teaching of rhetoric. Whereas Cicero called for a broad, general education, Quintilian’s suggested a program of education in rhetoric that was more focused. He laid out the educational process step by step, from birth to adulthood.

In his classic book Institutes of oratory, completed around 95 AD, Quintilian discussed what is required for mastering each of the canons. Many later rhetoricians, especially those living during the Renaissance, derived their rhetorical theory directly from the Quintilian’s text. The book is made up of 12 sections or books on how to train to be an ideal orator. In it Quintilian covers topics such as the theory and practice of rhetoric, the nature and art or rhetoric, the role of emotion and language in oratory, and foundational ideas in education.

Disability in ancient Rome

There are several notable examples of people with disabilities who lived in Roman times. These include Claudius, the fourth emperor of Rome, Quintus Pedius, a deaf painter and the first deaf person known by name, and Balbus Blaesius, a stutterer, who made his living as a freak-show performer.

The fourth emperor of Rome, Claudius, ruled from 41 AD to 54 AD is said to have had a pronounced limp, weakness in his hands and knees, and a stammer from childhood. Some today think he probably had cerebral palsy. His own mother and grandmother referred to him as 'half-formed' and 'a fool.' He was the teased as a boy and his family hid him from public view, expecting little of him.

Plutarch, a historian writing about the “loathsome” people with disabilities:

There is a sort of people at Rome who, being unaffected with any thing that is beautiful and pretty, either in the works of art or nature, despise the most curious pieces in painting or sculpture, and the fairest boys and girls that are there exposed to sale, as not worth their money; therefore they much frequent the monster-market, looking after people of distorted limbs and preternatural shapes, of three eyes and pointed heads, and mongrels

Where kinds of unlike form oft blended be into one hideous deformity.

All which are sights so loathsome, that they themselves would abhor them were they compelled often to behold them. And if they who curiously enquire into those vicious deformities and unlucky accidents that may be observed in the lives of other men would only bind themselves to a frequent recollection of what they had seen and heard, there would be found very little delight or advantage in such ungrateful and melancholy reflections. (Plutarch, )

There are a number of references to speech problems by writers in Roman antiquity. Cicero, in his book De Divin (46 AD), for example, said this:

Is there any doubt but that many, although so born as to have some things impaired against nature, were restored and set right by Nature when she had revoked herself, or by the art of medicine? As the sort whose tongues were so tied that they could not speak were freed after it had been cut with a scalpel. Many also have cure a vice of nature through meditation and exercise, as Phalereus writes that Demosthenes, although he could not pronounce rho, brought it about through exercise that he could pronounce it very clearly (from Wollock, 1997, p. 46).

Education and rehabilitation in Ancient Rome

During the hundred years or more that elapsed between the death of Cicero in and the birth of Quintilian, the Roman Empire focused on educating its people. A Greek slave (a paedagogi) usually taught the Roman children Latin and Greek and how to swim and ride horses. When seven years of age a Roman boy began his formal education. Classes were held on a rooftop. Wax-covered boards or sand were used for writing. The boys who were sons of the aristocracy learned about civic life by accompanying their fathers to religious and political functions, including the Senate.

Rhetoric was considered one of the highest forms of education for Roman children, since it offered a person a way to enter public office. In Rome and its provinces, including Spain, public orations were held. Professorships in both Greek and Latin rhetoric were paid with public funds. During the period in which Quintilian lived, men born in Spain dominated the Latin schools and the Latin literature.

Rhetoric studies also included techniques of letter-writing, poetry, preaching and argumentation. There were three main areas of study that began in this period. First, the student learned the structure of a language (grammar). Secondly, he learned how to manage the logic in argumentation and other areas of discourse. Thirdly, he learned how to say what he had to say elegantly and persuasively (rhetoric). These three areas were later formalized into what was called the trivium and became a foundational part of standard medieval education.

Speech therapies also existed in Ancient Rome. For example, the physician Caelius Aurelianus recommended several therapies for tongue paralysis. First, he recommended tongue exercises involving the extension and contraction of the tongue. For total paralysis, he recommended that the person imagine what he is trying to say. He reasoned the airflow from the lungs could stimulate the person to say the words he or she was imagining. Caelius also recommending speech sound exercises in which the person practiced saying one sound at a time, after imagining that sound. The next phase after successfully sounding out these building blocks of what would be phonemes, the patient can use all the sounds to produce whole words.