Why public health provision was far better in the towns of Ancient Rome than in English towns during the Middle Ages

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> The Romans had an organised system of public health.

> The Roman Empire split in two and disintegrated after about 500AD.

> Many English towns lacked clean water and sewage disposal.

Roman Public Health was much better than Medieval Public Health because the Romans used aqueducts, sewers and running water to clean out the toilets. The Romans had a stable Government committed to health and medicine, believed in worshipping to the God’s, used tax properly by using the money to maintain health and medicine, had a very strong army which was strong and healthy and able to fend off any opposition attacking their gigantic empire spanning over the whole of Europe and parts of Africa and the middle east, the Romans had no major epidemics and health measures.

The Romans had faith in empirical observation. This meant that they believed that bad smells or “bad air,” caused disease along with bad water, swamps and boggy marshes, being near sewage and keeping clean. All these theories are correct but to every thing good there is something bad. The Romans learnt that if people lived near a swamp or a marsh they were likely to get ill and died from malaria. The first solution they came up with was to build a temple to Febris the goddess of fever in the largest swamp near to where the people were contracting this disease the obvious thing to do if you believe in supernatural cures. But after time the Romans discovered that the mysterious disease got worse and more people died. Their next solution was to drain the swamps and marshes. Their theory worked, as the fewer swamps there were the less malaria there would be.

The Romans had a very stable Government and invested money collected by tax into the health system. With the tax they built what we call leisure centres. These health centres were split up into two sections, a section for the males and a section for the females. In these sections there would be dressing rooms, cold baths, a warm room, a hot room, a swimming pool, a running track, a sports field, private baths, toilets and a heating plant. The Romans were very fussy about picking there water as they used to study a stream and the people that drunk it. If the town’s people were fit and healthy the water was good but if the water was boiled in a bronze cauldron without any sand and mud in the bottom of the cauldron, the water was excellent.

The Romans also believed worshipping the God’s would help them stay pure and keep them clear from disease. To stay disease free the Romans ate well and did a lot of exercise hoping to get into heaven.

The Roman Empire needed to keep a very healthy army along with the population so soldiers could be recruited quickly in case of a war. Rome depended on its armies to conquer land and then to hold onto its great empire. There were special medical troops/field doctors to treat the wounded on the battlefield or in the military hospitals. These medical facilities provided life to the dieing soldier, as they were built near good water, sewage disposal and healthy sites (not near marshes and swamps). Permanent military bases like Hadrian’s Wall often had bath houses as well as medical houses. This made health standards very high.

During the medieval period the Government was changing all the time. The government’s main aim was to celebrate war by drinking away tax money and not like the Romans who put it into the health system. The government just let Roman ideas of cleanliness and sewage just crumble away. But the government still had cesspits and wells for the public. They also provided the Roman people with wheat, beef, figs, olives and grapes. Considering the laziness of the British government and the lack of disinterest in public health there were no signs of a bad diet in the people (rickets). The biggest problem the government had to deal with was the Black Death.

The Black Death was a horrific epidemic in British history. The Black Death is the plague to the people during the late 1340’s. It first arrived in England around about 1348. People fell ill with a temperature, headache and vomiting. Shortly after this buboes would appear under the armpit and groin area. The lump would then go black and then other lumps would appear on other parts of the body. After a few days the patient would then start to recover or develop black bruises all over the body and then die. Symptoms appeared in rapid succession. If a patient was incredibly unlucky he/she could be dead within a day.

There were two types of plague pneumonic plague spread by sneezing and bubonic plague spread by fleabites. Black rats started bubonic plague by infesting towns and were spread by rats jumping onto trade ships and going from country to country. People did not know how to cure or slow down the plague, despite their best efforts the plague was shocking and devastating. Nobody had a clue what caused this atrocity but people came up with supernatural and natural causes. God, the planets and the air were the supernatural causes and the natural one was that it was contagious but no one understood why. This is because no one had discovered germs.

Public health was far better in Ancient Rome than in the Middle Age English towns because of the Romans obsession with public health. English towns lacked a working sewage system including aqueducts, public baths and public toilets. Where as the Saxons and the Vikings had more interest in beer and contests. The Romans had more of an interest in cleanliness than the Vikings laid back style. If I had to choose between living in either the Romans lifestyle or the Saxon/Viking lifestyle I would have to choose the Romans as it is clean and hygienic.

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