This page cannot be viewed in frames

Go to page

If you have found a spelling error, please, notify us by selecting that text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

Romans and microbiology

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

A mosaic showing the foot
A mosaic showing the foot

How did the Romans cope with their diseases and were they even aware of their aetiology? The answer to this is the “De Re Rustica” of Terentius Varro. This may surprise us, but hundred years ago we were aware of the presence of microorganisms and their pathogenic effect on humans!

Terentius says:

Especial care should be taken, in locating the steading, to place it at the foot of a wooded hill, where there are broad pastures, and so as to be exposed to the most healthful winds that blow in the region. A steading facing the east has the best situation, as it has the shade in summer and the sun in winter. If you are forced to build on the bank of a river, be careful not to let the steading face the river, as it will be extremely cold in winter, and unwholesome in summer. Precautions must also be taken in the neighbourhood of swamps, both for the reasons given, and because there are bred certain minute creatures which cannot be seen by the eyes, which float in the air and enter the body through the mouth and nose and there cause serious diseases.

We don’t know how Varro knew about it, since he adds that creatures were not visible. However, he probably had access to the achievements of science, which, however, lost itself in the darkness of history.

We also have no idea how it happened that knowledge and civilization fell so low that it took almost two thousand years for similar conclusions by Louis Pasteur and Joseph Lister or even later Alexander Fleming.

For example, the Egyptians 4.5 thousand years ago knew the effect of penicillin, although they probably called it differently. In several sources, we find information that lung diseases and wounds were treated with mouldy bread. Manuscripts found on papyri (Ebers Papyrus) to this day put scientists in astonishment, who agree that the knowledge contained there exceeded the knowledge of e.g. Hippocrates and Galen.

Sources
  • Terentius Varro, De Re Rustica, 1.12

IMPERIUM ROMANUM needs your support!

Your financial help is needed, in order to maintain and develop the website. Even the smallest amounts will allow me to pay for further corrections, improvements on the site and pay the server. I believe that I can count on a wide support that will allow me to devote myself more to my work and passion, to maximize the improvement of the website and to present history of ancient Romans in an interesting form.

Support IMPERIUM ROMANUM!

News from world of ancient Rome

If you want to be up to date with news and discoveries from the world of ancient Rome, subscribe to the newsletter.

Subscribe to newsletter!

Roman bookstore

I encourage you to buy interesting books about the history of ancient Rome and antiquity.

Check out bookstore

Spelling error report

The following text will be sent to our editors: