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In The Reign Of The Caesars To The Death Of Nero

Augustus--His illnesses--Antonius Musa--Maecenas--Tiberius--


poisoners--Oculists in Rome.

Long before the settlement of the constitutional status of Augustus in

27 B.C., he had undertaken many reforms. In 34 B.C., Agrippa, under the

influence of Augustus, had improved the water supply of Rome by

restoring the Aqua Marcia
and Augustus had repaired and enlarged the

cloacae, and repaired the principal streets. Road commissions were

appointed 27 B.C. The Aqua Virgo was built 19 B.C. Many of the

collegia, or guilds, founded for the promotion of the interests of

professions and trades had been misused for political purposes, and

Augustus deprived many of them of their charters. Curae, or

commissions, were appointed to superintend public works, streets and the

water-supply; and the Tiber was dredged, cleansed and widened, and its

liability to overflow reduced. No new building could be built more than

70 ft. high. Augustus also established fire brigades. It has been said

that he found the city built of brick and left it built of marble.

He revived many old religious customs, such as the Augury of Public

Health, and identified himself closely with the rites and customs of the

people. He inculcated that sense of duty which the Romans called

pietas, and attempted to improve the morals of the citizens by the

enactment of sumptuary laws; the philosophers hoped to do good in the

same direction by appealing to the intellect and reason, a method that

was equally ineffectual. Marriages and an increased birth-rate were

encouraged, and parents were honoured and given special privileges. The

wisdom and prudence of Augustus were strangely accompanied by credulity

and superstition. He was a profound believer in omens, and attached

great importance to astrology. His horoscope showed that he was born

under the sign of Capricorn.

He suffered from various illnesses, although in his younger days he

looked handsome and athletic. He carefully nursed his health against his

many infirmities, avoiding chiefly the free use of the bath; but he was

often rubbed with oil, and sweated in a stove, after which he was bathed

in tepid water, warmed either by a fire, or by being exposed to the heat

of the sun. When, on account of his nerves, he was obliged to have

recourse to sea-water, or the waters of Albula, he was contented with

sitting over a wooden tub, (which he called by a Spanish name,

Dureta), and plunging his hands and feet in the water by turns.[18]

His physician was Antonius Musa, to whom was erected, by public

subscription, a statue near that of AEsculapius. During an attack of

congestion of the liver when heat failed to give relief, Antonius Musa

advised cold applications for the Emperor, which had the desired effect.

Suetonius, the historian, wrote that this was "a desperate and doubtful

method of cure." A more desperate and doubtful method of cure, however,

was carried out by the same physician. He successfully banished an

attack of sciatica that greatly troubled Augustus by the expedient of

beating the affected part with a stick. Antonius Musa received honours

from Augustus, and the Emperor also exempted all physicians from the

payment of taxes, and from other public obligations.

In the time of Augustus natural philosophy made little progress, and

Virgil strongly desired its advancement. Human anatomy, as a study, had

not been introduced, and physiology was almost unknown. In medicine, the

standard of practice was the writings of Hippocrates, and the Materia

Medica consisted of remedies suggested by the whimsical notions of their


Pliny wrote that the water cure was the principal remedy in his day, as

it was indeed throughout the Empire, and it was certainly the most

popular. Seneca was very severe on the sentiment of a poem written by

Maecenas, the friend and counsellor of Augustus, but it serves to reveal

some of the most dreaded maladies of the time:--

"Though racked with gout in hand and foot,

Though cancer deep should strike its root,

Though palsy shake my feeble thighs,

Though hideous lump on shoulder rise,

From flaccid gum teeth drop away;

Yet all is well if life but stay."

Malaria was one of the principal causes of mortality in and near Rome in

the reign of Augustus Caesar.

Augustus's fatal illness occurred in A.D. 14 from chronic diarrhoea, and

the Emperor, like the true Roman that he was, displayed great calmness

and fortitude in his last days.

Tiberius succeeded to the throne in A.D. 14, and began a career of

infamy. How little knowledge was likely to gain from his patronage is

shown by the fact, recorded by Pliny, that the shop and tools of the

artist who discovered how to make glass malleable were destroyed.

Assassins and perpetrators of every abomination were the fit companions

of this tyrant.

Thrasyllus, the astrologer, lived with Tiberius, who was a firm believer

in the magic arts. This reign is made illustrious in the history of

medicine by the work of Celsus.

Caligula, who became Emperor in A.D. 34, was guilty of the most inhuman

conduct. Criminals were given to the wild beasts for their food, and

even people of honourable rank had their faces branded with hot irons as

a punishment by order of this mad tyrant.

Claudius, the successor of Caligula, completed some very important

public works in his reign, including great aqueducts and drains, but

learning was at a low ebb in his day. Claudius Etruscus, the freedman of

the Emperor Claudius, erected baths referred to by Martial. The ruins of

the arches of the Aqua Claudia still remain.

Thrasyllus, a son of the astrologer who lived in the time of Tiberius,

is said to have predicted to Nero the dignity of the purple. Nero would

have been favourably disposed towards physicians if he had heeded the

advice of his tutor, Seneca, who wrote: "People pay the doctor for his

trouble; for his kindness they still remain in his debt." "Great

reverence and love is due to both the teacher and the doctor. We have

received from them priceless benefits; from the doctor, health and life;

from the teacher, the noble culture of the soul. Both are our friends,

and deserve our most sincere thanks, not so much by their merchantable

art, as by their frank goodwill."[19] The practice of necromancy in the

time of Nero had grown to such an extent that an edict of banishment

was issued against all magicians, but this did not lessen the popularity

of the magicians, who indeed prospered under the semblance of

persecution, and were honoured in times of public difficulty and danger.

The practice of astrology came from the Chaldeans, and was introduced

into Greece in the third century before Christ. It was accepted by all

classes, but specially by the Stoic philosophers. In 319 B.C., Cornelius

Hispallus banished the Chaldeans from Rome, and ordered them to leave

Italy within ten days. In 33 B.C., they were again banished by Marcus

Agrippa, and Augustus also issued an edict against them. They were

punished sometimes by death, and their calling must have been lucrative

to induce them to continue in spite of the severe punishments to which

they made themselves liable. The penal laws against them, however, were

in operation only intermittently. They were consulted by all classes,

from the Emperor downwards.

There were many physicians in the reign of Nero, but none of great

eminence. Andromachus was physician to the Emperor, and had the title of

archiater, which means "chief of the physicians."

An account of the archiaters is of interest. The name was applied to

Christ by St. Jerome. There were two classes of archiaters in time, the

one class called archiatri sancti palati; the other, archiatri

populares. The former attended the Emperor, and were court physicians;

the latter attended the people. Although Nero appointed the first

archiater, the name is not commonly used in Latin until the time of

Constantine, and the division into two classes probably dates from about

that time. The archiatri sancti palati were of high rank, and were the

judges of disputes between physicians. The Archiatri had many privileges

conferred upon them. They, and their wives and children, did not have to

pay taxes. They were not obliged to give lodgings to soldiers in the

provinces, and they could not be put in prison. These privileges applied

more especially to the higher class. When an archiater sancti palati

ceased attendance on the Emperor he took the title of ex-archiater. The

title comes archiatorum means "count of the Archiatri," and gave rank

among the high nobility of the Empire.

The archiatri populares attended the sick poor, and each city had

five, seven or ten, according to its size. Rome had fourteen of these

officers, besides one for the vestal virgins, and one for the gymnasia.

They were paid by the Government for attending the poor, but were not

restricted to this class of practice, and were well paid by their

prosperous patients. Their office was more lucrative but not so

honourable as that of the archiaters of the palace. The archiatri

populares were elected by the people themselves.

Suetonius describes the treatment Nero underwent for the improvement of

his voice: "He would lie upon his back with a sheet of lead upon his

breast, clear his stomach and bowels by vomits and clysters, and forbear

the eating of fruits, or food prejudicial to his voice." He built, at

great expense, magnificent public baths supplied from the sea and from

hot springs, and was the first to build a public gymnasium in Rome.

There is reason to believe that in the time of Nero there was a class of

women poisoners. Nero employed one of these women, Locusta by name, and

after she had poisoned Britannicus, rewarded her with a great estate in

land, and placed disciples with her to be instructed in her nefarious


There was also a very ignorant class of oculists in Rome in the time of

Nero, but at Marseilles Demosthenes Philalethes was deservedly

celebrated, and his book on diseases of the eye was in use for several

centuries. The eye doctors of Rome employed ointments almost entirely,

and about two hundred seals have been discovered which had been attached

to pots of eye salves, each seal bearing the inventor's and proprietor's

name. In the time of Galen, these quack oculists were very numerous, and

Galen inveighs against them. Martial satirized them: "Now you are a

gladiator who once were an ophthalmist; you did as a doctor what you do

as a gladiator." "The blear-eyed Hylas would have paid you sixpence, O

Quintus; one eye is gone, he will still pay threepence; make haste and

take it, brief is your chance; when he is blind, he will pay you

nothing." The oculists of Alexandria were very proficient, and some of

their followers, at various times throughout the period of the Roman

Empire, were remarkably skilful. Their literature has perished, but it

is believed that they were able to operate on cataract.

With the death of Nero in A.D. 68, the direct line of the Caesars became