Medical care for the Roman Army on the Rhine, Danube and British frontiers in the first, second and early third centuries AD
The study of Roman frontiers tends to concentrate on the historical development and military tactics, in construction and actions, of the Roman army. Little attention has been given to the daily life of the soldiers; and those studies that address daily organisation tend to rely upon interpretations that were made about the Roman army in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Furthermore, the scholars who have researched this aspect tend to apply their arguments to the army as a whole, believing it to have been an homogenous group of people. The early interpretations were often based on anachronistic views that the Roman army was organised and operated in a similar manner to the military system of the time these early archaeologists were writing. One area of the organisation of the Roman army that requires greater deliberation is health care, many aspects of which are taken for granted or interpreted on the basis of understandings made by scholars early on in the development of the discipline. The more recent theories about the system of medical care in the army are also based on rather sparse supporting evidence. It is, therefore, the aim of this thesis to make a two-fold examination of the subject by examining legionary and auxiliary fortifications on the Rhine, Upper and Middle Danube and British frontiers. Queries are raised about previous scholarship in order to see if there is sufficient evidence to support the interpretations and understandings on which more recent scholarshipis based. Following this, new questions are asked of the archaeological and epigraphical material, in the context of more recent anthropological, historical and theoretical archaeological methods not previously applied in studies of Roman military medicine. The main issues are: to see if there is evidence to support the idea of a single system of medical care in the army or if the evidence shows variation within the system, either between the provinces or units; whether there was a difference in care offered to the auxiliary and legionary units; if there is evidence for civilians being treated by military doctors; and if there is evidence for cultural variation of medical practice within the units. The questions are broached by comparing the epigraphical, archaeological and architectural remains relating to medical treatment. Inscriptions mentioning doctors are examined to see if these support the idea of differences in the types of doctors employed according to frontier and unit type. In order to gain information about the cultural background of doctors and the development of medical care in the army the home of the doctors and the dates of the inscriptions are also examined. Medical instruments are employed as a source of evidence to determine the distribution and range of health care in the army. Not only are the instruments compared between fortifications and frontiers to see if there is evidence for medical variation, but they are examined for their context and deposition.It is argued that depositional processes can tell us much about how people understood medical tools and their associations with disease, wounds and death. Finally, the archaeological evidence of buildings identified as military hospitals is considered. In particular, it is questioned whether there is enough evidence to support the definition of the 'hospitals' as hospitals. Artefactual remains from within 'hospitals' are examined and compared when known, as are the plan and layout of each structure that has been recognised as a hospital. The description of Roman hospitals is frequently presented as if they were planned to serve the same functions as modem hospitals, so a comparison of these buildings and their functions, both civilian and military, is made with later (medieval and early-post-medieval) hospitals. Questions of the cultural construction of space are brought into this chapter as a means of demonstrating that the construction and use of buildings is culturally variable and not always undertaken according to a common sense or functional approach as understood in the modem west. It is apparent that our current identification of certain structures as 'hospitals' is far from secure. The thesis concludes by arguing that there is no solid evidence for the existence of a single medical system within the Roman army. A combination of military events and circumstancesa long with cultural variation in the make-up of the units provides the most plausible explanation for this pattern of variability.