Approaches to Healing in Roman Egypt
by Jane Draycott. iv+108 pages; illustrated throughout. BAR S2416 2012. ISBN 9781407310145. £25.00.
The purpose of this study is to examine the healing strategies employed by the inhabitants of Egypt during the Roman period, from the late first century BC to the fourth century AD, in order to explore how Egyptian, Greek and Roman customs and traditions interacted within the province. Thus this study aims to make an original contribution to the history of medicine, by offering a detailed examination of the healing strategies (of which ‘rational’ medicine was only one) utilised by the inhabitants of one particular region of the Mediterranean during a key phase in its history, a region, moreover, which by virtue of the survival of papyrological evidence offers a unique opportunity for study. Its interdisciplinary approach, which integrates ancient literary, documentary, archaeological and scientific evidence, presents a new approach to understanding healing strategies in Roman provincial culture. It refines the study of healing within Roman provincial culture, identifies diagnostic features of healing in material culture and offers a more contextualised reading of ancient medical literary and documentary papyri and archaeological evidence. This study differs from previous attempts to examine healing in Roman Egypt in that it tries, as far as possible, to encompass the full spectrum of healing strategies available to the inhabitants of the province. The first part of this study comprises two chapters and focuses on the practitioners of healing strategies, both ‘professional’ and ‘amateur’. Chapter 2 examines those areas of ancient medicine that have traditionally been neglected or summarily dismissed by scholars: ‘domestic’ and ‘folk’ medicine with particular emphasis on the extent to which the specific natural environment of any given location affects healing strategies. Chapter Three examines the nature and frequency of eye diseases and injuries suffered by the inhabitants of Roman Egypt. Chapter Four examines the nature and frequency of the fevers suffered by the inhabitants of Roman Egypt, focusing first on the disease malaria, which is attested by papyrological, archaeological and palaeopathological evidence as having been suffered throughout Egypt. Chapter Five examines the dangers that the animal species of Egypt could pose to the inhabitants of the province, focusing particularly upon snakes, scorpions, crocodiles and lions, as attested by papyrological and epigraphic evidence such as private letters, mummy labels and epitaph inscriptions. The concluding chapter underlines the importance for a study of the healing strategies utilised in any province of the Roman Empire (or indeed any region in the ancient world) of taking into account the historical, geographical, cultural and social context of the location in question.