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History

Roman public health

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Public health is about avoiding the spread of disease within a particular society - often through providing water to help people keep clean. The Romans understood that dirty conditions made people ill, and provided many facilities - such as public baths, sewers and toilets - to promote public health. They had every incentive to do this, as they wanted the soldiers in their army to remain healthy, in order to keep the empire under control.

Summary

The Romans developed the first-ever system of public health.

Three important factors combined to cause them to create a public health system. Their suspicion of Greek doctors, their realisation that the army needed hygienic conditions to keep their soldiers healthy, and their engineering abilities.

Like the Greeks, the Romans believed in personal health and hygiene - the writer Juvenal coined the phrase "a healthy mind in a healthy body". The Roman writer Celsus advised exercises before a meal, and bathing weak parts of the body (copying Hippocrates's, 'Programme for Health'). Galen prescribed gym exercises and deep breathing as a way to health.

Settlements such as army camps, were sited in healthy places (not near swamps). In other places marshes were drained (Julius Caesar drained the Codetan swamp near Rome), which reduced malaria.

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