Medicine and the Making of Roman Women: Gender, Nature, and Authority from Celsus to Galen

By Rebecca Flemming | Go to book overview

Conclusion
Medicine and the Making of
Roman Women

RELATIONS between women and medicine in the Roman imperial era were, therefore, manifold and complex. There certainly were female medical practitioners operating in this world: ranging from old women who continued folk medical traditions in the villages of the empire, through midwives whose expertise might be acquired in more varied ways, and whose activities might extend far beyond childbirth, to those who claimed (or had claimed for them) something still more general and prestigious, indeed that they were female physicians. None of these made it into the ranks of elite practitioners.1 They are not the authors of noted medical texts, nor do they have their careers discussed by the litterateurs of the day; rather, they have their existence simply recorded in a number of inscriptions, mainly funerary, but occasionally more public, across the empire. But this too is the lot of most male practitioners, whose fame and fortune is more comparable to that of other local craftsmen, like shoemakers and carpenters, than to the physicians of the imperial court, or the most renowned teachers of Alexandria. For these men also, the slight impact they have made on the annals of history creates similar problems in trying to pin down their actual practice, their relations with writing, and their professional identities, as are confronted in connection with their female counterparts. Informality, diversity, a certain looseness of organization and definition: all these are characteristics of Roman medicine across the board.

Perhaps the least controversial conclusion that can be drawn about these female practitioners is that they ministered medically to other women; though they may also have treated men,

1 Though Antiochis of Tlos may have come close, if she was indeed the recipient of Heraclides of Tarentum’s treatise.

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