Ancient Greco-Roman Medical and Surgical Instruments
Physicians in the Classical World had access to a variety of medical & surgical instruments that were designed to aid them in their treatment of the sick. Several ancient texts mention the use of surgical tools and instruments used by doctors in antiquity. The precise date when each instrument was first employed is largely unknown. The most of the instruments seemed to have been available to Hippocrates (c. 460) and continued to be used throughout the late Roman Empire with several existing in a similar form still being used by physicians today. The Greco-Roman Age covers the period when the Romans ruled the Greek World. Greek medicine and surgery grew up side by side, as partners and medicine continued to develop under the Romans who had gained much of their medical knowledge from the Greeks; so much so that Julius Caesar gave Roman citizenship to all free-born Greek physicians practicing in Rome. The Romans easily conquered Macedonia and Greece in 197 BC but proclaimed “the freedom of Greece” the following year only to return in 167 BC to abolish the Macedonian kingdom that refused to follow their wishes. Roman armies swept into Southern Greece taking action against those who disobeyed their orders. Another recognized period known as the Greco-Roman occurred from the time of the great physician, Galen, until the fall of the Roman Empire. Toward the end of this era, Greek influence began to fade. Only a few medical men were respected but most were little better off than slaves do. After a time, Roman medicine fell into the orbit of Byzantine Culture and lost the original virility inherited from the Greeks.
Physicians and dentists in the Ancient World had a variety of surgical instruments available to them in the treatment of the sick and a number of ancient manuscripts mention the use of surgical tools. Bone drills were used to remove diseased bone tissue and foreign objects of considerable thickness, such as a weapon, from a bone. Hooks were commonly used and came in two varieties, either sharp or blunt. The sharp hooks were used to hold and lift small pieces of tissue so that it could be extracted. They were also used to retract the edges of the wounds. The spatula probe was used for the mixing, measuring and applying of different medications. The medical scalpel was used to make a variety of incisions but it seemed to be particularly suited for making either deep or long cuts. Aetius, a 6th century physician, described using a forceps to crush the uvula before cutting it off in order to prevent hemorrhaging.
Scalpels could be made of steel, bronze, or a combination of the two metals (such as a steel blade and a bronze handle). Ancient scalpels had almost the same form and function as their modern counterparts do today. The two long steel scalpels that make up the first and third columns of the accompanying image are examples of the most ordinary type of scalpel from antiquity. These long scalpels could be used to make a variety of incisions, but they seem to be particularly suited to making either deep or long cuts. The four bronze scalpels, which make up columns two and four, are generally referred to as "bellied scalpels." This variety of scalpel was another favorite of physicians in antiquity since the shape of its handle allowed more delicate and precise cuts to be made (such as incisions between ribs).
Hooks were another common instrument used regularly by Greek and Roman doctors. The hooks, the ancient doctors used, came in two basic varieties: sharp and blunt. Both of these types of hooks are still used by modern surgeons for many of the same purposes for which the ancient doctors first used them. For instance, blunt hooks were primarily used as probes for dissection and for raising blood vessels. Sharp hooks, were used to hold and lift small pieces of tissue so that they could be extracted and to retract the edges of wounds.
The Forceps, with their finely toothed jaws, were probably designed to facilitate the amputation of the uvula. This procedure, as described by Aetius in the first half of the sixth century, called for the physician to crush the uvula with forceps before cutting it off in order to prevent hemorrhaging. Forceps also were used by ancient doctors to extract the small fragments of bone, which could not be grasped by the fingers. Naturally, physicians often used such forceps in conjunction with bone drills.
Bone drills were generally driven in their rotary motion by means of a thong in various configurations. Greek and Roman physicians used bone drills in order to excise diseased bone tissue from the skull and to remove foreign objects of considerable thickness (such as a weapon) from a bone.
Physicians in the Classical World employed catheters in order to open up a blocked urinary tract, which allowed urine to pass freely from the body. These early catheters were essentially hollow tubes made of steel or bronze and had two basic designs: one with a slight S curve for male patients and another straighter one for females. The same doctors also used similar shaped devices, which were solid, as opposed to hollow, in order to probe the bladder in search of calcifications.
Summery: The Greco-Roman Age covers the period when the Romans ruled the Greek World. Greek medicine and surgery grew up side by side, as partners and medicine continued to develop under the Romans who had gained much of their medical knowledge from the Greeks.