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Public Health in Ancient Rome

Public health was developed by the Romans as they believed that cleanliness would lead to good health. The Romans made links between causes of disease and methods of prevention. as a consequence they developed a large system of Public Health works around their empire.

The Romans believed that Prevention of illness was more important than cure of illness. Roman Philosophy was based along the lines of searching for a reason then establishing a preventative measure to minimise the risk attached. As a practical people they used observations of the environment to determine what was causing ill health. This form of empirical observation led the Romans to realise that death rates were higher in and around marshes and swamps.

The cure would then be based upon logic. As the Romans believed that Gods held the key to longevity of life they initially built Temples to the gods near large swamps to pacify them and reduce the deaths. Alternatives to this were the drainage of swamps and they also ensured that the army and important people lived away from these areas.

Such empirical observations led the Romans to believe that ill health could be associated with, amongst other things, bad air, bad water, swamps, sewage, debris and lack of personal cleanliness. In some places, Rome included, it is impossible to avoid all of these unless something is physically done to alter the environment. The Romans, being technologically adequate, resolved to provide clean water through aqueducts, to remove the bulk of sewage through the building of sewers and to develop a system of public toilets throughout their towns and city's. Personal hygiene was encouraged through the building of large public baths (The City of Bath being an obvious British example of these).

The consequence of this pragmatic approach to preventative measures was an advanced system of public health structures, many of which are still visible in places today.

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