Image: Mosaic, Villa del Casale, Siciliy, Photo credit Andreas Wahra; Public Doman (Wikimedia Commons)

by John Wilkins

March 4, 2024

Many modern health problems stem from abundance and overwork. In this essay, John Wilkins explores how Galen might help provide a solution to some contemporary health issues, and how the key to longevity and health might require less effort, rather than more. 

Prof. John Wilkins is an emeritus professor at the University of Exeter. He has published on Greek tragedy, comedy, food discourses in antiquity, and Galen.

"Two horsemen aiming their lances, from Manual on the Arts of Horsemanship" (Nihayat al-su’l wa al-umniya fi ta‘allum ‘amal al-furusiyya) by al-Aqsara'i, Copied by `Umar b. `Abdallah b. `Umar al-Shafi’i, Cairo, Egypt. Chester Beatty, Ar 5655.116

by Zsuzsanna Csorba

August 2, 2023

In the middle of his 10th century medical handbook Kitāb al-Manṣūrī fī al-ṭibb, al-Razi describes how to keep a army healthy while on campaign. Zsuzsanna Csorba outlines al-Razi's recommendations and examines how the details missing from his account can speak loudly about the realities of war and disaster, both in his time and our own. 

Zsuzsanna Csorba is a researcher of the history of medieval Islamicate medicine with particular focus on travel medicine and manuscript studies at the Avicenna Institute of Middle Eastern Studies (Hungary).

by Nicolette D'Angelo

February 6, 2023

The authority of Hippokrates has been invoked time and again in support of anti-vaccination and Covid-denial movements. Nicolette D'Angelo explores what makes Hippokrates such an apt figurehead for anti-science advocates and asks what—if anything—historians and Classicists should do about it.

Nicolette D'Angelo is a PhD student at UCLA. Her MPhil dissertation (Oxford University), responding to the pitfalls and ambiguities of classicizing plague exempla in the age of COVID-19, argued for contagion as an operative model of reception, particularly digital receptions. 

Marble statue of a wounded warrior, ca. 138–181 CE, MET Museum, New York, no. 25.116

Call for Contributions: "Violence and Health"

In 2023, we are looking for essays that examine the theme of violence. Within the field of mental health, ‘trauma’ has become the buzzword of the decade. How did physicians deal with violence of various kinds in the ancient world? Essays might explore the violence that a medical practitioner enact or face in the course of their work, ancient ideas about the consequences and meaning of violence, or the ways that violent acts are talked about, pictured, imagined, andinterpreted in ancient sources. Violence might be interpreted in terms of individuals or collectives and environments, in terms of human and non-human agents, and both within the ancient world and in its reception or appropriation. 

Typical essays run to 1500 words, and we use links and recommended readings instead of footnotes. All essays are accompanied by discussion questions for use in the classroom. Pitches of up to 250 words should be submitted to for consideration. A first round of decisions will take place shortly after 15th January, and rolling decisions will be made thereafter. 

Image: Small-scale replica of the cult statue of Artemis at Ephesus, unknown maker, 2nd century C.E. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Villa Collection, Malibu, California, Gift of the Milton and Pat Gottlieb Trust,  81.AA.134.

by Travis Proctor

November 24, 2022

A second-century inscription describes how an oracle of Apollo has instructed the citizens of Sardis to "borrow" the cult statue of Artemis from the nearby city of Ephesus in their efforts to escape the effects of the Antonine Plague. Travis Proctor focuses our attention on this moment as representative of the enmeshment of medicine and religion in the ancient world. 

Dr Travis Proctor is Assistant Professor of Religion at Wittenberg University. His research focuses on religions in the ancient Mediterranean, especially early Christianity.

Image: Detail from Colchicum Autumnale in Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz (Otto Wilhelm Thomé), 1885.

Public Domain (Wikipedia Commons). 

by Svetlana Hautala

October 4, 2022

A brief discussion of poisons and their antidotes in Theophrastus' History of Plants touches upon the use of ephemeron (meadow saffron) by "angry slaves." Hautala explores how this passing reference suggests that botanical and pharmacological knowledge circulated within communities of enslaved people.

Dr Svetlana Hautala is a researcher of the anthropology of the ancient world with affiliation at the University of Oulu. 

Image: Detail from Descent from the Cross, Rogier van der Weyden, c. 1435. 

Public Domain (Wikipedia Commons). 

by Jessica Wright

July 26, 2022

A 19th-century German literary scholar introduces a medical interpretation of the ancient Greek theatre term "catharsis" that shapes future approaches to mental disorder. Wright examines this history of this term and shows how literary and psychotherapeutic theories continue to influence one another.

Dr Jessica Wright is a historian and essayist. Recent work includes "On What Is in Our Power" (Michigan Quarterly Review) and "On Sponges" (Foglifter Journal). Her first book, The Care of the Brain in Early Christianity, is forthcoming from UC Press (2022). 

Sixth-century ostracon (Coptic) -- The Metropolitan Museum, public domain

Image: Ostracon, Coptic (6th–7th century CE), the Monastery of Epiphanius at Thebes, Egypt. Held by The Met Museum. Please note, this image is for illustrative purposes and is not the ostracon discussed in this essay.

by Candace Buckner

June 16, 2022

A fragmentary letter scrawled on pottery reveals the grief of a woman after the death of her children. Candace Buckner teases apart the language of this woman’s letter to show how it reveals her internalized self-blame.

Dr. Candace Buckner is an Assistant Professor of Religion and Culture at Virginia Tech–Blacksburg. Her research focuses on the biographies of early Christian saints and Egyptian monasticism, especially in the 4th–8th centuries CE, with particular focus on space, race, ethnicity, and disability.

Image: Cuneiform tablet, "Atra-Hasis," Babylonian Flood Myth (7th-6th century BCE), Mesopotamia. Held by The Met Museum. Please note, this image is for illustrative purposes and is not the tablet discussed in this essay.

by Adam Howe

May 16, 2022

A cuneiform tablet describes the effects of divine anger on the abdominal-emotional system, including "heart-break" and suppressed appetite. Adam Howe reflects on what this tell us about embodied emotional states in Mesopotamian medical thought, as well as how this might connect with the concept of "eating" a taboo. 

by Jessica Wright

May 4, 2022

Editorial Note

Research psychologists in London have just proposed a new disease category called "COVID Anxiety Syndrome," which supposedly identifies maladaptive responses to the pandemic. Jessica Wright discusses how pathologizing risk-aversion can be seen within broader social strategies to codify an end to an emergency whose impacts still vary widely across groups and whose conclusion continues to be dispersed.

Modern herbalist Maria Christodoulou chronicles her experiment recreating Dioscorides' ancient recipe for medicinal wine infused with the herb thyme. 

by Colin Webster & Jessica Wright

Apr. 11, 2022

Today we launch The Rootcutter, the official blog for the Society for Ancient Medicine. It will be a home for accessible scholarly writing about the history of medicine in the ancient world and gather materials that nourish a historically-informed and self-reflective relationship to ancient medicine.

The Best Doctor Is Also a Historian

The Rootcutter's inaugural essay series aims at exploring connections between ancient and modern medicines—and not only the connections we make, but also why we make those connections and what impact they have on how we think about and conduct modern medical practices, both as healthcare experts and as service users. This series has been generously funded by the Society for Classical Studies Ancient Worlds, Modern Communities grant.

Our first essay in this series is now live. For Maria Christadoulou's account of experimenting with an ancient herbal wine recipe, hop over to her essay A Clinical Herbalist Attempts to Make Ancient Greek Herbal Wine

Do you have an idea for the Rootcutter? Would you like to contribute to the blog? The Rootcutter welcomes contributors from all academic levels, as well as medical practitioners, or service uses with an interest in ancient healing practices. We are interested in short reflections, brief translations, or book reviews. Details and guidelines can be found on our "Expression of Interest" form.