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Group Medical Practice in Imperial Rome: The Case of Allianoi

Sarah Yeomans

University of Southern California

In 1998, rescue excavations began at the ancient Graeco-Roman spa town of Allianoi, located approximately 20 kilometers northeast of Pergamon in western Turkey. The site was slated for submersion upon the completion of the Yortlanı Dam, which became operational in 2010; it is now underneath a water reservoir and inaccessible. The excavations of Allianoi, which commenced in 1998, were able to reveal only a portion of the town before they were halted in 2006. However, eight years were enough for excavators to recover a substantial amount of evidence that indicated Allianoi was a major medical center where sophisticated surgical interventions took place until the town perished in the mid-third century, perhaps as a result of flooding. The excavation team identified what they claim are a total of 348 medically related objects, most which were recovered from two buildings. The categories and variety of surgical instruments indicate that relatively sophisticated surgical procedures were undertaken at Allianoi. When the medical objects are considered in light of their distribution as well as the architectural spaces in which they were found, the data are strongly suggestive of a collaborative medical practice that involved multiple physicians with distinct areas of expertise. Allianoi was, perhaps, one of the earliest known cases of an organized, group medical practice. 

Due to a lack of funding, the results from the Allianoi excavations were neither comprehensively analyzed nor published, though the excavations notes and artifacts are all accounted for in the stored holdings of the Bergama Museum. This presentation is the partial result of a recent research effort to bring the remarkable finds of Allianoi into the broader conversation concerning medical practices and communities in Imperial Rome. It begins with a historical contextualization of the site and an examination of the material evidence recovered by archaeologists. It then situates the Allianoi and its finds in the broader context of Roman medical practices in the Imperial period by contrasting it with examples of known comparanda, such as Marcianopolis in Bulgaria and various military hospitals (valetudinaria) identified along Rome’s frontiers. The picture that then emerges not only provides us with a clearer understanding of Roman surgical technology and organizational infrastructure, but also the degree to which medical practices in the civilian and military spheres may have been intertwined and mutually influential.

Session/Panel Title

Medical Communities in the Ancient Mediterranean

Session/Paper Number

85.6

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