Health Hazards During the Roman Empire

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It is simply amazing at how the people of ancient civilizations were able to survive. Air, water, food and shelter are considered to be necessary for human life and existence. Without these basic needs, one can not survive. By examining the daily lives of a sampling of ancient Roman citizens, one can conclude that this was a hard time in history and people were exposed to dangers that they were completely unaware of. It has only been through increased knowledge that similar problems do not continue to this day. The basic necessities of air, water, food and shelter created increased health risks to the citizens of the Roman Empire. The air was dangerous to the Romans during the cooking process. Cooking occurred with an open flame. In the book Household Gods, after Nichole Gunther-Perrin was first transported to Carnuntum, she observes that there are no chimneys which created problems with the evacuation of smoke. This smoke would then be inhaled by those cooking and also by customers of taverns similar to that run by Nichole or Umma. We have all heard of the dangers of inhaling smoke and of its potential health risks. Although most Romans enjoyed bathing and felt as if it was a healthy pursuit, the people were potentially exposed to several diseases by their fellow bathers creating another environment that made the air dangerous. "Since bathing was thought to be particularly valuable for sick people, communal baths contributed to the spread of communicable diseases" (Hunt et al. 2005, 211). In the book Household Gods, Nichole or Umma was potentially exposed to Tuberculosis while bathing when another woman had a coughing fit and expectorated some flecks of blood. Just as Nichole stated in the book, what better a place for bacteria and disease to grow than in the warm, moist environment of the public baths. The air was also filled with the stench of raw sewage that had been flung from windows of the residences. Although this was not a danger in itself, it eludes to the dangers that are associated with it. Raw sewage typically contains bacteria, viruses and other pathogens that can cause a variety of illnesses, from mild gastroenteritis (stomach cramps and diarrhea) to life-threatening illnesses such as cholera, dysentery and infectious hepatitis. We now have a good understanding of air pollutants and their effects upon humans. We have learned that extended exposure to smoke increases our carbon monoxide and arsenic levels. Both of these conditions can have negative impacts on humans. Water was another source of disease for the Roman citizens. The sewage that was discarded had the potential of leaching into the water supply used by the people. Umma and her children were exposed to some sort of virus or bacteria resulting in their getting gastroenteritis after drinking water instead of wine. When a wine shortage emerged, Umma remembered that in her modern life as Nichole, she could boil the water to kill off any pathogens that existed. The public baths created an exceptionally high risk to the Roman citizens. "The Romans did not have disinfectant and, while the evidence is scanty, it is likely that the bathing pools (which did not have circulating water) were only periodically emptied and cleaned" (Gigante, Linda, http://innominatesociety.com). Communicable diseases could easily spread with physicians prescribing bathing as a therapy for illness. This water supply was also used to bathe in by the citizens in the public baths. Not only was the water supply tainted by raw sewage, it also contained high concentrations of lead. Lead pipes were used to transport the water and was thought by some to have contributed to the fall of the Roman Empire. John Wilford published information that the Roman Empire's fall was linked with gout and lead poisoning (Wilford, John, New York Times on-line). A larger risk of lead poisoning stemmed from lining cups and cooking pots with lead. By eating and drinking from these...
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