How the Romans Developed Universal Healthcare for Working Men


The Romans developed a ‘voluntary’ army that although drawn originally from Romans, was eventually staffed by people from the lands the Romans conquered. Why did people volunteer to join the legions? Firstly, the Roman legions were the first ‘salaried’ soldiers in the world (with one-third of their pay put into a retirement fund). Secondly, the Roman legions were equipped with the best weaponry and technology known to humanity at the time (to the tribal people they fought, they must have seemed like aliens from outer space!). This meant they mostly engaged in asymmetric warfare against tribes who fought in the old ways, and which were usually defeated with relative ease (although it is true that the Romans did lose on occasion, and that some of their victories were very costly). Thirdly, the Roman State realised that men who received top-notch medical care free of charge, lived longer than those people who did not receive similar treatment. Despite their tough and dangerous lifestyles, Roman soldiers were generally guaranteed to live beyond 40 years of age (unusual for the time for a working man). If they survived the military service, many lived far beyond this age. This healthy regimen  included regular and specialised exercise, a nutritious diet and medicines to treat all kinds of common (and uncommon) ailments during peacetime. Part of this medical care also involved successfully treating those wounded in battle. At the time (between 100 CE – 400 CE), the Romans possessed a sophisticated battlefield set of treatments which included medical devices for opening a wound and safely extracting an arrow without causing further injury. The wound was then cleaned and sealed shut with silver staples – as the Romans knew that silver did not cause infection in healing wounds. Much of this knowledge (as a manifestation of ‘paganism’) was suppressed and forgotten during the era of Christian domination in Europe (roughly 500 CE – 1500 CE). It was only rediscovered during the renaissance in Europe when Greek (and Roman) science was re-discovered stored safely in the Islamic libraries of Byzantine (and elsewhere). It is ironic that where Christianity destroyed secular knowledge, the Islamic Authorities very much respected and revered it.

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