Greco-Roman Medical Equipment (Reproductions) Collection

Dr. Francis Rosenbaum, of the Milwaukee Academy of Medicine, donated a 36-piece collection of these reproductions to the MPM in 1954. This donation represents the majority of the collection – exceptions noted as appropriate. The original medical tools found in Pompeii are on display at the National Archaeological Museum in Naples.

The larger pieces – in particular the specula – are fascinating because they are so similar to tools used well into the 20th century. Anyone in the medical profession would easily recognize the function and purpose of the specula and many of the other tools.

Descriptions accompanying the photos are drawn primarily from J.S. Milne’s “Surgical Instruments in Greek and Roman Times” (1907).

Greek needle with large eye and decorative tip.
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Greek needle with large eye and decorative tip.

Large needle-like tool
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Large needle-like tool This large tool has a needle-like tip with eye and a half-ball head. The specific purpose of this tool is currently unidentified. Milne does not include this item in his 1907 text, nor does it appear in descriptions of the other larger collections of Pompeii surgical/medical tools.1907 text, nor does it appear in descriptions of the other larger collections of Pompeii surgical/medical tools.

Bone Forceps ostagra (Greek)
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Bone Forceps ostagra (Greek) Milnes quotes Soranus, Galen, Paul Aigenta, and other ancient texts suggesting the use of bone forceps to remove fractured skull pieces in adults and infants.

Catheter (Male) katheter (Greek) Catheters
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Catheter (Male) katheter (Greek) Catheters, or hollow metal tubes, much like those of today, were used to open blocked passages such as the urinary tract. Other similar devices were used to open spaces such as the nasal cavity to insert various medicinal treatments. Catheters for males were generally s-shaped, whereas those for females were shorter and straight.

Speculum, Rectal hedrodiastoleus (Greek)
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Speculum, Rectal hedrodiastoleus (Greek) Rectal specula were used to dilate the rectum for the treatment of ulcerated bowel and hemorrhoids.

Uvula Forceps staphylagra (Greek)
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Uvula Forceps staphylagra (Greek) An interesting treatment found in the ancient texts refers to the surgical removal of the uvula, using a specialized forceps to hold and crush the uvula before amputation. This procedure was quite common.

Possible Small Mirror Handle
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According to Milne this is most likely the handle from a small mirror, perhaps used in medical treatments to observe inside body cavities. It is equally likely to have been used for cosmetic purposes.

Decorative medical spoon and knife set.
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Decorative medical spoon and knife set.

Forceps and Tweezers formiceps, vulsella (Latin)
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Forceps and Tweezers formiceps, vulsella (Latin) No specific information relating to the larger forceps has been found. It is likely they were used in surgeries of the abdomen to pull or hold back areas of tissue. Smaller forceps or tweezers likely had cosmetic purposes such as removal of facial hair, although some records indicate their use as an aid to remove small polyps and tumors from the nose, skin, etc.

Probes/Curettes/Spoons cyathiscomele (Greek); cyathiscomele (Latin)
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Probes/Curettes/Spoons cyathiscomele (Greek); cyathiscomele (Latin) Many probe-style tools had two functional ends to allow the physician to continue working by simply turning the tool around. Many of the probes in this picture have a spoon on one end. Spoons were used medicinally to measure and to heat medicaments and unguents. Spoons with an elongated bowl were likely used to pour warmed or liquid medicaments. Similar spoons found in a domestic setting may have been used for removing and eating varieties of shellfish.