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A Roman Bronze Medical Cyathiscomele, Roman Imperial Period, ca. 2nd - 4th Century CE

RB1609

This medical instrument consists of a long thin handle with a narrow leaf shaped spoon on one end and the other tapering into a curved point, perhaps used as a probe. The grip above the spoon is made from rings carved around the shaft.

The scope of the cyathiscomele in medical art is evidently, like the flat spathomele, mainly to mix, measure and apply medicaments. For pharmaceutical purposes the spoon was used to remove medicines from their flasks, explaining the many different sizes of the spoon and handle. Some are adapted for use as curettes. The large numbers in which this instrument occurs would itself indicate that it was used for lay as well as medical purposes.

Background: Early Roman medicine was heavily based on religious and holistic practices, including prayers, chants, herbs, and charms. It wasn't until the late third century BC that Greek surgical practices and Greek doctors were brought to Rome.  The military saw the first changes in medical practice, with the addition of permanent doctors, the establishment of military hospitals, and the widespread adoption of surgery. For the general public, there was more of a merge between the old Roman beliefs and the new Greek practices.  Herbal and plant remedies were widely accepted by physicans, although opinions differed on the specific uses of plants. Surgery was used as a last resort due to the risks involved, and was usually limited to the surface of the body. Doctors avoided organs and other internal issues becuase there was not much they could do that wouldn't cause more harm. Most ailments delt with were of the skin, digestion, fertility, broken bones, and even depression and epilepsy.

For related examples cf: Mills, Roman Artifacts, pg. 60

Dimensions: length: 5 3/8 inches (13.65 cm)

Condition: Tip of the probe end broken off, but overall excellent condition with no chips or cracks. Presented on a custom mount.

Provenance:  Dr. M. Mintz private collection, California acquired from the trade in the 1970's, thereafter Kimbrough private collection, Houston TX, 2000-2016.


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