Finds of Instruments.
Finds of ancient surgical instruments, though not by any means common, are still sufficiently numerous for specimens to have found their way into most of our larger museums; and private collectors have here and there acquired considerable numbers. The most prolific source has been the excavations at Herculaneum and Pompeii, which have now been systematically pursued for nearly three hundred years, while the objects found have been deposited in the National Museum at Naples. In 1818 a physician’s house with a large number of surgical instruments was discovered in the Strada del Consulare of Pompeii, and two chemists’ shops have also been found with instruments in them. Besides these there is a large number of instruments from other finds in the two buried cities.
The custom of burying personal effects along with the ashes of a deceased person, which prevailed among the Romans from the second to the fourth century, has preserved to us a number of interesting finds. In 1880 M. Tolouse, a civil engineer in Paris, in executing some alterations in the neighbourhood of the Avenue Choisy, discovered the grave of a surgeon, containing a bronze pot full of surgical instruments. Among these were numerous forceps and vulsella, ointment tubes, bleeding cup, scalpel handles for blades of steel, probes, and spatulae. Sixty-six coins of the reigns of Tetricus I and II showed that the grave belonged to the end of the second or the beginning of the third century. The find was reported by M. Tolouse in a volume entitled Mes fouilles dans le sol du vieux Paris (Paris, 1888). In 1892 the find was fully described by Professor Deneffe of Ghent, in the Revue Archéologique, under the title ‘Notice descriptive sur une trousse de médecin au IIIme siècle’, and reprinted, with photogravures, in 1893 in a monograph Étude sur la trousse d’un chirurgien Gallo-Romain du IIIme siècle (Antwerp, 1893). It is convenient to refer to this find as that of the ‘Surgeon of Paris’. Another grave containing surgical instruments was found at Wancennes in the canton of Beauraing, Namur, in a cemetery of the first or second century. The instruments are now in the Archaeological Museum at Namur (Deneffe, op. cit., p. 35).
In 1854 there were discovered at Rheims the remnants of a wooden chest containing two little iron jars for ointments, several scalpel handles, a small drill, eight handles for needles, five hooks (two blunt and three sharp), two balances, various probes and spatulae, seven forceps, medicament box, a mortar, and a seal showing that the instruments had belonged to an oculist named Gaius Firmius Severus. The instruments are all of the most beautiful pattern and finish, several being finely inlaid with silver. Some coins of the reigns of Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius showed that the interment belonged to the end of the third century.
These instruments, &c., are now in the Museum of St-Germain-en-Laye. The majority of these will be found described and figured later.
Find of Sextus Polleius Sollemnis, oculist of Fonviel, Saint-Privat-d’Allier. In levelling a heap of earth which had fallen from a cliff above as the result of a landslide, there were found at Fonviel in 1864 a number of bronze surgical instruments. The place where they were found is at the intersection of two old Roman roads, and the instruments had been buried in the grave of a Roman surgeon high up above the valley on the edge of a cliff. Eighteen coins of the reigns of Julia Augusta, Trajan, Hadrian, Commodus, Gordian, Philip, Valerian, and Gallus, showed that the interment had been made at the end of the third century. The instruments found included three scalpel handles, fragments of two forceps, and an oculist’s seal in stone showing that the grave was that of Sextus Polleius Sollemnis. Many more instruments had probably been buried originally. Those enumerated are now in the Museum of Le Puy-en-Velay. An account of this find, with illustrations, is to be found in the Annales de la Société d’Agriculture, Sciences, Arts et Commerce du Puy (tome xxvi. 1864-5). It is also described, along with the find of Gaius Firmius Severus, in a monograph by Deneffe, under the title of Les Oculistes Gallo-Romains au IIIme siècle (Antwerp, 1896).
One of the most prolific finds of late years has been the discovery of a Roman military hospital at Baden, the ancient Roman station of Aquae, or Vicus Aquensis. From time to time isolated discoveries of instruments had been made, including a catheter, a scalpel, and several varieties of probes, and in March, 1893, MM. Kellersberger and Meyer proceeded to excavate systematically the remains of some Roman buildings on their property. A large chamber 10.35 metres by 12.5, with walls 60 cm. thick, was discovered, and later others were discovered varying from 3 to 27 metres in length. There were in all fourteen rooms. Along the side of the building on which a Roman road ran, there were the remains of an imposing façade, running the whole length of the building. It had consisted of a portico with colonnades, the foundations of which were found at regular intervals. It is possible that some of the larger rooms had been subdivided into others by thin walls or partitions, for fragments of partitions of plaster with wood lathing were found.
A large number of objectstiles, lamps, vases, pots, knives, spearheads, nails, glass, fibulae, beads, weavers’ weights, three amphorae a metre highwere found near the surface. Then, at a depth of two metres, surgical instruments began to be found. These included probes to the number of 120, unguent spoons in bone and bronze, a fragment of a catheter 13 cm. long, bronze boxes for powder, needles, earscoops, unguentaria, spatulae, a fragment of an étui for instruments, and cauteries. Many coins of the reigns of Claudius, Nero, Domitian, Vespasian, and Hadrian were found, showing that the hospital had been in use between 100 and 200 A.D. The objects mentioned are still the private property of MM. Kellersberger and Meyer. In 1905, by the kindness of these gentlemen, I was allowed to make a complete examination of the collection.
A case containing a surgeon’s outfit was found in the Luxemburgerstrasse, Cologne. It contained a phlebotome, a chisel, and some fragments of other instruments of steel, two forceps and two sharp hooks in bronze, and a small ivory pestle-like instrument. These are now in the Cologne Museum. This is a most interesting and important little find. The phlebotome is by far the best preserved and best authenticated example which we possess of this instrument. Probably the same may be said of the chisel as a purely surgical instrument.