A Roman Bronze Spathomele, Roman Imperial Period, ca. 2nd - 4th Century CE
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An unusually-shaped Roman spathomele with a flat duck bill-shaped spatula with an olivary point at the other end.
Spathomele were pharmaceutical rather than strictly surgical instruments. The olive end was used for stirring medicines, the spatula for spreading them on the affected part. The spathomele was used by painters for preparing and mixing their colors. The very large numbers in which they are found would indicate that their use was not confined to medical men.
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 physicians, 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 because there was not much they could do that wouldn't cause more harm. Most ailments dealt 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: 4 3/4 inches (12 cm)
Condition: Intact and in overall excellent condition with no cracks, chips, or breaks. Presented on a custom mount.
Provenance: Dr Myron Mintz private Collection, California acquired from the trade in the 1970's. Ex. Kimbrough private collection, Houston TX, 2000-2016