Germ Theory in Ancient Rome?

Lee-Sensei

Ad Honorem
Aug 2012
2,059
#1
I came by some interesting quotes by Varro.

“Precautions must also be taken in the neighbourhood of swamps, both for the reasons given, and because there are bred certain minute creatures which cannot be seen by the eyes, which float in the air and enter the body through the mouth and nose and there cause serious diseases.”

“See that the steading does not face in the direction from which the infected wind usually comes, and do not build in a hollow, but rather on elevated ground, as a well-ventilated place is more easily cleared if anything obnoxious is brought in. Furthermore, being exposed to the sun during the whole day, it is more wholesome, as any animalculae which are bred near by and brought in are either blown away or quickly die from the lack of humidity.”

Its pretty incredible that he figured this out. It’s a shame that a lot of his books were lost, but he was later used as a reference by people like Pliny and Vitruvius.
 

Chlodio

Ad Honorem
Aug 2016
3,841
Dispargum
#2
Many things that become breeding grounds for germs smell bad, so it was relatively easy for ancients to associate bad smells with causing poor health. Moisture, darkness, lack of ventilation all facilitate the spread of germs. It was association, not any kind of modern scientific explanation.
 
Likes: Edratman
Mar 2018
724
UK
#4
Many things that become breeding grounds for germs smell bad, so it was relatively easy for ancients to associate bad smells with causing poor health. Moisture, darkness, lack of ventilation all facilitate the spread of germs. It was association, not any kind of modern scientific explanation.
I agree, but the quotes in the OP go beyond that and specifically mention "minute animals which cannot be seen by eye". I wonder where they got that idea from.
 
Likes: Chlodio
Jan 2015
2,883
MD, USA
#5
I agree, but the quotes in the OP go beyond that and specifically mention "minute animals which cannot be seen by eye". I wonder where they got that idea from.
Possibly because there was a known array of visible creatures that caused problems, from rats and mice to roaches and flies and lice down to fleas and mites. Those could be seen. So if none of those seemed to be the cause of an illness, perhaps it was an even smaller creature.

It's a step up from evil spirits, at least!

Matthew
 
Mar 2018
724
UK
#6
Possibly because there was a known array of visible creatures that caused problems, from rats and mice to roaches and flies and lice down to fleas and mites. Those could be seen. So if none of those seemed to be the cause of an illness, perhaps it was an even smaller creature.

It's a step up from evil spirits, at least!

Matthew
Certainly sounds like a plausible line of thought! Interesting that it arrives at something like the right conclusion, just for completely the wrong reasons (ie, rats and flees cause illness only because they carry germs on them)
 

Lee-Sensei

Ad Honorem
Aug 2012
2,059
#7
Many things that become breeding grounds for germs smell bad, so it was relatively easy for ancients to associate bad smells with causing poor health. Moisture, darkness, lack of ventilation all facilitate the spread of germs. It was association, not any kind of modern scientific explanation.
It goes further than that though. He theorizes that small animals invisible to our eyes travel through the air and enter our bodies through our noses and mouths to cause diseases.

Edit

Olleus best me to it.😅

Possibly because there was a known array of visible creatures that caused problems, from rats and mice to roaches and flies and lice down to fleas and mites. Those could be seen. So if none of those seemed to be the cause of an illness, perhaps it was an even smaller creature.

It's a step up from evil spirits, at least!

Matthew
I remember reading about an Eastern religious group that invisible evil spirits caused diseases in Antiquity. I think that it was Jainism, but I could be entirely wrong.
 
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