Roman decorative gynecology

Romans weren’t big on body shame, that much I knew, but I didn’t realize they were quite this sanguine: Ancient Roman Lamp Shows Gynecological Exam.

A group of archaeologists has found in the northern Spanish region of Leon a ceramic lamp dating from the beginning of the 1st century that shows a representation of the gynecological exam performed on a sick woman. […]

The find is of an oil lamp, “an exceptional piece that illustrates the presence of doctors in the city,” and – specifically – a military hospital, the expert said.

On the lamp’s surface “appears a very slender woman, possibly affected by a serious illness, like cancer, and a doctor who is performing a gynecological exam with a vaginal speculum,” Morillo said.

Although there are representations of Roman speculums (specula?) on the record, this is the first one known on a lamp.

The find is in the hands of unnamed private individuals, for some reason that escapes me, but it’s expected to wind up in the Leon Provincial Museum shortly. There are no pictures either, just an archaeological drawing.

Assuming the drawing is accurate, the speculum is a little weird-looking, to be honest. It looks like a bellows. 😮

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Comment by Ensign Steve
2009-02-19 23:52:20

It is “specula” indeed. I saw it on a label on a drawer in my doc’s office.

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Comment by livius drusus
2009-02-20 08:10:25

Thank you. I wonder if s/he has a selection of sizes and shapes or if they’re all the same.

Comment by Ordinary Jill
2009-02-21 12:20:02

They do come in different sizes. I have a very petite friend who told me her doctor has to use the speculum designed for children. I was horrified to learn that there is such a thing as a child-sized speculum, but I suppose it is necessary in some unfortunate cases.

Comment by livius drusus
2009-02-21 15:36:11

That makes sense. Even without considering the sad aspects, adults do come in a vast range of sizes, including considerably smaller than average.

Comment by Dina
2009-02-20 00:30:15

Oi veh’s mir, why would they picture it on an oil lamp??

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Comment by livius drusus
2009-02-20 08:13:38

You know how you can get doctor and lawyer-themed gift trinkets from catalogues today? Like a coaster with caduceus on it or a monogrammed golf bag with lady justice holding scales?

I think this was the Roman version of that. It’s just amazing to realize how completely explicit Romans were in every realm. That’s been whitewashed courtesy of Victorian morality coinciding with the rise of professional history.

Comment by Ordinary Jill
2009-02-21 12:24:06

It could also be a votive offering. At certain shrines where people prayed for healing, it was common to leave artistic representations of the affected body part.

Comment by Dina
2009-02-23 01:49:11

I do like blogs where you learn as much from the comments as from the posts. :yes:

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