CFP: Medical Machines in Antiquity Conference, Glasgow

Location: University of Glasgow

Date: 19th-20th May 2017

The technological capabilities and mechanical achievements of the Greeks and Romans have been the subject of considerable scholarly interest in recent years. Consequently, multi and interdisciplinary collaborative research projects have not only investigated the archaeological remains of devices, such as the Antikythera Mechanism, but also utilised the instructions provided in treatises, such as Hero of Alexandria’s On Automata, to undertake experimental archaeological reconstructions of those for which the remains do not survive and develop working prototypes. The role of machines in ancient medicine, however, has been much less scrutinised. To date, the lion’s share of scholarly attention has focused on medical and surgical instruments rather than medical and surgical machinery. While some mechanical and pneumatic devices such as drills, dilators and syringes – examples of which survive in the archaeological record – have been carefully considered, other more complicated contraptions attested only in literature have been overlooked. In point of fact, the most recent extensive survey of ancient medical equipment, Lawrence Bliquez’s 2015 The Tools of Asclepius: Surgical Instruments in Greek and Roman Times, deliberately excluded them entirely (p. x). Yet medical treatises dating back to the fifth century BCE describe a variety of machinery including, but not limited to, benches, ladders, racks, and chests that assist with the treatment of dislocations and fractures. Despite renewed interest in ancient science and technology, the use of machines in medicine in ancient Greece and Rome remains an understudied area, and it is past time for a reassessment. This two-day workshop will offer an opportunity to reassess the evidence for the use of machines in medicine in ancient Greece and Rome.

Potential areas of investigation include but are not limited to:

  • Medical machines in ancient literature
  • Medical machines in the archaeological record
  • The technical aspects of design, production and usage of medical machines
  • The relationship between medical machines and medical instruments
  • The relationship between medical machines and other types of machine
  • Experimental archaeological reconstruction of medical machines
  • The reception of ancient medical machines in later historical periods

Confirmed speakers:

  • Dr Ian Ruffell (University of Glasgow)
  • Dr Laurence Totelin (Cardiff University)
  • Dr Georgia Petridou (University of Liverpool)

Papers should be of 40 minutes’ length, and should not have been previously published or delivered at a major conference. Please submit your abstract (200-300 words, either Word or PDF format) to Dr Jane Draycott ( by 31st January 2017. Please include your name, academic affiliation, and contact details in your email. Successful contributions may be considered for publication in a peer-reviewed conference volume.

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