Syphillis Said Found in Pompeii

It has long been believed that syphilis was imported from the Americas.  Finding syphilis in Rome before the new world was discovered sheds doubt on this.

Pompeii skeletons reveal secrets of Roman family life

Professor Mary Beard, University of Cambridge

Pompeii Bones

Skeletons found in Pompeii reveal Roman families provided basic health care

The remains of the Roman town of Pompeii destroyed by a volcanic eruption in AD79 continue to provide intriguing and unexpected insights into Roman life – from diet and health care to the gap between rich and poor.  The basement storeroom under a large agricultural depot in the little suburb of Oplontis was full of pomegranates. To many of the Pompeiians trying to find shelter from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, it must have seemed strong and safe.

About 50 people took cover there. We know they did because archaeologists in the 1980s found their skeletons, well preserved.  They were overwhelmed by the volcanic debris and burning gases in the very place where they hoped they would be saved.

We know how these poor people died and we know what killed them. But these skeletons can also tell us fascinating things about how the people in Pompeii actually lived.  There are some very simple surprises.

Syphilis

For a start, we often imagine that the Romans, or anyone in the past for that matter, were all much shorter than we are. Well, not so these people.  In fact, on average, they are taller than the population of modern Naples.

We also imagine that the Romans would have died young. Again, this is another myth – as these skeletons show. There are plenty of middle-aged to elderly people among them.  The AD79 eruption of Vesuvius lasted for over 24 hours and caught the population utterly unprepared

The truth is that childhood was the really dangerous time. All kinds of illnesses that we now vaccinate against or can easily cure with antibiotics were devastating killers.  Only half the population would have made it to the age of 10. But if you got that far, you could look forward to a reasonable life expectancy in our terms.

Interestingly, infectious diseases leave tell-tale marks and lines in the enamel of children’s teeth. Many of the skeletons in the cellar show these – a visual history of the illnesses these people had survived.

There are some more curious – and startling – discoveries too.  The skeletons of a pair of twins show what were almost certainly the signs of congenital syphilis. If that is correct, then it puts paid to the usual idea that the disease was brought back to Europe from the New World by Christopher Columbus and his sailors in the 15th Century.

That is interesting in itself – we are going to have to stop blaming Columbus, or the Americans, for syphilis.

See the whole article at the BBC…

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About carlos

I'm a curious person, of reasonable intellect, "on the beach" (retired) and enjoying my interest in anthropology, language, civil rights, and a few other areas. I've been a hippie/student/aerospace tech writer in the '60s, a witness to the Portuguese revolution in the ‘70s, a defense test engineer and witness to the Guatemalan genocide in the '80s, and a network engineer for an ISP in the '90s. Now I’m a student and commentator until my time is up. I've spent time under the spell of the Mesoamerican pyramids and the sweet sound of the Portuguese language. I've lived in Europe, traveled in Brazil, Central America, Iceland, New Zealand, and other places. My preferred mode of travel is with a backpack and I eat (almost) anything local. Somehow, many of the countries I have been to have had civil unrest (for which I was not responsible). I'm open to correspond with anyone who might share my liberal, humanist interests. I live in San Buenaventura, California.
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