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Lice have been with humans for ever. Lice carry many diseases (typhus being one) so how did the Roman army keep the louse population under control?

I guess the same could be asked of the civilian population. Were louse infestations out of control?

Other than soaking in olive oil to smother the lice, how did soldiers and civilians cleanse themselves of the louse?
Don't know too much about this, but I found this page that might explain about wooden combs.

http://www.jalc.nl/cgi/t/text/text-idx23...202a03%3A7
Regards
Michael Kerr
I think that the standard of hygiene in the Roman world may well have been a bit nearer to that which we have today, for with their baths and not just from the military baths but also those created for the civilian poulace in many places throughout the Roman world.

The major problems of world health appear to come about by the decline of the Roman empire, for when we get to not only the medieval period but indeed the 17th century bathing and health care went out the window. This may well have been caused by the lack of clean water in fact in most of Europe it was safer to drink beer than water.
According to this article in The Lancet 22% of skulls in Herculaneum show evidence of irritation which could have been blamed on lice.

Ovid's Art of Love deals quite a bit with hygiene and personal care, but I couldn't find any mention of dealing with lice. That is rather odd, because he is pretty comprehensive about taking care of yourself and what he thought of people who didn't.

If Ovid is silent about the issue, and there is circumstantial evidence that almost one in four people suffered from it, perhaps lice infestation was a simple fact of life.
Quote:I think that the standard of hygiene in the Roman world may well have been a bit nearer to that which we have today, for with their baths and not just from the military baths but also those created for the civilian poulace in many places throughout the Roman world.

The major problems of world health appear to come about by the decline of the Roman empire, for when we get to not only the medieval period but indeed the 17th century bathing and health care went out the window. This may well have been caused by the lack of clean water in fact in most of Europe it was safer to drink beer than water.

AFAIK the lack of clean water applies as much to the Roman period as to the Middle Ages. In addition to that, I don't think baths like the Roman ones garantuee a higher standard of hygiene. Seeing as everyone bathed in the same water and there was no disinfectant (was there?), bacteria were probably all over the place, especially in the hot baths.

But if anyone has more information on this, I'd be glad to hear!
I don't think we really know if or not there were disinfectants in the Roman world but at least much of the body lice would be kept down a bit by bathing, in fact for that matter even having a bath in a river or a stream is better than no washing or facility for at all. I do agree there were maybe poor water supplies in the later Roman world but then we are talking about a whole system that was beginning to fall apart.
I think the Romans used wine and vinegar for disinfectants.
Pedanius Dioscorides of Anazarbus who was a Greek physician in Nero's army wrote a book where he writes about three different methods of treating lice and nits. Firstly by applying a pitch called Cedria or oil of cedar which when rubbed on kills lice and nits. Secondly he recommended that a heated rub of the fruit of the myrica (a small tree found in Europe, Asia and North America) was good for treating lice and thirdly he noted that Garlic boiled with Oregano killed lice and bed bugs. The fact that this man was an army physician and seeing he wrote of different methods indicates to me that dealing with head lice was a common problem with soldiers in the Roman army.
Regards
Michael Kerr
Quote:Pedanius Dioscorides of Anazarbus who was a Greek physician in Nero's army...

Fascinating! Thanks Michael - where did you come across this information?
It's a common misperception that lice infest those whose hygiene is poor. Headlice in particular do not find dirty, greasy scalps an ideal environment to thrive in as they find it difficult to grip onto the hair and their eggs are not easily attached either. Body lice are also fairly easy to get rid of, you immerse yourself in water for at least 15 minutes and boil clothing and hang it out to dry in fir a day. Bed bugs are a real problem to deal with as even modern methods find them difficult to eradicate.
Nathan Ross wrote:
Quote:Fascinating! Thanks Michael - where did you come across this information?

Too much free time and Google search for the history of head lice
Link below covers not only Rome but Greece, Egypt and China. Its basically a timeline, not too comprehensive but informative.
http://nuvoforheadlice.com/test/?page_id=101
Regards
Michael Kerr
In 1999-2000, excavations at Hadrian's Wall have revealed that Roman soldiers were facing a battle of another kind against microscopic enemies: they seem that they were indeed "head to head" with lice!

This is what seems to be the excavation of Fort Luguvalium (Carlisle), which was founded in 72/73 AD, which led in particular, in the midst of thousands of objects perfectly preserved, the discovery comb completely intact soldier trapped with a louse three millimeters long, the latter being confirmed as contemporary comb dated to the Flavian period!

It seems you louse is one of the largest and most complete ever found in the Roman world
(information from Carlisle museum)

[Image: mini_234157louse01um2.jpg]
wouldn't use of the strigil be more effective with body lice, as you are basiccally scraping off the outer layer of skin?
Out of the three types of lice the hair and pubic lice were a lot trickier to kill than the body lice. I am not an expert but body lice lived in the bedding as well and were usually active at night so fumigation was the only real solution by smoking them out according to Pliny. However some of his methods seem very extreme like smoking them with the smoke from leeches roasted in a pottery vessel or from the smoke of centipedes. while for fleas use the flowers of freshly gathered pennyroyal was said to be effective. Alexandra Croom in her book Running the Roman Home has a few pages on what the sources recommend and Pliny recommended staying away from inns which were the main causes of infestation but a Roman army on the march would also probably foster lice and a soldier would have no say in where the army camps although it was recommended not to camp near swamps.
Regards
Michael Kerr