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Massage Therapy in Ancient Greece and Rome

By Yona Williams    3/27/09

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Ancient history is dotted with significant techniques and customs centered on the practice of using touch in order to encourage a speedy recovery and healing. All through the East and the West, civilizations have tapped into the power of natural healing and massage to treat their injuries, prevent sickness, cure illnesses, and take away the pain. In this article, you will learn information regarding massage therapy in ancient Greece and Rome.

Greek Massage Therapy

The Greeks are credited with practicing massage between 800 and 700 BCE, after the philosophies and practices of the East made their way into ancient Western civilizations. One of the primary uses for massage during ancient Greek times was to tend to the athletes who trained for the entertaining competitions that took place in the past, such as the Olympics. Massage served as a way to keep their bodies in prime condition.

At that time, the doctors of ancient Greece would combine herbs and oils with their massage techniques as a way to eradicate medical concerns. The woman also looked towards massage and the use of aromatic oils as a way to keep their skin looking beautiful.

Other details regarding the way ancient Greeks used massage to their advantage are found in the writings of Hippocrates, who during the 5th century BCE, discussed how friction could be used to treat physical injuries. He was also known to guide his colleagues in the medical world on how to make the most out of rubbing the body in order to promote healing. Additionally, Hippocrates is responsible for encouraging people to embrace a combination of massage, good eating habits, exercise, rest, fresh air, and music so that they could rejuvenate the body and maintain their health.

Massage Therapy in Ancient Rome

Roman massage therapy practices have a history that is traced back to between 200 and 100 BCE. It is recorded that during the 1st century BCE, a physician named Galen developed a practice that served many emperors in his day. He started to incorporate massage therapy into his way of treating royalty, as he found it beneficial in alleviating the pain and symptoms of disease and physical injuries.

Galen followed the principles of Hippocrates, which helped to formulate his thought on diet and exercise. He believed that physical activity, rest, healthy dietary habits, and massage all worked together to restore and maintain the health of the body. During his day, it became commonplace to see the well off enjoy massages within the comforts of their own homes – administered by personal doctors. Other Romans received massages in a public bath setting, thanks to trainers and doctors.

The massage process involved a bath, which was then followed up by a full body massage aimed to stimulate circulation and loosen the joints. Massages also utilized oils for an added benefit to the skin. The public bath that offered massages grew quite popular in Roman culture, but over time, the luxury was curbed when excessive pleasure began to trump healing treatments. Around the 4th century, the Roman Emperor Constantine forbids the use of public baths.

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