Massage in classical Greece and Rome

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The Greeks believed in the cultivation of a healthy mind and body, which is similar to the 'holistic approach' practised by many people today. Rituals of bathing, massage, exercise or dancing were practised by men and women. They encouraged the pursuit of physical fitness and organised regular sporting, gymnastic and athletic competitions. Massage was used before events to improve performance and after events to relieve fatigue and aid recovery. Gladiators and soldiers were massaged before battle to give vigour and promote fitness and health, and afterwards to aid recovery, healing and relaxation. Homer writes in the poem The Odyssey of Greek soldiers being rubbed with oils and anointed by beautiful women to aid their recovery and regain strength on return from battle.

Around 500 bc the Greek physician Herodicus used massage with oils and herbs to treat medical conditions and diseases. Hippocrates, who is now thought of as the father of medicine, was a pupil of Herodicus. He began to study the effects of massage on his patients. He concluded and recorded that 'hard rubbing binds, soft rubbing loosens, much rubbing causes parts to waste but moderate rubbing makes them grow'. Hippocrates also concluded that it was more beneficial to apply pressure in an upward direction, i.e. towards the heart, as we practise today. In Hippocrates' day, the function of the heart and the circulation of the blood were not known. It is therefore remarkable that he reached this conclusion only by observing the effect on the tissues of different strokes. With our knowledge of the heart and circulating blood we understand why pressure upwards is more beneficial: the condition of the tissues improves because deoxygenated blood and waste products are removed quickly as massage speeds up blood and lymph flow. Even without the benefit of this knowledge, Hippocrates taught his pupils that massage movements should be performed with pressure upwards to promote healing.

The Romans followed similar routines to the Greeks. They practised bathing, exercise and massage for health and social relaxation. Large private and public baths were built. These included water baths and steam rooms, gymnasium and massage areas. The baths were maintained at different temperatures and progress was made from cold to hot baths. Wealthy Romans would use these daily for cleansing, exercising, relaxing and socialising. Servants were always in attendance, with oils and creams to massage their masters when required. The Romans built similar baths in the countries that were conquered by their armies. Many such baths were built after the Roman conquest of Britain in 55 bc, and their ruins can be seen in Britain today in towns and cities such as Bath, Caerleon and St Albans. Massage techniques recorded from those times include manipulations known as squeezing, pinching or pummelling. They relate to the petrissage and percussion movements used today.

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Responses

  • mary warren
    How to present the massage in classical greece and rome?
    2 years ago
  • lelia fiorentini
    Did the greek massage there baby?
    2 years ago

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