Obesity in Ancient Rome

Bust of Galen

Galen. De pulsibus. (Manuscript; Venice, ca. 1550). This Greek manuscript of Galen’s treatise on the pulse is interleaved with a Latin translation.

Roman physican and philospher Galen was actually one of the earlist to record and treat clinical cases of morbid obesity.

He classified overweight individuals as being either pachis (fat), efsarkos (overweight) or polysarkos (obese).

A polisarkos person was described as one who had “exceeding fat”. A description given in Methodo Medendi considers this type of patient to be one who is unable to walk without sweating, is unable to reach the table when sitting due to the size of the stomach, has difficulty breathing easily, cannot give birth and cannot clean themselves.

Polisarkia was considered to be a problem as it interfered with normal function or quality of life, which would certainly suggest that such an individual would today be considered to be morbidly obese.


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