[Danish battlefield surgery in the period between the birth of Christ and the year 500 AD].


Danish battlefield surgery in the period between the birth of Christ and the year 500 AD is exemplified by a reinterpretation of artefacts found in the sacrificial bogs at Thorsbjerg, Nydam, Ejsbøl, Illerup Adal, Vimose and Kragehul, reinterpreted in the light of classic European and Egyptian archaeological finds and ethno-archaeological parallels against the background of the author's years of experience as a practicing specialist in gynaecology and obstetrics. No surgical instruments from the Iron Age have previously been construed or identified as such in Denmark or Schleswig-Holstein. The purpose of this paper is to examine the possible finding and identificiation of surgical instruments - or what could be construed as a battlefield surgeons instruments - among artefacts deposited in the above-mentioned sacrificial bogs in the Iron Age. In this paper, the term 'surgical instrument' is defined as an instrument used in teh practice of medicine. Material for the study was collected in a review of illustrations in published works about these bog finds, localising these artefacts and examining them at the museums at which they were located. Also examined was museum storage of artefacts that had been excavated in the above-mentioned bogs. In an effort to reinterpret the function of the artefacts, they were compared with known surgical instruments found in the geographical areas controlled by the Greeks and later the Romans and with pictures of artefacts and a few written sources form the same area. They were also compared with ethnographic parallels. The material upon which the paper is based consists of a total of 67 artefacts, each identified as being from one of the above-mentioned bogs. Of these 67 artefacts, 40 can be indentifed and reinterpreted as being surgical instruments and 27 are toilet sets, i.e. tweezers for personal use or sets consisting of tweezers connected by a metal ring to either an ear pick or a nail cutter. Analysis of the artefacts revealed that in six of the bogs, 40 surgical instruments were found among sacrificed weapons: 29 scalpels, one pair of tweezers, five needles, more than 200 'wound thorns', three trephination saws and a double box. These instruments and the context, in which they were found, i.e. among sacrificed Iron Age weapons, indicate that the artefacts can be interpreted as being a battlefield surgeons instruments. It must be concluded that battlefield surgeons took part in local warfare, and that their equipment was sacrificed to the bogs in the Iron Age. It must also be concluded that these field surgeons gained their knowledge not only through contact with civilians but also from a close association with the military of the Roman Empire. This insight into the humanitarian care principles and philosophy of Iron Age civilisation is completely new and of substantial cultural and historical significance to the currently reigning view that the Roman Iron Age within the geographical area that is now Denmark was simply a callous and barbaric period.

Cite this paper

@article{Frlich2004DanishBS, title={[Danish battlefield surgery in the period between the birth of Christ and the year 500 AD].}, author={Annette Fr{\"{o}lich}, journal={Dansk medicinhistorisk årbog}, year={2004}, pages={41-74} }