Marcus Ulpius Amerimus and Scribonia Attice's sepulcher

The necropolis of “Isola Sacra”, an artificial island constructed under Emperor Trajan in the surroundings of Ostia, near Fiumicino (Via Monte Spinoncia, 52), contains more than 200 funerary buildings. This area, once known as “Insula Portus” or “Insula Portuensis”, is not only famous for being close to the Harbor of Trajan, but also for its medical reputation. In fact, many surgical instruments were retrieved during the excavations. In addition, there are many literary references to the doctors in Ostia, such as in Claudius Galen's texts.




Amongst these ruins, there are two terracotta bas-reliefs depicting two ancient Roman medics: Marcus Ulpius Amerimus and his spouse Scribonia Attice.
The first sculptural relief portrays the surgeon Marcus Ulpius Amerimus as he treats a patient’s leg wound by extracting blood. Next to this scene, there are representations of many different types of medical equipment, further identifying the man as a doctor.
There isn’t much information regarding Marcus Ulpius Amerimus but in literature it is well described that most Roman surgeons got their practical experience on the battlefield. They carried a tool kit containing arrow extractors, catheters, scalpels, and forceps. They used to sterilize their equipment in boiling water before using it. The Romans performed surgical procedures using opium and scopolamine to relieve pain and acid vinegar to clean up wounds. They did not have effective anesthetics for complicated surgical procedures, but it is unlikely that they operated deep inside the body.


Scribonia Attice was probably a midwife, since she was depicted, in the second bas-relief, while helping a woman deliver her child, with the help of an assistant.
The Romans treated midwives with great respect. Records of medical instruments include a birthing stool, which was a four-legged stool with arm and back supports and a crescent-shaped opening for the delivery of the baby.


As can be read on an inscription at the entrance to the tomb facing Via Severiana, the funerary monument was commissioned by Scribonia Attice to host herself, her husband, as well as her mother and their freedmen.


The tomb, which dates back to approximately 140 AD, was mostly used to hold burial urns, since cremation was a common practice in Rome during that period. However, there are also inhumation formae under the floor, hidden by marble slabs. These are a later addition, but the reason behind this change in custom is unclear, since Christianity wasn’t yet widespread throughout the Roman Empire.
The original terra cotta reliefs are exhibited in the archaeological museum “Museo degli Scavi di Ostia Antica", and have been replaced by replicas in the sepulcher at the necropolis of Isola Sacra.

  • Photos and main text by Luca Carnuccio moc.supmacla|oiccunrac.acul#| and Enrico Ippolito ti.supmacla|otiloppi.ocirne#| (December 2018), information regarding the Necropolis and this Sepulcher courtesy of Ente MiBAC and Professor Claudia Parente


- Ida Baldassarre, Irene Bragantini, Anna Maria Dolciotti, Chiara Morselli et Franca Taglietti. Necropoli dell’Isola Sacra. Le ricerche 1968-89 : ripercorrendo un’esperienza

- Yvette Brazier, Ancient Roman Medicine,

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