Lesson for the living: already the ancient Greeks built ramps for the disabled

Lesson for the living: already the ancient Greeks built ramps for the disabled

22 July, 15:50Science
New research shows how the rights of people with disabilities were respected in ancient Greece - authorities made their life easier in every possible way, including regularly payment of pensions to those who could not feed themselves.

Archaeologists claim that 2,300 years ago, in ancient Greece, society was concerned about making life easier for people with disabilities, according to Science magazine.

Irina Ziganshina

Even today in Russia there are ramps for disabled people that facilitate the entrance to buildings, alas, not everywhere. So to Ancient Greece, the level of civilization in which was so high that they cared about people who find it difficult to walk or climb stairs, we are still far away.

Archaeologist from California State University at Long Beach, Debbie Snead, whose work is published in the journal Antiquity, is confident that the Greeks built ramps 2,300 years ago, and the Asclepius sanctuaries, which can be reached by a gentle entrance, are the most ancient architectural monuments developed with taking into account the needs of people with disabilities.

According to the author, the evidence for the existence of the ramps lies on the surface, but archaeologists have not paid attention to them before: it is easier to think that all the ancient Greeks were muscular and fit, like the numerous sculpted Apollo and Diana.

However, there is a lot of evidence to the contrary: if you look closely at the sculptures and paintings, you can see people leaning on canes or crutches. Suffice it to recall the lame Hephaestus, a disabled god, who, for example, was depicted with a crutch on the frieze of the Parthenon. There are also studies of skeletons found, showing that arthritis and joint diseases were quite common among the ancient Greeks.

Focusing on the architecture of the 4th century BC, when the sanctuaries of the god of healing Asclepius were being actively built in Greece, the author found that they were equipped with a large number of ramps. For example, in the main sanctuary of Asclepius, in Epidaurus near Athens, a wide stone ramp led to the temple, two more ramps passed through the gate, small buildings also had ramps on the side. Wheelchairs will appear only after 1000 years, and in ancient Greece those who came to ask for health from Asclepius were usually not carried in palanquins and stretchers - and it was easier to climb with them along the ramp.

Proof that the ramps were not built for transporting animals or building materials, but for low-powered citizens, is the specificity of their distribution. So, for example, in the huge sanctuary of Zeus in Olympia there are only two ramps, and in Epidaurus there are 11 stone ramps for nine buildings.

Initially built for disabled people, the ramps later turned out to be a very useful element of the building: thanks to them, the elderly, pregnant women and children alike gained access to holy places. It's just like the modern ramps used by people in wheelchairs, suitcase-laden travelers and parents pushing prams.

The author also mentions that the ramps, the construction of which required additional finance and labor, is not the first evidence that in ancient Greece the rights of the disabled were respected and cared for. It is known, for example, that in Athens, pensions were regularly paid to adult male citizens who were disabled and because of this could not feed themselves.

“The ancient Greek world was not at all some kind of progressive utopia, but some interesting decisions were peculiar to it”, - the author of the study writes.

The photo shows a digital reconstruction of the sanctuary of the god of healing Asclepius in Epidaurus of the 4th century BC: in the foreground there is a temple, behind the tholos. Both buildings are equipped with ramps.

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