Authors as disparate as Celsus, Vitruvius, Pliny, Frontinus, Columella, Varro, and Vegetius, demonstrate the Roman concept of health interwoven with the normal life and ordinary process of government in the Roman Empire. Vitruvius, a practicing architect in the milieu of the Roman Empire, shows through his writing how important sanitary planning was for public buildings. His chapter on city planning begins with a discussion of the salubrity of sites. The influence of the Hippocratic tract Airs, Waters, Places is apparent:
In the case of the walls these will be the main points: First, the choice of the most healthy site. Now this will be high and free from clouds and frost, with an aspect neither hot nor cold but temperate. In this way a marshy neighborhood will be avoided. For when the morning breezes blow towards the town at sunrise, as they bring with them mists from the marshes and, mingled with the mist, the poisonous breath of the creatures of the marshes [i.e., microorganisms], to be wafted into the bodies of the inhabitants, they will make the site unhealthy.
–De Architectura I.2-5
Rather than shrink from signs of death, the Romans seem to have employed them as reminders to “seize the day.“
In Petronius’s Satyricon, in the middle of a great banquet, a slave brings in a silver skeleton put together with flexible joints, and after it was flung on the table several times, the host Trimalchio recited:
Man’s life, alas, is but a span,
So let us live it while we can,
We’ll be like this when dead.
Despite the advanced state of sanitation engineering in the Roman world, the average life span was only 30-40 years.