In the article Physicians and the Roman Imperial Aristocracy: The Patronage of
Therapeutics, Susuan P. Mattern describes how a physician moved up the social ladder and about
the competition between physicians to gain reputation in the Roman society. This is done by reading letters from the Roman elite, the works of Galen and many other great physicians of the time.
Mattern starts by telling the way a physician would gain status. If a physician treated someone from the Roman aristocracy, to repay the physician it was common to ask the emperor to grant the physician citizenship. The letters have similar terminology, so we can see that this was not uncommon, probably very routine. In the letters of a Pliny the Younger, a Roman senator, to the emperor, he uses identical language to ask citizenship for many of his physicians. The words they use also have great significance; they "describe a relationship between people of unequal status based on a reciprocity of favors and gratitude and ties of loyalty" (p.3)
To physicians the gain in status was the most important payment an Roman aristocrat could give.(p.5)
The highest social standing a physician could receive is the physician to the emperor (imperial physician). There was a special title for physicians to emperors in Greek: Archoatros. (p. 6) There are many examples of the benefits imperial physicians received: obtain citizenship for many in his family, travel with the emperor on campaign, serve on a military tribune, become an honorary founder of his hometown (p. 6-7). In most cases it is not known how one becomes an imperial physician, but in the cases we do know about, like Antonius Musa, a dramatic cure was involved. (P.7)
Through the works of Galen we learn how difficult social advancement of any kind is. Since many...