Research by an American archaeologist suggests that in the 4th century BC, Greeks were already concerned with accessibility.
In an interview with Science, archaeologist Debby Sneed, author of the study, said that these ramps were already known by scientists, but they never received much attention because people tend to think that Greeks were muscular and fit. “There’s this assumption that there is no room in Greek society for people who weren’t able-bodied,” Sneed said.
Another theory was that they were used for animal sacrifices. But, according to Sneed, evidence suggests that this was not the case. Some sculptures and vases discovered earlier show people using canes and crutches on these ramps. Skeletal evidence also reveals that arthritis and joint disease were common among Greeks.
Sneed searched for ramps in ancient Greek sanctuaries, combing published excavation reports and personally visiting dozens of these sites. She focused on the 4th century BC, when the sanctuaries dedicated to the god Asclepius were built.
The archaeologist found that the two best documented healing sanctuaries were equipped with more ramps than other locations, and that these ramps gave access to other buildings.
Although wheelchairs did not exist at that time, visitors who were unable to walk needed to be carried on litters or stretchers. Not to mention those who used walking sticks or crutches. But the most reliable evidence came from the uneven distribution of the ramps.
The huge sanctuary of Zeus at Olympia, for example, has only two ramps. But at Epidaurus, there are 11 stone ramps in nine separate buildings. Another smaller temple, near Corinth, also had ample access to ramps. “The distribution is pretty clear: They show up in places where there are more disabled people,” the archaeologist said.