The History of the Healer, the Introduction of the Second, the Medicines, Remedies, Potions and Lotions.
The name “second” has been synonymous with Cornermen since the introduction of the Brighton rules–and probably before. The term literally means “the second man,” with the first being the fighter. However, as I could not find a historical account of this please correct me if I am wrong.
The history of the healer, the introduction of the second, and the birth of the Cutman are very much entwined from the earliest records dating back to the Ancient Egyptians, Greece and Roman empires 2667 BC – AD 129/130.
In these times it was recognised that excessive bleeding inevitably caused death. So the prevention of blood loss and the restoration of haemostasis (the process of preventing blood loss from a vessel or an organ of the body) in battle was of the utmost importance and dates back as far as the Battle of Troy, around 1200 BC.
Vegetable and mineral styptics (a specific type of anti-haemorrhage agent that works by contracting blood vessels = vasoconstriction) were used on large wounds by the Greeks and Romans. However, their effectiveness would have been minimal but useful on smaller lacerations or wounds.
Egyptian mummification led to greater knowledge of the haemostatic process. It was during this time that the chemicals used for the restoration of bodies and many of the veins and arteries running throughout the human body were found. Doctors and healers of this time realized if these were plugged, blood could not continue to haemorrhage.
Fist Fighting (2000-1000 BC-AD 393)
These advances in medicine were widely in use on and off the field of battle. The maintenance of fighters pre and post-fight was of the utmost importance in these times, since they were valuable commodities to their owners and entertainment for spectators, just as they are today.
Bloodletting is the withdrawal of–often small–quantities of blood from a patient to cure or prevent illness and disease. It would have been common practice to bleed a patient with severe lacerations, or injuries as minor as a nose bleeds in order to restore haemostasis.
Bloodletting was based on an ancient system of medicine in which blood and other bodily fluids were regarded as “humors” that had to remain in proper balance to maintain health. It was the most common medical practice performed until the late 19th century. In Europe, the practice continued until the end of the 18th century, around James Figgs (prize fighting champion, trainer and second 1695 – 7 December 1734).
Interestingly enough, surgeons and barber surgeons were amongst those who were skilled in purging blood. So if you look at a barber’s pole today you will see the red which symbolizes blood, and white which symbolizes the tourniquet. The pole symbolizes the stick that the hand pumped to encourage blood vessels to the surface so that the practitioner could penetrate the vein.
Opium, Cocaine, Scopolamine, Caffeine, Vinegar and Cobwebs
Some of the medicines, remedies, lotions and potions used by seconds until the early 20th century were hand-me-downs from these periods. For example, analgesics like opium and scopolamine, and stimulants like coco leaves were used by ancient healers, and given to fighters to stave off pain and fatigue during intense fighting. Acetum (the acid in vinegar) was used to wash wounds, and cobwebs were used to seal open wounds.
Believe it or not, the use of cocaine and opium would have been common practice until the 1920s and maybe beyond. In 1928, cocaine and opium became prescribed drugs in the US and the International Association of the Athletic Federation (IAAF) was formed to help control drug use, and therefore limiting its use and practice in other sports, and we can assume between rounds somewhat.
Interestingly, some of the other medicines that were used by the ancient Greeks and Romans (AD 100) were hallucinogens and stimulants. Strychnine was used to help fighters stay alert, fight fatigue and to improve the intensity of fights for spectators.
19th & 20th Centuries
Other concoctions that were reportedly used by seconds—and would have been typical of that time—during the 19th and early 20th centuries were home brews concocted of coco leaves, or cocaine, opium or heroin, or strychnine (in low doses) and caffeine. Some were combined with alcohol to improve performance. Later, in the 50’s, amphetamines were also used to improve performance.
Seconds and Coaches had their own unique formulas. Indeed, this was common practice in other sports such as lacrosse and cycling. This would have typically been taken before, or during an event as a stimulant, or to numb pain, or both.