Galen the Greatest Doctor of Antiquity

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Cassius Claudii Galenos or more commonly known as Galen was born in the year 130 in the City of Pergamon (Modern Bergama of today’s Turkey). His father Nikon was a smart and wealthy architect who provided him with good education and financial means and also Galen’s mother impressed him with his particularly tough character. His father taught Galen not to follow any school of philosophy, to think for himself, and to judge every matter on his own mind first. Pergamon fell into the hands of the Romans three centuries before Galen was born so Galen was born as a fully Roman citizen.

Galen the Greatest Doctor of Antiquity
Galen the Greatest Doctor of Antiquity

Parchment was discovered in Pergamon which was a beautiful, rich and intellectual city. Pergamon had its Asclepion, a sacred place of healing, and Pergamon’s library was competing against the library of Alexandria. Invention parchment contributed to the development of the scroll and codex rich Pergamon library.

Galen or Galenos

Galenos or better known as Galen the doctor traveled all over the Mediterranean to learn the latest techniques and applications in medicine. He finished his travels at the famous Alexandrian medical school, where he studied for about five years. Galen learnt all that he could learn here. He had studied medicine for nearly twenty years to this moment. Such strong training can be considered a bit too much even today. But Galen was definitely “one and only” with this training back then too.

He became a doctor of the gladiators in Pergamon city. According to Galen, his four years in this practice allowed him to learn medicine more closely. Galen identified the importance of a healthy diet for the health of gladiators and a strong body. Gladiators had wounds that he referred as ‘windows’ which allowed various parts of the body functions to be observed. He learned the best ways to treat wounds and understood how important hygiene is. By gaining the admiration of the people of Pergamon, he dramatically reduced the death rate among the gladiators and the citizens.

Temple of Asclepios nearby Pergamon Ancient City in Bergama, Turkey

Galen went to Rome in the year 161 when the Stoic Emperor Marcus Aurelius (161-180) ascended the throne. Due to the great plague epidemic in Rome Marcus Aurelius specially summoned Galen to Rome. Galen gained success in a short time with his unique treatments and cures.

When the emperor Marcus Aurelius got ill during his eastern campaign in 169 and Galen cured him with a cheese diet that he invented. The emperor presented him with a medallion with the inscription “From Aurelius, the emperor of the Romans, to the emperor of physicians, Galenus”. Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius and later emperors Commodus and Septimius Severus became his patients too.

On the other hand, the thoughts that took shape in the mind of Galen, who also dealt with philosophy, were compatible with the newly emerging Christianity. For this reason, Galen’s scientific research and theses were accepted by the church. About 100 of Galen’s 400 written works have reached today, and Galen’s ideas spreaded rapidly because they were taken under the protection of the church. Galen, who never married and had a child, died in Rome in 216 at the age of 87.

Galen and Christianity

Hasan Gülday

Hasan Gülday. Professional licensed tour guide working in Turkey.

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