ca. A.D. 129-200

Greek physician and philosopher

Galen was, along with the Greek physician Hippocrates, one of the two most influential figures in ancient medicine. Galen became the standard authority on all aspects of medical practice and theory well into the A.D. 1500s.

Galen was born into a prosperous Greek family in Pergamum, a city in the Roman province* of Asia in what is now western Turkey. He received a thorough education, especially since his father, a well-known architect, insisted that he study each of the leading schools of philosophy*. Galen began his study of medicine around A.D. 147. Ten years later, he became the physician who attended the gladiators* at Pergamum. In this position, Galen accumulated firsthand knowledge about human anatomy, nutrition, and surgery. By A.D. 162, he had made his way to Rome and shortly thereafter became the friend and personal physician of the emperor Marcus Aurelius. He later served the emperors Commodus and Septimius Severus.

Galen gained great knowledge about anatomy—the structure of the body. He dissected monkeys and other animals and performed surgery on human patients. He also studied drugs and medications extensively. Galen regarded the study of medicine as closely linked to philosophy, and he adapted many of his medical beliefs in part from the work of the philosophers Plato and Aristotle, as well as from the work of the Greek physician Hippocrates.

Galen’s output as a writer was remarkable. He recorded his medical observations and insights and his philosophical views in about 350 essays with titles such as Hygiene and Bones for Beginners. These writings dominated medical thought in Europe in the Middle Ages. (See also Medicine, Greek; Medicine, Roman.)

* province overseas area controlled by Rome

* philosophy study of ideas, including science

* gladiator in ancient Rome, slave or captive who participated in combats that were staged for public entertainment

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at Thank you!