Galen of  Pergamum

 Galen – or as he is known in Latin texts, Claudius Galenus, lived from 129 to 200AD. Some scholars believe he could have lived as late as 207AD, as there is written evidence that he was still producing writings as late as this, though others believe that these later texts were the work of some of his students or followers.   
 
Galen was born in the town of Pergamum, (now Bergama,Turkey) in Asia Minor, a town famed for its wealth and the temple of Asclepius, the god of healing. Galen was the son of Nicon the Greek architect and builder, who took a great interest in his sons’ development and schooling. He planned for him to study philosophy or politics while ensuring he was also familiar with architecture, astronomy, astrology, and other schools of thought. His progress into medicine is said to have been because the God Asclepius (the son of Apollo) came to Nicon in a dream, advising him to let his son study medicine, so Galen served for the next four years in the local temple as an attendant with the eminent physicians who gathered at the sanctuary of Asclepius.

It was after the death of his father in 148AD that Galen began his further education by travelling to the ancient city of Smyrna on the Aegean coast of Anatolia, which had one of the finest medical schools of the day. From Smyrna, Galen moved on to Corinth, then Athens, and after a brief time, return home to Pergamum, then to Alexandria which was the highest seat of learning in the world at that time, where he gained  a more vast and extensive knowledge of human anatomy and medicine. 
 
In 157AD he again returned to his native city where he publicly demonstrated a cure for severed tendons which gained him a prestigious appointment as physician to the gladiator school to which he was reappointed annually until the outbreak of the Parthian War in 161AD. The traumatic injuries of the arena provided him with ample opportunities to practice surgical techniques, becoming accustomed with the suturing of severed tendons in which he pioneered the use of catgut and in particular introduced treatments which were intended to reduce the risk of infection and inflammation of severe wounds.

During this time, as well as becoming expert in surgery, Galen also gained much experience treating trauma and performed many risky operations, including brain and eye surgery that were not tried again for nearly two thousand years. Another important breakthrough where Galen led the way was the introduction of pharmaceutical drugs by recognising the medicinal properties of plants and other natural materials he developed for example, the use of willow bark, and laudanum (an opium tincture) as anaesthetics.[v] 
  
Galen moved to Rome in 162AD where he became part of the intellectual life of the capital.  He gave open lectures, wrote extensively, and performed public demonstrations of his anatomical knowledge, which soon gained him a reputation as an experienced physician. Even though Galen’s preference was the study of human anatomy, under Roman law the dissection of human corpses was prohibited for religious reasons. As an alternative, he performed vivisections of numerous animals mostly apes. He studied the function of the kidneys and the spinal cord and understood how muscles worked but not why. One of his most important discoveries was the differences between veins and arteries and the movement of blood in the body.  He knew that health could be determined by the rate of the pulse but did not associate the pulse with the beating of the heart, but he did come very close to discovering how the circulatory system of the human body worked.

His public standing attracted a large number of clients to his practice, among them was the Roman consul Flavius Boethius, who introduced him to the imperial court, where he became a physician to the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, and would go on to treat and serve in the same role to Aurelius's successors, Commodus and Septimius Severus. In 166AD after a brief return to his hometown of Pergamum, Galen accepted an invitation from Marcus Aurelius to permanently return to Rome in 169AD spending the rest of his life at the Roman imperial court, where he was given leave to write and experiment. It has been said that Galen employed twenty scribes to record his words, which were stored for safekeeping in the Temple of Peace, where unfortunately a fire in 191AD destroyed some of his records. 
  
The translation of 129 of Galen’s works into Arabic, round about 830AD set the outline for Islamic medicine, which rapidly spread throughout the Arab Empire. Later, in medieval Europe, Galen's writings on anatomy became the foundation of the medical doctor’s university curriculum. In the 1530s, a Belgian anatomist and physician, Andreas Vesalius took on the project of translating many of Galen's Greek texts into Latin and corrected some of Galen's errors.

During Galen’s lifetime he collected the knowledge of others and added his own conclusions and these ideas and writings lived on for at least 1400 years after his death. The weaknesses in his works were due in part due to the Romans not permitting human dissection and because he could only study animals, some of Galen's anatomical assertions were inaccurate with respect to humans. But because of his beliefs in the beneficence of the Creator, and the existence of a soul, his theories and ideas received the acceptance of the Christian Church. The importance of his extensive and exhaustive research and writing on a plethora of topics cannot be discounted.




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