Medical history giants

As my understanding of anatomy has grown, so has my desire to learn more about the history of anatomy and those who have given so much of their lives dedicated to the understanding of the body and how it works. Without them, we would have less of an understanding of the human body than we already do.

One of the greatest physicians was born nearly 2000 years ago, but his work was the building block of anatomical thinking until the renaissance. Even though many of his ideas were then disproven, many were improved upon and still form the basis of todays understanding.

The Greek physician, Claudius Galen, is considered to be one of the most important figures in the history of Medicine. Galen was the greatest physician of his era and was also a skilled surgeon and renowned philosopher. He was responsible for numerous advances in the fields of anatomy, physiology and therapeutics and led a truly remarkable life.

In AD 148 his father Nicon died, leaving Galen with a substantial inheritance and little in the way of ties to Pergamon. With this newfound freedom he decided to dedicate the next period of his life to travelling and gaining new medical knowledge. His travels took him to Smyrna, Crete, Corinth, Cyprus and finally to the great medical school in Alexandria. Over the next 9 years he would gain an unusually wide and varied medical education that would prove to be invaluable to him. In AD 157, he finally returned to Pergamon and was appointed physician and surgeon to the gladiators of the High Priest of Asia.

It was during his time working with the gladiators that Galen would develop unique insights in the fields of anatomy and trauma. It is claimed that he was chosen for this job over other physicians when the High Priest eviscerated an ape and challenged the physicians to repair the damage. When they refused, Galen performed the surgery himself and was successful in his attempts, greatly impressing the High Priest and securing the position for himself.

In AD 161, aged 32, Galen travelled to Rome, and this is where he would spend the majority of the rest of his life. Whilst in Rome he gave numerous public lectures and anatomical demonstrations, which eventually brought him to the attention of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Galen would go on to become the personal physician of Marcus Aurelius and served him during his wars against the barbarian invaders that threatened the Daubian frontier.

In the field of pharmacology he created the system of Galenic degrees, which is the first recognized attempt to precisely gauge the effects of medicines. As such he should be considered one of the earliest known clinical researchers. He is credited with the discovery that the arteries carried blood, was one of the first clinicians to recognize the importance of the pulse, and was the first person to discover that urine is formed by the kidneys. See more…