Ancient Medical Researcher
Specialty Anatomy, Pathology, Pharmacology, Neurology, Logic, Philosophy
Born 129
Died c.200/216
Nationality Roman

Galen remains one of the most important figures from Roman antiquity. The work he performed in areas related to science, philosophy, and medicine were truly groundbreaking. Even well into the modern age, his life’s work is consistently studied to help chart paths in current endeavors of science and medicine.

Galen’s Early Life

Galen was born in Pergamon, which is now part of modern day Turkey. The date of his birth was around 129 A.D. While he was a Roman citizen, he was of Greek ethnicity. Records indicate his father was Aelius Nicon, a well-to-do architect. Since his father had a great deal of money, he was able to afford to send young Galen to the finest schools.

The solid early education he received contributed to his ability to enter into the medical field. Galen went on to become more than a doctor. He became one of the most influential figures in early Roman medicine. His early educational foundation in the field of medicine was gained at the Asclepieum, a well known sanctuary for those wishing to heal themselves from common ailments.

Travels and Learning

At the age of 19, Galen’s father passed away. This left Galen with quite a bit of money, which he used to travel throughout different parts in the Roman Empire. The travels were not solely intended for leisure. Rather, he was influenced by Hippocrates in the sense travel should be employed as a means of increasing and enhancing one’s education. As his life would reveal, these travels definitely played into his ability to open his perspectives about research and medicine.

When he was 28 years old, he returned home and became a physician to a high priest who aided the gladiators. While this might sound like an odd career, his role was a prestigious one. He was also a gifted thinker and the experience allowed him to hone his research skills and endeavors.

The Antonine Plague Era

The Antonine Plague (also known as the Plague of Galen) was a horrific plague that ravaged the Roman Empire. Galen recorded much about this plague although, unfortunately, a great deal of information about the plague has been lost over time. What we do know about it today is that the plague was probably a smallpox or measles outbreak.

The origin of the plague may have derived from Roman soldiers bringing the disease back to their home country. Galen documented a great deal of the events about the plague and his work also contained revolutionary insights into the study of disease.


When the great philosopher Eudemus became very ill with fever, it was thought that there was nothing that could be done for him. Galen would not accept such an outcome as wished to help the man as best as he could. Galen raised the ire of some in the medical community because they based much of their work around divination and mysticism.

Galen would have none of this and cared for Eudemus by employing much sounder and logical approaches. Galen used a revolutionary new method of prognosis to treat his friend. Yet, Eudemus warned Galen not to anger too many in the medical community or else they would seek to assassinate him.

The Legacy of Galen

Galen passed away around 199 A.D. The circumstances surrounding his death are somewhat mysterious. No one recorded how he died.

In addition to his excellent work in areas related to prognosis, Galen also was an exceptional standout in other areas of medicine and philosophy. A great deal of his early work and studies profoundly influenced the field of pathology, physiology, anatomy and more. What truly makes his life’s work so impressive is that he really did have to go against the grain of a lot of common thought into order to arrive at his conclusions.

This is why he is commonly regarded as the great father of medical research. In his day, his research was not always appreciated as anything that deviated from the status quo was a threat to societal order. In Rome, this was a dangerous path to travel.

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