Skip to main content

Galen of Pergamum

Galen of Pergamum

Circa 129/130-post 216 c.e.

Medical writer


Mathematical and Philosophical Roots. Galen was the practitioner of the art who casts the greatest shadow on Western, Islamic, and Hellenistic medical science. The son of Nikon, an architect and geometer, Galen began studies in philosophy at the age of fourteen, but two years later he turned to medicine, which was to be his life’s profession. Never, how ever, did he forsake philosophy and, indeed, throughout his life Galen wrote extensively on the subject. His grounding in geometry is said to have guided his logical mind in an incredible life of practice, research, and writing. A modern, printed edition of Galen’s medical works encompasses some twenty-two, small-print volumes. Alas, his philosophical writings were housed in a temple library that burned during his lifetime and, consequently, his philosophical writings are tragically lost to posterity. He also wrote on grammar and ethics.

Physician to Gladiators and Emperors. Galen studied medicine in several major medical training centers, including Pergamum, Smyrna, Corinth, and Alexandria. When he was twenty-eight, he returned to Pergamum, where he was engaged as a physician to a gladiator company. Working with the wounds on injured combatants allowed him special insight into the treatment of these injuries. Galen’s greatest anatomical writings were produced in Rome, where he went to practice in 162; there he acquired a great reputation. By his own assertion, it was his medical successes, not the public lectures he gave, that established Galen’s fame. He tells us not only that he left Rome for Pergamum as the plague made its way there from the East, but also that he was “Rome-weary” even before that. Later, Galen responded to a call from Marcus Aurelius to cure his medical problems. From time to time he treated various emperors, including Commodus and Septimius Severus.


Rudolph E. Siegel Basel, Galen’s System of Physiology and Medicine, three volumes (New York: Karger, 1968–1973).

Rebecca Flemming, Medicine and the Making of Roman Women: Gender, Nature, and Authority from Celsus to Galen (Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 2000).

Fridolf Kudlien and Richard J. Durling, eds., Galen’s Method of Healing: Proceedings of the 1982 Galen Symposium (Leiden & New York: E. J. Brill, 1991).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Galen of Pergamum." World Eras. . 21 Apr. 2019 <>.

"Galen of Pergamum." World Eras. . (April 21, 2019).

"Galen of Pergamum." World Eras. . Retrieved April 21, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.