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(b. Apameia, Syria, ca. a.d. 54; fl. Rome, 98–117)


Archigenes was the son of Philippos and pupil of Agathinos; he practiced medicine in Rome during the reign of Trajan and achieved sufficient popularity to be mentioned by the poet Juvenal (VI, 236; XIII, 98; XIV, 252).

Nearly all of his many and varied writings have been lost, and their contents can be reconstructed only approximately from the fragments preserved in Galen and later medical writers. According to Galen, Archigenes belonged to the eclectic school; the surviving fragments indicate, however, that he was influenced considerably by the doctrines of the pneumatic school. His main contributions were in pathology, surgery, and therapeutics.

Archigenes’ main work in general medicine was the semidiagnostic Περì τóπων πεπονθóτων (“On Places Affected”), in which he sought to explain the causes of diseases by concentrating upon their localized manifestations. Although he seems to have had a vague idea of the difference between a generalized, systemic disease and the locally painful injury or infection, it is difficult, as Galen noted, to understand him because of his tendency to designate the types of pain associated with local inflammations by separate names. Certain inconsistencies in Archigenes’ medical theories were probably the result of his reliance on Stoic doctrines. Thus, his belief that the hegemonikon (ruling principle) was located in the heart did not prevent him from treating loss of memory by local applications to the head. Because he discussed the role of the nerves and arteries in the pneuma’s transmission of pain throughout the body, it is not surprising that he devoted a special treatise to the pulse. His Περì τωˆν σϕυγμωˆν(“On the Pulses”) was frequently cited by Galen, who also wrote a commentary on it and probably took some of his ideas on the pulse from it.

Among the titles preserved of Archigenes’ other writings, several pertain to more specific diseases. Acute and chronic diseases were distinguished, and a separate treatise was written on the signs of fevers. At least some of the conditions underlying the feverish symptoms were treated by surgery. Archigenes described an amputation of a gangrenous limb that used both ligatures and cauterization. He noted the importance and location of tendons, and perhaps of nerves, in surgical repair. He described cancer of the breast and employed a speculum in the examination of uterine tumors.

In antiquity, Archigenes was highly regarded for his writings on therapeutics and materia medica. Numerous fragments are preserved from his Περì των κατ`αγε`νος ϕαρμ`ακον (“On Drugs According to Their Nature”). Two other writings are known by title: Περì καστορìου χρ`ησεως (“On the Use of Castoreum”) and Περì τηˆς δóσεως τουˆ’ελλβóρου (“On the Giving of Hellebore”), but these may have been protions of a larger work. Some of his prescriptions have been preserved in Galen and Alexander of Tralles. For epilepsy he resorted to amulets, and here lied heavily on animal substances in his compound drugs. In accordance with the prevailing humoralpneumatic doctrines, the purpose of therapy was to control the δυσκρασìου (“bad temperaments”) by neutralizing them.


Cesare Brescia, ed., Frammenti medicinali di Archigene (Naples, 1955), consists of three short tracts edited from MS Vat. Pal. 199.

Additional writings on Archigenes are E. Gurlt, Geschichte der Chirurgie und ihrer Ausübung, I (Berlin, 1898), 411–414; Alessandro Olivieri, “Frammenti di Archigene,” in Memorie dell’ Accademia di Archeologia, Lettere e Belle Arti di Napoli, 6 (1942), 120–122; Erwin Rohde, “Aelius Promotus,” in Rheinisches Museum für Philologie, 28 (1873), 264–290, an analysis of a tract on poisonous drugs, part of which has been attributed to Archigenes; and Max Wellmann,”Die pneumatische Schule bis auf Archigenes,” in Philologische Untersuchungen, 14 (1895), a fundamental study that lists sources for and titles of thirteen of Archigenes’ lost writings, and “Archigenes,” in Pauly-Wissowa, Real-Encyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft, II (1896), cols,484–486.

Jerry Stannard