Galen: Physician of Rome

Galen was a famous medical doctor during the Roman empire. He was born in the mid 2nd century in Pergamum, Asia Minor (Modern day Turkey). During his life, he spent time in many different parts of the Roman empire. We will now take a brief look at his life and influence.

Becoming a Doctor

During Galen’s life, the Roman empire had laws against dissecting human bodies. The reasons for this are not clear but may have something to do with the rise of Christianity. Some even believe that surgery was illegal, as well. In this context, Galen moved to Alexandria to study medicine.

Alexandria, Egypt, was a Roman city, which means that dissection was still not permissible. Galen made up for this by dissecting animals such as pigs, goats, and even apes. After completing his studies in Alexandria, Galen returned home to work as a doctor for gladiators. For several years, Galen developed practical experience in helping people with serious injuries.


Galen’s next trip was working in Rome. While in Rome, he continued his studies while also writing books about medical practice. It was while he was in Rome that Galen first began to experience fame for his medical knowledge.

Another doctor in Rome was having problems with his fingers. No treatment he was receiving made a difference for him; out of frustration, he called Galen. Galen concluded that his fingers’ issue was because of a problem with the nerves in his neck. It appears that the sick doctor had fallen from his chariot, injuring his neck. Galen knew from his experience with dissecting animals that neck treatment would alleviate the finger problems.

After treating the doctor with finger problems, Galen became famous. He became so renowned that the Roman Emperor made Galen his doctor. Naturally, other doctors were highly jealous of Galen because of his success. This was further exacerbated by Galen’s cocky, over-confidence in himself.


Galen was a prodigious author with over 80 books still in existence today. His medical work was trailblazing and highly authoritative for several hundred years. People believed everything Galen said because of who Galen was. It wasn’t until the Renaissance, over 1,000 later, that people began to openly disagree with Galen and teach medicine differently.

Galen’s influence was so strong that even when evidence was contrary to his views, doctors and teachers would still sick to Galen’s position. Naturally, this slowed and stalled developments in medicine for a long time in ways that may have cost lives.

Galen’s problem may not have been his ignorance but rather the restrictions under which he worked. Since dissecting humans was illegal many of Galen’s conclusions about medicine were from examining animals and not people. This difference in anatomy is the made source of Galen’s faulty findings.


Galen was a trailblazer for his time, which helped define what it means to be a doctor. Through his example, millions of students have gone forward to help and heal those in need. Though he made mistakes like all of us, he has also been praised for his hard work to help.

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