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Galen (gāˈlən), c.130–c.200, physician and writer, b. Pergamum, of Greek parents. After study in Greece and Asia Minor and at Alexandria, he returned to Pergamum, where he served as physician to the gladiatorial school. He resided chiefly in Rome from c.162. Noted for his lectures and writings, he established a large practice and became court physician to Marcus Aurelius. He is credited with some 500 treatises, most of them on medicine and philosophy; at least 83 of his medical works are extant. He correlated earlier medical knowledge in all fields with his own discoveries (based in part on experimentation and on dissection of animals) and systematized medicine in accordance with his theories, which emphasized purposive creation. His work in anatomy and physiology is especially notable. He demonstrated that arteries carry blood instead of air and added greatly to knowledge of the brain, nerves, spinal cord, and pulse. Until the 16th cent. his authority was virtually undisputed, thus discouraging original investigation and hampering medical progress.


See study by O. Temkin (1973).

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(Claudius Galenus). Born 129, in Pergamum; died 201(?), in Rome. Roman physician and naturalist; classic representative of ancient medicine.

In Pergamum, Galen studied the medicine and philosophy of Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics, and the Epicureans. He traveled to Alexandria, Smyrna, and Corinth, and in 164 he moved to Rome and became the personal physician of Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Galen left more than 400 treatises on medicine and philosophy, of which about 100 have been preserved (primarily on medicine). He studied anatomy and physiology, making extensive use of experiments on animals. (For example, he dissected the bodies of monkeys.) In his clinical concepts Galen elaborated the humoral teaching of Hippocrates. Rejecting Aristotle’s view of the brain as a gland excreting mucus to cool the heat of the heart, he considered the brain the center of movement, sensitivity, and mental activity. He described the corpora quadrigemina, vagus nerve, and seven pairs of cranial nerves. In experiments with transection at different levels of the spinal cord of pigs, he described the significance of the functions of the roots of the spinal cord: posterior sensory and anterior motor. (This was described again in the 19th century by the Scottish physician C. Bell and the French physician’ F. Magendie.) Galen studied many muscles and accurately described the muscles of the vertebral column and spine. He distinguished three layers in the arterial walls. Studying dead abortive animals, he discovered the foramen ovale in the interventricular septum and the absence of blood in the left heart and arteries (a result of the sudden violent death of animals and gladiators). These discoveries were the basis of his theory (probably the first time in the history of science) of the movement of blood. According to this view, which prevailed until the discoveries of A. Vesalius and W. Harvey, the center of blood circulation is the liver. It forms blood from material assimilated after the ingestion of food (chyle). Blood flows from the liver into the right heart, from which it is carried to all parts of the body and absorbed by the tissues. According to Galen, a small amount of blood passes through the interventricular septum into the left heart to nourish the “pneuma” that fills the arteries. The left ventricle is thicker because it has to balance the heart and maintain it in a vertical position. Galen also described the methods of producing drugs known at the time.

Galen’s physiological ideas predetermined his understanding of mental activity—the interpretation of psychic phenomena as the products of organic life and the striving to uncover their corporeal basis. This was reflected in his teaching on temperament. Galen believed that the blending of the four main fluids that form part of the body is responsible for health or disease and for differences in the mental characteristics of people. In his teaching on the sense organs and voluntary movements there is a differentiation of the concepts of psyche and consciousness. The latter is regarded as the ability of man to have perceptions and thoughts and to be aware that they belong to him. In his teaching on pneuma—a unique, ether-like substance similar to heated air and serving as the carrier of emotional life—Galen distinguished between the vital (physical) pneuma in the liver and the psychic pneuma in the brain and nerves.

By systematizing the ideas of ancient medicine in a single, all-embracing doctrine, Galen exerted tremendous influence on the subsequent development of medicine until the beginning of the modern age. As a physician he was considered an incontestable authority throughout the Middle Ages.


Opera omnia. Venice, 1541-45.
Oeuvres anatomiques, physiologiques et médicales, vols. 1-2. Paris, 1854-56.


Kovner, S. Istoriia drevnei meditsiny, part 1, fasc. 1-3. Kiev, 1878-88.
Lunkevich, V. V. Ot Geraklita do Darvina: Ocherki po istorii biologii, 2nd ed., vols. 1-2. Moscow, 1960.
Istoriia meditsiny. Edited by B. D. Petrov. Moscow, 1954.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


Latin name Claudius Galenus. ?130--?200 ad, Greek physician, anatomist, and physiologist. He codified existing medical knowledge and his authority continued until the Renaissance
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005