Nikolai Pirogov

Pirogov, Nikolai Ivanovich


Born Nov. 13 (25), 1810, in Moscow; died Nov. 23 (Dec. 5), 1881, in the village of Vishnia, now within the city limits of Vinnitsa. Russian scientist, physician, teacher, and public figure. Corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences (1847).

The son of a minor office worker, Pirogov graduated in 1828 from the medical faculty of Moscow University and then studied until 1832 at the University of Dorpat (present-day Tartu) in order to become a professor. From 1836 to 1840 he was a professor of theoretical and practical surgery at the University of Dor-pat. From 1841 to 1856 at the St. Petersburg Medical and Surgical Academy, Pirogov was a professor in the hospital surgical clinic, a professor of pathological and surgical anatomy, and director of the Institute of Practical Anatomy.

In 1855, Pirogov participated in the defense of Sevastopol’. He was a trustee of the Odessa (1856–58) and Kiev (1858–61) school districts. From 1862 to 1866 he directed the studies of young Russian scientists sent abroad to Heidelberg. From 1866 he lived at his estate in the village of Vishnia, Vinnitsa Province, whence he traveled to combat zones as a consultant on military medicine and surgery during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71 and the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78.

Pirogov is one of the founders of surgery as a scientific medical discipline. His works, for example, Surgical Anatomy of the Arterial Trunks and Fascia (1837) and Topographic Anatomy as Illustrated by Sections From Frozen Cadavers (1853–59), were the foundations of topographic anatomy and operative surgery. He worked out the principles of layer-by-layer dissection to study specific anatomical regions, arteries, fascia, or other parts of the body.

Pirogov encouraged the wide use of experimental methods in surgery. He was the first in Russia to advance plastic surgery (Plastic Operations in General and Rhinoplasty in Particular, 1835), and he was the first in the world to promote osteoplasty. Among the several important operations and surgical techniques that he devised were resection of the knee joint and section of the Achilles tendon. He invented rectal anesthesia and was one of the first to use ether as an anesthetic in the clinic. In 1847, Pirogov was the first in the world to use anesthesia during surgery on the battlefield. He postulated that wounds undergo suppuration because of certain pathogenic microorganisms, which he called hospital miasmas. In 1849 he conducted valuable research on the pathological anatomy of cholera.

Pirogov was the father of military field surgery. In several works, including Beginnings of General Military Field Surgery (1865–66) and Military Medicine and First Aid in the War Theater in Bulgaria and Behind the Lines (1879), Pirogov expressed his important view that war is a “traumatic epidemic.” Other important ideas on which he expounded were the treatment of wounds according to the type of weapon used, the inseparability of the procedures for military medical treatment and evacuation, and classification of the wounded. He was the first to propose the organization of a “gathering station,” the prototype of modern classification stations.

Pirogov emphasized the importance of correct surgical procedures and recommended surgery only as a last resort. For example, he refrained from early amputation of extremities in which gunshot wounds had caused bone injuries. Pirogov developed and introduced into practice methods of immobilizing extremities using starch and plaster casts, and in 1854 he was the first to apply a plaster cast in the field. In 1885, during the defense of Sevastopol’, he arranged for women to care for the injured at the front.

Pirogov placed great emphasis on the importance of prophylaxis, professing that “the future belongs to preventive medicine.” After his death the N. I. Pirogov Memorial Society of Russian Physicians was founded; it regularly sponsored the Pirogov Congresses. As a teacher, Pirogov strongly opposed class prejudice in education. He spoke for the autonomy of universities and for increasing the universities’ role in disseminating knowledge among the people. He strove to make primary education accessible to the entire society and organized people’s Sunday schools in Kiev, which provided general education for adults. The Russian revolutionary democrats and scholars A. I. Herzen, N. G. Chernyshevskii, and N. D. Ushinskii highly valued Pirogov’s pedagogical works and efforts in education.

The Leningrad Surgical Society, the Second Moscow Medical Institute, and the Odessa Medical Institute are named after Pirogov. In 1947 a memorial museum-estate was opened in the village of Pirogovo (formerly Vishnia); on the grounds is a vault containing the embalmed body of the scientist. In 1897 a statue of Pirogov, sculpted by V. O. Shervud, was erected in Moscow in front of the surgical clinic on Bol’shaia Tsaritsynskaia Street, which was renamed Bol’shaia Pirogovskaia Street in 1919. Pirogov’s portrait, painted by I. E. Repin in 1881, hangs in the State Tret’iakov Gallery.


Sobr. soch, vols. 1–8. Moscow, 1957–62.
Izbr. pedagogicheskie sochineniia. Moscow, 1953.


Krasnovskii, A. A. Pedagogicheskie idei N. I. Pirogova. Moscow, 1949.
Geselevich, A. M., and E. I. Smirnov. N. I. Pirogov, Moscow, 1960.
Maksimenkov, A. N. N. I. Pirogov, Leningrad, 1961.
Geselevich, A. M. N. I. Pirogov. Moscow, 1969.


References in periodicals archive ?
The real medical hero of the Crimean War was the Russian surgeon Nikolai Pirogov, the founder of field surgery and a luminary virtually unknown outside of the former Soviet Union.
Nikolai Pirogov also invented a method of amputation that left more support for the leg and pioneered amputations that cut lower on the limb, resulting in less trauma and blood loss.