Claudius Galen was a Greek physician who went to Rome and revived the ideas of Hippocrates and other Greek doctors. The Romans had shown little interest in the work of Hippocrates and it took Galen to push it forward in Rome.

Galen was born in 131 AD. He was a gifted intellect who studied at the famous medical school in Alexandria in Egypt. At the age of 28, Galen became the surgeon to a school of gladiators but in 161 AD he moved to Rome apparently with the sole intention of seeking fame and fortune. He certainly achieved his fame but for some Romans this became too much. As a Greek, many Romans viewed Galen with suspicion and in 166 AD, he was forced to flee the city. Two years later he went back to the city in response to an invitation by the emperor. With this protection, Galen remained in the city until his death, aged about 70, in 201 AD.

Galen revived the methods favoured by Hippocrates and other Greek doctors who lived at the time of Hippocrates. He put great emphasis on clinical observation – examining a patient very thoroughly and noting their symptoms. Galen also accepted the view that disease was the result of an imbalance between blood, phlegm, yellow bile and blood bile. Galen also believed in the healing power of nature and he developed treatments to restore the balance of the four humours. Galen believed in the use of opposites – if a man appeared to have a fever, he treated it with something cold; if a man appeared to have a cold, he would be treated with heat. People who were weak were given hard physical exercises to do to build up their muscles. People who had breathing problems due to a weak chest were given singing exercises.

Galen extended his knowledge of anatomy by dissecting pigs and apes and studying their bone structure and muscles. Galen was also interested in human anatomy but there is no evidence that he dissected human bodies – though rumours persisted that he did. In “On Anatomical Procedures”, Galen advised his students to dissect apes but take whatever opportunities that existed to study the human body. Galen also studied how the body worked, concentrating on the movement of blood and the working of the nervous system. For the latter, he experimented with the spinal cords of pigs.

Galen’s influence was great. Protected by the emperors, he could work free from his jealous rivals in Rome. Galen also believed that his knowledge should be shared and he was a prodigious writer of books. These books were still being used in the Middle Ages and, for many medical students, they were the primary source of information on medicine.