Key Figures

Key Figures

Key Figures


Aesclepius (pronounced ASS-CLEEP-EEUS) was a hugely important
God to both the Greeks and Romans due to his legendary skills as a healer.


He was the son of Apollo and was taught his healing skills from Chiron
the Centaur. The most famous temples of Asclepius were located in
Epidaurus, Pergamum and the island of Kos.

During a plague in Rome in 292 BC, an envoy from the city left for the
Temple of Asclepius in Epidaurus to seek relief from the illness. A
Sacred snake was sent to Rome by boat, which slithered off when
the boat reached Tiber Island, and it was there that the first Roman
temple to Asclepius was founded.

Although no temples of Asclepius have been discovered in Britain, many
altars dedicated to him have been found in Roman settlements such
as Chester, Lancaster, Chichester and in forts along Hadrian’s Wall.

Statue of Asclepius in the Capitoline Museum, Rome.

Daughters of Asclepius:

  • Panacea (the goddess of universal remedy)
  • Hygieia (the goddess of cleanliness & sanitation)
  • Aceso (the goddess of the healing process)
  • Aglæa (the goddess of beauty, splendor, and adornment)

The Staff of Asclepius

Asclepius is often associated with the snakes which lived in his temples. It is possible that the shedding of skin was symbolic of rejuvenating the body. The god is often seen carrying a staff entwined by a snake, which is still used today as symbols for chemists, ambulances or doctors surgeries.


Galen was a physician and the most famous doctor and scientist in the Roman empire. Born around 130 AD in the ancient Greek city of Pergamum located in modern day Turkey, he was doctor to four Roman emperors. Galen practised Hippocratic medicine, but become an innovator in his own right.

"look at the human skeleton with your own eyes"

Galen of Pergamum




Galen believed that the study of anatomy was crucial to improving medical knowledge. Unfortunately, for Galen, Roman law banned dissection of humans and therefore Galen had to limit his dissection to animals such as monkeys and pigs, famously dissected a squealing pig to demonstrating the effect of severing the laryngeal nerve.

Galen demonstrating the loss of vocalisation after severing the laryngeal nerve of a pig. Image courtesy of the Yale University Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Medical Library.

Galen also learned a great deal working with the gladiators in the arena, whose wounds often allowed Galen an opportunity to see the inner workings of the human body. Access to living specimens no doubt empowered Galen to be able to perform many advanced surgical procedures including eye and brain surgery.

"windows into the body"

Galen of Pergamum

Galen’s Legacy

Galen was a prolific author, writing 300 books and articles ensuring his theories dominated throughout the Middle Ages until his ideas began to be challenged during the Renaissance by anatomist and doctor Andreas Vesalius. This was primarily achieved by the demonstration through dissection of flaws in Galen’s work, which incorrectly identified anatomical features in humans which are actually found in monkeys.


"Men believe only that it is a divine disease because of their ignorance and amazement." - Hippocrates

Hippocrates is widely recognised as the ‘father’ of modern medicine. He was a Greek physician born on the island of Kos around 2500 years ago.

Hippocrates was important for rejecting the idea that Gods caused illness, and instead believed that disease was caused by natural means. He also followed the concept of ‘prognosis’ - predicting the outcome of a disease through the experience of observing and recording symptoms of patients.

The teachings of Hippocrates were widely distributed throughout the ancient world, and were profoundly influential to other important medical figures such as Galen.