Asclepion Pergamon Turkey: Galenos, Asclepios, and Pergamum!

ASCLEPION PERGAMON TURKEY

Hi everyone! We continue our blog series with the Ancient City of Asclepion Pergamon! In this content, we will dive into history and explain the Asclepion Medical Centre of Ancient Pergamon City! Enjoy reading it before planning your Trip to Pergamon!

Below are the topics that you will explore on this content;

THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT ASKLEPION OF PERGAMON

Pergamon Asclepion had a great reputation in terms of its architectural understanding and treatment methods. It was very remarkable that the treatment method was determined according to the dreams of the patients within the scope of suggestion treatment. In addition, physiological treatment methods applied here were among the other methods used in the treatments.

The Asclepion health center hosted important names of the period as well as being famous in terms of treatment methods and architecture. Many important Emperors of the period (Caracalla, Marcus Aurelius, etc), philosophers, artists, sculptors, aristocrats lived or visited here from time to time. Galenos, who was born in Pergamum and came after Hippocrates, was also working as a doctor in this treatment center.

Famous master of discourse Aelius Aristides came to Asklepion to seek a cure for his illness and stayed here for a while. He wrote in his work “Hieroi Logoi“, recording various information about the treatment methods applied here, its architecture, and visitors during his stay. In this way, he has helped the treatment methods and application methods applied in the sacred area to reach today. “Hieroi Logoi” shows that Asclepion is not only a major treatment center but also an important center in the field of politics, art, and culture.

Asclepion lived its golden age in the Roman Period in terms of its treatment methods, application style, and architectural development. It was also the only hospital established in Asia Minor.

In ancient times, more than two hundred worship and cult centers were established in the name of the god of health Asclepius. Among the most famous of these worship centers were Epidauros in Greece, Kos in the Gulf of Gökova, Asclepion on Kos Island, Pergamon Asclepion, Athenian Asclepion, and Corinthian Asclepion. These sacred areas have gained a great reputation as versatile treatment methods applied with ceremonies, worship demonstrations, festivals organized in various ways in the name of the gods, priest physicians, and the health centers of the ancient world.

HISTORY OF PERGAMON ASCLEPION

In the first half of the 4th century BC, a temple was established in the name of Asklepios (Asclepios), the god of health, outside the city of Pergamon Acropolis, in the south-west of the city. The remains of Asclepion that we see today belong to the large-scale zoning arrangement carried out in the period of Hadrianus in the 2nd century AD.

The connection between the city of Pergamon and the Asclepion sanctuary provided a 1 km long holy road built in the Roman Imperial Period. The holy road was covered with arches and vaults. It protected visitors from bad weather conditions and allowed them to reach the sanctuary.

The last section of the holy road was completed during the Hadrian Period as a road with full of columns. Later, shops were built by building partition walls on the vault piers of this road. In these shops, various votive items were sold for the patients who came to the sanctuary. Water was very important for worship. The water in the sanctuary was believed to have healing power. It was tried to benefit from its healing power either by drinking or with a bath in it.

Sleeping rooms are another important form of treatment used in Asclepion Sanctuary. The patient, who was prepared with a religious ceremony, was taken to the sleeping rooms and slept. When they woke up, they were asked to remember their dreams, and the treatment method was determined according to what they tell.

The north, south, and west parts of the sanctuary were surrounded by colonnaded galleries (stoa) on three sides. In these columned galleries, the patients were protected from the negative effects of the weather, and they were also doing various sportive activities such as jogging.

The best-preserved gallery of the Pergamon Asclepeion is the northern one. The floor of the gallery was completely covered with soil. As required by the application of a treatment method, the patients were walking barefoot here. There was also a 3500-seat theater at the western end of the north gallery.

And, the Sanctuary was completely damaged by an earthquake in the 3rd century AD. After this date, Christianity started to spread. Asklepios, the therapeutic and healing god of the Roman Period, and other gods and goddesses; Serapis, Isis was not widely accepted by Christians. According to their own beliefs, they believed in Jesus who is their savior. In this sense, the Asklepios cult disappeared in time and a church was built in the holy area of Asklepion in line with the Christian faith.

GALEN OF PERGAMON

Galenos, who is considered the most important physician of the ancient world after Hippocrates, was born in Pergamon in 129 BC. The main idea of Galenos, who received his first medical education in Asclepeion, was to serve humanity. Galen’s theory was that illnesses were caused by an imbalance of the four humours: phlegm, blood, black bile, and yellow bile. 

Galen believed the body as consisting of three connected systems: the heart and arteries, responsible for life-giving energy; the brain and nerves, which are responsible for sensation and thought; and the liver and veins, responsible for nutrition and growth.

Galen’s most important discovery was that the veins carried blood, although he did not discover blood circulation. Hundreds of treatment methods discovered and developed by Galen are mentioned in ancient sources. He made an important contribution to the history of medicine by compiling all the Greek and Roman medical techniques, thoughts, and methods are known until that day.

He gave the current form to the medical rules initiated by Hippocrates. He dealt with the treatments of gladiators and thus specialized in human anatomy. He is the pioneer of sports medicine. By establishing a relationship between conscious body movements and physiology and treatment, he received the title of the world’s first medical doctor, examined the nervous and digestive systems of people.

GOD OF HEALTH: ASKLEPIOS!

There are many stories about the birth of Asklepios, the god of health in Greek mythology. Asklepion’s father is Apollo. Apollo, the healing god of the Greek Pantheon (all gods), could cure deadly diseases and cure the illnesses of other Olympian gods.

His mother is Koronis, the daughter of Phlegyas, King of Trikka in Thessaly (Northern Greece). Koronis, impregnated by Apollo, and marries a mortal. Apollo then kills them. He takes the child who has not died in the womb of Koronis and gives it to Kheiron (Centaur) on Mount Pelion. He teaches Asklepios the art of medicine with all the details. Asklepios becomes a famous and good physician over the time. Despite being mortal, he had the power of healing.

This situation enrages Zeus and strikes the Asclepius with his lightning. Asclepius dies but then comes back to life as a demigod because of his heeling power. As the expression of the healing spirit, Asklepios became a very influential god in Greece in the 4th century BC and Asklepios cults started to form.

In this way, Asclepius becomes important outside of Greece too. Asclepius has two sons by his wife Epione; Makhaon, Podalirios, and their five daughters; Hygieia, Panakeia, Akeso, Iaso, Aigle. After Asklepios, the art of medicine was continued by his sons and daughter Hygieia. His daughter Hygieia is the personified image of health. Her duties include helping Asclepius and feeding the snakes in sacred areas. Often depicted with Asclepius.

Note: The word Hygiene today comes from “Hygieia”, the daughter of Asclepius.

Asclepius was often depicted in Greek and Roman sculptures as bearded, middle age, and with bare feet or sandals. He had a long blend down the left shoulder and a serpentine cane. The cane was the sacred symbol that physicians received support on their long journeys. The snake entangled in the cane also contained sacred meanings.

Snakes that were harmless and tamed represented expansion and recovery. Besides the snake, Asclepius is sometimes depicted with the dog. The dog here served a sacred duty that contained sacred meanings like a serpent and distributed healing. Apart from the animals mentioned, the rooster was among the sacred animals of Asklepios.

What is the Snake symbol in medicine?

There is a column on which there are two snake reliefs depicted while drinking milk from the same bowl in the sanctuary of Asclepion. According to the legend; one day a patient comes to Asklepion. He is taken through the entrance door and put to sleep in the sleeping room to determine his treatment.

However, the patient does not have dreams at all, and Asklepios does not appear to him. Afterward, the patient gets more severe and as the deadly diseases are not accepted in Asclepion, he is taken to the entrance door to leave the santuary.

On the way back, the patient sees two snakes vomiting the milk they drank from the same bowl. The snakes bite each other during their fight for milk, and their poison is mixed into the milk in the bowl. Meanwhile, the patient drinks the milk in the bowl and falls into a deep sleep.

His family finds the patient lying down on the ground. The patient, who is thought to be dead, stands up suddenly. The situation is immediately conveyed to the head physician of the Asclepion. Finding the antidote as a result of research and meetings between physician causes great happiness in the city.

After that, a column with reliefs of two snakes spewing out the milk they drank from the same bawl is carved and erected in the sanctuary. And, snakes played a vital role in medicine as well as became the symbol! The same symbol accepted by WHO in 1956 and still in use today!

TREATMENTS IN ASCLEPION PERGAMON MEDICAL CENTRE!

We learn detailed information about the treatment methods applied in Pergamon Asclepion in the Roman Period from Aelius Aristides, one of the authors of the period. Aristides, who had chronic diseases such as respiratory distress, fever, and abdominal swelling, came to Pergamon Asclepion for 13 years periodically for treatment and recorded the treatment methods applied to him and others.

Aristides, who recovered his health after being cured, brought together all these informations he kept in the form of a diary as gratitude to Asclepius in his work titled “Hieroi Logoi“, and ensuring that the information about the treatment methods applied in the sacred area was carried to the present day.

The patients who came to Asklepion for treatment and healing were first taken to the holy area and then to the examination rooms. Patients who could not be treated were not allowed into the sanctuary. Especially those with a terminal illness, and women whose birth was approaching, were not accepted. At the entrance of the sanctuary, “Death is Forbidden to go in Asclepion” was written.

In this way, morale was created by creating the belief that there would be no deaths in the sacred area for the patient to be treated. The patient who was admitted to the temple had to make some ceremonial preparations first; wore white clothes, a symbol of cleanliness, washed and cleaned in the holy water. Later, they would sacrifice to the god.

Votive items and various animal sales were made in the shops along the sacred road so that the patients could easily obtain their offerings. Excavations made in the sacred area showed that anatomical offerings made of different materials of the diseased body organ were used more. These anatomical offerings are made of bronze and terracotta, which can be found easily in Pergamon Region.

Those who were unable to donate could enter the sanctuary freely. Because in the holy area established in the name of God, people in need of help should have priority and should benefit from all kinds of opportunities free of charge. Entering the sanctuary after the ceremonial preparations, the patient stepped into the healing process with various care and treatment practices under the control of priest physicians.

The most important form of treatment applied here was the spiritual purification method. The patient, who was admitted to the holy area, was first put to sleep in special rooms. The God Asclepius would appear in a dream, either directly healing the patient or prescribing the treatment methods they would remember when they woke up. Sometimes dreams were not fully understood by the patient and interpreted by the priests.

In addition to the doctors and priests, there were many attendants with different responsibilities in the sanctuary. The guards were in charge of the maintenance and security of the temple. In addition, people with different duties such as messenger, key attendant, bath attendant, and choir singing hymns at the ceremony were serving in the sacred area.

Apart from the psychological treatment methods applied in the sacred area, physiological methods were also frequently used. Barefoot walks on the ground, running around the sanctuary, various simple physical movements were included in the exercise program. In addition to psychological and physiological treatment methods, some materials and natural factors supporting these methods were also used and applied during the treatments.

In the sanctuary, it was believed that drinking from sacred waters and baths had healing power. On the lower floor of the large treatment building next to the Temple of Asklepios, the water from the sacred spring and rich in minerals were accumulating in the central basin. The warmed water provided hot water baths in the bathtubs in the same building. The architectural layout of the building allowed the patient to stay in the specified period by filling the bathtubs with hot water or to relax the patient’s body by using hot water vapor.

In addition to these, mud baths were made with the mud around the pools and fountains in the sanctuary. Sunbathing was as important as water therapy. It was believed that the sun was good for the human body in that period, as it is today. It also had the divine expression of the sun because the father of Asclepius was the sun god Apollo.

The importance of massage applied to the patient who was suffering from severe illness was great. In order for the body to regain its former strength, massage techniques were applied to the whole body with various vegetable oils and ointments, the intensity of which was determined according to the person’s disease. In the massages, various cures such as oils and ointments obtained from various plant roots and leaves, porridges made from cereal and herbal ingredients, wine, honey, and a mixture of water or vinegar were used.

The patients, who recovered in the sanctuary, made sacrifices as an expression of gratitude, just as they did when they came to the sanctuary. Sacrifices could be in the form of food, money, animal, or anatomical offerings. However, the most important sacrifices as an expression of gratitude were votive plaques. A large number of votive plaques made of bronze material were found in the sanctuary. Disease descriptions and treatment methods effective in curing the disease were written on these plaques. 

Large and small festivals were organized throughout the year in order to keep the morale of the patients high who came to the sanctuary for treatment and to have fun during the treatment process. The big festivals were attended by all locals as well as people from outside the city.

Major festivals took place three times a year, with poetry and music competitions in the name of God, athletics games, and various performances in the city’s theater. The festival ended with a sacrifice ceremony in front of the Altar of Asklepios in the open air. The parts of the animals sacrificed except those offered to the god were eaten by the people. In addition to this, smaller-scale ceremonies in the form of sacrifice and blessing were also held with the participation of the local people.

People of all social status could come to Asklepion. Especially with the donations made by wealthy visitors, Asklepion was maintaining its continuity. The Asklepion health center, the only one established in Asia Minor, is of great importance and famous among other health centers that are contemporary and located in different places. It has made a significant contribution to the formation of today’s modern medical understanding, especially with its treatment methods.

Some other interesting treatment methods applied in Asklepion are listed below; 

The method of shaking the body while riding a horse. This form of treatment could be a method applied to patients with stones in their body, gynecological diseases, or sometimes to give the patient morale.
Various relaxing drinks, taking blood, emptying the intestines, diet, drugs derived from various plant roots and leaves were among some other methods used in the treatment.
Healing methods include biting the diseased area by the sacred snake(the venom is already taken before), or licking it by the sacred dog and snake if deemed necessary.

WHAT IS THE HIPPOCRATIC OATH?

Asclepiads had duties such as treating patients, caring for them, guiding visitors, and organizing ceremonies. Like the priests, the physicians were also named Asklepiad while their services to Asclepion Sanctuary. There were blood ties between members of the Asclepiad family.

In time, due to the increase in the number of patients, those who did not have blood ties to the Asclepiad family started to be accepted. With the admission of foreigners to the Asclepiad family, a rule of oral swearing between members was introduced in order to ensure and maintain a set of trust and harmony, such as the implementation of the correct treatment method against the patients, the order of moral behavior between the patient and the doctor.

This professional oath has been called the Hippocratic oath. With its different discourse that has changed from ancient times to the present, it has become the rule that physicians apply when starting their profession.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Turkey has a larger and richer cultural structure you can imagine. There are hundreds or even thousands of historical and cultural places that can be visited and seen. Continue reading our blog posts and benefiting from useful information to plan your trip smoothly. If you ever need help with creating your itinerary or have questions, do not hesitate to contact our team!

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