Hippocrates, Galen, and the Uses of Trepanation in the Ancient Classical World

Symeon Missios, M.D.


Neurosurg Focus. 2007;23(1):E11 

In This Article


Trepanation was a well-established procedure during the ancient classical period and represents one of the earliest neurosurgical interventions performed. The works of Hippocrates and Galen helped to usher this procedure out of a world of mysticism and superstition and into the world of scientific thought, anatomical study, and therapeutics. The study of the works of Hippocrates and Galen allows us to follow the evolution of this technique through the centuries. The first recordings of trepanation in the Hippocratic corpus represent the introduction of this practice to the Greeks and their first, hesitant attempts at using it, while Galen's teachings reveal a higher degree of experience, skill, and comfort with the procedure, as well as anatomical knowledge resulting from the five additional centuries of experimentation since Hippocrates. The principles of ancient neurosurgery and trepanation were applied in medieval Europe, just as they were in Galen's time, until the time of Vesalius. The works of Hippocrates and Galen inspired thousands of physicians throughout Europe, and their teachings established the field of neurosurgery in the classical world and laid the foundation for medical and neurosurgical practice for the next 1500 years.


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