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A Journal on Physiopathology and Therapy of Chronic Cutaneous Ulcers

Official Journal of the Italian Association for Cutaneous Ulcers
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Acta Vulnologica 2014 March;12(1):1-11

language: English, Italian

Archagathos: carnifex or victim?

Bonadeo P., Rolandi M.

ASLAL Surgery, Tortona Hospital, Tortona, Alessandria, Italy


The controversial events and changing fortunes of Archagathos, the first physician of ancient Rome. This re-examination of the case of Archagathos the Peloponnesian, son of Lysanias, seeks to dispel the myths surrounding him and to restore professional dignity to this still misunderstood figure after over 2000 years of biased opinion. Pliny the Elder’s disparaging judgment of Archagathos’s work appears to be finally disproved, as documented by such authoritative medical authors as Aulus Cornelius Celsus (ca 25 BC-50 AD), a Roman encyclopedist known for his work De Medicina, and Caelius Aurelianus, a 5th century Roman physician. Another ancient literary source is a Greek papyrus which unequivocally shows that more than 250 years after Archagathos’s arrival in Rome his remedies were still being prescribed by physicians during the Imperial period. The document in question, Papyrus Merton I, 12, from Middle Egypt and dated 26 April 59 AD, is a letter addressed to Dionysios, a doctor, requesting consultation on formulas for preparing healing salves and ointments. The mention of medicine, together with the name of Archagathos and in connection with healing remedies among other things, we believe casts the much maligned Archagathos in a very different light, that of a conscientious professional concerned with the postoperative course of treatment.

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