Streamlining Galen: medical summaries and the transmission of medicine in medieval Islam


  • Prof Simon Swain

    University of Warwick

  • Dr Uwe Vagelpohl

    University of Warwick

Project summary

In late antiquity and medieval Islam, the writings of the Roman physician Galen (d.216 CE) formed the basis of professional medicine. Most of his writings were translated into Arabic. Arabic-speaking doctors produced summaries to help their readers learn and reproduce Galenic science. These reflected both the changing methods and priorities of their authors and the changing face of Galenic medicine and its role in Islamic society. Some authorities commended the summaries as study tools, while others condemned them as illegitimate shortcuts. 

We propose to study the production, transmission and control of medical knowledge through the ubiquitous but overlooked Arabic summaries of Galen.

This study will give us in-depth knowledge of the training and legitimisation of physicians, and the transmission and transformation of medical knowledge in the Islamic world.