This article is about ancient healing temples. For the municipality of Argolis, see Asklipieio.

In ancient Greece and Rome, an asclepeion (Ancient Greek: Ἀσκληπιεῖον Asklepieion; Ἀσκλαπιεῖον in Doric dialect; Latin aesculapīum) was a healing temple, sacred to the god Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine. These healing temples were a place where patients would visit to receive either treatment or some sort of healing, whether it was spiritual or physical.

Tourists enjoying the panoramic view of the city from the Askleipion on Kos

Asclepius may first have been worshipped as a hero in Trikka (modern Trikala), Thessaly, Greece. Ancient mythographers generally regarded Trikka as the place of Asclepius' birth, but to date archaeological excavations have yet to uncover his sanctuary there.[1][2] Epidaurus, on the other hand, was the first place to worship Asclepius as a god, beginning sometime in the 5th century BC. The asclepieion at Epidaurus is both extensive and well preserved. There is also an asclepieion located on the south slopes of the Acropolis of Athens which dates to around 420 BC.

Starting around 350 BC, the cult of Asclepius became increasingly popular. Pilgrims flocked to asclepieia to be healed. They slept overnight ("incubation") and reported their dreams to a priest the following day. He prescribed a cure, often a visit to the baths or a gymnasium. Since snakes were sacred to Asclepius, they were often used in healing rituals. Non-venomous snakes were left to crawl on the floor in dormitories where the sick and injured slept.

Asclepeia included carefully controlled spaces conducive to healing and fulfilled several of the requirements of institutions created for healing.[3] In the Asclepieion of Epidaurus, three large marble boards dated to 350 BC preserve the names, case histories, complaints, and cures of about 70 patients who came to the temple with a problem and shed it there. Some of the surgical cures listed, such as the opening of an abdominal abscess or the removal of traumatic foreign material, are realistic enough to have taken place, with the patient in a dream-like state of induced sleep known as "enkoimesis" (Greek: ἐγκοίμησις), not unlike anesthesia, induced with the help of soporific substances such as opium.[4]

Pausanias remarked that, at the asclepieion of Titane in Sicyon (founded by Alexanor, Asclepius' grandson), statues of Hygieia were covered by women's hair and pieces of Babylonian clothes. According to inscriptions, the same sacrifices were offered at Paros.

Hippocrates is said to have received his medical training at an asclepieion on the isle of Kos. Prior to becoming the personal physician to the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, Galen treated and studied at the famed asclepieion at Pergamon.

Panoramic view from the Askleipion on Kos


Asclepius holding the staff with a snake wrapped around it that serves as the inspiration for the symbol of medicine.

In Greek mythology and religion, Asclepius was the Grecian God of Medicine, descended from Apollo and the Coronis. He received his name as a result of his birth in which his mother had to have her womb cut open in order for him to be birthed, now known as a cesarean section. Asclepius means "to cut open".[5]

According to Greek mythology, in his upbringing, he was taught the art of medicine by the centaur Chiron. Through his studies, he had become so deft at the art of medicine that he was able to return the living from the dead.

The symbol is of a snake wrapped around a staff which is seen throughout all medical infrastructures as well as the American Medical Association in modern times. this is reminiscent of the staff that Asclepius carried.[6]

Temple of Asclepius in Epidaurus

Located on the Argolid plain of the east Peloponnese in Greece, Epidaurus was the main asclepion. The healing temple was named after Epidaurus, the son of Apollo.[7] At the Epidaurus, there were various people such as physicians and priests who would assist those who sought a session of healing from these professionals. Patients would come pay homage to the gods by making pilgrimages to the site, performing a prayer or a sacrifice, giving monetary gifts or even sleep at the temple. The Epidaurus also served as a sanctuary for those who were extremely ill. It was eventually expanded to a one hundred eighty-room institution to house the dying and women in labor during the Roman Empire.[6]

Procedures Performed at the Asclepion

There were two steps in order for a patient to be considered to be treated in the Asclepion. The first of which is the Katharsis or purification stage. This is when a patient undergoes a series of baths and other methods of purging, such as a clean diet over a series of several days or purging their emotions through art. The patient would then make an offering such as money or a prayer to the temple, therefore to Asclepius. The priest of the temple then gives the patient a prayer in which it would ease the patient's mind and create a more positive outlook for them.

Afterwards, comes incubation or dream therapy. This is the process in which patients would spend the night at the temple of Asclepius and during the night, they would be visited by a god. If the patient was lucky, Asclepius himself would visit him. The patient would then receive the proper treatment whilst in the dream or receive directions from Asclepius on what the necessary steps were to treat their ailment. If Asclepius did not visit the patient, when the patient wakes up, they will then tell their dream to a priest or a dream-interpreter and depending on the type of dream is the type of treatment that the patient will receive.[8][9]

See also


  1. Edelstein, E. J. and L. L. Edelstein. Asclepius: a collection and interpretation of the testimonies. 2 vols. The Publications of the Institute of the History of Medicine. (Baltimore, 1945): 243.
  2. MELFI, M. I santuari di Asclepio in Grecia. 2 vols. Studia Archaeologica 157 (Rome, 2007): 511.
  3. Risse, G.B. Mending bodies, saving souls: a history of hospitals. Oxford University Press, 1990. p. 56
  4. Askitopoulou, H, Konsolaki, E, Ramoutsaki, I, Anastassaki, E. Surgical cures by sleep induction as the Asclepieion of Epidaurus. The history of anesthesia: proceedings of the Fifth International Symposium, by José Carlos Diz, Avelino Franco, Douglas R. Bacon, J. Rupreht, Julián Alvarez. Elsevier Science B.V, International Congress Series 1242(2002), pp. 11–17.
  5. Atsma, Aaron. "ASCLEPIUS: Greek God of Medicine & Doctors | Mythology".
  6. 1 2 "Greek Medicine - Asclepius". Retrieved 2015-10-26.
  7. "Epidaurus". Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2015-10-26.
  8. "The First Hospital - Asclepius and the Temples of Healing". Retrieved 2015-10-26.
  9. "Pautaliya, Asklepion". Retrieved 2015-10-26.

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