Armenians have often played an important role outside their homeland and have made a great contribution to the field of culture, science, philosophy, and medicine of several countries. Today, we will recall some representatives of Armenian nationality whose contribution to the development of world medicine has been significant and worthy of respect.
The most prominent representative of medicine in medieval Armenia was philosopher, doctor, and astronomer Mkhitar Heratsi. In 1184, he composed his main work “Relief of Fevers” where he described the causes, development, and treatment of acute infectious diseases. Besides, Heratsi wrote about the connection of certain diseases with specific professions – e.g. blacksmiths or glassblowers – 5 centuries earlier than Italian physician Bernardino Ramazzini.
Armenian physician and writer Amirdovlat Amasiatsi (Amirdovlat of Amasia, 15th century) has made a great contribution to the development of Armenian medicine. He authored such works as “The Benefits of Medicine”, “Useless for Ignoramuses” (a compendium of over 3,000 plant names and their medical uses), and “Akhrabadin” (covers pharmacology).
In the Middle Ages, centers of national Armenian culture existed outside of Armenia. Among them, three have been best known – the Basilea founded in 370 by the bishop of Caesarea Basil the Great; a medical school in Gundishapur (southwestern Iran) where the physicians from the Armenian Bakhtishu dynasty have operated; and a healing center in Sebastia (near Caesarea) where prominent Armenian doctors Avasap (16th century, the author of “Excellent cardinal moisture treatment”), Buniat (16th-17th centuries, the author of the “Book of Medicine” now stored in Matenadaran in Yerevan), and Asar (17th century, the author of the famous “Book of Medical Art”) worked and lived.
Jurjus ibn Jabril ibn Bukhtishu (688-765, also known as Bukhtishu Gundishapori (Գևորո որդի Գաբրիելի Բախտիշո)) was a medieval physician of the 8th century. Of Armenian descent, he was the head of the medical school in Gundishapur.
Jabril ibn Bukhtishu was the founder of the court dynasty of Bakhtishu whose members for many years would be the main healers of the Arab caliphs. In 765, Jabril cured the dying caliph Al Mansour whom no other doctor in the state had managed to heal. For this, the physician received the favor of the caliph and the entire Arab Caliphate.
The great-grandson of Jabril, Abusael Bakhtishu (Աբուսայել Բախտիշու, 960-1048), was physician and thinker Avicenna’s (980-1037) teacher.
The history and nationality of the family of Bakhtishu are covered by many non-Armenian sources. But since we are dealing with the 7th-10th centuries, some say that the legend is controversial and unreliable and that the physicians from the dynasty could have been Arabs or Assyrians.
Since there are conflicting versions out there, we leave the reader the right to get acquainted with them and draw conclusions on their own.
As for us, let’s travel from the Middle Ages to a newer time.
The earliest source covering the activities of Armenian physicians in Europe dates back to 1575 when the black plague broke out in Italy. The first anti-plague medicine was developed by Anton Suryan, known as Anton the Armenian or Suriano Armeno.
Another prominent Armenian physician in Italy was Giorgio Baglivi (1668-1707), one of the most famous medical authorities of Europe of the 17th century. He also was the personal physician of Pope Innocent XII and Pope Clement XI, as well as a Fellow of the Royal Society of London.
Giorgio Baglivi is one of the greatest figures of Italian medicine. An Armenian by birth, he was adopted by an Italian and at the age of 15 changed his surname from Armeno to Baglivi. He is credited with the discovery of the autonomic nervous system.
Ter-Grikurov M.G. (1828-1897) was a famous scientist-venereologist, professor, and a major domestic venereologist of the 19th century. In fact, he was one of the founders of domestic venereology. Ter-Grikurov authored the first domestic scientific work on gonorrhea.
Tigran Pasha Pestimalchyan was a major doctor of Armenian nationality who lived in the Ottoman Empire. In 1869, he became a member of the Imperial Medical Society of the Ottoman Empire. In 1877-78, he served as the chairman of the Imperial Medical Society.
In 1892, Sultan Abdul Hamid appointed him the 2nd Doctor Advisor to the Imperial Palace. Pestimalchyan authored numerous articles and books on medicine.
Patruban Gergel (Gevorg Patrubanyan, born in 1830) was a specialist in vaccine therapy, a hygienist, a member of the Hygienic Council of Hungary, secretary of the Royal Society of Physicians of Budapest, and a member of the Hungarian parliament. In 1869, he became an adviser to the king. His son Lukacs was the first professor of Armenian studies in Hungary.
Anton Pasha Nafilyan (1831-1912) was a doctor, pasha, and founder of urology in Turkey. From 1856 to 1906, he has worked on a medical book which would be published by doctor Yakubyan.
In 1870, Nafilyan was appointed the head physician and first surgeon of the Haidar Pasha Military Hospital. In 1871, he was elected a member of the Imperial Medical Society.
Ana Aslan (1897-1988) was one of those medical pioneers who proposed that old age is a phenomenon that can be prevented even in adulthood.
There are very few doctors in the world whose names are carved on the marble monument of Hippocrates in Greece. Among them is the name of famous Romanian (Armenian by descent) doctor Ana Aslan. She has created a unique and one-of-a-kind anti-aging drug, Gerovital H3 (albeit its effects are now controversial).
Ana Aslan is known and recognized throughout the world. In 1983, a prize named after her was established in Germany.
Finally, we have Ray Sahelian, a world-famous physician that has had a sizable contribution in the evaluation of nutritional supplement. Sahelian regularly contributes articles to health magazines, and many of his works have been translated into Russian, German, Italian, Chinese, and other languages.