Aretaeus of Cappadocia: the forgotten physician

  • Francois Retief University of the Free State
  • Louise Cilliers University of the Free State


Aretaeus of Cappadocia (probably first century AD) is one of the least known physicians of antiquity. Not quoted by contemporary medical writers, he was unknown to Arabic physicians of medieval times. His very significant contributions to medicine only became known when a manuscript was discovered and published in Latin in the sixteenth century. He was clearly a sound clinician and gifted medical author, responsible for the first recorded descriptions of steatorrhoea (coeliac disease), diabetes mellitus and diphtheria. In addition, his descriptions of leprosy, asthma, tetanus, acute pneumonia and epilepsy (diseases already recognised in his day) were significantly superior to those of his predecessors. He was the first to describe a heart murmur (bruit).


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