Therapeutae of Asclepius

Therapeutae (plural) is Latin from the Greek plural Therapeutai (Θεραπευταί). The term therapeutes means one who is attendant to the gods[1] although the term, and the related adjective therapeutikos[2] carry in later texts the meaning of attending to heal, or treating in a spiritual or medical sense. The Greek feminine plural Therapeutrides (Θεραπευτρίδες) is sometimes encountered for their female members.[3][4][5] The term therapeutae may occur in relation to followers of Asclepius at Pergamon, and therapeutai may also occur in relation to worshippers of Sarapis in inscriptions, such as on Delos.[6]

Symbolic statue of Asclepius holding the Rod of Asclepius, in later times was confused with the caduceus, which has two snakes

The therapeutae of Asclepius were a recognized and designated association in antiquity that included the physicians, their attendants and support staff, in the larger temples of Asclepius. These healing temples were known as Asclepeions. Examples of famous therapeutae of Asclepius between 300 BCE and 300 CE include Hippocrates, Apollonius of Tyana, Aelius Aristides and Galen. The Greek word θεραπευτής has the primary meaning of 'one who serves the gods, or 'worshipper'.[7]

Aelius Aristides in the later 2nd century writes: "We Asclepius therapeutae must agree with the god that Pergamum is the best of his sanctuaries." - Sacred Tales (39.5) Galen used his designation of "therapeutae" to secure from the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius exemption from military service.

In their book Voluntary Associations in the Graeco-Roman World the authors state: "Some therapeutae are known to have rented apartments within the sanctuary in order to be close to the deity (Apileius, Met, 11.19.1). Very little is known about the purpose of the therapeutae. Vidman thinks they were simple worshipers united in a loose association (1970:69, 125-38). cf. therapeutae of Asclepius at Perganon (Habicht 1969: 114-115)"[8]

The following authors (in their books) make reference to the therapeutae:

  • Aelian: De Natura Animalium, Varia Historia
  • Aristides: Orationes
  • Athenaeus: The Deipnosophists
  • Basil: Epistulae
  • Claudius Ptolemy: Tetrabiblos
  • Clement of Alexandria: Protrepticus
  • Dionysius of Halicarnassus: Antiquitates Romanae Books I-III, VII-IX
  • Eusebius of Caesarea: Historia ecclesiastica
  • Greek Anthology: Volume II
  • John of Damascus: Vita Barlaam et Joasaph
  • Julian the Emperor: Epistulae
  • Plato: Euthydemus, Protagoras, Gorgias, Meno, Laws, Parmenides, Philebus, Symposium, Phaedrus, Republic
  • Plutarch: Maxime cum principbus philosopho esse diserendum
  • Strabo: Geography
  • Xenophon: Cyropaedia


  1. ^ θερα^π-ευτής, οῦ, ὁ A. one who serves the gods, worshipper, θ. Ἄρεως, θεῶν, Pl.Phdr.252c, Lg.740c; ὁσίων τε καὶ ἱερῶν ib.878a; “τοῦ καλοῦ” Ph.1.261; οἱ θ. worshippers of Sarapis or Isis, UPZ8.19 (ii B.C.), IG11(4).1226 (Delos, ii B.C.); title of play by Diphilus, ib.2.992ii9; name of certain ascetics, Ph.2.471; θ. ὁσιότητος, of the followers of Moses, ib.177. 2. one who serves a great man, courtier, “οἱ ἀμφὶ τὸν πάππον θ.” X.Cyr.1.3.7. II. one who attends to anything, c. gen., “σώματος” Pl.Grg.517e; “τῶν περὶ τὸ σῶμα” Id.R.369d. 2. medical attendant, τῶν καμνόντων ib.341c.
  2. ^ θερα^π-ευτικός, ή, όν, A. inclined to serve, c. gen., “τῶν φίλων” X.Ages.8.1; “εὐσέβεια δύναμις θ. θεῶν” Pl.Def.412e; “θεοῦ” Ph.1.202 (but τὸ θ. γένος, = θεραπευταί, Id.2.473); inclined to court, τῶν δυνατῶν, τοῦ πλήθους, Plutarch Lysander.2, Comp.Plutarch Lycurgus. Num.2; “τὸ θ. τῆς ὁμιλίας” Plutarch Lysander.4. 2. abs., courteous, obsequious, in good and bad sense, X.HG3.1.28 (Comp.), Plutarch Lucullus.16; “θ.παρρησία” Id.2.74a. Adv. “-κῶς” Id.Art.4; “θ. ἔχειν τινός” Ph.1.186, cf. Str.6.4.2. II. inclined to take care of, careful of, λόγου dub. l. in Men.402.15. 2. esp. of medical treatment, ἕξις θ. a valetudinarian habit of body, Arist.Pol.1335b7; ἡ -κή, = θεραπεία, Pl.Plt.282a; also τὸ -κόν therapeutics, Dsc. Ther.Praef. (but also τὸ περὶ παθῶν θ., title of a work on moral remedies by Chrysippus, Phld.Ir.p.17 W.); περὶ θ. μεθόδου, title of work by Galen.
  3. ^ θερα^π-ευτός, όν, A. that may be fostered or cultivated, Pl.Prt.325b. 2. curable, Paul.Aeg.4.5.
  4. ^ θερα^π-εύτρια, ἡ, fem. of A. “θεραπευτής” EM47.45.
  5. ^ LSJ θερα^π-ευτρίς, ίδος, ἡ,= foreg., Ph.1.261, 655: pl., as title of certain female ascetics, Id.2.471.
  6. ^ Voluntary Associations in the Graeco-Roman World John S. Kloppenborg, Stephen G. Wilson - 2012 "Vidman thinks they were simple worshipers united in a loose association (1970:69, 125 38); cf. therapeutae of Asclepius at Pergamon (Habicht 1969:114 15). melan-phoroi; cf. Poland, s.v. melan-phoroi, PW 15:408 14; Wilcken 1927 57, 1:8,"....Footnote 33..The latter is found of worshipers of Sarapis in inscriptions (LSJ cites IG XI/4 second century BCE Delos)
  7. ^ θερα^π-ευτής in Liddell and Scott
  8. ^ Voluntary Associations in the Graeco-Roman World, edited by John S. Kloppenborg, Stephen G. Wilson.