Where Satan Dwells
Satan dwelled in Pergamon in the form of paganism in the Asklepieion. The Askelpieion was a treatment center for those ailing in mind, body, or soul. The word scalpel is derived from the name of Asklepios—the ancient god of healing.
The Askelpieion was a structured area. The plans for the Askelpieion would include a healing spring and a bath. There would be a house for the priests and officials, a college for training the priests, and a hostel for the patients. Included within the parameters of the Pergamon Askelpieion were a library, gymnasium, theater, sleeping center, and temple to Asklepios. There would also be a serpent pit.
The priest was the head official. He may or may not be a physician, but he was the general administrator. He was appointed annually, and historical records at the Askelpieion in Athens indicate that he would have been frequently re-elected. He had a share in the financial management of the Askelpieion.
The lesser positions of priests bore torches to light the way for the physicians, higher priests, and patients; or they carried the fire to light the fires on the altars. Other members in the association were key bearers who may be considered to be a type of porter. Some members were not affiliated to the treatment center, but were simply there to charge and receive payments for the facility.
Women had their place in the Askelpieion as both basket bearers and the carriers of mysteries or holy things. Some women simply attended to the sick and carried those who were unable to walk. It is not known if they were trained in medicine as nurses or simply caregivers to the ill.
There were doors with locks throughout the Askelpieion complex; therefore, one wonders if the locks were to keep people out or to keep people in.
While it was a treatment center, religious steps were a substantial part of the treatment. Askelpios was the mythological god of healing and his temple was in the medical compound for worshippers to present gifts. There were only three primary treatment centers in the ancient Roman world to which the sick would come to visit an Askelpieion seeking a cure for their ailments.
The theater within the treatment center would seat 3500 people, but certainly the treatment facility could not house such a large number. Many of those attending the performances there simply must have done so for entertaining purposes.
Upon arriving, the patient would have an interview with the physician/priest and make financial arrangements for their stay. Having completed these necessities, the patient was ritually bathed and would offer sacrifices and offerings in the temple. A poor man would sacrifice a cake while the rich man would provide a sheep, pig or goat. It was understood that only pure souls could enter the temple.
At bedtime the patient would bring his bed clothes to the treatment center and sleep on the marbled slabs, while leaving a gift on the table near the bed. A priest would light sacred lamps, recite evening prayers and ask for divine enlightenment for those in the treatment center. Then the priest collects the gifts.
Later a priest puts out the lights, commands silence and everyone is told to sleep. Additionally, he asks for guiding visions from the god. The refreshing air on the mountain and the cool breezes from the Aegean Sea helped them to sleep. Sometimes opium was administered to insure a deep sleep.
During the night’s sleep, the patient would receive a vision or see a visionary of Askelpios concerning their illness. Of course, this part of the treatment was an outrageous farce. Whether the vision was a drug-induced hallucination or the visionary was a priest acting on behalf of the god is not certain but by some means, the person received audible instructions for their care.
In the morning, the patient would reveal to the priest what was said to him during the night, and the priest/physician would establish a treatment program seeking a cure according to the god’s instruction. It was a win/win situation for the priest/physician.
The serpent played an important role in the treatment program. Serpents roamed freely in the treatment rooms and patients were encouraged to feed cakes to them. In turn, the serpents were trained to lick the afflicted with their tongues. Hundreds of historical records identify the cures associated with serpents.
My personal favorite case concerns a patient with “dropsy” who visited the Askelpieion. While there, the god Askelpios cuts off the patient’s head, holds him upside-down allowing all the fluids to leave his body and then puts the patient’s head back on. The patient returns home cured—or so the record says.
The majority of the time spent in the treatment center the patients did anything which brought them comfort. The patient could read quietly in the library or opt for a visit to the gymnasium for a work out.
The patient could receive mud baths or oiled massages in the bath along with fresh fruits and vegetables in the diet and fresh air. Wines and drugs such as opium were available for treatment programs.
The Askelpieion was a beautiful site to behold with marbled, columned, and plastered buildings, tree-shaded grounds, and social amenities. Beautiful sculptures appeased the eye and religious pleasantries such as burning incense complemented the sense of smell. The ancient Askelpieion would put today’s spas to shame.
All of this was therapeutic to the patient—culture, literature, arts, exercise, rest, healthy food and fresh air. That—and the supplement of drugs, if needed, would certainly make the majority of patients feel better. It was primarily a means of mind over matter. For others, the treatment center was a vacation from the stresses of everyday life.
Woe to those who did not respond to the treatment proposed by the god in the sleep center. For those unfortunate souls whose true medical difficulties could not be met, they were given the boot out the nearest door with the accusation that Askelpios had rejected them. Since they were dying, no priest/physical could defile themselves with death.