Anatomical Science International

, Volume 82, Issue 2, pp 65–81

Historical evolution of anatomical terminology from ancient to modern

Review Article

DOI: 10.1111/j.1447-073X.2007.00180.x

Cite this article as:
Sakai, T. Anato Sci Int (2007) 82: 65. doi:10.1111/j.1447-073X.2007.00180.x


The historical development of anatomical terminology from the ancient to the modern can be divided into five stages. The initial stage is represented by the oldest extant anatomical treatises by Galen of Pergamon in the Roman Empire. The anatomical descriptions by Galen utilized only a limited number of anatomical terms, which were essentially colloquial words in the Greek of this period. In the second stage, Vesalius in the early 16th century described the anatomical structures in his Fabrica with the help of detailed magnificent illustrations. He coined substantially no anatomical terms, but devised a system that distinguished anatomical structures with ordinal numbers. The third stage of development in the late 16th century was marked by innovation of a large number of specific anatomical terms especially for the muscles, vessels and nerves. The main figures at this stage were Sylvius in Paris and Bauhin in Basel. In the fourth stage between Bauhin and the international anatomical terminology, many anatomical textbooks were written mainly in Latin in the 17th century, and in modern languages in the 18th and 19th centuries. Anatomical terms for the same structure were differently expressed by different authors. The last stage began at the end of the 19th century, when the first international anatomical terminology in Latin was published as Nomina anatomica. The anatomical terminology was revised repeatedly until the current Terminologia anatomica both in Latin and English.

Key words

anatomyhistorymedical illustrationterminologytextbooks

Copyright information

© Japanese Association of Anatomists 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Anatomy, School of MedicineJuntendo UniversityTokyoJapan