A Personal Physician (also "Private Physician") (Ancient Greek: ἀρχιατρός (archiatros), German: Leibarzt (de), also “Chefarzt“, [comprised from ἀρχή (Archae) and ἰατρός (iatros)], Latin: Archiater; Middle High German: Liparzet) is a medical doctor, in the services of (“by appointment to“) a high-ranking personage, for example a Politician, King, President, Pope or Prince. He is responsible for the well-being of his Patients and as a rule is committed to be available around the clock for this person.
The concept of the Personal Physician (Physicus) can be historically verified since the early Middle Ages. The description “ἀρχιατρός (archiatros)“ is first supported in an inscription on Delos from the 2nd Century A.D. for the personal physician to King Antiochus VII Sidetes. In the Roman Empire by the 3rd century A.D. at the latest, the imperial personal physicians were officially named “archiatri Palatini“.
Personal physicians usually hold an academic qualification and were responsible over a long period for the Internal medicine of their patients. They distinguished themselves thereby from the Surgeon (chirurgus), who was more practically trained and mostly consulted only at battles or in cases of accident. Until well in to the 14th Century personal physicians originated from the religious orders, only thereafter was their function generally taken over by persons of a middle-class background. Since the beginning of the Baroque period and the consequential growth of universities, personal physicians, up to the present day, have increasingly been recruited from a growing number of multifaceted educated college and university lecturers, or from the group of established and experienced city physicians (in German called "Stadtphysicus"/"Stadtphysici", as well as today from excellently trained and experienced specialist physicians (in German called "Facharzt/Fachärzten".
The position of the personal physician was not always similar. Rather, it transposed many levels of the social order: from Slaves of a Roman ruler to the friend of a Middle Ages emperor or to the favourite of a queen. Not always was the Personal Physician a representative of an above-average occupational position, however, he always enjoyed a special position of trust, which extended way above the medical care of the important patient. In most of the princely houses, the Personal Physician belonged to the Court (royal).
The use of the Personal Physician was not only different during different periods but varied from case to case. Responsibility for food and drinks was often part of the maintenance or restoring of health in ancient times and in the Middle Ages. The personal physician also had to accompany his master on travels. Each successful treatment of the important patient increased the physician’s standing and usually filled his purse. Imperial personal physicians in the Roman Empire were included in the upper echelons of society and earned up to 500,000 HS (Sestertius). In the case of failures, the opposite could occur: dismissals, banishment, imprisonment in a Dungeon, Torture, Mutilation or even Capital punishment were possible consequences of loss of favour in early times. Not only well educated doctors rose to the level of a personal physician. Court Protection allowed some Charlatans to enter this occupational position too.
Also in the present time and especially through the increasing presence of Mass media, personal physicians of well-known personages are increasingly under public scrutiny and it is not unusual for them to be held responsible by the media for their well-being, treatments and even their demise.
A list of famous personal physicians is to be found on the German language page Liste_bekannter_Leibärzte (de)
Dansk Livlæge ▪ Deutsch Leibarzt ▪ Lietuvių Leibmedikas ▪ Nederlands Lijfarts ▪ 日本語 主治医 ▪ Norsk bokmål Livlege ▪ Norsk nynorsk Livlege ▪ Русский Лейб-медик ▪ Suomi Henkilääkäri ▪ Svenska Livmedikus ▪