By Xavier Riaud (*), FINS

Raphael Bienvenu Sabatier,
© BIU Santé



Raphaël Bienvenu Sabatier was born in Paris, on October 11th 1732. In 1749, he became master of arts.

His favourite topics were geometry, physics and foreign languages especially Italian and English (Teyssou, 2011). He was the son of Pierre Sabatier, a surgeon who was a member of the Royal College of Surgeons of Saint-Côme and who died so abruptly that he left his family without enough money to survive. Therefore, Raphaël Bienvenu Sabatier decided to learn medicine in the Hôpital de la Charité where he was first the student of Verdier who was a member of the Royal Academy of Surgery and then, that of Jean-Louis Petit who immediately noticed diligence in his work. When he turned twenty years old, he had already become master in surgery. He gave lectures of anatomy in Saint-Côme and then in 1756, he was professor of anatomy and prosector. He also carried out operations in the Collège de Chirurgie and in the Collège de France (Teyssou, 2011). In 1757, as he was congratulated for his lectures on anatomy, appreciated for his lectures on animal physiology and as he had gradually made a name for himself, Sauveur François Morand, the then Inspector General in charge of military hospitals and Surgeon Major at the Royal Hotel of the Invalides, decided to summon him as his assistant. Sabatier married Morand’s daughter (or niece according to some authors) in 1760. In 1773, when Morand died, Raphaël subsequently succeeded him as Surgeon Major of the Invalides (Teyssou, 2011). There, Larry was one of his students (Dupont, 1999). In 1798, he remarried and had two daughters out of this new union. He had already had two children from his first marriage (Androutsos & Kalafoutis, 1998).

In 1773, he was elected member of the Academy of Sciences where he assisted Antoine Louis, its chairman. When the latter died in 1792, he took over his position and remained there until its dissolution following the Convention’s decree dating back to August 8th 1793. The decree aimed at abolishing all the universities, academies and other learned society. On August 22nd 1793, Sabatier read its last charge sheet.

In 1792, the Convention upgraded him to the rank of chief doctor of the Northern army. He did not remain there for long. Given the stress due to his age, his overwhelming responsabilities, his physical unability to travel all over battle fields, his concern with his dental office that he gradually neglected, the sessions of scientific societies for which he daily strived, he thus asked to go back home quickly, a request which was granted with the support of young army fellows who showed him the greatest respect. He became inspector of the health service of the Army of the Rhine and in 1795, he taught operative surgery in the new Health School which opened in 1794. Dupuytren, another famous doctor, took over his position in 1812 (Teyssou, 2011). In 1795, he became founder member of the Institute, the former Academy of Sciences (Meylemans, 2010).

After the revolution, he obtained the very desired position of professor in the Medicine University. In 1804, Corvisart entrusted him with the position of the Emperor’s consultant surgeon which ultimately gave him the opportunity to receive the Legion of Honour for services rendered to the nation. The first mention of Sabatier in the Imperial almanacs was only from 1806. Chief surgeon of the Invalides, he was buried there when he died on July 18th 1811 in Paris (Dupont, 1999).

Extremely cultivated, Sabatier was known to have a well-ordered and methodical mind. Often sceptical in front of innovation, he worked relentlessly and devoted his time to his patients. A calm man, his lectures on anatomy were filled with up to 414 auditors per session (Teyssou, 2011). 

He was showered with praise when he died. He was a level-headed, scientifically well-informed and studious worker who was universally recognized. Therefore, Philippe Jean Pelletan (1747-1829), a knight of the Empire and the other Emperor’s surgeon consultant paid tribute to him in a speech during his funeral on July 22nd 1811. Similarly, on November 27th the same year, during a public hearing at the University of Medicine in Paris, Pierre François Percy (1754-1825), baron of the Empire and chief surgeon of the Great Army sang the praises of Sabatier (, 2011).

He was known for being one of the forerunners of urology. He died leaving behind a great number of works and publications which are mentioned in the collections of the Academy of Sciences, the Royal Academy of Surgery and the Institute. We can think of : Positiones anatomicae et chirurgicae (his thesis, 1752), De bronchotomia (1752), Traité complet d’anatomie ou description de toutes les parties du corps humain [Complete Treatise of Anatomy, or a Description of all the Parts of the Human Body] (1764), De la médecine opératoire ou des opérations de chirurgie qui se pratiquent fréquemment [Of medical operations or those in surgery which are of most frequent occurrence] (1796), De la médecine expectative (1796), etc.



Imperial almanacs, Testu & Cie imprimeurs, Paris, from 1805 to 1813.

Androutsos Georges & Kalofoutis Anastassios, « Raphaël Bienvenu Sabatier (1732-1811), célèbre chirurgien et précurseur de l’urologie » [« Raphaël Bienvenu Sabatier (1732-1811), the famous surgeon and forerunner of urology »], in Progrès en Urologie, 1998, 8, 113-120.

BIU Santé, personal communication, Paris, 2011.

Dupont Michel, Dictionnaire historique des Médecins dans et hors de la Médecine, Larousse (ed.), Paris, 1999., Raphaël Bienvenu Sabatier, 2011, pp. 1-2.

Meylemans R., « Les grands noms de l’Empire » [« The great names of the Empire »], in Ambulance 1809 de la Garde impériale [The 1809 ambulance of the Imperial Guard],, 2010, pp. 1-22.

Teyssou Roger, L’aigle et le caducée [The eagle and caduceus],L’Harmattan (ed.), Collection Acteurs de la Science [Actors of Science Collection], Paris, 2011.


(*) Dental Surgeon, PhD in Epistemology, History of Sciences and Techniques, Laureate and member of the National Academy of Dental Surgery.