Ankylosing spondylitis has a long history, having been distinguished from rheumatoid arthritis by Galen as early as the 2nd century AD. Skeletal evidence of the disease (ossification of joints and entheses primarily of the axial skeleton, known as "bamboo spine") was thought to be found in the skeletal remains of a 5000-year-old Egyptian mummy with evidence of bamboo spine. However, a subsequent report found that this was not the case.
The anatomist and surgeon Realdo Colombo described what could have been the disease in 1559, and the first account of pathologic changes to the skeleton possibly associated with AS was published in 1691 by Bernard Connor. In 1818, Benjamin Brodie became the first physician to document a person believed to have active AS who also had accompanying iritis.
In 1858, David Tucker published a small booklet which clearly described the case of Leonard Trask, who suffered from severe spinal deformity subsequent to AS. In 1833, Trask fell from a horse, exacerbating the condition and resulting in severe deformity. Tucker reported:
It was not until he [Trask] had exercised for some time that he could perform any labor ... [H]is neck and back have continued to curve drawing his head downward on his breast.
This account became the first documented case of AS in the United States, owing to its indisputable description of inflammatory disease characteristics of AS and the hallmark of deforming injury in AS.
In the late nineteenth century, the neurophysiologist Vladimir Bekhterev of Russia in 1893, Adolph Strümpell of Germany in 1897, and Pierre Marie of France in 1898 were the first to give adequate descriptions which permitted an accurate diagnosis of AS prior to severe spinal deformity. For this reason, AS is also known as Bekhterev disease, Bechterew's disease or Marie–Strümpell disease.