Pedanius Dioscorides

Pedanius Dioscorides (Greek: Πεδάνιος Διοσκουρίδης Pedanios Dioskouridēs; c. 40 – 90 AD) was a Greek physician, pharmacologist, botanist, and author of De Materia Medica (Ancient Greek: Περὶ ὕλης ἰατρικῆς, On Medical Material) —a 5-volume Greek encyclopedia about herbal medicine and related medicinal substances (a pharmacopeia), that was widely read for more than 1,500 years. He was employed as a physician in the Roman army.

Pedanius Dioscorides
Dioscorides receives a mandrake root, an illumination from the 6th century Greek Juliana Anicia Codex
Bornc. 40 AD
Diedc. 90 AD
Other namesDioscurides
OccupationArmy physician, pharmacologist, botanist
Known forDe Materia Medica


A native of Anazarbus, Cilicia, Asia Minor, Dioscorides likely studied medicine nearby at the school in Tarsus, which had a pharmacological emphasis, and he dedicated his medical books to Laecanius Arius, a medical practitioner there.[a][2][3] Though he says he served in the Roman army, his pharmacopeia refers almost solely to plants found in the Greek-speaking eastern Mediterranean, making it unlikely that he served in campaigns (or traveled) outside that region.[4] The name Pedanius is Roman, suggesting that an aristocrat of that name sponsored him to become a Roman citizen.[5]

De Materia Medica

Blackberry from the 6th-century Vienna Dioscurides manuscript

Between AD 50 and 70 [6] Dioscorides wrote a five-volume book in his native Greek, Περὶ ὕλης ἰατρικῆς (Peri hules iatrikēs), known in Western Europe more often by its Latin title De Materia Medica ("On Medical Material"), which became the precursor to all modern pharmacopeias.[7]

Cover of an early printed version of De Materia Medica, Lyon, 1554

In contrast to many classical authors, Dioscorides' works were not "rediscovered" in the Renaissance, because his book had never left circulation; indeed, with regard to Western materia medica through the early modern period, Dioscorides' text eclipsed the Hippocratic corpus.[8] In the medieval period, De Materia Medica was circulated in Greek, as well as Latin and Arabic translation.[9] While being reproduced in manuscript form through the centuries, it was often supplemented with commentary and minor additions from Arabic and Indian sources. Ibn al-Baitar's commentary on Dioscorides' Materia Medica, entitled “Tafsīr Kitāb Diāsqūrīdūs”, has been used by scholars to identify many of the flora mentioned by Dioscorides.[10] A number of illustrated manuscripts of De Materia Medica survive. The most famous of these is the lavishly illustrated Vienna Dioscurides, produced in Constantinople in 512/513 AD. Densely illustrated Arabic copies survive from the 12th and 13th centuries, while Greek manuscripts survive today in the monasteries of Mount Athos.[11]

De Materia Medica is the prime historical source of information about the medicines used by the Greeks, Romans, and other cultures of antiquity. The work also records the Dacian,[12] Thracian,[13] Roman, ancient Egyptian and North African (Carthaginian) names for some plants, which otherwise would have been lost. The work presents about 600 plants in all,[14] although the descriptions are sometimes obscurely phrased, leading to comments such as: "Numerous individuals from the Middle Ages on have struggled with the identity of the recondite kinds",[15] while some of the botanical identifications of Dioscorides' plants remain merely guesses.

De Materia Medica formed the core of the European pharmacopeia through the 19th century, suggesting that "the timelessness of Dioscorides' work resulted from an empirical tradition based on trial and error; that it worked for generation after generation despite social and cultural changes and changes in medical theory".[8]

The plant genus Dioscorea, which includes the yam, was named after him by Linnaeus.[16]


Portrait of Dioscorides from De Materia Medica cropped

Dioscorides as depicted in a 1240 Arabic edition of De Materia Medica

Dioscorides De Materia Medica Spain 12th 13th century

De Materia Medica in Arabic, Spain, 12th-13th century

Arabic herbal medicine guidebook.jpeg

Cumin and dill from an Arabic book of simples (ca. 1334) after Dioscorides (British Museum)

Dioscorides De Materia Medica Byzantium 15th century

Byzantine De Materia Medica, 15th century


Later representation of Dioscorides


  • De Materia Medica: Being an Herbal with many other medicinal materials, Englished by Tess Anne Osbaldeston, year 2000, based on the translation of John Goodyer of year 1655 (see below). (Publisher Ibidis Press: Johannesburg).
  • De Materia Medica, translated by Lily Y. Beck (2005). (Publisher Hildesheim: Olms-Weidmann).
  • The Greek Herbal of Dioscorides... Englished by John Goodyer A. D. 1655, edited by R.T. Gunter (1933).

In literature

In Voltaire's Candide, the title character's injuries received at the hands of the Bulgarian army, into which he had been conscripted, are healed using "emollients taught by Dioscorides."

See also


  1. ^ The dedication, translated by Scarborough and Nutton,[1] began "At your insistence I have assembled my material into five books, and I dedicate my compendium to you in fulfilment of a debt of gratitude for your sentiments towards me".[2]


  1. ^ Scarborough and Nutton, 1982
  2. ^ a b Stobart, Anne (2014). Critical Approaches to the History of Western Herbal Medicine: From Classical Antiquity to the Early Modern Period. A&C Black. p. 193. ISBN 978-1-4411-8418-4.
  3. ^ Borzelleca, Joseph F.; Lane, Richard W. (2008). "The Art, the Science, and the Seduction of Toxicology: an Evolutionary Development". In Hayes, Andrew Wallace (ed.). Principles and methods of toxicology (5th ed.). Taylor & Francis. p. 13.
  4. ^ Nutton, Vivian. Ancient medicine. Routledge, 2012. p. 178
  5. ^ Tobyn, Graeme; Denham, Alison; Whitelegg, Midge (2016). The Western Herbal Tradition: 2000 Years of Medicinal Plant Knowledge (illustrated ed.). Singing Dragon. p. 4. ISBN 9780857012593.
  6. ^ "Greek Medicine". National Institutes of Health, USA. 16 September 2002. Retrieved 1 July 2013.
  7. ^ Rooney, Anne (2012). The History of Medicine. The Rosen Publishing Group. p. 121. ISBN 9781448873708.
  8. ^ a b De Vos (2010) "European Materia Medica in Historical Texts: Longevity of a Tradition and Implications for Future Use", Journal of Ethnopharmacology 132(1):28–47
  9. ^ Some detail about medieval manuscripts of De Materia Medica at pages xxix–xxxi in Introduction to Dioscorides Materia Medica by TA Osbaldeston, year 2000.
  10. ^ Zohar Amar, Agricultural Produce in the Land of Israel in the Middle Ages (Hebrew title: גידולי ארץ-ישראל בימי הביניים), Ben-Zvi Institute: Jerusalem 2000, p. 270 ISBN 965-217-174-3 (Hebrew); Tafsīr Kitāb Diāsqūrīdūs - commentaire de la “Materia Medica” de Dioscoride de Abū Muḥammad ʻAbdallāh ibn Aḥmad ibn Muḥammad ibn al-Bayṭār de Malaga (ed. Ibrahim Ben Mrad), Beirut 1989 (Arabic title: تفسير كتاب دياسقوريدوس)
  11. ^ Selin, Helaine (2008). Encyclopaedia of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine in Non-Western Cultures. Springer. p. 1077.
  12. ^ Nutton, Vivian (2004). Ancient Medicine. Routledge.. Page 177.
  13. ^ Murray, J. (1884). The Academy. Alexander and Shephrard.. Page 68.
  14. ^ Krebs, Robert E.; Krebs, Carolyn A. (2003). Groundbreaking Scientific Experiments, Inventions, and Discoveries of the Ancient World. Greenwood Publishing Group.. Pages 75–76.
  15. ^ Isely, Duane (1994). One hundred and one botanists. Iowa State University Press.
  16. ^ Austin, Daniel F. (2004). Florida Ethnobotany (illustrated ed.). CRC Press. p. 267. ISBN 9780203491881.


  • Allbutt, T. Clifford (1921). Greek medicine in Rome. London: Macmillan. ISBN 1-57898-631-1.
  • Bruins: Codex Constantinopolitanus: Palatii Veteris NO. 1 [3 volume set] Part 1: Reproduction of the Manuscript; Part 2: Greek Text; Part 3: Translation and Commentary Bruins, E. M. (Ed.)
  • Forbes, Andrew; Henley, Daniel; Henley, David (2013). 'Pedanius Dioscorides' in: Health and Well Being: A Medieval Guide. Chiang Mai: Cognoscenti Books.
  • Hamilton, J. S. (1986). "Scribonius Largus on the medical profession". Bulletin of the History of Medicine. 60 (2): 209–216. PMID 3521772.
  • Lazris, J.; Stavros, V. (2013). "L'image paradigmatique: des Schémas anatomiques d'Aristote au De materia medica de Dioscoride". Pallas. 93: 131–164.
  • Lazris, J.; Stavros, V. "The medical illustration in Antiquity". Reality Through Image: 18–23 (abstract).
  • Riddle, John (1980). "Dioscorides" (PDF). Catalogus Translationum et Commentariorum. 4: 1. Retrieved 25 August 2015.
  • Riddle, John M. (1985). Dioscorides on pharmacy and medicine. Austin: University of Texas Press. ISBN 0-292-71544-7.
  • Sadek, M. M. (1983). The Arabic materia medica of Dioscorides. Québec, Canada: Les Éditions du sphinx. ISBN 2-920123-02-5.
  • Scarborough, J.; Nutton, V. (1982). "The Preface of Dioscorides' Materia Medica: introduction, translation, and commentary". Transactions & studies of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. 4 (3): 187–227. PMID 6753260.

External links

Abu al-Abbas al-Nabati

Ahmad bin Muhammad bin Mufarraj bin Ani al-Khalil, better known as Abu al-Abbas al-Nabati, Ibn al-Rumiya or al-Ashshab, (Arabic: أبو العباس النباتي‎, Abu’l-ʿAbbās al-Nabātī) (c. 1200) was an Andalusian scientist, botanist, pharmacist and theologian. He is noted for introducing the experimental scientific method in the area of materia medica. His techniques such as separating verified and unverified reports led to the development of the field of pharmacology. He was a teacher of fellow Andalusian botanist Ibn al-Baitar.

Arum dioscoridis

Arum dioscoridis is a plant of the arum family (Araceae).

The plant was described by James Edward Smith in Flora Graeca. The species is named after the ancient Greek physician and botanist Pedanius Dioscorides.

The plant is native to forests in the east of the Mediterranean in southern Turkey, Cyprus, and the Middle East.

Asaph the Jew

Asaph the Jew (Hebrew: אסף היהודי Assaf HaYehudi), also known as Asaph ben Berechiah and Asaph the Physician (Hebrew: אסף הרופא Asaph HaRofe) is a figure mentioned in the ancient Jewish medical text the Sefer Refuot (lit. “Book of Medicines”). Thought by some to have been a Byzantine Jew and the earliest known Hebrew medical writer, he is however a rather uncertain figure who some have suggested is identifiable with the legendary mystical vizier Asif ibn Barkhiya of Arabian folklore, associated with King Solomon (and hence of dubious historicity). Scholars in favor of Asaph’s historicity suggest that he might have lived somewhere between the 3rd and 7th Centuries CE, possibly in Byzantine Palaestina or Mesopotamia. However, the text itself from which Asaph is known seems to place him between Hippocrates and Pedanius Dioscorides, which if chronological would imply that he might have been thought to have been between the 5th Century BCE and 1st Century CE, though this is very uncertain. The Sefer Refuot, the only known historical Jewish text to mention Asaph (and which he may have written or contributed to), is the earliest known Hebrew medical work, and thus of great historical significance. The "Oath of Asaph" found in the text resembles the Hippocratic Oath and was taken by medical students at their graduation.The Assaf HaRofeh Medical Center of Israel is named after him.

De Materia Medica

De Materia Medica (Latin name for the Greek work Περὶ ὕλης ἰατρικῆς, Peri hulēs iatrikēs, both meaning "On Medical Material") is a pharmacopoeia of medicinal plants and the medicines that can be obtained from them. The five-volume work was written between 50 and 70 CE by Pedanius Dioscorides, a Greek physician in the Roman army. It was widely read for more than 1,500 years until supplanted by revised herbals in the Renaissance, making it one of the longest-lasting of all natural history books.

The work describes many drugs known to be effective, including aconite, aloes, colocynth, colchicum, henbane, opium and squill. In all, about 600 plants are covered, along with some animals and mineral substances, and around 1000 medicines made from them.

De Materia Medica was circulated as illustrated manuscripts, copied by hand, in Greek, Latin and Arabic throughout the mediaeval period. From the sixteenth century on, Dioscorides' text was translated into Italian, German, Spanish, and French, and in 1655 into English. It formed the basis for herbals in these languages by men such as Leonhart Fuchs, Valerius Cordus, Lobelius, Rembert Dodoens, Carolus Clusius, John Gerard and William Turner. Gradually these herbals included more and more direct observations, supplementing and eventually supplanting the classical text.

Several manuscripts and early printed versions of De Materia Medica survive, including the illustrated Vienna Dioscurides manuscript written in the original Greek in sixth-century Constantinople; it was used there by the Byzantines as a hospital text for just over a thousand years. Sir Arthur Hill saw a monk on Mount Athos still using a copy of Dioscorides to identify plants in 1934.


Delphinium is a genus of about 300 species of perennial flowering plants in the family Ranunculaceae, native throughout the Northern Hemisphere and also on the high mountains of tropical Africa.All members of the genus Delphinium are toxic to humans and livestock. The common name "larkspur" is shared between perennial Delphinium species and annual species of the genus Consolida. Molecular data show that Consolida, as well as another segregate genus, Aconitella, are both embedded in Delphinium.The genus name Delphinium derives from the Ancient Greek word δελφίνιον (delphínion) which means "dolphin", a name used in De Materia Medica for some kind of larkspur. Pedanius Dioscorides said the plant got its name because of its dolphin-shaped flowers.


Dogbane, Dog-bane, Dog's bane, and other variations, some of them regional and some transient, are names for certain plants that are reputed to kill or repel dogs; "bane" originally meant "slayer," and was later applied to plants to indicate that they were poisonous to particular creatures.


Gagae or Gagai (Ancient Greek: Γάγαι) was a town on the southeast coast of ancient Lycia, in what is now the province of Antalya, from which the Gagates lapis derived its name. The ruins are located in Kumluca district, Antalya Province, Turkey. Excavations in 2007 revealed an upper and lower acropolis and evidence of Rhodian colonization.Several ancient authors (Pliny the Elder, Pedanius Dioscorides, Galenos, Oribasius and Aetios) mention "the stone of Gagates" (λίθος γαγάτης, translit. líthos gagátis) as being able to drive serpents away, diagnose epilepsy, calm the women down in their hysterias, evacuate worms, ease heart problems and heal the gynaecological diseases. It was also used in jewellery. The stone was found by the estuary of a river called Gages, near to Gagai, and named after the river. It is described as a modern jet stone, which fits perfectly with ancient descriptions. Although it is a form of lignite, containing bitumen and petroleum, it is not used for heating. However, there has been no evidence concerning the location of Gages River and Gagates mine, though there are suggestions for Gages as it may be the ancient name of the Alakır Çay ("Alakir River") or Gavur Kayı.

Hasdai ibn Shaprut

Hasdai (Abu Yusuf ben Yitzhak ben Ezra) ibn Shaprut (Hebrew: חסדאי אבן שפרוט; Arabic: حسداي بن شبروط‎, Abu Yussuf ibn Shaprut) born about 915 at Jaén, Spain; died about 970 at Córdoba, Andalusia, was a Jewish scholar, physician, diplomat, and patron of science.

His father, Isaac ben Ezra, was a wealthy and learned Jew of Jaén. Hasdai acquired in his youth a thorough knowledge of Hebrew, Arabic, and Latin, the last-named language being at that time known only to the higher clergy of Spain. He also studied medicine, and is said to have discovered a panacea, called Al-Faruk. Appointed physician to Caliph Abd-ar-Rahman III (912-961), he, by his engaging manners, knowledge, character, and extraordinary ability, gained his master's confidence to such a degree that he became the caliph's confidant and faithful counselor. Without bearing the title of vizier he was in reality minister of foreign affairs; he had also control of the customs and ship-dues in the port of Córdoba. Hasdai arranged the alliances formed by the caliph with foreign powers, and he received the envoys sent by the latter to Córdoba. In 949 an embassy was sent by Constantine VII to form a diplomatic league between the hard-pressed Byzantine empire and the powerful ruler of Spain. Among the presents brought by the embassy was a magnificent codex of Pedanius Dioscorides' work on botany, which the Arabic physicians and naturalists valued highly. Hasdai, with the aid of a learned Greek monk named Nicholas, translated it into Arabic, making it thereby the common property of the Arabs and of medieval Europe.


Hibiscus is a genus of flowering plants in the mallow family, Malvaceae. The genus is quite large, comprising several hundred species that are native to warm temperate, subtropical and tropical regions throughout the world. Member species are renowned for their large, showy flowers and those species are commonly known simply as "hibiscus", or less widely known as rose mallow. There are also names for hibiscus such as hardy hibiscus, rose of sharon, and tropical hibiscus.

The genus includes both annual and perennial herbaceous plants, as well as woody shrubs and small trees. The generic name is derived from the Greek name ἰβίσκος (hibiskos) which Pedanius Dioscorides gave to Althaea officinalis (c. 40–90 AD).Several species are widely cultivated as ornamental plants, notably Hibiscus syriacus and Hibiscus rosa-sinensis.A tea made from hibiscus flowers is known by many names around the world and is served both hot and cold. The beverage is known for its red colour, tart flavour, and vitamin C content.

Lecanius Areius

Lecanius Areius (Ancient Greek: Λεκάνιος Ἄρειος) was a Greek physician who probably lived in or before the first century CE, as one of his medical formulae is quoted by the Roman court physician Andromachus, work wrote in the 1st century.Lecanius Areius may perhaps be the same person who is several times quoted by Galen, and who is sometimes called a "follower of Asclepius" (Ἀσκληπιάδειος), sometimes a native of Tarsus in Cilicia, and sometimes mentioned without any distinguishing epithet at all.He may perhaps also be the person who is said by the medical writer Soranus of Ephesus to have written on the life of Hippocrates, and to whom Pedanius Dioscorides addressed his work De Materia Medica.Whether any or all of these passages refer to the same individual, it is impossible to say for certain, but there are no known chronological or other difficulties that would make this assumption impossible.

Leyden papyrus X

The Leyden papyrus X (P. Leyden X) is a papyrus codex written in Greek at about the end of the 3rd century A.D. or perhaps around 250 A.D. and buried with its owner, and today preserved at Leiden University in the Netherlands.

Luigi Anguillara

Luigi Anguillara, actually Luigi Squalermo, (born c. 1512 in Anguillara Sabazia, died September 1570 in Ferrara) was an Italian botanist.


Lycium is a genus of flowering plants in the nightshade family, Solanaceae. The genus has a disjunct distribution around the globe, with species occurring on most continents in temperate and subtropical regions. South America has the most species, followed by North America and southern Africa. There are several scattered across Europe and Asia, and one is native to Australia.Common names English names for plants of this genus include box-thorn and desert-thorn. The plants are also called אטד (ațad) in Hebrew and عَوْسَج (eawsaj) in Arabic.There are about 70 to 80 species. The most important are Lycium barbarum and Lycium chinense, whose fruits (wolfberries or goji berries) are an important traditional food crop in China and have recently become a popular health food all over the world.

Materia medica

Materia medica (English: medical material/substance) is a Latin term from the history of pharmacy for the body of collected knowledge about the therapeutic properties of any substance used for healing (i.e., medicines). The term derives from the title of a work by the Ancient Greek physician Pedanius Dioscorides in the 1st century AD, De materia medica, 'On medical material' (Περὶ ὕλης ἰατρικῆς, Peri hylēs iatrikēs, in Greek). The term materia medica was used from the period of the Roman Empire until the 20th century, but has now been generally replaced in medical education contexts by the term pharmacology. The term survives in the title of the British Medical Journal's "Materia Non Medica" column.


Nerium oleander is a shrub or small tree in the dogbane family Apocynaceae, toxic in all its parts. It is the only species currently classified in the genus Nerium. It is most commonly known as nerium or oleander, from its superficial resemblance to the unrelated olive Olea. It is so widely cultivated that no precise region of origin has been identified, though southwest Asia has been suggested. The ancient city of Volubilis in Morocco may have taken its name from the Berber name alili or oualilt for the flower. Oleander is one of the most poisonous commonly grown garden plants.

Nicolás Monardes

Nicolás Bautista Monardes (1493 – 10 October 1588) was a Spanish physician and botanist.

Monardes published several books of varying importance. In Diálogo llamado pharmacodilosis (1536), he examines humanism and suggests studying several classical authors, principally Pedanius Dioscorides. He discusses the importance of Greek and Arab medicine in De Secanda Vena in pleuriti Inter Grecos et Arabes Concordia (1539). De Rosa et partibus eius (1540) is about roses and citrus fruits. It is known that Monardes also believed that tobacco smoke was an infallible cure for everything.

Monardes' most significant and well known work was Historia medicinal de las cosas que se traen de nuestras Indias Occidentales, published in three parts under varying titles (in 1565, 1569 and completed in 1574; unchanged reprint in 1580). This was translated into Latin by Charles de l'Écluse and into English by John Frampton with the title "Joyfull News out of the New Found World".

Physician Preparing an Elixir

The Physician Preparing an Elixir is a miniature on a folio from an illustrated manuscript copy, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York of De Materia Medica, a large herbal or work on the (mostly) medical uses of plants originally written by the ancient Greco-Roman physician, Pedanius Dioscorides, in the first century AD. This page of the manuscript, dated 1224 AD, is made from paper, sized 24.8 cm wide and 33.2 cm long, and is decorated by opaque watercolor, ink, and gold detailing. It is visually split into three horizontal portions from the top of the page to the bottom; the top of the page is dominated by two lines of Arabic script, followed by the image and then five more lines of text in Arabic. The writing below the image is predominantly black with the exception of one line, which is written in red ink and is therefore highlighted to the viewer. The page is usually not on display.

Experts believe that the image was made in Iraq, Northern Jazira or Baghdad. Its Middle Eastern origin is corroborated with the physician’s appearance. In the image, he is wearing a headscarf, his clothing is quite colorful and it is detailed with gold decorations. Additionally, the Arabic text is a further indication that this specific page was formed in a Middle Eastern context. In this digital representation, the page looks to be in great condition and has minimal wear and tear.


Plumbago is a genus of 10–20 species of flowering plants in the family Plumbaginaceae, native to warm temperate to tropical regions of the world. Common names include plumbago and leadwort (names which are also shared by the genus Ceratostigma).

Ruta graveolens

Ruta graveolens [L. strong smelling rue], commonly known as rue, common rue or herb-of-grace, is a species of Ruta grown as an ornamental plant and herb. It is native to the Balkan Peninsula. It is now grown throughout the world in gardens, especially for its bluish leaves, and sometimes for its tolerance of hot and dry soil conditions. It is also cultivated as a medicinal herb, as a condiment, and to a lesser extent as an insect repellent.

Plants / animals

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