Pedanius Dioscorides


Greek physician; b. c. 40 AD (Anazarbus, Cilicia), d. c. 90 AD (?)


Dioscorides was born in Cilicia, the coastal strip of southern Anatolia opposite to Cyprus, shortly before it became a Roman province. He went to Rome and joined the imperial army as a surgeon. This position took him into many countries and gave him an excellent opportunity to study the medical properties of the various plants and minerals he encountered.

In his work De materia medica, written around 77 AD, he summarized in five books the features and geographical distribution of nearly 600 plants including cannabis, water hemlock and peppermint, and discussed nearly 1000 drugs.

In the second book Dioscorides discussed the use of products derived from animals such as milk and honey. The fifths book dealt with chemical drugs prepared from mercury, copper oxide and other minerals. He also described the use of opium and mandragora as surgical anaesthetics.

In essence a compendium of drugs, the work became the standard reference manual for pharmacology for 16 centuries. It was copied again and again and translated into at least seven languages. The photo below shows an illustration from an Arabic translation, published in Baghdad in 1334 AD (AH 735 in the Islamic calendar).

Portrait: public domain (Wikipedia)


Image: from an Arabic edition of Dioscorides' De Materia Medica, c. 1334, British Museum; public domain (Wikipedia)


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