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Pedanius Discorides
Seated Discorides writing

Pedanius Dioscorides (Greek: Πεδάνιος Διοσκορίδης; ca. 40-90)[1] was an ancient Greek physician, pharmacologist and botanist from Anazarbus, Cilicia, Asia Minor, who practised in ancient Rome during the time of Nero. He had the opportunity to travel extensively seeking medicinal substances from all over the Roman and Greek world.

Dioscorides wrote a five-volume book in his native Greek, Περί ὕλης ἰατρικής (De Materia Medica in the Latin translation; Regarding Medical Matters) that is a precursor to all modern pharmacopeias, and is one of the most influential herbal books in history. In fact, it remained in use until about CE 1600. Unlike many classical authors, his works were not "rediscovered" in the Renaissance, because his book never left circulation. The De Materia Medica was often reproduced in manuscript form through the centuries, often with commentary on Dioscorides' work and with minor additions from Arabic and Indian sources, though there were some advancements in herbal science among the Arabic additions. The most important manuscripts survive today in Mount Athos monasteries.

De Materia Medica is important not just for the history of herbal science: it also gives us a knowledge of the herbs and remedies used by the Greeks, Romans, and other cultures of antiquity. The work also records the Dacian[2] and Thracian[3] names for some plants, which otherwise would have been lost. The work presents about 600 plants in all,[4] although the descriptions are obscurely phrased. Duane Isely notes that "numerous individuals from the Middle Ages on have struggled with the identity of the recondite kinds", and characterizes most of the identifications of Gunther et al. as "educated guesses".

Arabic Book of Simple Drugs from Dioscorides’ De Materia Medica. Cumin & dill. c. 1334 By Kathleen Cohen in London's British Museum.
Dioscorides, De Materia Medica, Byzantium, 15th century.
Dioscorides De Materia Medica in Arabic, Spain, 12th-13th century.

A number of illustrated manuscripts of the De Materia Medica survive, some of them from as early as the 5th through 7th centuries. The most famous of these early copies is the Vienna Dioscurides (512/513).


See also


  1. ^ Krebs (2003), 75
  2. ^ Nutton (2004), 177
  3. ^ Murray (1884), 68
  4. ^ Krebs (2003), 76


  • Gunther, R.T., ed. (1933). The Greek Herbal of Dioscorides. Oxford University Press.
  • Isely, Duane (1994). One hundred and one botanists. Iowa State University Press.  
  • Krebs, Robert E. & Carolyn A. Krebs (2003). Groundbreaking Scientific Experiments, Inventions, and Discoveries of the Ancient World. Greenwood Publishing Group.  
  • Murray, J. (1884). The Academy. Alexander and Shephrard.  
  • Nutton, Vivian (2004). Ancient Medicine. Routledge.  
  • Riddle, John. Dioscorides on Pharmacy and Medicine.University of Texas Press, 1985.
  • Beck, Lily Y. Eng. trans. De materia medica by Pedanius Dioscorides'. Hildesheim: Olms-Wiedmann, 2005.

External links

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