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, North Carolina, USA.]] Apothecary (pronounced /əˈpɒθɨkɛəri/) is a historical name for a medical professional who formulates and dispenses materia medica to physicians, surgeons and patients — a role now served by a pharmacist (or a chemist or dispensing chemist), and some caregivers.

In addition to pharmacy responsibilities, the apothecary offered general medical advice and a range of services that are now performed solely by other specialist practitioners, such as surgery and midwifery. Apothecaries often operated through a retail shop which, in addition to ingredients for medicines, sold tobacco and patent medicines.

In its investigation of herbal and chemical ingredients, the work of the apothecary may be regarded as a precursor of the modern sciences of chemistry and pharmacology, prior to the formulation of the scientific method.



The first mention of an apothecary was in the Book of Exodus (Torah and Old Testament) in which Moses was given instructions by God for the preparation of the Holy Anointing Oil that was to be used for consecrating the Tabernacle.

“And thou shalt make it an oil of holy ointment, an ointment compound after the art of the apothecary: it shall be an holy anointing oil.” Exodus 30:25

Another reference was made by King Solomon as cited in the Scriptures:

“Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savor, so doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honor.” Ecclesiastes 10: 1

According to Sharif Kaf al-Ghazal[1] and S. Hadzovic,[2] the first apothecary shops were founded during the Middle Ages in Baghdad.[1] The first one was founded by Muslim pharmacists in 754,[2] during the Abbasid Caliphate, or Islamic Golden Age. Apothecaries were also active in Islamic Spain by the 11th century.[3]

By the end of the 14th century, Geoffrey Chaucer (1342–1400) was mentioning an English apothecary in the Canterbury Tales, specifically "The Nun's Priest's Tale" as Pertelote speaks to Chauntecleer (lines 181–184):

. . . for ye shal nat tarie,
Though in this toun is noon apothecarie,
I shal myself to herbes techen yow,
That shul been for youre hele and for youre prow.

. . . since you shouldn't tarry,
And in this town there's no apothecary,
I will myself go find some herbs for you
That will be good for health and pecker too.[4]

By the 15th century, the apothecary gained the status of a skilled practitioner, but by the end of the 19th century, the medical professions had taken on their current institutional form, with defined roles for physicians and surgeons, and the role of the apothecary was more narrowly conceived as that of pharmacist (dispensing chemist in British English).

One famous mention of an apothecary appears in William Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet, in which a poor apothecary sells Romeo an elixir of death with which Romeo commits suicide.

In England, the apothecaries merited their own livery company, the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries, founded in 1617. Its roots, however, go back much earlier to the Guild of Pepperers formed in London in 1180[5]. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson became the first woman to gain a medical qualification in Britain when she passed the Society's examination in 1865.

Apothecaries used their own measurement system, the apothecaries' system, to provide precise weighing of small quantities. Apothecaries also were known to accept special requests for viles and poisons. This meaning of the term "apothecary" has not passed into archaic oblivion, as in William Faulkner's still widely read 1930 story "A Rose for Emily" the main character, Miss Emily Grierson, goes to an "apothecary" and buys arsenic, ostensibly to kill a rat (which turns out later to have been her Yankee boyfriend who had apparently become bent on jilting her).[6] Words which are cognate to apothecary have the meaning of "pharmacist" or "dispensing chemist" in certain modern languages. In Swedish, for example, a pharmacy is ett apotek.[7], and the pharmacist (dispensing chemist) is called en apotekare.[8] Very similar as well is the German equivalent Apotheke (pharmacy) with the Apotheker being the pharmacist.[9]

The Spanish-derived word bodega also has the same root.[10]

Noted apothecaries


  1. ^ a b Sharif Kaf al-Ghazal, The valuable contributions of Al-Razi (Rhazes) in the history of pharmacy during the Middle Ages, Journal of the International Society for the History of Islamic Medicine, Vol. 3 (6), October 2004, pp. 9–11.
  2. ^ a b Information taken from the abstract of Hadzović, S (1997). [Expression error: Unexpected < operator "Pharmacy and the great contribution of Arab-Islamic science to its development"] (in Croatian). Medicinski arhiv 51 (1–2): 47–50. ISSN 0350-199X. OCLC 32564530. PMID 9324574. 
  3. ^ John Brian Harley, David Woodward (1992), [Expression error: Unexpected < operator The history of cartography], 2, Oxford University Press, p. 28, ISBN 0226316351 
  4. ^ Quoted from Librarius, which also supplies the translation.
  5. ^
  6. ^ The story, with the word "apothecary" used, is abstracted by Janice L. Willms in New York University's Literature, Arts, and Medicine Database—"A Rose for Emily" by William Faulkner.
  7. ^ See the Swedish Wikipedia "Apotek" article. It also attributes the Iraqi (Baghdad) origin of the concept.
  8. ^ Related similar Swedish occupations are en farmaceut and en receptarie. Apotekare is the one with closest general equivalence and reciprocity with "dispensing chemist" (in British English) or "pharmacist" (in American English).
  9. ^ See the German Wikipedia Apotheke article.
  10. ^ Wiktionary,

See also


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary




From Latin apothecarius (storekeeper) < Latin apotheca (repository, storehouse, warehouse, in ML. shop, store) < Ancient Greek ἀποθήκη (apothēkē), a repository, storehouse) < ἀποτιθέναι (apotithenai), to put away) < ἀπό (apo), away) + τιθέναι (tithénai), to put).





apothecary (plural apothecaries)

  1. A person who makes and sells drugs and/or medicines.
  2. A drugstore or pharmacy.



See also

External links

  • apothecary in Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, G. & C. Merriam, 1913
  • apothecary in The Century Dictionary, The Century Co., New York, 1911
  • apothecary at OneLook® Dictionary Search

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