De Materia Medica served as the primary text of pharmacology until the fifteenth century

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Title page of De Materia Medica by Pedanius Dioscorides, 1554. (Image: University of Virginia) Title page of De Materia Medica by Pedanius Dioscorides, 1554. (Image: University of Virginia)

Pedanius Dioscorides (ca. 40-90 AD), was a physician in the Roman army, who wrote about herbs in the first century discussing the characteristics of each plant and its use.  His monumental work, written in five volumes in the year 77 AD, known by its Latin title, De Materia Medica (On Medical Materials), described how to make medicine from up to five hundred plants, explaining where to find each plant, how to harvest it, how to prepare it as a drug, and which ailments it will cure.

The book was translated into Arabic in the mid-ninth century at the famous translation institute in Baghdad, the Bayt al-Hikma (House of Wisdom). The original Greek manuscript, subsequently translated into several languages, described most drugs in use at the time, and served as the primary text of pharmacology until the end…

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