On Medical Material

Pedanius Dioscorides was a first-century physician traveling with the Roman army under Emperor Nero to places such as Italy, Gaul, Spain, and Greece. During his travels, he studied local plants, making note of their medicinal uses and adding extensively to the knowledge of plant use in medicine.

When he finished compiling his work (64-70 CE), his herbal catalog included about 600 plants and 100 animal and mineral products, their medicinal properties, and instructions on how to collect, use, and store drugs from these sources.

This volume is a 20th-century facsimile of the oldest extant Greek manuscript of Dioscorides’ catalogue. The original manuscript was created around 512-515 in Constantinople and “discovered” by the Western world in the 1560s.

A diplomat to the Ottoman court, working for Emperor Ferdinand I, encountered it in a physician’s office and wanted to purchase it. Unable to afford the one hundred ducat asking price, he left it behind, and it was purchased a few years later by Emperor Maximilian II, who placed it in what is now the Austrian National Library.

Additional information on medicinal herbs can be found in our Deep Roots: Plants as Medicine exhibit.


Written by Dioscorides Pedanius in 50-70 AD
Manuscript created 515 AD
Printed in Graz, Austria in 1965