Medicinal Herbs in Byzantium

Engraved Copy of Botanical Illustrations from the Codex Aniciae Julianae, 18th century. University of Oxford, Bodleian Libraries, Sherardian Library of Plant Taxonomy. 

Knowledge of plants and the practice of healing are closely entwined. The toxic or hallucinogenic nature of some roots, and the dangers associated with picking them, conferred a mythical or magical character and power. 

Pedanius Dioscorides (ca. 40–90 AD), a physician from Anazarbus, in Cilicia, described more than 500 plants and alimentary products, including medicinal uses, preparations, and dosages, in De Materia Medica (On Medical Substances). Those recorded included varieties from the Mediterranean basin and an array of prized exotic plants. The transmission of De Materia Medica, including its translation into Arabic and Latin, was made possible through Byzantine manuscripts, the earliest surviving witnesses of the text.

Stone Mortar, Byzantine, Marble. İstanbul Archaeological Museums. 

Galen of Pergamon (129–ca. 216 AD), a physician and surgeon, employed medicinal plants individually and as complex concoctions devised for specific therapies. His theriac (antidote) for Emperor Marcus Aurelius consisted of more than seventy ingredients, among them opium. His pharmacopoeia also covered cosmetics and commotics… 

- Brigitte Pitarakis, curator of Life Is Short, Art Long

Serpent Head

Serpent Head

The Greek god Apollo and his son Asklepios presided over the realm of medicine and healing. Apollo was also the god of light and sun, whose solar symbolism and association with medicine would become linked to Christ the Physician, and the resurrected.

Demons, Symbols, and the Cosmos

Demons, Symbols, and the Cosmos

Beliefs surrounding illness and healing in Byzantium stem from the myths, astrology, and magic practiced around the Mediterranean by Jews, Egyptians, Mesopotamians, and Greeks.

Rational Medicine in Byzantium

Rational Medicine in Byzantium

Byzantine medical art was grounded in the Greco-Roman medicine transmitted by Hippocrates and Galen and new concepts introduced by such physicians as Oribasios of Pergamon, Aetius of Amida, Alexander of Tralles and Paul of Aegina.