Physician, Pharmacist, Botanist (40 – 90)
The “Father of Pharmacology” and founder of pharmacy as a science. Dioscorides (or Dioscurides) studied medicine in Tarsus and flourished in Rome, during the years of Emperor Nero and Emperor Vespasian. He was also a botanist and travelled all around the world collecting 600 herbs and plants that he used for medicinal purposes. He preceded Galen by 90 years.
Dioscorides was the first to concoct pharmacochemical substances for experimental and therapeutical purposes, therefore founding also the science of Clinical Pharmacology, an important medical specialty to this day. Moreover, he developed pharmacognosy to a great extent, systematized prescription writing and worked as a surgeon close to the Roman Emperors.
According to Suda, Dioscorides wrote 24 books on pharmacology. His most monumental work is De Materia Medica, a book that served as the primary textbook of pharmacology and pharmacopoeia for 16 centuries in all of Europe and Western Asia and was the greatest book of pharmacology during this millennium and a half. The book consists of 5 volumes. Volume 1 Aromatics contains detailed descriptions of 517 drugs such as plants, roots, extracts as well as recipes for aromas, oils, frankincense, ointments, tree extracts, decoctions, balsams, herbs and fruits for medicinal purposes. Volume 2 Animals to Herbs contains the description of 142 drugs of animal origin. It also presents the animals and their products which can be used therapeutically such as milk, honey, fat etc. Finally, it includes cereals, grains and vegetables. Volume 3 is a book on plants, herbs, plant extracts, oils and seeds. Volume 4 is a continuation of the 3rd volume and contains descriptions of 69 trees. The fifth volume deals with medicinal vines, wines, water, minerals and numerous inorganic drugs. Anaesthetics, opioids, sedatives and hypnotics, the cannabis and the mandragora, all of natural origin are described in Dioscorides’ book. In addition, there are descriptions of 600 herbal drugs and botanies and their pharmacodynamics from different parts of the world. In total, the colossal book De Materia Medica contains descriptions of more than 1000 drugs.
Other surviving books of Dioscorides include Peri Jobolon, Pharmacognosia, a book on pharmacognosy, On Crude Drugs, which consists of 2 books containing descriptions on the diseases of organs of the human body and the drugs which correspond to the treatment of each disease and On the benefits or disadvantages of the actions of the drugs, which contains the side effects of drugs.
Dioscorides’ influence on the medical world was immense, especially through his book De Materia Medica, which was translated into most European languages and in Arabic and was first printed in 1499 by Aldus Manutius in Italy. With this book Dioscorides undoubtedly taught pharmacology to the Romans, the Venetians, the Hebrews, the Arabs, the French etc. Most of the drugs presented in his books are used by medicine effectively to this day.
- “Dioscorides”. Helios New Encyclopaedic Dictionary. Passas, I. Athens, 1946. Print.
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- The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. ”Pedanius Dioscorides”. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Web. September 25, 2016.
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