Early Greek Herbals: A Research Document

This is a working document where I stash resources, leads, and information on Ancient Greek Herbals, and the pioneering Greek philosophers, physicians, and botanists that wrote them.


De Materia Medica, Dioscorides 

Pedanius Dioscorides (b. 40, d.90 AD) was a Greek physician and botanist, and author of De Materia Medica, a 5 volume herbal medicine text.  Dioscorides also served as a medic in the Roman army.  This impressive medical text describes approximately 600 plant, animal, and mineral substances and the over 1,000 medicines that can be made from them.

Sources on Dioscorides:

Dioscorides (50-70 AD), De Materia Medica *

Translations and modern publications of Dioscorides: 

  • De Materia Medica: Being an Herbal with many other medicinal materials, translated by Tess Anne Osbaldeston (2000). Ibidis Press: Johannesburg.
  • De Materia Medica, translated by Lily Y. Beck (2005). Hildesheim: Olms-Weidman.
  • The Greek Herbal of Dioscorides … Englished by John Goodyer A. D. 1655, edited by R.T. Gunter (1933).
  • De Materia medica : libri V Eiusdem de Venenis Libri duo. Interprete Iano Antonio Saraceno Lugdunaeo, Medico, translated by Janus Antonius Saracenus (1598).

Materia Medica, Galen 

Galen serves as a pillar of the limited documentation we have available on medicine and herbalism in antiquity.  Aelius Galenus, or Claudius Galenus, was born September 129 AD and died c. 200-216AD.  He was a Greek physician, surgeon, and philospher during Roman rule.  Galen’s extensive research led to the established fields of both antatomy and pathology.  According to sources, it is only the Arabic translations of his work that survived until today (1929, M. Meyerhof).

Arabic translations of Galen may have been available to Islamic physicians as early as the 7th century , where they likely existed first in Persian or Syrian (Fuat Sezgin, 1970). According to Princeton University Press (2001,European Knowledge and its Ambitions 1500-1700) Galen was first translated into Arabic by the Syrian Christian Hunayn ibn Ishaq between 830 AD and 870 AD.

Sources on Galen:

Galen, the writings of c. 162-216 AD*

The Writings of Hippocrates and Galen, available online at:   http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/hippocrates-the-writings-of-hippocrates-and-galen

Everett, Nicholas (2012). “The Alphabet of Galen: Pharmacy from Antiquity to the Middle Ages. A Critical Edition of the Latin Text with English Translation and Commentary by Nicholas Everett,” University of Toronto Press; isbn: 978-0-8020-9550-3 (modern text consulted)



Father of Toxicology

Permissions and copyright:  

Please feel free to utilize the research and sources compiled here.  The text you are reading was written by Yours Truly, and I have many hours of work put into compiling these sources in an organized and user-friendly scheme, so please be cool and site me as your source.  I’m sure you were going to do that, anyway, since it’s the ethical thing to do.  K, Thanks 🙂 


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