The Vienna Dioscorides is one of the oldest surviving medical texts in history and encapsulates over 2000 years of learning from multiple cultures. The book was created in the Eastern Roman Empire and contained the work of early Greek scholar Pedanius Dioscorides. He was a Greek physician who lived during the first century AD and served in the Roman army under Emperor Nero. It is the earliest surviving copy of his writings and focuses mainly on Botany and Pharmacology.

The manuscript was created around 512 AD and detailed the medical properties of hundreds of plants. These herbs are illustrated inside with annotations explaining their benefits. The document also includes the oldest depiction of an illustrated treatise on ornithology and possibly the first illustrated depiction of scientists. There are 491 folios, over 1000 pages, and 400 illustrations within it, and each one occupies a full page.

After its creation, the book vanished from history until 1406, when John Chortasmenos rebounded it for Nathanael, a monk of the Pordromos Monastery in Constantinople. When the city was captured by the Ottoman Turks in 1453, they elaborated the text, adding Turkish and Arabic scholars’ names and work. During the reign of Suliman the Magnificent, it came into the possession of Hamon, his Jewish physician. Either he or his son added Jewish names to the text a well. At last, in 1569, Emperor Maximillian II of the Holy Roman Empire acquired the book from the Library of Vienna.

Artist: Rebecca Sgouros

A scene of teacher teaching two pupils

Copyright Rebecca Sgouros and Open Past

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