History of Pharmacy in the Arabic Civilization in between Past and Future
Date(s) - 06/13/2022
4:00 am - 5:30 am
British Society for the History of Pharmacy
About this event
The intercultural dialogue between civilizations has a crucial function in building and developing the knowledge of materia medica. This dialogue appeared either through the translation movements of the main sources, or through the travelling of scientists themselves between civilizations. In the same vein, the Arabic civilization benefited from this dialogue in the progress of its medical and pharmaceutical sciences, especially in the Middle Ages and later.
Furthermore, many names from different geographical parts around the Arab world appeared in this context. For instance, Greece and its famous author Dioscorides (d. ca 90AD), the author of a Greek encyclopaedia about herbal medicine and related medicinal substances, whose book was translated into Arabic, after which it became the most important source concerning the simple drugs.
However, it is crucial to mention that most important sources of simple drugs and materia medica in the Arabic civilization came from Al-Andalus (Spain). The Andalusian writings were the basis for any encyclopaedia of simple drugs that appeared in this historical period. Names like Albucasis (d. 1013AD), Avempace (d. 1138AD), Ibn Zuhr (d. 1162AD), Abū al-Khīr al-Ishbīlī (d. 1179AD), Maimonides (d. 1204AD), and Abū al-ʿabbās al-Nabātī (d. 1239AD) have a great influence in the development of simple drugs’ culture in the Arabic and sequential civilizations.
Moreover, one of the most famous Andalusian authors was Ibn al-Bayṭār (d. 1248AD), who travelled between the western and eastern parts of the Arabic world in order to get more information about materia medica. He wrote a Compendium on Simple Drugs and Foods (Kitāb al-Jāmiʻ li-mufradāt al-adwīya wa al-aghdhīya) which is considered an extremely important source in the study of simple drugs culture in the Arabic medicine.
Since the 8th century, when the first pharmacy (drug store) was established in Baghdad (exactly 754AD), pharmacy separated from medicine and pharmacists started to prepare compound drugs using many processes. The appearance of practitioners of pharmacy showed the need for books dealing with other aspects of pharmaceutical science over and above that concerning simple drugs.
Because of that, many Arabic authors wrote books on preparing different pharmaceutical forms. Names like Sābūr ibn Sahl (d. 860AD) the author of a pharmaceutical encyclopaedia entitled (Al-Aqrabādhīn al-Ṣaghīr), Ibn Jazlah (d. 1100AD) the author of another pharmaceutical encyclopaedia entitled (Minhāj al-Bayān), and Ibn al-Tilmīdh (d. 1165AD) have exerted great influence in the development of materia medica culture in the Arabic civilization.
In parallel to the development of both simple and compound drugs in the Arabic civilization, we should not forget the importance of the Arabic pharmaceutical manuscripts, which preserved Arabic pharmaceutical knowledge from being lost; these manuscripts are like witnesses speaking about an important stage in pharmacy’s historical development.
Ayman Yasin Atat, a pharmacist, received his PhD in the History of Medical Science from Aleppo University in 2014, and did his Postdoc project at Istanbul university. His research fields are Arabic medicine, history of materia medica and Arabic pharmaceutical manuscripts.
Between January 2020 and April 2022, he was a guest researcher in the Arabic seminar at FU Berlin, and currently he is a research fellow in the Department for History of Science and Pharmacy at the Technical University of Braunschweig (TU Braunschweig, Germany).
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Image credit: “Preparing Medicine from Honey”, from a Dispersed Manuscript of an Arabic Translation of De Materia Medica of Dioscorides, ‘Abdullah ibn al-Fadl, 1224 CE, Metropolitan Museum of Art.
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