materia medica of Paulus Aegineta and Māsarjawaih

In the seventh century, the Byzantine physician Paulus Aegineta copied a list of medical substitutes that he attributed to Galen.  In Baghdad early in the eighth century, the Jewish physician Māsarjawaih also produced a list of medical substitutes.  Comparing the most popular substantive words in their medicine lists shows some significant differences:

  1. Māsarjawaih’s medicines are more elaborate than Paulus Aegineta’s medicines.  The top three words from Māsarjawaih’s medicines are oil, electuary, and ointment.  The top three words from Paulus Aegineta’s medicines are juice, seed, and root.
  2. Māsarjawaih’s medicines are more palatable than Paulus Aegineta’s medicines.  Honey, milk, and sugar are within the top-15 words from Māsarjawaih’s medicines.  Sugar doesn’t occur in Paulus Aegineta’s list, honey occurs only once, and milk only twice.  Stone and dung are in Paul Aegineta’s top-15 words, but not in Māsarjawaih’s.

These differences suggest that Māsarjawaih’s medicines served a more developed, more popular medical market did Paulus Aegineta’s.

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Data: word popularity counts from the medical lists of Paulus Aegineta and Māsarjawaih (Excel version)

Read more:


Lev, Efraim, and Zohar Amar. 1951. “Practice versus Theory: Medieval Materia Medica According to the Cairo Genizah.” Medical History. 51: 507–526.  See especially Table 3.

De Vos, Paula. 2010. “European materia medica in historical texts: Longevity of a tradition and implications for future use.” Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 132 (1): 28-47. See especially Table 3.

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