Plants and minerals in Byzantine popular pharmacy

Researching Cypriot plant medicines from the Byzantine era with a focus on botanical identification

Very old Roman painting with a man holding a ladle

The Byzantine empire, also known as the Eastern Roman empire or Byzantium, spread across from modern day Italy and Bulgaria to Israel and Egypt, from late antiquity to the middle ages.

This project has been established with Royal Holloway, University of London, to analyse ancient texts from the Cypriot Byzantine era in order to be able to identify the medicinal plants used, and understand why this unique text was written.

The texts studied are of particular interest as Greek medicines were at the forefront of civilisation at the time, and books were mostly written by wealthy scholars. However the particular text of interest was written by a common man, and nobody knows who or why. It appears for other common people to potentially learn to make their own medicines. 

The work will involve using descriptions in the text, Kews Medicinal Plant Names Service (MPNS), and reading surrounding ancient texts.

The project aims to:

  • To create, demonstrate and document a novel and interdisciplinary methodology for the identification of medicinal plants in ancient and medieval texts which could potentially be used for novel drug discovery
  • To apply an interdisciplinary approach that will transform the repeatability of findings and confidence in future analysis of ancient texts
  • To generate new research on Byzantine pharmacy
  • It will be the first in-depth study of the use of burnt substances
  • To create data on medicinal plants and minerals of relevance to modern pharmaceutical research 
Team lead

Bob Allkin


Mark Nesbitt
Barbara Zipser (Royal Holloway)
Andreas Lardos
Rebecca Lazarou
Andrew Scott

Wellcome Trust

Royal Holloway, University of London