Medicinal exploitation of inorganic substances in the Levant in the Medieval and early Ottoman periods.

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Various minerals, metals, clays, and rocks were among the natural medicinal substances used by physicians and pharmacists in early times in different cultures, for example, the ancient civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia. Classical physicians such as Hippocrates and Dioscorides mention tens of inorganic medicinal substances in their writings. Many references to minerals and chemicals are also found in the Muslim medical literature of the Eastern and Western Caliphates. The historical research presented in this article focuses on the inorganic substances applied as remedies by the medieval and early Ottoman (7th-17th) inhabitants of the Levant. The article is based upon a literature review covering tens of different historical sources, from the medieval and early Ottoman periods. Relevant information was found in the works of physicians such as al-Tamimi, Benevenutus, Ibn al-Baytar, Daud al-Antaki, and Hayyim Vital. The research revealed evidences of the medicinal uses of fifteen inorganic substances: Alum, Arsenic, Sulphide, Asphalt, Jew's stone, Earth sp., Galena, Haematite, iron, Lead, Pyrite, Salt, Sulphur, Thermal water, Green Vitriol, and Zinc. Inorganic materials comprise 5.2% of the list of medicinal substances. The geographic origin of most of these substances is the Levant, in which two geo-historical centers have been recorded: the Rift Valley and the northern region of the Levant, including upper Galilee, Mount Lebanon and Mount Hermon. A notable tendency to use these substances for treating diseases of the skin, the eyes, the sexual organs, and haemorrhoids was detected.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11-16
Number of pages6
JournalAdler Museum bulletin
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - Nov 2002

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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