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On Ibn Juljul and the meaning and importance of the list of medicinal substances not mentioned by Dioscorides

  • ZOHAR AMAR (a1), EFRAIM LEV (a2) and YARON SERRI (a3)


Pedanius Dioscorides, a Greek physician and one of the first pharma-botanists is known mainly for his book De Materia Medica, a medical codex listing hundreds of medicinal substances. The Arabs admired Dioscorides’ legacy however they were very aware that their own inventory of drugs was much larger than his.

The Andalusian physician Ibn Juljul (944 – after 994) became famous on account of several medical treaties which he wrote. He devoted most of his time to identifying the drugs listed in Dioscorides’ monumental work, and thereafter wrote: “An article on the drugs not mentioned in Dioscorides’ book. . .”

This article analyzes and discusses the names of those drugs and presents an English translation of this work. The absence of these substances from Dioscorides’ codex, and from other classical sources of the pre-Islamic period (Theophrastus, Pliny, Galen, Paul of Aegina), is a prime reason for ascribing their distribution to the Arabs.

Ibn Juljul's list reflects the major change that took place in the inventory of Galeno-Arabic drugs after the Islamic conquests; about one hundred new substances. Some of these substances, such as the myrobalan, soon became among the most common and popular drugs in the practical pharmacology of the Middle Ages. The fact that about half of the substances not mentioned by Dioscorides are of “Indian” origin should be seen against the background of the influence of the Ayurvedic medical culture, to which the Arabs were exposed alongside the Greek.



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1 Dubler, C. E., “Diyūsḳurīdis”, The Encyclopaedia of Islam - New Edition (Leiden-London, 1965), ii, pp. 349350 ; Riddle, J. M., Dioscorides on Pharmacy and Medicine (Austin, 1985); Agha, Z. M., Bibliography of Islamic Medicine and Pharmacy (London, 1983).

2 Muḥammad al-Bīrūnī, Abū al-Rayḥān, Kitāb al-Ṣaydana fī al-Ṭibb, Said, H. M. (ed.) (Karachi, 1973), p. 7 .

3 On the translation project see: Meyerhof, M., “Sultan Saladin's Physician on the Translation of Greek Medicine to the Arabs”, Bulletin of the History of Medicine 18 (1945), pp. 169178 ; O’Leary, De Lacy, How Greek Science Passed to the Arabs (London, 1979); Balty-Guesdon, M. G., “Le Bayt al-Ḥikma de Baghdād”, Arabica 39 (1992), pp. 131150 ; Gutas, D., Greek Thought, Arabic Culture: The Graeco-Roman Translation Movement in Baghdad and Early Abbasid Society (2nd -4th/8th-10th Centuries), (London and New York, 1998).

4 Uṣaybiʿa, Ibn Abi, ʿUyūn al-ʾanbāʾ fī ṭabaqāt al-ʾaṭibbāʾ, (Beirut, 1965), p. 493 ; al-Qifṭī, , Tārīkh al-ḥukamāʾ, Lippert, J. (ed.), (Leipzig, 1903), p. 190 ; Ṣāʿid al-ʾAndalūsī, Kitāb ṭabaqāt al-ʾumam, L. Cheikho (ed.), pp. 80–81; Meyerhof, M., “The Background and Origins of Arabian Pharmacology”, Ciba Symposia 6 (1944), pp. 18471872 .

5 el-Gammal, S. Y., “The Relation between Greek and Islamic Materia Medica”, Bulletin of the Indian Institute History of Medicine 27 (1997), pp. 3946 ; Ibn Abi Uṣaybiʿa, ʿUyūn al-ʾanbāʾ, pp. 493–494.

6 Juljul, Ibn, Ṭabaqāt al-ʾaṭibbāʾ wa-l-ḥukamāʾ, Sayyid, F. (ed.) (Cairo, 1955).

7 Wüstenfeld, F., Geschichte der arabischen Arzte und Naturforscher (Göttingen, 1849), no. 57; Leclerc, L., Histoire de la medecine arabe (New York, 1971), I, pp. 430432 ; Brockelmann, C., Geschichte der arabischen Litteratur (Leiden, 1937), i, p. 237, p. 422; Sarton, G., Introduction to the History of Science (Baltimore, 1927), p. 682 ; Dietrich, A., “Ibn Djuldjul”, The Encyclopaedia of Islam - New Edition (Leiden and London, 1971), iii, pp. 755756 ; Johnstone, P., “Ibn Juljul, Physician and Herbalist”, Islamic Culture 73 (1999), pp. 3743 .

8 Ibn Abi Uṣaybiʿa, ʿUyūn al-ʾanbāʾ, p. 495.

9 Mrad, I. Ben, Buḥūth fī Tārīkh al-Ṭibb wa-l-Ṣaydala ʿind al-ʿArab (Beirut, 1991), pp. 287296 .

10 Ibid , pp. 422–423.

11 Amar, Z., “Agricultural Products and Industrial Plants in the Land of Israel during the Middle Ages”, Ariel 112–113 (1996), pp. 4670 . (Hebrew)

12 al-Bayṭār, Ibn, Tafsīr Kitāb Diāsqūrīdūs, Mrad, I. ben (ed.) ((Beirut, 1989) in Arabic); Sankary, M. N., The Cilican Dioscorides’ Plant Materia Medica: As appeared in Ibn al-Baiṭār, the Arab Herbalist of the 13th Century (Aleppo, 1991); Dietrich, A., Dioscurides triumphans – Ein anonymer arabischer Kommentar (Ende 12. Jh. n. Chr.) zur Materia medica, (Göttingen, 1988); Amar, Z. and Serri, Y., “Ibn al-Ṣūrī, Physician and Botanist of al-Shām”, Palestine Exploration Quarterly 135/2 (2003), pp. 124130 .

13 In “Kitāb al-Kulliyāt” Ibn Rushd mentions a similar list of drugs, which were not mentioned by Galen: ibn Rushd, Abu al-Walid Muhammad, Kitāb al-Kulliyāt, Abdeljalil, M. Belkeziz ben (ed.), (Casablanca, 2000), pp. 268272 .

14 Dietrich, A., Die Ergänzung Ibn Ğulğul's zur Materia Medica des Dioskurides (Göttingen, 1993). See review aritcle: Richter-Bernburg, L., Book Review, Isis 91 (2000), pp. 148149 .

15 al-Idrīsī, Abū ʿAbd Allāh Muḥammad, Compendium of the Properties of Diverse Plants and Various Kinds of Simple Drugs, Sezgin, F. (ed.) (Frankfurt am Main, 1995), i, pp. 23; ii, p. 3. Still, two more substances are mentioned: “sunbul” and “kurrāth”; it seems as this is a transcriber's mistake since both substances are mentioned in Dioscorides’ book. “sunbul” is nard (Nardostachys jatamansi); see Dioscorides I.6. “kurrāth” is leek (Allium porrum); see Dioscorides II.179.

16 Amar, Z., Lev, E., and Serri, Y., “Ibn Rushd on Galen and the new drugs spread by the Arabs”, Journal Asiatique 297 (2009), pp. 83101 .

17 al-Jāḥiẓ, , Kitāb al-Tabas bi-l-Tijāra, (Cairo, 1935).

18 al-Dīnawarī, Abū Ḥanīfa, Kitāb al-Nabāt, Ḥamīduallah, M. (ed.), (Cairo, 1973).

19 ibn Zakariyyā al-Rāzī, Abū Bakr Muḥammad (Rhazes), Kitāb al-Ḥāwī fī al-Ṭibb. Hyderabad, 1967–1968.

20 Qaddumi, G. H., Book of Gifts and Rarities (Cambridge, 1996).

21 Ibn al-Jazzār, Aḥmad ibn Ibrāhīm, al-ʾIʿtimād fī al-ʾAdwiya al-Mufrada – al-ʿIlāj bi-l-Adwiya al-ʿArabiyya, al-Qish, I. (ed), (Beirut, 1998).

22 Abū ʿAbd Allāh Muḥammad al-Tamīmī, Kitāb al-Murshid ʾilā Jawāhir al-ʾAghdhiya wa-Quwā al-Mufradāt min al-ʾAdwiya. MS Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale, No. 2870.

23 Meyerhof, M. & Sobḥy, G. P., The Abridged Version of “The Book of Simple Drugs” of Aḥmad Ibn Muḥammad Al-Ghāfiqī by Gregorius Abul-Farağ (Barhebraeus) (Cairo, 1932–1940), i–iv.

24 Meyerhof, M., “Un Glossaire de Matière Médicale composé par Maïmonide”, Mémoires Prsents L’Institut d’Egypte 41 (1940); Maimon (Maimonides), Moshe Ben, Glossary of Drug Names, Rosner, F. (ed. and trans.) (Haifa, 1995).

25 al-Bayṭār, Abū ʾAḥmad ʿAbd Allāh Ibn, Kitāb al-Jāmiʿ li-Mufradāt al-ʾAdwiya wa-l-ʾAghdhiya, (Bulaq, 1934), iiv .

26 al-Ḥusayn Ibn Sīnā, Abū ʿAlī, Kitāb al-Qānūn fī al-Ṭibb (Bulaq, 1877), i .

27 al-Bīrūnī, “Kitāb al-Ṣaydana”.

28 Ibn al-Suwaydī, Kitāb al-Simāt fī ʾAsmāʾ al-Nabāt, MS Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale, No. 3004.

29 al-ʾIshbīlī, Abū al-Khayr, ʿUmdat al-Ṭabīb fī Maʿrifat al-Nabāt, al-Khaṭṭābī, M. A. (ed.), (Beirut, 1995).

30 al-Fīrūzābādī, Majd al-Dīn Muḥammad, al-Qāmūs al-Muḥīṭ, (Beirut, 1995).

31 This column gives the scientific names of identified substances with certainty or high probability. A comprehensive summary of sources and identification is given in Dietrich's book so here we offer briefly our conclusions, some of which differ from Dietrich’s.

32 This column contains complementary information, mainly on places that Ibn Juljul did not mention. This information is based on various medieval Arabic sources presented above. If no source is cited, the information rests on phyto- or zoo-geographical analysis.

33 In some cases ihlīlaj kābulī is called ihlīlaj ʾaswad and it should not be confused with the “Chinese kind”; see Ibn al-Bayṭār, “Kitāb”, IV, p. 196.

34 As Ibn Juljul hints, and opposing to the white kind to which few identification traditions had been brought up in the Middle Ages (see no. 15), to the red kind, the suggested identifications are less acceptable; see Meyerhof and Sobhy, “The Abridged”, no. 139. There Abū Manṣūr is mentioned as having seen the plant in the mountains of Afghanistan.

35 The Spanish physicians said that it was an Indian plant, and added that in their time it was mistaken for other plants such as orchid; see Meyerhof and Sobhy, “The Abridged”, p. 140; Ibn al-Bayṭār, “Kitāb”, I, p. 122; Meyerhof, “Un Glossaire”, no. 56. Indeed the būzīdān should not be identified as orchid, which is clearly mentioned by Dioscorides: III, no. 144.

36 This plant is also mentioned in other sources (Meyerhof and Sobhy, “The Abridged”, no. 261; Meyerhof, “Un Glossaire”, no. 113) and even few identifications (e.g., Capsicum minimum; Aquilaria agallocha) have been suggested. But these are not suitable for plants from the Slavic area, as mentioned also by Ibn Sīnā, “Kitāb”, II, p. 299.

37 See Meyerhof, “Un Glossaire”, no. 259.

38 al-ʾIshbīlī (p. 108) writes this almost identically in his entry “bustān al-Jawārī” (garden of the adolescent). At the end he adds that the plant was sown recently in his country and that it was common in Egypt. Ibn al-Suwaydī (p. 6a) identifies bustān ʾabrūz with (Ocimum basilicum); compare Abū al-Munā Dāwud b. al-Isrāʾīlī, Abī Naṣr al-Kūhīn al-ʿAṭṭār, Minhāj al-Dukkān wa-Dustūr al-ʾAʿyān fī ʾAʿmāl wa-Tarākīb al-ʾAdwiya al-Nāfiʿa li-l-ʾInsān, (Cairo, 1940), p. 219 .

39 If the origin of this plant is really India there is no justification for its identification as Taxus baccata mentioned in the literature; see Meyerhof, “Un Glossaire”, no. 137; E. Lev, Medicinal Substances of the Medieval Levant (Tel Aviv, 2002), p. 151.

40 qarn al-khutuww, identified with a whale (Monodon monoceros); see Richter-Bernburg,”Albert Dietrich”, p. 149. Al–Bīrūnī (p. 174) suggests identifications of other animals as well like rhinoceros. Another option of identification is a bone of a bull's forehead, See: Qaddumi, “Book of Gifts”, p. 270.

41 Described as a kind of a pearl, see: Ruska, J., Steinbuch des Aristoteles, (Heidelberg, 1912), pp. 1013 .

42 For different identification suggestions see Meyerhof, “Un Glossaire”, no. 327.

43 According to Ibn Juljul a few other plants in Spain such as Leontice leontopetalum and Anastatica hierochuntica were named the same.

44 al-ʾIshbīlī (p. 234) mentions that it is also named al-Tustarī after Tustar, since it is common there and the seeds were brought to Spain from that location.

45 Ibn Abi Uṣaybiʿa, “ʿUyūn al-ʾanbāʾ “, p. 495. Unfortunately, Ibn Juljul's words, and quotations attributed to him, have not survived, but, at Ibn Abi Uṣaybiʿa's writings.

46 Cf. Dietrich, “Die Ergänzung”, p. 21; Richter-Bernburg, L., “Albert Dietrich” (review), Isis 91 (2000), pp. 149 .

47 No. 51: jawz jandum, though identified as a lichen species, is included in ancient medicine as tin (earth).

48 Ibn Abi Uṣaybiʿa, “ʿUyūn al-ʾanbāʾ “, p. 495.

49 Johnstone, p. 40.

50 A. Maqbul, “Hind”, in: Encyclopaedia of Islam (New Edition), iii, p. 404.

51 Miller, J. I., The Spice Trade of the Roman Empire (Oxford, 1969); Groom, N., Frankincense and Myrrh, (Beirut, 1981).

52 Riddle, J. M., “The Introduction and Use of Eastern Drugs in the Early Middle Ages”, Sudhoffs Archiv 49 (1965), pp. 185198 .

53 Cahen, C., L’Islam: des origins au début de l`empire ottoman (Paris, 1970) pp. 3542 ; Gutas, Greek Thought, Arabic Culture, pp. 11–12.

54 Watson, A.M., Agricultural Innovation in the Early Islamic World, (London and New York, 1983).

55 Amar, Z. and Lev, E., “Trends in the Use of Perfumes and Incense in the Near East after the Muslim Conquests”, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 23 (2013), pp. 1130 .

56 Beraakhot, 43a, as ‘mushk’ ; Eruvin, 58b, as the Persian name ‘nargila’.

57 Shabbat, 50b.

58 Aziz, A., “Arabs’ Knowledge of Chinese Drugs”, Studies in History of Medicine 1 (1977), p. 227 .

59 Dimashqī, Nukhbat al-dahr fī ʿajaʾib al-barr wa-l-baḥr, A.F. Mehren (ed.), (Leipzig, 1923), pp. 199–200. (Arabic); Amar, Z., “Ibn al-Baytar and the Study of the Plants of al-Sham”, Cathedra 76 (1995), pp. 4976 . (Hebrew).

60 Gil, M., “The Radhanite Merchants and the Land of Radhan”, Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, 17 (1974), pp. 299328 .

61 Hameed, H. A., “History of Drugs with special reference to Indian Contribution”, Bulletin of the Indian Institute of History of Medicine, 25 (1995), pp. 719 .

62 Thompson, C. J. S., The Mystery and Romance of Alchemy and Pharmacy (London, 1897), p. 102 ; Campbell, D., Arabian Medicine and its influence on the Middle Ages (London, 1926), i, p. 55 ; Meyerhof, M., “The Background and Origins of Arabian Pharmacology”, Ciba Symposia, 6 (1944), p. 1848 ; Levey, M., Early Arabic Pharmacology: An Introduction based on Ancient and Medieval Sources (Leiden, 1973), p. 174 ; Ali, M. and Qadry, J. S., “Contribution of Arabs to Pharmacy”, Studies in History of Medicine 6 (1982), pp. 4353 ; Rogers, M., “The Arab Contribution to Botany and Pharmacology”, Arab Affairs 6 (1988), p. 84 ; Savage-Smith, E., “Ṭibb”, The Encyclopaedia of Islam - New Edition (Leiden, 1999), x, p. 456 .

63 Zohary, D. and Hopf, M., Domestication of Plants in the Old World (Third Edition), (Oxford, 2000), p. 195 . Amar, Z., Lev, E., “Watermelon, Chate Melon and Cucumber: New Light on Traditional and Innovative Field Crops of the Middle Ages”, Journal Asiatique 299 (2011), pp. 193204 .

64 Lev, E. and Amar, Z., Practical Materia Medica of the Medieval Eastern Mediterranean According to the Cairo Genizah (Leiden, 2007), p. 71 ; Lev, E. and Amar, Z., “Practice versus Theory: Medieval Materia Medica according to the Cairo Genizah”, Medical History 51 (2007), pp. 507526 .

65 Meyerhof, M., “On the Transmission of Greek and Indian Science to the Arabs”, Islamic Culture 11 (1937), pp. 1727 ; Hamarneh, S., “India's Contribution to Medieval Arabic Medical Education and Practice”, Studies in History of Medicine 1 (1977), pp. 535 ; Levey, “Early Arabic”, p. 63.

66 Dietrich, A., Die Ergänzung Ibn Ğulğul's zur Materia medica des Dioskurides (Göttingen, 1993). See a review: Richter-Bernburg, L., Book Review, Isis 91 (2000), pp. 148149 .

67 Oxford, Bodleiana Hyde 34( = Uri 573), 197b-201b.

68 Istanbul, Nuruosmaniye 3589, 128a-129b.

69 This might also be sap in the ancient sources.

70 In the text “ʾaḥshāʾ”, which may also be translated as “intestine”.

71 Ibn al-Bayṭār, II, p. 90, wrote: “similar to the leaves of lūf [Arum sp.]”, and see there the remark of the editor Dietrich, “Die Ergänzung”, p. 36, note 3.

72 In the text the phrase nuʿāyinahu, is found meaning “we saw with our own eyes”. It also means examining the benefits of a certain drug from medical point of view.

73 In the text the phrase “yuqtaʿu bi-qawlihi” is found, meaning one who is confident about what he says.

74 In the text the phrase “quriʾa ʿalayya” is found meaning “someone taught me” or “read for me”.

75 The editor Dietrich, “Die Ergänzung”, p. 48, translated “plates”; and “ʾadrāj” “kastchen”.

76 al-ʾIshbīlī (p. 619) maintains that this is cattle bile.

On Ibn Juljul and the meaning and importance of the list of medicinal substances not mentioned by Dioscorides

  • ZOHAR AMAR (a1), EFRAIM LEV (a2) and YARON SERRI (a3)


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