[Skip to content] [Skip to main navigation] [Skip to user navigation] [Skip to global search] [Accessibility information] [Contact us]

Bookblitz: The Oldest Book in the Collection

So far in our Bookblitz series, we've shared some fairly old volumes from our Library collections. However, not many come close to the age of this book.

  • De Materica Medica V, The oldest book in the Horniman Library, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    The oldest book in the Horniman Library, Photo by Vicky Pearce

De Materia Medica is a hugely influential early medical text, first written almost 2000 years ago, around 40-90AD. Our volume isn't quite that age, but is an edition of the last book (there 5 in total) printed in 1529.

  • De Materica Medica V, The oldest book in the Horniman Library, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    The oldest book in the Horniman Library, Photo by Vicky Pearce

The text is printed in its original Greek, accompanied by a Latin translation and a newer Latin 'interpretation', probably added in the 1500s.

  • The text is printed in ancient Greek and Latin, with a newer 'interpres' in Latin, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    , Photo by Vicky Pearce

Our copy was rebound in the 1800s, and is accompanied by an additional 1830 commentary on all 5 books in De Materia Medica.

  • De Materica Medica V, The oldest book in the Horniman Library, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    The oldest book in the Horniman Library, Photo by Vicky Pearce

There is lots of bookworm damage clearly visible both to the binding and throughout the pages, although the beetle larvae which caused this have long-since died.

  • Our De Materia Medica has noticeable pest damage, but is in relatively good condition for its age, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    , Photo by Vicky Pearce

Still, this elderly book is in better condition than many Victorian volumes which, while younger, were produced in greater numbers and at lower cost.

  • De Materica Medica V, The oldest book in the Horniman Library, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    The oldest book in the Horniman Library, Photo by Vicky Pearce

De Materia Medica remained in print for 1500 years, becoming the supreme authority for European medicine for centuries. It's author, a Roman physician of Greek origin called Pedanius Dioscorides, became known as the 'father of pharmacology' for his extensive advice concerning the creations and applications of medicines.

  • De Materica Medica V, The oldest book in the Horniman Library, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    The oldest book in the Horniman Library, Photo by Vicky Pearce

Today, digitised copies of De Materia Medica can be accessed online. It remains a prime source of information about medicines used by the Greeks, Romans, and other ancient cultures.