Theriac recipes

So now we know that ‘theriac’ is to be found right across the line from England to China during the fourteenth century (and earlier in many places), and that although there are great variety of compounded remedies described by that name, there is some likelihood that the recipe or recipes given in revered classical sources might be common to all.  Galen’s text is an obvious suggestion, but as a base-line a version written before addition of snakemeat, here is the recipe for Mithridate as offered by Celsus (‘On Medicine’ Bk 5: 23.3).

The version below comes via the University of Chicago’s site: ‘Lacus Curtius’. (many thanks)


But the most famous antidote is that of Mithridates, which that king is said to have taken daily and by it to have rendered his body safe against danger from poison. It contains costmary 1·66 grams, sweet flag 20 grams, hypericum, gum, sagapenum, acacia juice, Illyrian iris, cardamon, 8 grams each, anise 12 grams, Gallic nard, gentian root and dried rose-leaves, 16 grams each, poppy-tears and parsley, 17 grams each, casia, saxifrage, darnel, long pepper, 20·66 grams each, storax 21 grams, castoreum, frankincense, hypocistis juice, myrrh and opopanax, 24 grams each, malabathrum leaves 24 grams, flower of round rush, turpentine-resin, galbanum, Cretan carrot seeds, 24·66 grams each, nard and opobalsam, 25 grams each, shepherd’s purse 25 grams, rhubarb root 28 grams, saffron, ginger, cinnamon, 29 grams each. These are pounded and taken up in honey. Against poisoning, a piece the size of an almond is given in wine. In other affections an amount corresponding in size to an Egyptian bean is sufficient.

Transcription (minus  character/s which did not translate into w/press):

Nobilissimum autem est Mithridatis, quod cottidie sumendo rex ille dicitur adversus venenorum pericula tutum corpus suum reddidisse. In quo haec sunt: costi P. ….; acroi P. …V; hyperici, cummi, sagapeni, acaciae suci, iridis Illyricae, cardamomi, singulorum P…. II; anesi P…. III; nardi Gallici, gentianae eradj, aridorum rosae foliorum, singulorum P. … IIII; papaveris lacrimae, petroselini, singulorum P. …IIII = -; casiae, silis, lolii, piperis longi, singulorum P….V =; styracis P. .. V = -; bcastorei, turis, hypocistidis suci, murrae, opopanacis, floris iunci rotundi, resinae terebenthinae, galbani, dauci Cretici seminis, singulorum P.  VI =; nardi, opobalsami, singulorum P.  VI = -; thlaspis P.  VI = -; radicis Ponticae P. VII; croci, zingiberis, cinnamomi, singulorum P. VII = -. Haec contrita melle excipiuntur, et adversus venenum, quod magnitudinem nucis Graecae impleat, ex vino datur. In ceteris autem adfectibus corporis pro modo eorum vel quod Aegyptiae fabae vel quod ervi magnitudinem impleat, satis est.


Simplicity is taken to its limit in this Syrian recipe from a nineteenth century copy of the Syrian book of Medicine. Here it is as translated from the Syriac by Wallis Budge. No snakemeat; no poppy.

Syrian theriac no snakes—–

Marcello Fumegalli  offers a recipe for “Venice treacle” which would be most helpful if the English translation were more consistent.  It’s here.

Works of medicine such as those by Celsus and Galen had been maintained in the eastern Mediterranean and were therefore carried eastward much earlier than most were ‘rediscovered’ by western Europe.  Galen had probably arrived in China by the ninth or tenth century. This is why I hope that the recipe in an ancient authority may provide a large number of parallel versions, and serve as ‘rosetta’ stone.

A translation from the Arabic of Kitab al-Diryaq would be much welcomed, I should think (ahem…)

_________   I think this is about the limit of my interest in the subject, except… come to think of it…

One of those papers about theriac in east-west medicine mentions a medicinal ‘honey man’: now I wonder if I that figure on folio 66r isn’t worth another look.

fol 66r detail figure


  1. Almost forgot Tibet!
    Christopher Beckwith, ‘Tibetan Treacle: A Note on Theriac in Tibet’, Tibet Society Bulletin (Bloomington, Ind.), 15 (June 1980. ), 49–51;

    Haven’t sighted the paper myself. Have the reference from Ronit Yoeli-Tlalim, ‘Re-visiting ‘Galen in Tibet’1, Med Hist. 2012 Jul; 56(3): 355–365. Online.


  2. Maimonides’ treatise on poisons – a good article available online as a pdf.

    Includes the following:
    Chapter 3 of the second section deals with simple and compounded remedies effective for the person who has swallowed one of the general varieties of poisons. Universal antidotes consist of the great theriac, the electuary of Mithridates, and the small theriac (composed of only four ingredients). Ibn Zohr is described [by Maimonides] as one of the greatest toxicologists. “He was the greatest man to prove the value of these remedies and the one who experimented with them. He had the greatest talent in this regard on account of his great affluence and erudition in the art of therapeutics.”


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