Historical iatrosophia texts and monasteries on Cyprus

The iatrosophia (Greek ‘medical wisdom’) are a type of historical medical texts in Greek which contain recipes and therapeutic advice. Earliest examples were developed in the health care environment of the Byzantine Empire around the 10th century. Later examples originating from the times of the Ottoman Empire were mainly produced in Greek Orthodox monasteries in today’s Greece, Turkey and Cyprus. During this period several of these monasteries had dedicated premises for the nursing of the sick. In these monastic ‘hospitals’ monks or nuns prepared remedies based on the iatrosophia texts and dispensed them to their patients.
Emanating from this background the principle aim of this PhD project was to investigate the herbal medicines mentioned in historical iatrosophia texts from Cyprus and to compare this knowledge to the present-day use of plants as food or medicine in the island’s monasteries. To this end a multi-disciplinary research approach was adopted which included ethnobotanical, pharmacognostic, pharmaceutical, botanical-systematic and pharmaco-historical methods. For analysing iatrosophia texts a multi-step procedure was developed which included the identification of the plants, the interpretation of the uses and the categorisation of this data for qualitative and quantitative analysis. The knowledge on plant use in monasteries on Cyprus was assessed in a field study which involved the identification and collection of plants and the documentation of their uses. In a diachronic approach the data from the historical texts were compared to the data from the 21 monasteries taking part in this study by using quantitative ethnobotanical methods.
This research contributes to improve our understanding of the development of herbal medicines in the Eastern Mediterranean and has a share in documenting local systems of plant knowledge. It also highlights the potential of ancient knowledge for the development of new health care solutions.

Status: completed project.

Fotoessay: iatrosophia Texte und Pflanzenverwendungen in den Klöstern Zyperns


Lardos A., Heinrich M. (2013). Continuity and change in medicinal plant use: The example of monasteries on Cyprus and historical iatrosophia texts. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 150, 202-214.
Lardos A., Prieto J., Heinrich M. (2011). Resins and gums in historical iatrosophia texts from Cyprus – a botanical and medico-pharmacological perspective. Frontiers in pharmacology 32 (2), 1-26.
Lardos A, 2006. The botanical materia medica of the Iatrosophikon – a collection of prescriptions from a monastery in Cyprus. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 104: 387-406

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