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"Two horsemen aiming their lances, from Manual on the Arts of Horsemanship" (Nihayat al-su’l wa al-umniya fi ta‘allum ‘amal al-furusiyya) by al-Aqsara'i, Copied by `Umar b. `Abdallah b. `Umar al-Shafi’i, Cairo, Egypt. Chester Beatty, Ar 5655.116

by Zsuzsanna Csorba

August 2, 2023

In the middle of his 10th century medical handbook Kitāb al-Manṣūrī fī al-ṭibb, al-Razi describes how to keep a army healthy while on campaign. Zsuzsanna Csorba outlines al-Razi's recommendations and examines how the details missing from his account can speak loudly about the realities of war and disaster, both in his time and our own. 

Zsuzsanna Csorba is a researcher of the history of medieval Islamicate medicine with particular focus on travel medicine and manuscript studies at the Avicenna Institute of Middle Eastern Studies (Hungary).

by Nicolette D'Angelo

February 6, 2023

The authority of Hippokrates has been invoked time and again in support of anti-vaccination and Covid-denial movements. Nicolette D'Angelo explores what makes Hippokrates such an apt figurehead for anti-science advocates and asks what—if anything—historians and Classicists should do about it.

Nicolette D'Angelo is a PhD student at UCLA. Her MPhil dissertation (Oxford University), responding to the pitfalls and ambiguities of classicizing plague exempla in the age of COVID-19, argued for contagion as an operative model of reception, particularly digital receptions. 

Image: Small-scale replica of the cult statue of Artemis at Ephesus, unknown maker, 2nd century C.E. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Villa Collection, Malibu, California, Gift of the Milton and Pat Gottlieb Trust,  81.AA.134.

by Travis Proctor

November 24, 2022

A second-century inscription describes how an oracle of Apollo has instructed the citizens of Sardis to "borrow" the cult statue of Artemis from the nearby city of Ephesus in their efforts to escape the effects of the Antonine Plague. Travis Proctor focuses our attention on this moment as representative of the enmeshment of medicine and religion in the ancient world. 

Dr Travis Proctor is Assistant Professor of Religion at Wittenberg University. His research focuses on religions in the ancient Mediterranean, especially early Christianity.

CFP-"(New) Materialities of Medicine"

Society of Classical Studies 155th Annual Meeting

January 4-7, 2024

Chicago, Illinois

Call for Papers for Panel Sponsored by the Society for Ancient Medicine


“(New) Materialities of Medicine”


Organized by Colin Webster (UC Davis) and Aileen Das (Michigan)



The new materialist turn in the humanities has returned focus to embodied experiences, physical infrastructure, and tangible things. Although many studies in ancient medicine remain resolutely bound to texts and philological methodologies, the orientation of healing towards a somatic object, however construed and conceptualized, has kept physical realities a perpetual, if sometimes uncomfortable, presence in the discipline. The publication of Lawrence Bliquez’s The Tools of Asclepius (Brill 2014) made the implements of Greek and Greco-Roman medicines more easily accessible to scholars, while Debby Sneed’s discussion of accessibility ramps in healing cults, or Jane Draycott’s surveys of prosthetics, have made materiality a vivid access point to ancient experiences of health, illness, and disability. How can continued work on recipes, and materia medica help expand entryways into the past? How can we rethink what materiality might mean within ancient theoretical frameworks that consider sympathy, celestial and solar “influences,” and the spoken/sung word within physical terms? What about votives, reliquaries, and other religious objects? How can we incorporate these articles of healing practice within broader material accounts of health and illness? The recent passing of Bruno Latour might also serve as call to reframe ancient medicine around non-human agents, such as plants, whose survival was ensured—and sometimes endangered—as a result of their bioactive properties. How can we revisit the relationship between theoretical and material things, especially since lived physical realities are themselves entangled with and constructed by conceptual, social, and linguistic frames, as new materialist approaches have revealed? Physical objects also cross borders and time periods, operating as proxies for the spread of ideas as well as indicators of lived practices. Can centering such objects help us cross cultural and linguistic boundaries to create new, productive, global histories of medicine? What about medical objects that help up cross temporal, as well as spatial boundaries? How should we think about implements that operated within multiple medical frameworks? Does materiality look different in Greece, Rome, Egypt, Assyro-Babylonia, Persia, India, or elsewhere? How should we think about material transmission of knowledge in the form of manuscripts alongside sustained and lived material practices? The organizers invite contributions on any aspect of the materials and materiality of ancient medicine, with special interest in papers that present reflect on how their approaches help reframe older theoretical issues, or present vivid illustrations of how material objects can form the center of investigations into medicines of the past.


Abstracts must be no more than 500 words, not including bibliography, and should contain the following information:

The abstract should make it clear that the paper is suitable for oral presentation within a 20-minute the time limit. For full details, please see the Guidelines for Authors of Abstracts.

Please send anonymized abstracts (no personal details in the abstract or accompanying document) by email to Colin Webster (UC Davis) at by March, 17, 2023. The organizers will review all submissions and communicate their decision by March 27, 2023.



Works Cited


Bliquez, Lawrence (2014). The Tools of Asclepius: Surgical Instruments in Greek and Roman Times. Boston/Leiden: Brill.


Draycott, Jane (2019). Prostheses in Antiquity. London/New York: Routledge.


Sneed, D. (2020). The architecture of access: Ramps at ancient Greek healing sanctuaries. Antiquity, 94 (376), 1015-1029.


Image: Detail from Colchicum Autumnale in Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz (Otto Wilhelm Thomé), 1885.

Public Domain (Wikipedia Commons). 

Slavery and Pharmacology: Theophrastus on the poisonous root ephemeron

by Svetlana Hautala

October 4, 2022

A brief discussion of poisons and their antidotes in Theophrastus' History of Plants touches upon the use of ephemeron (meadow saffron) by "angry slaves." Hautala explores how this passing reference suggests that botanical and pharmacological knowledge circulated within communities of enslaved people.

Dr Svetlana Hautala is a researcher of the anthropology of the ancient world with affiliation at the University of Oulu. 

Society of Classical Studies 154th Annual Meeting

JANUARY 5-8, 2023


Call for Papers for Panel Sponsored by the Society for Ancient Medicine 

“Addiction, Dependency, and Habit”

Organized by Colin Webster (UC Davis) and Aileen Das (Michigan)



The opioid crisis has been devastating American families for almost two decades now, but despite its incredible human toll, it has barely made a ripple in academic debates, even as we enter another revolution in the use of psychotropic drugs to treat issues of mental health. We live in the conceptual shadow of moralizing prohibitions, the war on drugs, the medicalization of substance abuse, and the consequences of all these approaches. This panel seeks to explore the discourses around addictions, habits, and dependencies in antiquity, attempting to analyze these issues without the familiar frames of modern psychology and modern biomedicine. How were such issues conceptualized in antiquity? Without the categories of “psychoactive” or “psychotropic” substances, what counts as a problematic substance dependency? The Lotus-eaters of the Odyssey (Od. 9.82–104) stand as an early warning against pharmacologically induced bliss. Yet, ancient physicians frequently prescribed drugs that are high-risk for habit-formation, most notably opium and alcohol. Marcus Aurelius reportedly consumed the opium-containing drug theriac every day, and this “habit” [ethos] both created a potential addiction and allowed him to endure the hardships of military campaign (Gal. De antidotis 14.4K; cf. Diod. Sic. 71.6.3–4). Mithridates, in order to keep himself immune to poison, consumed toxic substances every day so that, as Pliny says, “he might render them harmless through habit itself [consuetudine ipse]” (Pl. NH 24.3.6; cf. Gal. De antidotis 14.4K). What does it mean when medical treatments produce dependencies or create harms? What are the dangers presented by long-term therapeutic interventions? How can we think about these issues using disability and chronic illness as frames, where the boundary between addictions and life-improving treatments is even less clear? Moreover, regimen-based medical approaches enforce near-constant attention to health in a way that itself flirts with the pathological. Eating-for-health can easily slide into a compulsive eating disorder. How do philosophical and medical notions of habit, dependency and immoderation interact? Is “moderation” the only morally-tinged principle guiding medical consumption patterns? Beyond philosophy, are there literary or mythic reflections on the dangers or benefits of pharmacological or medical dependencies? How do intraregional and intracultural drug trades shape attitudes toward particular substances? How do religious rituals involving pharmacological and therapeutic substances structure their use more broadly, either mitigating or promoting dependency? How did the prevalence of wine in Greek medicine affect its reception within Islamic tradition? Proposed papers are welcome to address these issues or any other related topics, including, but not limited to questions of chronic illness, pain, mortality, harm-reduction, risk-assessment, mental illness, gender, economics, and trade, whether in Greek, Roman, or other pre-modern contexts. Please send abstracts that follow the guidelines for individual abstracts (see the SCS Guidelines for Authors of Abstracts) by email to Colin Webster (UC Davis) at by March, 25, 2022. Ensure that the abstracts are anonymous. The organizers will review all submissions anonymously, and their decision will be communicated to the authors of abstracts by March 31, 2022.


The Rootcutter is coming!

THE ROOTCUTTER, the blog for the Society for Ancient Medicine and Pharmacology, invites pitches for paid essays for an inaugural series that addresses connections between ancient and modern medicines. Essays should explore any aspect of ancient medicine broadly construed (e.g., including, but not limited to healing in the Mediterranean, Middle East, pre-modern China, India, and pre-Colombian South America), ideally through engagement with a clear and accessible primary source (e.g., image, object, short excerpt). Our intended audience includes historians and scientists, healthcare professionals and consumers, researchers and students. We hope that these essays will create a robust framework for applying key insights from classical reception studies to the history of medicine in antiquity and its relationship to modern medical theories and practices. Details can be found here.

The Rootcutter on the SCS Blog!

The Rootcutter has been featured on the SCS Blog, which outlines some of the rationale behind its inaugural series "The Best Doctor is also a Historian." Details about the blog and how to submit pitches can be found here.

Routledge Studies in Ancient Disabilities is a series dedicated to the investigation of new perspectives, the application of new approaches, and the promotion of period-based and cross-cultural investigations of disability throughout antiquity. Extending beyond the core disciplines of ancient history, archaeology and classical studies, the series aims to provide a forum for scholars with diverse backgrounds, including bioarchaeology, biblical studies and contemporary disability studies, to explore the evidence for disabilities within communities extending from the Bronze Age to late Antiquity. Encouraging cross-disciplinary studies, the series aims to bring questions of disability and impairment into dialogue with those concerning status, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and other lived experiences, as well as to consider how successive generations have received, appropriated, or reworked these forms of identity. Ultimately, the series seeks to expand the geographical, cultural, and chronological scope of work on ancient disabilities and broaden our understandings of physical impairment and mental and intellectual disabilities (and related conditions).

For further information about contributing to the series, please contact Dr Emma-Jayne Graham at

Current Issues in Ancient Medicine (CIAM) makes available to a wide readership, both in print and digitally on Open Access, the results of current research on ancient medicine from antiquity to the Renaissance. The series publishes, in the major languages of global scholarly communication, not only monographs and collective volumes, but also critical editions, translations, and commentaries, all peer-reviewed by an international committee of readers. In the variety of its approaches, ranging from philology to the history of science and the history of ideas, this series reflects and speaks to the varied interests of the contemporary reader in ancient medicine.

Editors | Éditrices | Herausgeberinnen Brigitte Maire & Nathalie Rousseau Editorial Board | Comité scientifique | Wissenschaftlicher Beirat Arsenio Ferraces Rodríguez, Klaus-Dietrich Fischer, Valérie Gitton-Ripoll, Alessia Guardasole, David R. Langslow, Marie-Hélène Marganne, Matteo Martelli, Anna Maria Urso Contacts | Kontakte | |