Herbolarium et Materia Medica

Herbolarium et Materia Medica – AyN Ediciones – ms. 296 – Biblioteca Statale di Lucca (Lucca, Italy)

France β€” 9th century

Applied science on behalf of Emperor Charlemagne: groundbreaking insights into the ancient healing power of plants as astonishing testimony to the Carolingian Renaissance

  1. This 9th century medical manuscript was created at the behest of the Emperor Charlemagne (742–814)

  2. The emperor induced the monks of his empire to study the healing arts and to cultivate medicinal plants

  3. The monument of Carolingian illumination is one of the earliest examples of natural science worldwide

Herbolarium et Materia Medica

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Herbolarium et Materia Medica

In the 9th century, Charlemagne charged the monks of his empire with the task of studying medicinal botany. In the course of this task, the monks compiled the most varied growths and medicinal plants and documented what they learned in the manuscript Herbolarium et Materia Medica. The work is furnished with 122 colored, informative illustrations of plants as well as animals. It is the earliest medicinal treatise that was produced in medieval Europe.

Herbolarium et Materia Medica

The codex Herbolarium et Materia Medica is a medical anthology concerning the world of plants and animals as well as the healing arts of the Early Middle Ages. The 218-page work concerns itself with the description of the most varied growths, plants, and animals. It contains 122 richly-detailed, colored illustrations in the style of Carolingian Illumination. The manuscript was of immeasurable importance for the history of the natural sciences. It is one of the earliest examples of natural science worldwide and was considered to be the most important medical texts in Europe for a long time. Today, the precious original edition of the codex can be found in the Biblioteca Estatal in the Italian city of Lucca.

The Significance of Plants in the Early Middle Ages

In the Middle Ages, plants were used, among other things, for cooking or as a seasoning in the kitchen. Equally so, they served as medicinal remedies, for the dying of fabrics and were also used in other various areas. It was often repeated that many plants were not only medicinal, but possessed mystical powers. In the 9th century, Charlemagne induced the monks of his empire to concern themselves with the healing arts and to cultivate medicinal plants. This very work is documented in the manuscript of the Herbolarium et Materia Medica. Additionally, the Carolingian monks described their experiences in animal husbandry and describe the biological characteristics of the animals, which had been heretofore unexplored.

Informative Illumination

The biological knowledge of the monks – considered modern for the time – was vividly explained with the help of enchanting illustrations. The 122 colored depictions of the plants and growths in the manuscript were drawn by the early-medieval illuminators as accurately as was possible at the time. The aplastic-looking depictions of the animals are particularly attractive, and still bring a smile to the face of some modern beholders. Today, there exists no earlier treatise concerning biology, natural history, and medicine that is so expressive and informative as the Herbolarium. This is why the manuscript possesses immeasurable worth for historical research.


Size / Format
218 pages / 24.0 Γ— 17.8 cm
9th century
122 illustrations of plants and animals
Anthology of medical texts

Available facsimile editions:
Herbolarium et Materia Medica – AyN Ediciones – ms. 296 – Biblioteca Statale di Lucca (Lucca, Italy)
AyN Ediciones – Madrid, 2007
Limited Edition: 995 copies
Detail Picture

Herbolarium et Materia Medica


This group of flowering plants in the family Asteraceae, known colloquially as yarrows, are named after the Greek mythological character Achilles. According to legend, the plant was used by Achilles and his soldiers to treat their wounds. The plant is characterized by its frilly, hairy, aromatic leaves and flat clusters of small flowers, which can be white, yellow, orange, pink, or red. They continue to be popular in gardens, partially because they attract many pollinating insects.

Herbolarium et Materia Medica – AyN Ediciones – ms. 296 – Biblioteca Statale di Lucca (Lucca, Italy)
Single Page

Herbolarium et Materia Medica

Elephant and Lion

Herbal manuscripts like this also contained sections devoted to animals, dedicated either to the medicinal uses of their parts or to the practice of husbandry. It was also typical for medieval manuscripts of this type to use animals for allegorical purposes, thereby personifying and imbuing them with certain traits in a moralizing manner.

At the top of the page we see a miniature of an elephant without tusks, which is followed by an explanatory text in red and gold ink. These huge animals were particularly significant to the Carolingian dynasty because Charlemagne had a pet elephant named Abul-Abbas, a cherished gift from the Caliph in Baghdad. A lion, which often preys on baby elephants, is shown in the lower margin with its own text.

Herbolarium et Materia Medica – AyN Ediciones – ms. 296 – Biblioteca Statale di Lucca (Lucca, Italy)
Facsimile Editions

#1 Herbolarium et Materia Medica

AyN Ediciones – Madrid, 2007

Publisher: AyN Ediciones – Madrid, 2007
Limited Edition: 995 copies
Binding: Leather
Commentary: 1 volume by Alain José M. Touwaide, Arsenio Ferraces Rodríguez, and José M. Cañas Reíllo
Language: Spanish
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) Reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
Price Category: €€€€ (7,000€ - 10,000€)
Edition available
Price: Log in here!
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