Fragment of a medical prescription
Museum of Islamic Art
Hegira beginning of the 2nd century / AD 8th century
Papyrus, written in black ink.
Length 12 cm, width 5 cm
A fragment of a medical prescription on papyrus that consists of six lines written in simple kufic script in black ink. It mentions the benefits of aloe vera for the treatment of certain ailments such as fever, stings, gripes/colic, earaches and spleen ailments. The text may be read in the following manner:
'… God, most gracious and the most merciful///
aloe … with barley water///
for fever, it is drunk with coriander water… and for colic and dysentery it is drunk with lukewarm water and for the [bites] of the scorpion/// and the viper, it is drunk with cold water and for the child who complains of earaches, [it is drunk] with mother's milk/// and for the spleen [ailment] it is drunk with tamarind water and for flatus, it is drunk with the water of fenugreek/// and hummus [ground chick peas].'
The healing power of plants was well-known since the early Islamic period, for they were used to produce simple drugs concocted from various ingredients. Medicines were prepared by doctors and druggists (medicinal herbal specialists or attar) either in a hospital setting or in small pharmacies.
The aloe leaves were pressed and preserved until they were needed. They were used in the treatment of other illnesses, in addition to those mentioned in the prescription, such as aching joints and sore eyes. Aloe was also used in the production of ink.
From the early times, simple and compound medicines using extracts from plants were prepared by physicians and druggists and were highly effective. This prescription is based on the use of the aloe plant in curing various ailments.
The document has been dated by comparison with a marriage certificate and a letter, both of which are also in the Museum's collection, and the similarities with regard to the style of the kufic script together with the papyrus on which they are all written. The marriage certificate is dated AH 91 (AD 709), and the prescription AH 106 (AD 724). These items are preserved in the Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo, the first bearing the registry number of 25295 and the second, 22999.
This piece was donated to the museum by Doctor Henry Amin 'Awad in 1974, amongst many other pieces that he donated to the museum, which included medical and surgical implements and various Islamic coinage. Henry 'Awad is considered one of the biggest collectors of artefacts in Egypt, who has also undertaken studies on branches of the Islamic arts.
Doctor Henry Amin 'Awad who donated this document to the museum related that he bought this piece, along with another artefact, from some collectors who gathered together archaeological finds from amongst the ruins of the city Fustat, and sold whatever they found. This was before the Egyptian law on protection of antiquities was passed.
Hammad, al-Sayyed, M., Adawat al-Kitabamin al-Fath al-Arabi hatta al-'asr al-Mamluki [Writing Implements from the Arab Conquest to the Mamluk Period], MA thesis, Faculty of Arts, University of Sohag, 1982.
Ibrahim, H., Sina'atal-Alwan wa al-Asbagh wa al-Ahbar [Production of Colours, Dyes and Inks], PhD thesis, Faculty of Arts, University of Sohag, 1982.
Isa, A., Mu'jamasma' al-Nabat [Dictionary of Plant Names], Cairo, 1930.
al-Nuwairi, Shihab al-Din A., Nihayat al-Irab fi Funun al-Adab [The Culmination of Skill in the Literary Arts], Cairo, 1929.
Al-Sayyed Muhammad Khalifa Hammad "Fragment of a medical prescription" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2021. http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;eg;Mus01;45;en
Prepared by: Al-Sayyed Muhammad Khalifa HammadAl-Sayyed Muhammad Khalifa Hammad
He holds a BA in Islamic Antiquities from the Faculty of Art, Cairo University and an MA in the same field from Assiut University. He has been working at the Museum of Islamic Art, Cairo, since 1974 and attended a training course at Vienna Museum in 1977. He has supervised sections of glass and manuscripts and, currently, coins. At the Museum he has participated in preparing exhibitions at home and abroad and has been a member of several inventory committees. From 1988 to 1999 he worked as a lecturer at Om al-Qura University, Mecca, Saudi Arabia, and registered and organised the display of the acquisitions of the Civilisation Museum at the Shari'a and Islamic Studies Faculty at the University.
Copyedited by: Majd Musa
Translation by: Amal Sachedina (from the Arabic).
Translation copyedited by: Mandi GomezMandi Gomez
Amanda Gomez is a freelance copy-editor and proofreader working in London. She studied Art History and Literature at Essex University (1986–89) and received her MA (Area Studies Africa: Art, Literature, African Thought) from SOAS in 1990. She worked as an editorial assistant for the independent publisher Bellew Publishing (1991–94) and studied at Bookhouse and the London College of Printing on day release. She was publications officer at the Museum of London until 2000 and then took a role at Art Books International, where she worked on projects for independent publishers and arts institutions that included MWNF’s English-language editions of the books series Islamic Art in the Mediterranean. She was part of the editorial team for further MWNF iterations: Discover Islamic Art in the Mediterranean Virtual Museum and the illustrated volume Discover Islamic Art in the Mediterranean.
True to its ethos of connecting people through the arts, MWNF has provided Amanda with valuable opportunities for discovery and learning, increased her editorial experience, and connected her with publishers and institutions all over the world. More recently, the projects she has worked on include MWNF’s Sharing History Virtual Museum and Exhibition series, Vitra Design Museum’s Victor Papanek and Objects of Desire, and Haus der Kulturen der Welt’s online publication 2 or 3 Tigers and its volume Race, Nation, Class.
MWNF Working Number: ET 85
Islamic Dynasties / Period
On display in
Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)The Abbasids | Managing Prosperity
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