The Evolution of Pharmacy – A Short History
Part 1 – The Ancients
Your pharmacy and the pharmaceutical industry are extremely modern in terms of technology, techniques, drug research, and innovative materials like the best prescription bottles and pharmacy packaging supplies. The science and practice of pharmacy, however evolved they may be today, are ancient.
What is Pharmacy?
Pharmacy is a group of science-based disciplines which apply to drugs and their use. The word “pharmacy” derives from the Greek pharmakon, which translates as “magic remedy”.
Pharmacy relates to the research, manufacture, control, dispensary, and supply of medicines. It works in tandem with and relates to various other sciences including toxicology, botany, hygiene, and more.
The history of pharmacy is interesting, often unexpected, and dates back to ancient times.
Did you Know?
- Pharmacy has its origins in treating and curing human ailments and is as old as humanity. People have always used plants for healing, and even today, many modern medicines and drugs are still derived from plants. These include aspirin (from willow bark), digoxin (from foxglove), codeine (from the Opium Poppy), and Metformin (originally developed from French lilac).
- In primitive times, women were the ones who predominantly dealt with the preparation and application of medicinal cures. The most primitive cures involved the use of cold water, mud, leaves, and dirt to soothe ills; later herbs and fungi featured heavily in these “wise women” cures.
- During the time of the great cultures of ancient Babylon, Sumer, India, Egypt, and China, medical and health issues were managed by priests, and medicines were mostly derived from plants.
- The oldest known prescription archaeologists have discovered to date was recorded in Mesopotamia, which is modern-day Iraq. Dating to 2,400 BC, engraved onto a clay tablet, it features Sumerian cuneiform script and describes instructions for making therapeutic salves, poultices, and washes. The “recipe” describes fig, mustard, turtle shell powder, bat droppings, snakeskins, river silt, and cow hair dissolved in milk, wine, or beer.
- The Sushrata Samhita is an ancient Indian Sanskrit text dating to the 6th Century BC which describes surgery and Ayurveda (traditional Indian medicine).
- According to legend, the ancient Greek god of healing, Asclepius, gave the responsibility for compounding remedies to the female apothecary Hygieia.
- In ancient Egypt, physician-priests took on one of two roles: some visited the sick, while others prepared plant remedies in the temple. These physician-priests were the precursor to modern doctors and pharmacists.
- Priests lost their monopoly over medicine and health in ancient Greece and Rome, and scholars with a specific interest in medicine arose, with a school for medicine and “pharmacy” in Alexandria, Egypt. Ancient Roman drugs were sold by merchants and peddlers dealing from street stalls. Medicines were often created from powders and herbs.
- Roman Claudius Galen is recognized as a “father of pharmacy”. A 2nd Century AD doctor and apothecary, he devised an extensive theory of pharmacy and introduced extracts, powders, and tinctures as new forms of dispensing and applying medicines.
Next time, we’ll look at pharmacy during the Middle Ages and how it evolved up to the last century.
In the meantime, browse our range of pharmacy bags and other packaging supplies at The Vial Store.