Mithridate and theriac-protection from poisons….

[Protection from poisons. Poisoning was a great way to get rid of your enemies – if you could get it to them. It sure beat raising an army or being hacked to death by bodyguards and you could do it without anyone suspecting it was you. With any luck, the victim would just… die, and nobody would even know it was murder. It was a great way to quietly nudge somebody out of the way without disturbing the rest of your plans.

Consequently the threat of poisoning was one which leaders throughout history faced, and there were several supposed protections against it. Foremost among them were mithridate and theriac:]

“Mithridate, also known as mithridatium, mithridatum, or mithridaticum, is a semi-mythical remedy with as many as 65 ingredients, used as an antidote for poisoning, and said to be created by Mithradates VI Eupator of Pontus in the 1st century BC. It was among one of the most complex, highly sought-after drugs during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, particularly in Italy and France, where they were in continual use for centuries. An updated recipe called theriac (Theriacum Andromachi) was known well into the 19th century.

Mithridate takes its name from its inventor, Mithradates VI, King of Pontus (134 to 63 BC) who is said to have so fortified his body against poisons with antidotes and preservatives, that when he tried to kill himself, he could not find any poison that would have an effect, and, according to some legends, had to ask a soldier to run him through with a sword. The recipe for the reputed antidote was found in his cabinet, written with his own hand, and was carried to Rome by Pompey. It was translated into Latin by Pompey’s freedman Lenaeus, and later improved upon by Nero’s physician Andromachus and Marcus Aurelius’s physician Galen. It likely underwent considerable alterations since the time of Mithradates.

In the Middle Ages, mithridate was also used as part of a regimen to ward off potential threats of plague. According to Simon Kellwaye (1593), one should “take a great Onyon, make a hole in the myddle of him, then fill the place with Mitridat or Triacle, and some leaues of Rue”. Until as late as 1786, physicians in London could officially prescribe mithridate. According to historian Christopher Hill, Oliver Cromwell took a large dose of mithridate as a precaution against the plague and found it cured his acne.”

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“According to legends, the history of theriac begins with the king Mithridates VI of Pontus who experimented with poisons and antidotes on his prisoners. His numerous toxicity experiments eventually led him to declare that he had discovered an antidote for every venomous reptile and poisonous substance. He mixed all the effective antidotes into a single one, mithridatium or mithridate. Mithridate contained opium, myrrh, saffron, ginger, cinnamon and castor, along with some forty other ingredients. When the Romans defeated him, his medical notes fell into their hands and Roman medici began to use them. Emperor Nero’s physician Andromachus improved upon mithridatum by bringing the total number of ingredients to sixty four, including viper’s flesh, a mashed decoction of which, first roasted then well aged, proved the most constant ingredient. Lise Manniche, however, links the origins of theriac to the ancient Egyptian kyphi recipe, which was also used medicinally.

Greek physician Galen devoted a whole book Theriaké to theriac. One of his patients, Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, took it on regular basis.

In 667, ambassadors from Rûm presented the Emperor Gaozong of the Tang Dynasty in China with a theriac. The Chinese observed that it contained the gall of swine, was dark red in colour and the foreigners seemed to respect it greatly. The Tang pharmacologist Su Kung noted that it had proved its usefulness against “the hundred ailments.” Whether this panacea contained the traditional ingredients such as opium, myrrh and hemp, is not known.[

In medieval London, the preparation arrived on galleys from the Mediterranean, under the watchful eye of the Worshipful Company of Grocers. Theriac, the most expensive of medicaments, was called Venice treacle by the English apothecaries.

At the time of the Black Death in the mid 14th century, Gentile da Foligno, who died of the plague in June 1348, recommended in his plague treatise that the theriac should have been aged at least a year. Children should not ingest it, he thought, but have it rubbed on them in a salve.

In 1669, the famous French apothecary, Moyse Charas, published the formula for theriac, seeking to break the monopoly held by the Venetians at that time on the medication, thereby opening up the transfer of medical information.”

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