Matthaeus Silvaticus

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Matthaeus Silvaticus teaching his students about medicinal plants in his physic garden in Salerno, from the frontispiece to a 1526 edition of Opus Pandectarum Medicinae

Matthaeus Silvaticus or Mattheus Sylvaticus (c. 1280 – c. 1342) was a medieval Latin medical writer and botanist.


Silvaticus was born in northern Italy, probably Mantua.[1] He was a student and teacher in botany and medicine at the School of Salerno in southern Italy.


He is noted for writing a 650-page encyclopedia about medicating agents (a pharmacopoeia) which he completed about year 1317 under the Latin title Pandectarum Medicinae or Pandectae Medicinae (English: Encyclopedia of Medicines). Most of the medicating agents were botanicals ("herbal medicines"). The presentation is in alphabetical order. The bulk of the manuscript is compiled from earlier medicine books, including books by Dioscorides, Avicenna, Serapion the Younger, and Simon of Genoa.[2]

As an indication of its popularity in late medieval Europe, the Pandectarum Medicinae was printed in at least eleven editions in various countries between the invention of the printing press and 1500.[3]

Medical school[edit]

The medical school in Salerno was influenced by Arabic-to-Latin translations of Arabic medical literature. As one indication of Arabic influence, 233 of 487 plant names that Matthaeus used were Latinizations of Arabic plant names.[4] Many of those Latinized Arabic names had little circulation in Latin. Native Latin names existed for some of them, in which case Matthaeus also presents the native Latin name as well. In some cases he prefers to give primary status to the Arabic name in preference to the classical Latin name. In other cases he gives primary status to the Latin name and just mentions what the Arabic name is.

European pharmacology[edit]

The Pandectarum Medicinae is an encyclopedia with almost no original thinking. It has considerable value to historians as a document reflecting the state of pharmacology and medicine in Europe in the late medieval era. The method of presentation in Pandectarum Medicinae is that a medicinal substance is named together with very brief identifying information and then follows several lengthier summaries or quotations from several well-known medical authorities about the substance's properties and uses. The medical authorities are either (A) the particular ancient Greek medical writers that were widely read by the medieval Arabs (particularly Diosorides and Galen) or else (B) Arabic medical writers (particularly Serapion the Younger and Avicenna).

Simon of Genoa[edit]

Part of Matthaeus's encyclopedia was taken from a shorter work by Simon of Genoa (aka Simon Januensis) entitled Synonyma Medicinae, which was written a few decades earlier and which is a dictionary of medicines rather than an encyclopedia.[5]


  1. ^ Dictionnaire historique de la médecine ancienne et moderne, by N.F.J. Eloy (year 1778).
  2. ^ "The Encyclopedia of Medicaments - Pandectarum Medicinae". World Digital Library. May 11, 2013. Retrieved 2014-03-01.
  3. ^ Pandectarum Medicinae at A number of 15th century editions of the Pandectarum are online at
  4. ^ Matteo Silvatico @ (in Italian language).
  5. ^ A late-15th-century edition of Simon of Genoa's Synonyma Medicinae is online at Google Books (in Latin). A 19th-century publication of a 15th-century Latin medical botany dictionary called the Alphita contains, in its 19th-century footnotes, many cross-references to Mattheus Silvaticus and Simon Januensis. It is downloadable at Alphita.

External links[edit]