Category Archives: Premodern

Three Croatian Glagolitic Recipes Against Toothache

By Marija-Ana Dürrigl and Stella Fatović-Ferenčić,

Historians working on recipes often use sources that, from the outside, do not look like recipe books. One of the most common places for recipes to be found in pre-modern manuscripts is in liturgical books, and other works for priests. A recipe from a sixteenth-century Croatian liturgical manuscript reads:

Help for the teeth: On Holy Saturday when the church bells sound Gloria in Excelsis Deo … say three Pater Nosters and three Ave Marias in honor of God and Mary and Saint Apolonia.

Za zubi pomoć: na Velu sobotu kada se počne zvoniti k Slava va višnih Bogu on trat… rci 3 Očenaši i tri Zdrave Marie v čast Bogu i svetoi Marie i v čast sveti Polonii

This recipe is in the Croatian redaction of Church Slavonic language. Church Slavonic was the common language of liturgy and learning among Slavs in the Middle Ages. It is written in the Glagolitic alphabet; its angular variant was used primarily in the Croatian context. This particular recipe is then readable only by a select few. But its topic – toothache – and its location – in a religious (moral-didactic) book – is much more familiar. Marginal recipes are extremely widespread, as previously discussed on The Recipes Project. This post will take us into the world of marginal recipes by and for Catholic Slavs.

Kingdom of Croatia from Wiki Commons
Kingdom of Croatia
from Wiki Commons

In rural parts of medieval Croatia, a kingdom hugging the Adriatic sea, and a meeting point between the Mediterranean and Central Europe, priests also acted as medical practitioners. Recipes and therapeutic instructions are valuable sources, shedding light on outbreaks of epidemics, on ways of treating diseases, as well as on old terminology. The term “medical” has to be taken in its broadest sense, i.e. it pertains to the basic knowledge the priests possessed.



Medical texts in the Žgombić Miscellany (Croatian Glagolitic manuscripts, early 16th c.) by Marija-Ana Duerigl
Medical texts in the Žgombić Miscellany (Croatian Glagolitic manuscripts, early 16th c.)
by Marija-Ana Dürrigl

Texts in Croatian Glagolitic recipe collections do not follow a strict order (which organs are afflicted; which complaints are present; which kind of procedure is to be applied; which quantity of ingredient is to be used), but seem to have been copied randomly from various sources.

Extant recipes against diseases can be grouped into two broad categories. Concrete texts are instructions for curing ailments that invlolve administering various medications (based on experience and on older written sources). Such “concrete” recipes are applied to treat renal stones, sick eyes, gastrointestinal disorders, and other ailments. Prescribed medications are based primarily on local, Mediterranean, medicinal plants. In Glagolitic sources concrete healing instructions are interwoven with what we term abstract texts, i.e. incantations, prayers and amulets, for example against headaches, insomnia, and sore throats. Religious approaches to disease and healing share space on the pages of Croatian medieval recipe collections with empirical instructions, and both co-existed throughout many centuries. One did not exclude the other, and this kind of promiscuitas may seem a curiosity to the modern reader. However, a strict delineation between the different spheres of knowledge and belief did not happen for another few centuries.

A page from Žgombić Miscellany (Croatian Glagolitic manuscript, early 16th c.) by Marija-Ana Dürrigl
A page from Žgombić Miscellany (Croatian Glagolitic manuscript, early 16th c.)
by Marija-Ana Dürrigl

Here we present three small medical texts from a “marginal” source. The book called the Žgombić Miscellany (today in the Archive of the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts in Zagreb) contains moral-didactic texts and religious prose (legends, visions, contrasts). On the last folios there are three recipes for treatment of toothache, one of which is quoted above.

The second reads:

Za zubi pomoć: kuša v belom vini kuhai tere zvanu stavi ča naiteple moreš ako bude Bog otil oćeš imat pomoć

Help for the teeth: Cook sage /Salvia officinalis/ in white wine and use it as a very warm compress – God willing you will have help

Recipe in the Glagolitic Alphabet by Marija-Ana Dürrigl
Recipe in the Glagolitic Alphabet
by Marija-Ana Dürrigl





Sage is often mentioned in Croatian Glagolitic recipe collections; one is reminded of the Latin saying „Cur morietur homo quia salvia crescit in horto?“ ‒ Why should man die, when salvation lies in the Garden? The use of sage in this case can be rationally explained, for it contains aetheric oils and can have antibacterial effect. It is still used modern stomatology for disinfection of the mouth.

The third recipe reads:

Za zubi pomoć: ružmarina i smažera od smreki … i beloga vina skup kuhai ako li pol zvre onem maži zubi imaš lek z Božiju volu

Help for the teeth: prepare an ointment by cooking rosemary /Rosmarinus officinalis/ and resin of the juniper tree /Picea albis/ in white wine and smear on the teeth – you will have help with God’s will.

This instruction, as well as the ingredients, suggests that it was more likely used to those suffering with gingivitis or similar problems, rather than against toothache. The resin of the juniper is rich in vitamin C which is important in healing of the gums. Both empirical recipes suggest white wine, which may have been of help in alleviating pain. Both also end with a smilar phrase reflecting a religious view of healing – if it is God’s will, you will be helped.

This sketch from the Croatian Glagolitic heritage shows the significance of “marginal” sources in tracing medical texts. Although not large in number, Croatian Glagolitic medical texts reflect the intersection of (medieval) Christianity and empirical healing. They should be included into a study of the wide framework of healing practices in medieval Europe.

Marija-Ana Dürrigl, Ph.D., is a senior research associate at the Old Church Slavonic Institute, Scientific Centre of Excellence for Croatian Glagolitism Zagreb, Croatia.

Stella Fatović-Ferenčić, Ph.D, is a Professor at the Department for the History of Medicine, Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Zagreb, Croatia.


1 Dürrigl MA, Fatović-Ferenčić S, „Marginalia miscellanea medica“ in Croatian Glagolitic monuments – a model for interdisciplinary investigations, Viator 30, 1999: 383-396

2 Fatović-Ferenčić S, Dürrigl MA, Za zubi pomoć ‒ odontološki tekstovi u hrvatskoglagoljskim rukopisima, Acta Stomatologica Croatica 1997, 31: 229-236 (Help for teeth – odontological texts in Croatian Glagolitic manuscripts)

Re-Centering Europe

By Clare Griffin

St Mary Basilica, Cracow From Wiki Commons
St Mary’s Basilica, Cracow
From Wiki Commons

Think about the histories of Europe, European medicine, European science or European magic and witchcraft you have on your desk. Think about the European cookbooks, or travel guides, or novels you have heard about. How many of them cover events, characters, places, cultures, or cuisines further east than Berlin? Of those that do, how many jump from Berlin to Moscow, bypassing the cities in between? Central, Eastern, and South-Eastern Europe tend to be treated by English-speakers as a world apart.

In academia, expertise on those countries is corralled into regional studies departments, rather than dealt with as European history. In part, this is a relic of the twentieth century, reflecting and replicating Churchill’s idea of an Iron Curtain that cut Europe in two. As The Recipes Project often demonstrates, regions and recipes go hand in hand. There is our sister series on Russian recipes. Similar series deal with the early modern Netherlands, China, and Ancient Greece and Rome. After all, anyone reading the ‘country of origin’ labels in their local supermarket knows that recipes link together ingredients and places. This month, we will use recipes to tear down the academic Iron Curtain, reclaiming this region not only as Central Europe, but as a central part of Europe.

from Wiki Commons
Map of Modern Central and Eastern Europe            from Wiki Commons

Focusing on place and space is important – where is Central and Eastern Europe? What does it look like? What is its political geography? South-Eastern Europe is perhaps more familiar in its fictionalized guise on Game of Thrones. In that series, Croatia’s Dubrovnik stands in as both King’s Landing and Qarth. Similarly, Prague and other Czech towns have been the location for numerous fictional intrigues: Karlovy Vary stood in for Montenegro in Casino Royale

A view of the old city of Dubrovnik. from Wiki Commons
A view of the old city of Dubrovnik.
from Wiki Commons









In real life, medieval and early modern Central and Eastern Europe saw power struggles and battles no less dramatic than those of Tyrion Lannister and James Bond. At various periods, Dubrovnik was under the protection of the Byzantine Empire, the Venetian Empire, the Kingdom of Hungary, and the Habsburg Empire.  These waxing and waning dynastic and imperial powers commonly intersected with religious divisions. In the Byzantine-controlled and Russian-influenced lands, Eastern Orthodoxy was the majority religion.

The Ottoman Empire in 1683 From Wiki Commons
The Ottoman Empire in 1683
From Wiki Commons

The Ottomans were the major Muslim power of the region, building mosques across South Eastern Europe that stand today. The Habsburgs and the Jagellonians were both traditionally Catholic dynasties, tying themselves and their empires to Rome, despite the Reformation making converts among many of their subjects. There were also substantial Jewish populations in many cities throughout the region. Each of these religions made their mark upon the landscape, with mosques, synagogues and churches, graveyards, and crosses of various kinds crowding the skylines.

In the shadow of these landmarks, Europeans wrote and followed recipes.

Medieval Serbian Mosque From Wiki Commons
Medieval Serbian Mosque
From Wiki Commons

As Marija-Ana Dürrigl and Stella Fatović-Ferenčić’s post highlights, men of the cloth jotted down medical recipes in their liturgy books. This was a Europe-wide phenomenon: from Porto to Moscow, the clergy wrote recipes, preserving them in religious manuscripts. Lay Europeans were often concerned with their stomachs. The post by Christopher Nicholson deals with recipes to husband fish. Originating in Bohemia, the text was translated and read as far away as England. Bohemians were not alone in wanting a nice fish dinner. For unhappy European households, food could lead to poisoning or bewitchment. Magic, for good or for ill, was used across Europe. Adelina Angusheva-Tihanov and Margaret Dimitrova’s post presents us with some examples of Slavic magic. A more specialized pursuit of pre-modern Europeans was alchemy. Alchemists, like those in Agnieszka Rec’s post, created networks across Europe. They circulated books, and themselves travelled from place to place. To read European recipes is to see how Europe is connected.

The Holy Roman Empire in 1648 from Wiki Commons
The Holy Roman Empire in 1648
from Wiki Commons

In order to read recipes, you need to know the language, and the alphabet, in which they are written. This is where people often see Central and Eastern Europe as divided from Western Europe. Don’t people from those places use different languages? Not always. Agnieszka Rec’s alchemists found recipes in Poland-Lithuania, but wrote in German. Christopher Nicholson’s Bohemian fish were described in Latin and English. Sometimes, the recipes are in different languages, and in different alphabets.  For example, Adelina Angusheva-Tihanov and Margaret Dimitrova’s recipes are in the Church Slavonic language and the Cyrillic alphabet. Marija-Ana Dürrigl and Stella Fatović-Ferenčićs texts are also in Church Slavonic. But they would not be comprehensible everyone who reads Church Slavonic (including me). These texts use the Glagolitic alphabet. Recipes show us connections, but they also show us the uniqueness of their authors, dividing as well as uniting.

Codex Zographensis from Wiki Commons
Codex Zographensis in Glagolitic
from Wiki Commons


 For the next four Thursdays, The Recipes Project will be returning to this region. We hope you will join us as our contributors take us further into Central, Eastern and South Eastern European recipes, to see how those texts bring Europe together.

Situating Drug Knowledge in China: A Digital Humanities Solution

By Michael Stanley-Baker

Mandala of Medicine Buddha surrounded by medicinal plants, animals and minerals
Mandala of Medicine Buddha surrounded by medicinal plants, animals and minerals – Blue Beryl Thangka reproduction, author’s collection

Drugs, be they plant, animal or mineral, were important objects for trade, cure and even spiritual salvation throughout Chinese history even until today.  They appear in all sorts of diverse sources, from poems and diaries to scriptures, pharmacopoeias and recipe books. The historical record for the early imperial period (221 BCE – 589 CE) indicates that the majority of health care was provided by religious specialists– Daoists, Buddhists and mediums–and that doctors were in a very small minority.

Knowledge of a particular signature drug could mark a certain group’s identity, forming a means through which they showed their own therapeutic knowledge, while also distinguishing them from other players in the medico-religious marketplace. Knowledge of what drugs did, and access to them, either through physical access in the regions from which came, or through knowledge of how to identify them, could play an important part in religious identity.

Thus, simply having a drug “name” leaves a lot untold.  Unifying projects, like state-sponsored pharmacopoeias, as well as modern botanical dictionaries that make equations between traditional Chinese names and modern botanical identities, do a lot to conceal the diverse processes by which drugs circulated in pre-modern China.  Substitution, modification and the use of alternate names were common practices in this period (and still are today). The geographic origins of a plant or animal product also had an impact on its efficacy, and also on the fact that it could under different names in different regions.

However, the history of Chinese pharmacology has largely been devoted to tracking changes in different pharmacopoeic editions over time–the editorial staff on each project, increases in quantities of drugs, and development of plant knowledge, such as the identification of new species or sub-species of plants.  This approach works within the normative limits of the state-recognized and medically authorised knowledge, but studies outside of this domain are largely limited to anecdotal stories of Daoists revealing isolated recipes, or Buddhists providing healing to the laity. There have been few overall, systematic studies of drug lore in other domains – like the Buddhist or Daoist canons, for example. To what extent does the data in the Daoist canon back up the anecdotal claim that Daoists were the major stake-holders in early drug lore?  Which sects, in which periods and times, were most active in drug lore, and were they actively competing with other sects from the same time and places?

This image plots out the locations described for 36 drugs in the Daoist text, the Zhen'gao 真誥 DZ 1016.
This image plots out the locations described for 36 drugs in the Daoist text, the Zhen’gao 真誥 DZ 1016.

At the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Shi-Pei Chen and I are developing a digital solution to help answer such questions. This will better situate early Chinese drug knowledge within the multiple contexts, times and places in which drugs took on new meanings and interpretations. We will expand the study of Chinese drug lore into what has normally been considered “religious” literature, and perform a variety of analyses on digital transcriptions of early materia medica. A detailed description of this project can be found here.

We are considering the following open access repositories for transcribed, digital editions of the Buddhist  (see the repository here) and Daoist canons. We will do statistical analysis of the texts in the Daoist and Buddhist canons to establish the frequency of drug terms in the texts, to see how much of the pharmacopoeia figured for these actors. Based on general metadata about those texts (as available/reliable), such as date (or date range) and place of composition, author or sectarian affiliation, we can better analyse the circulation of drug lore across time, space and community.  Using GIS place name authority databases (CHGIS, CCTS and DDBC) we will associate historical place names with GIS points.  This will enable us to use time-space displays to show the distribution of drug knowledge across time and space (we are considering PLATIN, see sample applications here).

This image plots out the locations for the same 36 drugs, as they appear in the Bencao jing jizhu 本草經集注. Both texts were edited by the same person, Tao Hongjing 陶弘景, between 492 and 500.
This image plots out the locations for the same 36 drugs, as they appear in the Bencao jing jizhu 本草經集注. Both texts were edited by the same person, Tao Hongjing 陶弘景, between 492 and 500. – Both maps were made with QGIS, and appear in Stanley-Baker, 2013, p. 172.

We will then select interesting or important texts for closer study, and use an automated text-marking system, MARKUS, to markup individual texts in detail. We will focus initially on DRUG NAMES, DRUG FUNCTIONS, LOCATION NAMES, and PEOPLE. This will enable us to compare regional associations about drugs in Daoist and Buddhist texts against those in the pharmacopoeic tradition. For example, whether and how recipes vary across texts, whether the same places are identified as centres for drug supply or transcendent use, which drugs or sets of drugs circulated through which communities.

The pilot study is limited to the Six Dynasties period (220-589), a time which had the most formative influence on religious institutions, and the conclusion of which saw the establishment of the first imperial medical academy.  In later stages of the project, we hope to invite scholars working in other periods, regions, and languages to collaborate with us.  If there is enough interest from the medical history community, perhaps together we could create a research infrastructure to study drugs across the pre-modern world.  If you would like to join this venture in its future stages, please contact us!

References Cited:
Stanley-Baker, Michael. 2013, Daoists and Doctors: The Role of Medicine in Six Dynasties Shangqing Daoism PhD Thesis, London: University College London.