This page cannot be viewed in frames

Go to page

If you have found a spelling error, please, notify us by selecting that text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

Opium – remedy known to ancient Romans

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Opium – a narcotic substance produced from opium poppy capsules (Papaver somniferum) – was already known in antiquity, from about 1000 BCE. We also have evidence that the cultivation of these plants was also present in ancient Rome.

Livy describes in his work Ab urbe condita1 the scene when the son of king of Rome Tarquinius Superbus – Sextus Tarquinius informs his father about the situation in the hostile Gabii in Latium, asking for advice on what to do. In response, Tarquinius Superbus was supposed to walk around his garden and cut down poppies. This is proof that the cultivated poppy was already before the rise of the Empire.

Poppy seed was used mainly as a painkiller. Pedanius Dioscorides, Greek author of a large work devoted to medicine and herbs – De Materia Medica – mentions the poppy and its sleeping effects. What’s more, for example, the emperor Marcus Aurelius reportedly used opium very often; dealing with stress. Nobody, however, was talking about addiction in those days, because there was no such medical term. Naturally, opium was also used by Roman medics during long operations.

Another source of information about opium is Pliny the Elder. He mentions that the leaves and fruits of the poppy were boiled in water to reach the juice. Then, the product was kneaded and formed into the desired shape. Pliny also mentions that the substance had a calming, relaxing and leveling effect. The Roman historian also reported that apart from the wild and cultivated poppy seed, an additional variation which scientists identify with the present eastern poppy (Papaver rhoeas) was distinguished.

Footnotes
  1. Livy, Ab urbe condita, 1 54

IMPERIUM ROMANUM needs your support!

Your financial help is needed, in order to maintain and develop the website. Even the smallest amounts will allow me to pay for further corrections, improvements on the site and pay the server. I believe that I can count on a wide support that will allow me to devote myself more to my work and passion, to maximize the improvement of the website and to present history of ancient Romans in an interesting form.

Support IMPERIUM ROMANUM!

News from world of ancient Rome

If you want to be up to date with news and discoveries from the world of ancient Rome, subscribe to the newsletter.

Subscribe to newsletter!

Roman bookstore

I encourage you to buy interesting books about the history of ancient Rome and antiquity.

Check out bookstore

Spelling error report

The following text will be sent to our editors: