Riccardo Andreozzi, M.A.

Project titel: Cultural exchanges in the botanical and pharmaceutical field in Greek-roman Egypt

Supervisors: Prof. Dr. Tanja Pommerening, Prof. Dr. Jochen Althoff, Prof. Dr. Marilina Betrò


The Greek-roman period in Egypt coincided with the beginning of important changes not just in the political, economic and administrative fields, but also in the sphere of vegetal culture. The aim of the dissertation project is to detect cultural changes and transfers in the botanical field during Greek-roman Egypt.
The project is divided in two parts.

The first part will focus on about 35 new plant species which come mainly from the Mediterranean or Asiatic area and which have been introduced in Egypt since the Greek-roman occupation. Trying to understand where they were found, how they arrived in Egypt, how they were or could be used, the work aims to detect what kind of changes they have been brought in different aspects of Egyptian life, possibly with a special focus on the potential pharmaceutical uses of these plants. Starting from the already published reports and adding a museum investigation, it will be possible to compile a list of the botanical rests of these species. These data will then be compared with the textual evidence coming from the same sites of the plants, trying to describe a more vivid and complete image of these kind of cultural transformations.

The second part will concentrate on names and presence of Mediterranean plants (strangers to the Egyptian flora) in the medical-magic texts of the late period, especially in demotic, to further integrate and extend the result of the first part. The Egyptian culture appears quite flexible in the uses of the new plants, so it is possible to find numerous stranger names of vegetal species in late and demotic texts. Considering the corpus of magical and medical texts of the Greek-roman period, particularly the one in Demotic and in Greek, the work aims to conduct an analysis of the vegetal present in these texts in order to understand, which ones were already present in the pharaonic tradition, which ones are new, and in order to evaluate the contribute of the Greek contact in the Egyptian tradition. The research can be extended to the presence of Egyptian plants in classical texts, to better understand how their uses were different compared to the original Egyptian ones.

The intersection, therefore, between the textual and the archaeobotanical data will hopefully permit to reconstruct the history of the introduction of these plants in Egypt during the Greek-roman period, as well as their consequences reflected in the changes of use, with specific attention for the modifications of the vegetal materia medica. On the other hand, possible cultural transfers of botanical knowledge from the Egypt world to the classic one will be evaluated for a comprehensive balance of the cultural exchanges in the botanical and pharmaceutical field of the Greek-roman Egypt.

The dissertation project was completed and successfully defended in July 2023.