Leyla Aydemir

Keywords: Ancient Greece, Rome, Pharmakis, Venefica, Herbalist, Witch, Trial.


There is evidence to support women in Antiquity to posses pharmacological knowledge and the skills to prepare medicine. Although how these women acquired these knowledge is not exactly known, it is possible that domestic training was, like for many professions of Antiquity, the primary way, as there is a lot of literary and epigraphic evidence showing that women in the field of healing acquire professional knowledge from their family members and use this knowledge to heal the sick. Despite that, there are descriptions in tragedia and comedies of herbalist women, preparing love potions and poisons and using their pharmacological knwoledge for bad intentions, while men are depicted as preparing curative medicine. As a result of this prejudice, some of these herbalist women were tried in Antiquity and forced to pay a heavy price. Indeed, this situation brought up some questions as well. Is the negative perception of women’s pharmacological knowledge a masculine result of their efforts to keep their knowledge of herbs and medicine under control? Did the description of women as pharmakis and venefica, that is, witches, in the ancient literary sources mentioning herbalist women’s trials, as a presupposition, cause them to be judged? Under what conditions were herbalist women tried in Antiquity, and was there even a direct legal regulations for their trial? In this study, the answers to these and similar questions are sought to the possible extent by examining ancient literary, epigraphic and modern sources.