On the subject of this ancient remedy’s miraculous effects of legends and history are intertwined. Initially theriaca was created and used as a powerful antidote against viper venom. In fact, its name derives from the Greek word “therion”, a term used to refer to the viper or other poisonous animals.
Its composition was invented by the court physician of Mithridates, King of Pontus, so that it was initially also known as mithridate. The story goes that Mithridates used to take this antidote on a daily basis so that he eventually became immune to the drug itself, as he was obsessed with the fear of being poisoned. When he was defeated by Pompey’s armies, the King had to use a sword kill himself so that his enemies did not capture him alive.
Thus, the doctors of ancient Rome came into possession of one of the most powerful ancient remedies that ever existed.
However, it was Nero’s physician, Andromachus the Elder, who added viper’s flesh to the ingredients so perfecting the recipe. Over the years many Master Apothecaries have revised the list of ingredients many times but it is still known by the name “The Theriaca of Andromachus”, a subject which is also dealt with in depth by the University of Pavia and Marcello Fumagalli.
All the simple drugs used in its creation, including Myrrh and Saffron, were carefully chosen by Venetian Apothecaries who used to harvest them according to the season. As the Serenissima [the most Serene Republic of Venice] was the capital of trade with the East at that time, these ingredients were not difficult to obtain.
The preparation of this ancient remedy was itself a special occasion and was treated like a real celebration. The Master Apothecaries used to prepare the antidote in public, before the highest officials and the population. This was also so that they could justify the miracle drug’s high price.
These public performances attracted the attention of specialists from all over Italy. The first to produce this antidote and dispense it in a hospital (Milan’s Ospedale Maggiore), and the first to introduce it into hospitals, was the Master Apothecary G.B. Cucchi at the beginning of the 17th century.
Theriaca was produced in Bologna, Venice and Naples until the beginning of 1906.
Between 1595 and 1605, in a statement of self-defence the doctor and philosopher Orazio Guarguanti from Soncino wrote that, unlike other ancient remedies he knew of, theriaca really was the most “incredible“ remedy. It was capable only of not healing poisonous viper bites but also of defending the human body from all ills. It also prevented diseases such as the plague and leprosy. This was why all the Roman emperors used to take this miraculous potion regularly with a tablespoon of honey and two glasses of water.
The effectiveness of the antidote depended on how long it had been left to mature. The minimum maturation time for it to be considered effective as an antidote was about six years but it was not uncommon for top officials and the wealthiest men to take the drug after it had been matured for up to 36 years.
Of the many Ancient Remedies handed down throughout the history of herbalism, the Theriaca of Andromachus is certainly the one which takes the longest, and is the most difficult, to prepare. It is consequently also the most expensive. Even today, many of its ingredients are used individually both as natural beauty treatments and to prevent some of common human ailments. Conversely, many ingredients, such as viper meat and opium, are no longer allowed in cosmetics. I Coloniali selected Myrrh and Saffron from this ancient elixir of youth ‘s many ingredients because of their powerful anti-oxidant and regenerating effects on skin tissues. These are very valuable allies in the production of a youthful skin.