Pharmacy then and now - history of pharmacy

Pharmacy then and now - history of pharmacy

We are searching data for your request:

Forums and discussions:
Manuals and reference books:
Data from registers:
Wait the end of the search in all databases.
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.

In ancient Greek, pharmakeia meant remedies. Apotheca, however, referred to a warehouse that the apothecarius monitored.

Arabic medicine

Arabic medicine in the Middle Ages was more advanced than that of the Christian West, and specialists made medicines in the ninth century. Their shops were called "dakakin as-sayadila", and here they sold perfumes, herbs and spices in addition to medicinal products. At the same time, hospitals were able to purchase medicines, which were effective medicines.

Doctor and pharmacist

The production and distribution of medicinal products in Arabia was already separated from the profession of a doctor in the Middle Ages. The pharmacies there (which, however, were not called that) always had a supply of medicines and their raw materials in the warehouse and processed them further. Pharmacy was well developed, as was medicine, and a division of labor became necessary.

Opium and saffron

At the same time, doctors in Europe mostly made their own medicines or monitored their manufacture. But the profession of pharmacist also separated from the doctor here, among other things because of the exclusive goods: Many components of the medicine were expensive because they came from distant countries such as opium, saffron, myrrh or frankincense.

The merchants who traded these treasures went on to employ their own specialists who prepared medicines from them. These specialists had a magical aura. For one thing, magic and science were not separate from one another in the Middle Ages of Europe, and the production of medicines became alchemy.

A privilege of the rich

On the other hand, the products worked in the human body, which the people of the time could hardly explain with "right things".

Only rich people could afford doctors with a good reputation, and these much sought-after medical professionals did not have the time to procure the often exotic ingredients for their medicines themselves. Other men took full care of the medicinal plants that were stored in the department stores.

The dirty pharmacy

In addition to such valuable and effective substances, the “Heylsame Dreck pharmacy” was also widespread. So goose droppings and cow pies were considered medicine, the city physician of Eisenach recommended medicine made from "poor sardon" (available from executioners of executioners), nasal mucus, sperm, ear wax and menstrual blood, as well as powdered mouse teeth and roundworms.

Some of these substances are much less ridiculous than it seems as a cure. The mold has an antibiotic effect on goose droppings, sheep droppings and cow dung.

Monastery gardens

The monasteries played a special role. On the one hand, monks translated the writings of the Greeks and Romans and came up with prescriptions for medicines, on the other hand, the monasteries created herb gardens themselves.

The Apotheca medicamentorum

The monastery pharmacy was called armarium pigmentorum, operatorium or statio specalium and was usually located near the herb garden, the herb garden.

The monastery pharmacies were the model for the city council pharmacies and the late medieval university and court pharmacies. In the Middle Ages, pharmacies called warehouses of all kinds, the special magazines for medicines were called apotheca medicamentorum.

God's grace

The seat of the pharmacies in the monastery had its origins in the Christian world view. As a result, only God's grace could heal the sick. The healing of the sick was consequently the task of applied theology and thus of the spiritual orders. Only monasteries were allowed to train doctors. This only changed in the High Middle Ages. Monks and nuns tied ointments with wax, honey and oil and used arsenic, mercury and sulfur, among others.

Unicorn medicine

Medieval medicine was steeped in magic. Powder from the horn of the mythical creature unicorn should fight all toxins. Drinking unicorn blood should give eternal life and its tears should dissolve stomach and kidney stones.

In 1638 the Danish doctor Ole Worm discussed that the "Ainkhürn" was actually the tusk of the male narwhal, which the Norwegians obtained from the Arctic Sea. However, in the 18th century, desperate people paid twenty times as much in gold for the powder - just as some terminal cancer patients today transfer their assets to charlatans of all stripes.

Friedrich II - empirical science

The German Emperor Friedrich II (1194-1250) put the sale of medicines on a systematic basis. Friedrich was in open conflict with the Pope because he despised the Church's dogma. Against his will, he had undertaken a crusade into the "Holy Land" under the Pope's compulsion.

Instead of slaughtering Muslims, he fraternized with them, learned the language of the Arabs and, above all, the empirical method practiced by the Arab scholars. Frederick II introduced scientific thinking in medieval Europe, learning by observing nature without value and experimenting, while the Church saw natural phenomena as metaphors and illnesses as punishments from God.

Friedrich regulated the medical system in 1241: Every pharmacy now had to be approved by the sovereign. Doctors were not allowed to work with pharmacists, but to control them and report charlatans.

Frederick's edict strengthened the privileged apotecarii. We know these resident pharmacists from Cologne 1263, from Trier 1241, from Würzburg 1254, from Konstanz 1264, from Hamburg 1265, from Münster 1267, from Magdeburg 1270 and from Innsbruck 1326.

Driving quacks

The outpatient pharmacists, however, weakened the tightened control. They moved from market to market with stalls (Schragen), erected their stands at bridges or town halls. Among them were the infamous quacks who cheered people on pseudomedicine, for example, "cured" toothache with opium products and had long since disappeared when the numbing effect wore off.

To condemn these traveling pharmacists, however, is not correct. There were just as serious pharmacists working among them (up to date, of course) as there were sedentary pharmaceutical manufacturers. Pharmacists turned from traveling traders to rich citizens who manufactured medicines in the pharmacy.

The academic pharmacist

Pharmaceuticals developed into an independent subject at the universities. In 1530 the universities in Padua and Bologna established professorships for pharmacology, and from 1536 apprentices to pharmacists in Paris had to attend lectures at the medical college.

Saints and mythical creatures

The pharmacists in the cities sold their goods from the window onto the street. The pharmacies were named after the location in the city, the quarter (grocer's pharmacy), the associated monastery (All Saints' Day ...), but also after real animals (lions, eagles etc.) or mythical creatures (unicorn, griffin, dragon). Christian figures (Johannes, Maria) were also popular. Sometimes the name also gave an indication of the exotic goods (Turks, Moors).

Today 429 pharmacies in Germany are named after the mother of Jesus, 62 after Saint Hubert, 56 after Saint Anthony and 78 after John the Baptist. In the Ruhr area, many of the shops bear the name of Saint Barbara, the patron saint of miners.

The workplace of the pharmacist

The pharmacist's "laboratory" was usually in his house. The tools included various scales, various mortars and pestles, friction bowls, presses for plant parts, countless vessels in various sizes made of copper, tin, brass, glass, clay, and a lot of bowls, basins, bowls and kettles to heat the materials to concentrate or cook. An oven or a fireplace was essential.

Then the pharmacist needed all the instruments for distillation: spoons, weighing knives, sieves, spatulas, knives and scissors.

A dangerous job

The work was anything but harmless due to the substances used: during the manufacture of laudanum, the pharmacist came into permanent contact with opium, a powder from cantharide beetles attacked breathing and urinary tract, and aronium burned the skin.

Pharmacists suffered from dizziness when they made an extract from deadly cherry or from headaches when working with linden blossoms, yew needles caused nausea and vomiting. Even worse were the toxic fumes of mercury, arsenic and antimony, which presumably caused the pharmacists to die early.

Merchant and pharmacist

The pharmacist developed as a profession in the specialization of the groceries of the Middle Ages. In addition to medicines, pharmacies also sold alcohol, spices, sweets, ink and paper.

They traded with pepper, ginger, nutmeg, saffron and cloves, with cinnamon bark and brazilwood, with gum arabic, with wax, plaster, soap, almonds, figs or grapes.

They completed a long course of training in the late Middle Ages. The pharmaceutical trade required specialized knowledge. The distribution of medicines was still a very responsible activity in the 14th century, and the pharmacists were responsible for the quality of the medicines, which the doctors could question at any time.

Medical advisor

Medieval pharmacists certainly advised customers on general health issues. However, there are hardly any sources for this.

In the early modern era, however, "serving the neighbor" was expressly considered a professional duty of the pharmacist. In 1613, the doctor Raymund Minderer asked the pharmacists "to weigh what is necessary for the sick with the dangerous".

In 1627, the Cologne Pharmacopoea described the pharmacist as the right hand of the doctor and wrote that he should "take care of the insight into the meaning of medical treatment and the prescribed means".

New self-confidence

Pharmacists increasingly understood their work as the pharmaceutical basis of applied medicine. Johann Bartholomäus Trommsdorf (1770-1837), for example, wrote a "Chemical Receptirkunst or paperback for practical work", which should give the doctors a guideline, "in which [!] They can easily relax Raths, where they overlook the substances at a glance which could decompose, etc., in short, which saved them from any chemical error. "

At the end of the 18th century, pharmaceuticals split into the medical discipline of pharmacology and pharmacognosy. The pharmacists concentrated primarily on the chemical substance, the doctors studied less and less about this scientific basis.

Sugar and porcelain

Chemistry developed in the early modern period, and German pharmacies became laboratories that researched the effects of drugs. Berlin, Thuringia and Saxony in particular promoted pharmaceutical science.

With new methods it became possible to extract active substances. Andreas Siegmund Marggraf (1709-1782) was a pioneer who isolated crystal sugar from the sugar beet and thus made it possible to mass produce sugar, while cane sugar had previously been a luxury product and ordinary people had resorted to honey.

The pharmacist Johann Friedrich Böttger discovered the recipe for making porcelain in the early 8th century. He acted on behalf of Augustus the Strong and spent years in prison so that he would not reveal the secret. He later headed the porcelain factory in Meißen.

The pharmacist Friedrich Ferdinand Runge (1795-1867) developed the aniline colors, isolated caffeine, atropine and quinoline and thus exposed the raw materials for many synthetic medicines.

Pharmacies not only served to earn bread for scientists, but sometimes also for artists. Frederick the Wise of Saxony gave Lukas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553) the pharmacy at Wittenberg so that the painter had a regular income.

Pharmacists had been studying for three to four years since the Middle Ages, and their profession was considered a craft. In Prussia, they also had to study for two semesters from 1825.

The pharmacist as a naturalist

Until well into the modern era, chemistry, zoology and botany were not differentiated as separate subjects, and the materia medica from the realms of plants, animals and minerals was part of the knowledge of pharmacists.

Conversely, many naturalists in the bread profession were pharmacists. Pharmaceuticals have always been closely related to alchemy, and pharmacies have up-to-date laboratories where the owners can also carry out other chemical experiments.

Chemistry, botany, zoology, and early modern physics manuals often came from pharmacists. Around 1800 a "double job" was established. Pharmacists worked part-time as scientists, according to Carl Wilhelm Schiele from Stralsund.

Private scholars

Few pharmacists, however, had a regular career in university. In the 19th century, it was almost impossible to do a part-time habilitation or even to do a doctorate, and the scientistically active pharmacists worked primarily as private scholars.

They enjoyed a good reputation, in Germany pharmacists were synonymous with scholars. Her practical work made her ideal for museum activities, because collecting, organizing and evaluating was part of pharmaceutical science.

Cabinets in kind

Cabinets in kind were the forerunners of the natural history museums, and the pharmacist Basilius Besler (1561-1629) created such a cabinet with objects from the three empires.

The Lincksche Naturalienkabinett also became famous that the Gdańsk pharmacist Heinrich Linck invested in his adopted home of Leipzig, where his pharmacy is still in operation on Grimmaische Strasse.

His son Johann Heinrich Linck (1674-1734) took over the pharmacy and collection in 1710. According to Linck's own statements, this contained 800 glasses “with all sorts of animals conserved in spirit balsamic”. Among other things, Linck preserved preserved monkeys, bats and crocodiles, fossils and minerals, corals and plants.

Hieronymus II Bernouli (1745-1829), a pharmacist from Basel, managed a collection of minerals, petrified animals and plants, insects and mollusks, and this went into the Natural History Museum Basel after his death.

The Jena pharmacist Oscar Brehm mainly collected insects and minerals, drowned in the Nile in 1849; Franz Hübner from Halle studied zoology and pharmacy and traveled to the South Sea to collect Naturalia there. He died of a sunstroke in the Duke of York Islands.

The pharmacist Josef Maria skull finally collected naturalia and ethnographics in China and Japan and donated them to the Natural History Museum Hamburg, the Bamberg Natural History Cabinet and the Munich Ethnographic Museum.


Until modern times, medicinal products consisted mainly of plants. A pharmacist was therefore necessarily a botanist. Collecting plants and planting herbaria was one of the professional duties.

The pharmacist Friedrich Ehrhardt (1742-1795) set up a herbarium, which is now in the Botanical Institute in Göttingen. Ernst Hampe (1795-880) studied in the Hirsch pharmacy in Halle and managed the pharmacy in Blankenburg. He created an ample collection of mosses that are now stored in the British Museum.

The pharmacist Carl Haussknecht (1838-1903) traveled to Kurdistan, Persia and to the sources of the Euphrates, received the title of professor in 1869 and founded the botanical association of Thuringia in 1882. His herbarium consisted of two library and work rooms and a hall. His collection is now in Jena.

Mineral collector

Other pharmacists promoted mineralogy. For example, the Clausthal pharmacist Johann Christoph Ilsemann (1729-1822) also taught chemistry and mineralogy and maintained an extensive mineral collection in the Harz Mountains, which impressed Goethe.


Animals also play a role in pharmacy - animal toxins are particularly important, for example the toxins of snakes, frogs or scorpions. It is difficult to determine whether the pharmacy was there first and then "the chicken". In any case, pharmacists also researched animals that did not provide any nutrients for medicines.

Friedrich Wilhelm Justus Baedeker (1788 to 1865), owner of the pharmacy in Wittern since 1811, collected bird eggs and contributed 34 color plates to Brehm's “Handbook on the Natural History of All Birds in Germany”.

The Dresden pharmacist Franz Brahts (1802-1872) created a large collection of bird preparations and was a member of the Görlitz Natural Science Society.

The pharmacist Adolf Schwab from Trübau collected 1313 species of birds and 374 eggs. Theodor Bühler-Lindenmeyer, pharmacist in Basel, created an ornithological collection that today belongs to the Basel Natural History Museum.

Johann Gottfried Schmeisser was born in St. Andreasberg in 1767 and learned the pharmacist trade from Johann Ludwig Gösche in Bockenem. He then worked in Braunschweig and Hamburg. The British naturalist Joseph Banks introduced him to the botanist James Edward Smith and the doctor John Hunter. These introduced him to the Royal Society as a fellow.

Schmeisser stayed in England for seven years. In 1794 he became a member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and later he joined the Sociéte Philomathique in Paris. In 1805 he acquired a pharmacy in Altona, but moved to Copenhagen and did not return to Hamburg until 1823, where he practiced as a doctor and gave lectures at the university.

Moles and ammonites

Johannes Kober was finally born in Mötzingen in 1840. Originally he wanted to become a theologian, but then began an apprenticeship as a pharmacist in Mainhardt, studied pharmacy in Tübingen from 1866 and practiced in the golden pharmacy in Basel. He studied zoology and anatomy and became a partner in the golden pharmacy.

He became known with a book on the natural history of animals, a comparative work on ammonites and a text on the mole. He worked as a pharmacist during the day and did his scientific studies at night.

Aspirin and thalidomide

Active substances were isolated in the early modern period, and the first synthetic medicines came onto the market at the end of the 19th century. The first was "Antipyrin" in 1884. Aspirin followed five years later. From 1923, insulin was effective against diabetes.

In the 20th century, synthetic medicinal products were considered the victory of modern technology over the hauntings of nature. A break in this belief in progress came with the thalidomide. It damaged the embryos in the womb and led to children with shortened arms. Skepticism about modern medicines grew, and the federal drug law in Germany was expanded to include comprehensive tests that a medication must pass before it is launched on the market.

An exception are only homeopathic remedies, which not only do not go through any test procedures, but also contradict the natural sciences and are based on the signature theory of the Middle Ages. It is thanks to the wife of former Federal President Carl Carstens that homeopathic drugs can undermine the control mechanisms of the Medicinal Products Act.

This esotericist believed in homeopathy and successfully used her husband's influence to lobby for her pseudoscience.

In 1976 the package insert became mandatory.

The pharmacist becomes an examiner

Industrialization shifted the pharmacist's field of work. He now made fewer and fewer medications himself, but advised customers to choose the right remedy while getting the medicines themselves from pharmaceutical companies.
In the Federal Republic, the pharmacist is one of the liberal professions, and after 1945 that also meant freedom of establishment in the western occupation zones.

Medicines are price-bound, so pharmacists only compete on the basis of the quality of their customer advice and have advantages and disadvantages due to the location of their point of sale.

Pharmacies today

Today there are 21,500 pharmacies in Germany that are open 365 days a year. An emergency service ensures that the sick can get medication in the middle of the night. There is great trust in pharmacists in Germany. In surveys, they rank among the top places in all professions when it comes to satisfaction and trust.

There are prescription-only medicines that pharmacies can only dispense with a doctor's prescription and pharmacy-only medicines: the latter can only sell pharmacies, but no other shops.

Medicines and nail scissors

The variety of the offer corresponds entirely to the beginnings of the "medical shops". The focus is actually on medication, but pharmacies offer everything that can be associated with health.

The range includes insoles with gel pads for shoes as well as nail scissors, ginger candy and vitamin tablets. Pharmacies are still combinations of retail outlets and specialist advice and are accordingly expensive.

Prices are fixed for medicinal products, but not for other products, and herbal teas such as sage pills are more expensive than comparable products in supermarkets. (Dr. Utz Anhalt)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Dr. phil. Utz Anhalt, Barbara Schindewolf-Lensch


  • Schmitz, Rudolf; Friedrich, Christoph: History of Pharmacy, Volume 1, Govi-Verlag, 1998
  • Freichel, Oliver: Presentation and criticism of the new aut-idem regulation for medicinal products,, 2016
  • Groß, Dominik (ed.): Reininger, Monika (ed.): Medicine in History, Philology and Ethnology: Commemorative publication for Gundolf Keil, Königshausen & Neumann, 2003
  • Bergdolt, Klaus: The Conscience of Medicine: Medical Morality from Antiquity to the Present, C.H.Beck, 2004
  • Ziegenbein, Ralf: The pharmacist as a merchant: the general competence profile of the successful pharmacist, Verlag-Haus Monsenstein and Vannerdat, 2008

Video: The Pandemic That Shook London. The Great Plague. Timeline (July 2022).


  1. Abdul-Azim

    Admirable topic

  2. Oren

    It happens. We can communicate on this theme.

  3. Gugis

    I am ready to help you, ask questions. Together we can arrive at the correct answer.

Write a message