Toxicology in Antiquity is the first in a series of short format works covering key accomplishments, scientists, and events in the broad field of toxicology, including environmental health and chemical safety. This first volume sets the tone for the series and starts at the very beginning, historically speaking, with a look at toxicology in ancient times. The book explains that before scientific research methods were developed, toxicology thrived as a very practical discipline. People living in ancient civilizations readily learned to distinguish safe substances from hazardous ones, how to avoid these hazardous substances, and how to use them to inflict harm on enemies. It also describes scholars who compiled compendia of toxic agents.

Key Features

  • Provides the historical background for understanding modern toxicology
  • Illustrates the ways ancient civilizations learned to distinguish safe from hazardous substances, how to avoid the hazardous substances and how to use them against enemies
  • Details scholars who compiled compendia of toxic agents


Toxicologists and other professionals working in environmental health fields, as well a more general audience interested in the history of toxicology

Table of Contents

  • Toxicology in Antiquity
  • List of Contributors
  • Foreword
    • References
  • Preface to the Series and Volumes 1 and 2
  • Chapter 1. Toxicology in Ancient Egypt
    • 1.1 Introduction
    • 1.2 Snakes as Described in the Brooklyn Papyrus
    • 1.3 Scorpions
    • 1.4 Tetanus
    • 1.5 Plant and Mineral Toxins
    • References
  • Chapter 2. The Death of Cleopatra: Suicide by Snakebite or Poisoned by Her Enemies?
    • 2.1 Cleopatra’s Ancestry and Historical Background of the Era
    • 2.2 Cleopatra’s Reign. Her Downfall and Her Death
    • 2.3 Epilogue
    • References
  • Chapter 3. Mithridates of Pontus and His Universal Antidote
    • 3.1 Influences
    • 3.2 Pharmacological and Toxic Riches
    • 3.3 Avoiding Assassination by Poison
    • 3.4 The Secret Antidote
    • 3.5 Mithridatium’s Legacy
    • References
  • Chapter 4. Theriaca Magna: The Glorious Cure-All Remedy
    • 4.1 Introduction
    • 4.2 Theriac in Antiquity
    • 4.3 Theriac in the Medieval Period
    • 4.4 Theriac in the Renaissance
    • 4.5 Conclusion
    • References
  • Chapter 5. Nicander, Thêriaka, and Alexipharmaka: Venoms, Poisons, and Literature
    • 5.1 The Thêriaka
    • 5.2 The Alexipharmaka
    • 5.3 The Nicandrean Question
    • 5.4 Ancient Toxicology
    • 5.5 Venoms, Poisons, and Art
    • Reference
  • Chapter 6. Alexander the Great: A Questionable Death
    • 6.1 Alexander’s Last Days
    • 6.2 Modern Theories of Natural Causes
    • 6.3 Modern Theories of Poisoning
    • 6.4 The Styx River Poison Plot
    • References
  • Chapter 7. Harmful Botanicals
    • 7.1 Classical Toxicology
    • 7.2 Sources and Data
    • 7.3 Analysis
    • 7.4 Conclusion


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© 2014
Academic Press
eBook ISBN:
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About the author

Philip Wexler

Philip Wexler is a Technical Information Specialist at the National Library of Medicine’s (NLM) Toxicology and Environmental Health Information Program. A recipient of the NLM Regents Award for Scholarly or Technical Achievement and the Distinguished Technical Communication Award of the Washington chapter of the Society for Technical Communication, he is team leader for the development of the ToxLearn online multi-module tutorials, a joint activity with the SOT. Mr. Wexler is also project officer for the LactMed file on drugs and lactation, and the IRIS and ITER risk assessment databases. He is federal liaison to the Toxicology Education Foundation (TEF), past Chair of SOT’s World Wide Web Advisory Team, and past President of its Ethical, Legal, and Social Issues Specialty Section. Mr. Wexler led the World Library of Toxicology project prior to its migration to the INND/Toxipedia group, and remains a federal liaison to the project. He was a member of the Education and Communications Work Group of the CDC/ATSDR’s National Conversation on Public Health and Chemical Exposure. A co-developer of the Toxicology History Room, he is co-founder and federal liaison to the Toxicology History Association. Mr. Wexler has lectured and been published widely in the U.S. and abroad on toxicology and toxicoinformatics. He is the Editor-in-Chief of three editions of the Encyclopedia of Toxicology (Third Edition, 2014) and four editions of Information Resources in Toxicology (Fourth edition, 2009), as well as numerous other books and articles. In 2010, he was named the recipient of the US Society of Toxicology’s Public Communications Award. Mr. Wexler also serves as an associate editor for a toxicology journal.

Affiliations and Expertise

National Library of Medicine’s (NLM) Toxicology and Environmental Health Information Program


"Phil Wexler’s latest riveting. The book focuses on toxicology/poisons/venoms/religion and the surrounding mystery found in antiquity to the fall of the Roman Empire." --International journal of Toxicology