Teriaca – the Divine Potion
Teriaca – the Divine Potion to “cure all evils”, was produced by apothecaries under license from the Venetian State. Out of the ninety apothecaries in Venice, only about forty were licensed to produce it under strict rules. The license holders who were known as “teriacanti”, made the potion on the street in bronze cauldrons; carefully watched by the public and state officials.
The production of Teriaca was considered to be a noble art; meaning Apothecaries could marry into Patrician families!
Teriaca – the Divine Potion: Traces of past production
There are three sites today, where traces of the past manufacturing process can be seen.
Firstly, in the San Marco district, just opposite the Pharmacy at the junction of Calle Spezier and the Campo Santa Stefano. About five metres from the Pharmacy are three circular depressions in the paving. These mark the space where cauldrons were placed.
Secondly, in the Cannaregio district outside the pharmacy Alla Colonna e Mezza (originally called the “Alle Due Colonne”), in Campo San Polo; is another depression where the Teriaca manufacture took place.
Thirdly, in the San Marco district just this side of the Rialto Bridge, is to be seen high up on a wall the Golden Head (Testa D’Oro). This marks the original site of the “Alla Testa D’Oro” (At the Golden Head) pharmacy.
From 1603 onwards, they were the only Apothecary licensed to produce Teriaca three times a year; because it was considered outstanding in quality. All others only once a year.
Apothecaries were stipulated to put all the ingredients on display outside their premises, for three days before the process started. The most common ingredient was from vipers and said to have restorative properties for aging skin! Snakes were collected in late spring to summer and kept in lattice-work cages, much to the amusement of the public.
As the Venetian Republic grew in importance, the medicinal trade benefited from the near monopoly that the city had in the spice trade with the East. Good quality ingredients became available at reasonable prices. From 1468, all trading ships, crew and goods were held in quarantine on the island of Lazzaretto Nuovo for forty days, to avoid any contamination risks to the city.
In the 16th C, trade in medicines grew at such a rate, that authorities had to impose limits on the number of apothecaries opening up.
Due to the rapid development of the printing and publishing industry in Venice, the most significant books and texts dealing with medicines and pharmacology were produced. The present-day collection, held in the Biblioteca Marciano; contains all the fundamental texts on Arabic medicine. These works provided the Venetians with the intellectual and scientific understanding necessary, for production of different types of medicines.
As manufacture of medicines gained importance, the Venetian authorities imposed strict regulations and quality control; leading to an opening up of international markets.
However, the potions success brought about abuse in the form of unregulated over-production and also counterfeiting of ingredients or labelling.
In the 1940’s, with the introduction of new regulations regarding pharmaceutical products; opium added for its analgesic properties, was banned and the original recipe could not be produced anymore.
In the 2nd Century B.C., a physician-poet called Nicandra from Colophon, Ionia; wrote a poem named Teriaca. His treatise was based on the treatment of bites from wild animals, in particular snakes or serpents; or by extension any poisons. The name was derived from the Greek word “Therion”, meaning viper or serpent.
In 65 B.C. Methridates, King of Pontus in north-west Turkey, was the first to brew the potion containing 29 ingredients.
Andromachus, personal physician to Nero, added another 25 substances.
Criton, physician to Trajan and Claudius Galenus, the philosopher-physician (131-201); were responsible for building the potions reputation.
In future years, a whole host of recipes were concocted, often according to where in Europe it was made. However, the common extravagant ingredients were powdered viper, opium, dried wine lees, powdered stag’s testicles and the horn of a unicorn (narwhale).
Cures for a multitude of complaints included; the plague and all infectious diseases, bites and stings, tuberculosis, stomach ailments and sight defects!
The Venetians built a reputation for the quality and efficacy of its state licensed and regulated product, gaining an international export market
Teriaca – The Divine Potion Teriaca – The Divine Potion Teriaca – The Divine Potion