This manuscript came from the fine personal library of Cardinal Fabio Chigi, who took the name of Alexander VII on his election as Pope (1655-1667), and it is now conserved in the Apostolic Library in the Vatican (Chig. F.VII.1590).
It contains the pharmacopoea which was universally used in the Greek, Roman and Arab worlds from the second century AD until modern times and known as a Dioscorides, after Pedacius Dioscorides Anazarbeus, a Greek doctor in the service of the Roman legions. In his "De Materia Medica", he listed 600 plants, 90 minerals and 30 animal products, with a drawing of each one and a note of its therapeutic properties.
The Vatican codex is made up of 242 folios on parchment measuring 283 x 198 mm., to which were added in the 17th century (when it was already in Italy) 2 folios in paper containing an alphabetical index of all the simples.
The manuscript was originally conceived as a series of drawings only, with no explanatory text. It was compiled, using alphabetical order, around the middle of the 15th century, in the Monastery of St. John the Baptist in Constantinople, and was modelled on a famous Dioscorides which had been given in 512 to Juliana Anisia, daughter of the emperor Anisius Olibira and Placidia, daughter of Valentinian III; it is now conserved in Vienna. A religious in the Monastery of St. Demetrius, called Isidore Ruthenus, was charged with writing in the Greek names of the plants in very small letters on the tops of the folios. Five other hands, two Greek and then later, after the codex came to Italy, three Latin, added other names for the plants in Greek, Latin and also some Romance languages.
Most of the folios (13-219) represent plants with a smaller number (221-232) showing the animal world (reptiles, insects, birds, etc.). The quality of the drawings and the accuracy of the colour used are so remarkable that botanists describe this as a unique work of art among manuals of ancient and medieval pharmacopoea and botany.
We have 1 facsimile edition of the manuscript "Greek Dioscorides": Dioscórides Greco-Latino del Papa Alejandro VII facsimile edition, published by Testimonio Compañía Editorial, 2001