The work was written between 50 and 70 AD by Pedanius Dioscorides, a Greek physician in the Roman army. It was widely read for more than 1,500 years until supplanted by revised herbals in the Renaissance, making it one of the longest-lasting of all natural history books.
De Materia Medica was circulated as illustrated manuscripts, copied by hand, in Greek, Latin and Arabic throughout the mediaeval period. From the sixteenth century on, Dioscorides' text was translated into Italian, German, Spanish, and French, and in 1655 into English. It formed the basis for herbals in these languages by men such as Leonhart Fuchs, Valerius Cordus, Lobelius, Rembert Dodoens, Carolus Clusius, John Gerard and William Turner. Gradually such herbals included more and more direct observations, supplementing and eventually supplanting the classical text.
Several manuscripts and early printed versions of De Materia Medica survive, including the illustrated Vienna Dioscurides manuscript written in the original Greek in sixth-century Constantinople; it was used there by the Byzantines as a hospital text for just over a thousand years. Sir Arthur Hill saw a monk on Mount Athos still using a copy of Dioscorides to identify plants in 1934.
Between 50 and 70 AD, a Greek physician in the Roman army, Dioscorides, wrote a five-volume book in his native Greek, Περὶ ὕλης ἰατρικῆς (Peri hules iatrikēs, "On Medical Material"), known more widely in Western Europe by its Latin title De Materia Medica. He had studied pharmacology at Tarsus in Roman Anatolia (now Turkey). The book became the principal reference work on pharmacology across Europe and the Middle East for over 1500 years, and was thus the precursor of all modern pharmacopoeias.
In contrast to many classical authors, De Materia Medica was not "rediscovered" in the Renaissance, because it never left circulation; indeed, Dioscorides' text eclipsed the Hippocratic corpus. In the medieval period, De Materia Medica was circulated in Latin, Greek, and Arabic. In the Renaissance from 1478 onwards, it was printed in Italian, German, Spanish, and French as well. In 1655, John Goodyer made an English translation from a printed version, probably not corrected from the Greek.