Global Ceramics

Lead seal for a Venetian Theriac capsule / jar, 17th century

Lead seal for a Venetian Theriac capsule / jar, 17th century


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Directory: Antiques: Instruments and Implements: Medical: Apothecary: Pre 1700: Item # 1385503
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Theriac or Mithridate lead seal, dating from the first years of the 17th century. Theriac (from a Greek word related to “wild beasts”) was a classic antidote, a mixture including snake flesh, opium, myrrh and minerals plus spices, adding up to more than 60 ingredients in all. This concoct is said to have been invented by Mithridates, an Anatolian king who lived in fear of being poisoned. Later it became the speciality of Venetian apothecaries. Mind you, Theriac took some 40 days to prepare and had to mature for 12 years (!) and so was exported in sealed vessels, to prevent fake. It was used for a wide range of diseases well into the 19th century. This lead seal or cap would have covered a small lead capsule or ceramic jar and stamped like a coin with a head in profile. The name of the pharmacy was La Testa Doro (The Golden Head) and the surrounding text reads THERIACA FINA A LA TESTA DORO IN VENET and the year is stated as 1603. To the left of the head is a V for Venice, to the right an U (?). An interesting article about Theriac can be studied in Cahiers d'archéologie Fribourgeoise 5 (2003). Height "1/3 / 7 mm, diameter "1 ½ / 3.7 cm. Condition: fine.