Reconstructing the Hellenistic Heritage: Chemical Processes, Devices and Products from Illustrated Greek Manuscripts—An Interdisciplinary Approach

  • Dimitrios YfantisEmail author
Conference paper
Part of the Communications in Computer and Information Science book series (CCIS, volume 962)


After the conquest of Alexandria in Egypt by the Arabs (642 AD) the mainly empirical knowledge of chemical technology was transmitted to the West as Alchemy. Fragments of the entire knowledge reached our days in the form of later manuscripts (10th to 18th century) in several collections. Many manuscripts contain illustrations of devices for conducting chemical processes like distillation, sublimation, digestion and others. There is lack of information about the operation and the product of these apparatus. In this communication we have focused on five figures from illustrated manuscripts of St Marc Library in Venice (in book of M. Berthelot «Collection des anciens Alchimistes Grecs» 1887). By comparison of the illustrations and with aid of the Graeco-roman literature we have concluded that in a manuscript of alembic (Fig. 5) is shown probably the dry distillation of mineral sulfur for the production of pure sulfur. In mixture with others sulfur is a critical material for giving gold-like color to metallic objects.


Hellenistic heritage Illustrated manuscripts Chemical technology Apparatus 



My thanks to Sychem Group of companies SA (Advanced Water Technologies) for valuable technical assistance.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Chemical EngineeringNational Technical University of Athens, NTUAAthensGreece

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