Ancient medical recipe books and pharmacopoeias are important tools for understanding the historical evolution of pharmaceutical sciences and the progress of the production of medicinal preparations through the centuries.
Initially, it was the individual doctors who compiled the pharmaceutical texts, thereby spreading their knowledge and experience; soon, it was the sovereigns and corporate organizations, who overlooked how the profession was practiced, who argued for the need to regulate medical activity and pharmaceutical art, unifying methods of drug preparation and treatment.
Thus began the publication of antidotes books, medical recipe books, and, subsequently, of pharmacopoeias, which soon became effective instruments of control and guidance for the pharmaceutical profession, providing it with a scientific qualification and delineating the figure of the ‘speziale’ (chemist). While always remaining subordinate to the doctor, the ‘speziale’ began to refer to the recipe book as a proper code of ethics, which also reported the correct composition of the medicines and the list of approved ones.
Great importance was the Ricettario Fiorentino, which from January 1499 (Florentine year 1498) to 1789 had numerous editions and reprints. The editorial work was entrusted to the Medical College of Florence by the Consuls of the Art of Doctors and Chemists, who had authority over the doctors and ‘speziali’ of the city and the countryside.
The Ricettario Fiorentino can be considered the first public pharmacopoeia as we mean today, that is a book written by order of the authorities that indicated the medicaments to be stored in pharmacies and the rules to be followed in the preparation of the drugs, thus providing a kind of code that, protecting public health, served as a guide to doctors and pharmacists. The concept of officialness introduced by the Ricettario was inspired by all the subsequent Pharmacopoeias published both on the Italian territory and abroad.