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Journeys Scurvy Herbals Vesalius


CRUZ, MARTIN. The Badianus manuscript: (Codex Barberini) Vatican Library: an Aztec herbal of 1552. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1940.

The Badianus Manuscript is a sixteenth-century Mexican herbal composed in the year 1552 in the College of Santa Cruz at Tlaltelco, Mexico City. The principal author of the manuscript was Martin de la Cruz. The second author was Juannes Badianus, whose signature appears in the postscript at the end of the last chapter. Both of these men were Aztec Indians educated at the College of Santa Cruz.

The manuscript is a complete herbal consisting of sixty-three folios approximately six by eight inches in size, clearly written in Latin and Aztec. It is divided into thirteen chapters, each representing an attempt to group maladies by either similar type or similar location in the body. The first eight chapters follow the latter arrangement, beginning with the head and continuing to the feet. The text is exquisitely illustrated with pictures of 204 herbs and trees.

Cortez and others reported in Europe that the Aztecs were excellent botanists. Their choice of plants, as described in the Badianus, gives proof of a vast empirical knowledge of the effects of certain plants on the human system.

In 1552 the Badianus was sent, as a gift, from Viceroy Don Francisco de Mendoza to King Charles V. A herbal, containing the secrets of Aztec medicine, was an invaluable gift promising good health and longevity. Unfortunately, history does not record whether Charles V or his personal physician Andreas Vesalius ever had the opportunity to read his gift. Charles V died at age 58 in 1558.

The Badianus Manuscript was discovered in 1929 in the Vatican Library by a historian, Professor Charles M. Clark. In 1931, Dr. Clark brought the manuscript to the attention of Dr. William Welch of Johns Hopkins University. In 1940 Johns Hopkins Press published this facsimile edition of the Badianus Manuscript.