Terra Lemnia

History

Terra Lemnia was a medicine, widespread for many centuries, from antiquity to the 19th century.

The finding of Vulcan (Hephaestus) on Lemnos

The finding of Vulcan (Hephaestus) on Lemnos

It is referred to from ancient times as a substance with various medicinal properties. It was thought to have a haemostatic effect, cure dysentery, relieve stomach ulcers, neutralize the poison of snakes and as an ointment, it was suitable for eye inflammation.

It was mined in a ritualistic way from the place Hephaestus had fallen in Lemnos, since according to legend, he healed his wounds with its help. Also Philoctetes healed his wounded leg with Terra Lemnia from a snake bit, as Philostratus states in his work “On Heroes”.

First mention was by Herodotus. Then, many scholars and physicians of the ancient times studied it, use it and wrote about it. But the one who spread the word about Terra Lemnia was Galen of Pergamon, the greatest physician of antiquity after Hippocrates. In 167 AD he visited Lemnos to gain a direct opinion about this, he attended the mining ceremony and purchased 20,000 tablets.

Sporadic reports of various physicians of the Byzantine era, marked that its extraction and use continued during a long period of time. It is also mentioned in Syrian and Arabic medical works. Since the Renaissance its reputation arrived in Europe, resulting in almost all the travellers who visited or wrote about Lemnos, up until the 19th century, to refer to it.

Mining

In ancient times the mining ceremony of Terra Lemnia was consecrated by a priestess, who came from the capital of Lemnos, Hephaestia, on May 6, early in the morning so that the soil would be soft from dewiness. Subsequently it was transferred to the city, where after being appropriately processed, it was packed in trays and sealed with the form of a goat or the goddess Artemis.

It was the first standardized drug in the history of medicine.

 Philoctetes heales his wounded leg

Philoctetes heales his wounded leg

During the Christian era the ceremony was combined with the feast of Christ and was celebrated on the 6th of August. The stamp bore the figure of Christ and was Agiochoma.

During the Ottoman occupation it was sealed with the crescent or other official Ottoman stamps that read “Tin Imachton” (sealed clay). In Europe it was known as “Terra Lemnia” or “Terra Sigillata” (sealed earth). The ceremony was celebrated in the whole of Lemnos. It was done by a Christian priest in the presence of Greek and Turkish officials and large crowds, as described by Belon (1548) and is shown in a relative woodcut 16th century (Thevet). The Turkish Soumpasis had the right to exploit the medicinal earth and later on the Chotzas of the nearby village of Agios Hypatios, where the processing and sealing was done. Part of the soil, strictly for personal use, was given to the attendees at the ceremony, while from the 17th until the early 20th century, a quantity was given to the local potters.
The position from which it was extracted was located on the Hill Despotis (Bishop) , which was called Mosychlos in the ancient times, between the villages Repanidi, Kotsinos and Varos, south of the Saviour’s chapel.

Consistency

Analyses both in the past and more recent ones reveal that Terra Lemnia consists mainly of silicate clay and alumina. It also contains a high percentage of iron oxide (4-6%) that gives it a characteristic reddish brown colour. The hue is called “moderate reddish brown” and is defined as the number 43 of the world’s colour atlas, with the name Terra Lemnia.
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