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Theriac, a thick syrupy liquid medicine (known as an electuary) made from as many as 64 different ingredients, was stored in this earthenware jar. Variations appeared over the centuries in a number of different cultures. The ingredients were often strange and exotic. For example, in ancient Greece, the flesh of snakes was considered vital in the preparation of theriac. Originally theriac was used to treat poisoning and later became a universal cure for a range of illnesses. It was still in use in the late 1700s. This jar was made in either Rome or the town of Deruta and was used by priests from the Jesuit Order. Such religious orders were one source of medical care for the poor who could not afford to pay for expensive treatments.

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Glossary: pharmacy

The preparation and medicinal dispensing of drugs.

Glossary: theriac

An ointment used as an antidote to snake venom or other poison.

Glossary: albarello

A form of jar, typically from Medieval Spain, used for storing drugs. The word ‘albarello’ is of Spanish origin but historians appear divided over whether or not the design of the jar originated in Spain, Morocco or China. The shape of the waisted jar is distinctive.