D. It is, however, manifestly a copy of a work previously written, as slight errors
evidently due to a copyist, are found. That the original is later than the first century A. D. is certain,
as there are included in it extracts from the Materia Medica of Dioscorides. The work is a collection
of chemical recipes and directions for:
1. Making metallic alloys
2. Imitations of gold, silver or electrum
3. Dyeing and other related arts
The Leyden papyrus comprises about seventy-five recipes pertaining to the making of alloys, for
soldering metals, for coloring the surfaces of metals, for testing the quality of or purity of metals, or
for imitating the precious metals.
There are fifteen recipes for writing in gold or silver or in imitation of gold and silver writing. There
are eleven recipes for dyeing stuffs in purple or other colors. The last eleven paragraphs are
extracts from the Materia Medica of Dioscorides, relating to the minerals or materials used in the
One interesting fact is a test for pure gold. Test for purity of gold, remelt and heat it. If pure, it keeps its
color after heating, and remains like a coin. If it becomes whiter, it contains silver, if it becomes rough and
hard, it contains copper and tin, if it softens and
blackens it contains lead.
To write in letters of gold - take quicksilver, pour it into a suitable vase and add gold leaf. When the gold
appears dissolved in the quicksilver, shake well, add a little gum, one grain for example, and letting it stand,
write in letters of gold.
Manufacture of asem (electrum):
Tin, 12 drachmas; quicksilver, 4 drachmas; earth of Chios, 2 drachmas. To the melted tin add the powdered
earth, then add the mercury, stir with an iron, and put it into use.
When Alexander the Great conquered Egypt in 33 B.C. and his general Ptolemy became
King of Egypt, the Greek city of Alexandria was founded, and soon became not only the
most important city of Egypt, but through the foundation of schools and the
accumulation of libraries became the acknowledged center of the intellectual world.
As the power of Rome grew, Greek and Egyptian power declined. Egypt became a Roman
province in 80 B. C. A fire, started, it is recorded, from ships burning in the
harbor during Caesar's conquest of Alexandria, burned an important part of the
collection of manuscripts of the Alexandria libraries.
Under the Roman Empire, Alexandria, however, still exerted great influence and in the
reign of Augustus was a metropolis second only to Rome itself, but in the succeeding
centuries when Rome was suffering from internal disintegration and the Roman Empire was
crumbling from successful barbarian invasions; Alexandrian culture also yielded to the
In the third century, the conditions throughout the Empire were such as to justify
the statement of competent critic - "In the tempest of anarchy during the third century
A.D. the civilization of the ancient world suffered final collapse. The supremacy of
mind and of scientific knowledge won by the Greeks in the third century B.C. yielded to
the reign of ignorance and superstition in these social disasters of the third century
In the light of present knowledge, it was in the period of the first to the third
centuries that the mystical cult which cultivated the fantastic ideas of that kind of
chemical philosophy which later came to be called alchemy, first developed. The
beginning seems to have been the development of a secret cult of Alexandrian mystics
bound by oath never to reveal to the uninitiated the mysterious knowledge which they
claimed to have. That the members of the cult were originally of the Egyptian
priesthood or foreign scholars initiated by them, seems probable, for Egyptian deities
or mythological personages are prominent as authorities in their writings.
cult was of comparatively late development is evidenced by the prominence of Persian,
and Hebrew authorities that were also frequently cited in their early writings. All
this points to the cosmopolitan influence of the Alexandrian schools the melting pots
of Greek, Egyptian, Hebrew, Persian and Chaldean philosophies, sciences, religions and
superstitions. The universal sway of the Roman power and the pax Romana had also the
effect of spreading the various cultures and national religions, but at the same time
of weakening their authority.
In the early centuries of our era, Rome and Athens contained temples of Egyptian Isis,
and shrines to Mithra, the Persian sun god, were frequent in Greek and Roman cities,
symptoms of a decline in the power of the ancient religions in the centers of
civilization under the Empire.
There was rising the new and at first persecuted sect of Christians destined soon to
supplant the old faiths. Recognized and protected early in the fourth century under the
Emperor Constantine, the new sect as it gained influence waged war upon the schools of
ancient pagan philosophies.