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Pillula a rotunditate dicta scilicet parva pila in aliquibus antiquis libris cataputia pro pillula invenitur.


Pillula AC j | pillula p {not rubricated, continuous with entry Pilos} | Pilula B ef
{Pillula} | scʒ {= scilicet} add. j
s. {= scilicet} AC efjp | sed B
pila AC ej | pilla fp | pillua B
antiquis libris | l. a. B ef
cataputia AC jp | catapucia B ef


Pillula {"pill"} is named after its round shape, i.e. "little ball". In some old books the word cataputia is found instead of pillula.


Colloquially the word "pill" is nowadays often used in the sense of "tablet" or even "capsule". But a tablet, the most popular dosage form in modern pharmacy, is a mixture of active and inactive substances usually in powder form, compacted into a solid dose, while a capsule consists of a soluble shell to enclose medicines.

But as the name suggests pills were originally little round balls of diverse medicinally inactive edible substances, called excipients, like syrups, honey, resins, spices or even bread into which active medical ingredients, e.g. powdered herbs or juices, were mixed. This was then worked into a pliable mass, rolled into spherical shape and left to dry. However pills could also have different shapes, e.g. be flat-shaped, and they were produced in different sizes that were convenient enough to be swallowed whole. In the Middle Ages coating of pills for improved taste or ease of swallowing or merely for visual attractiveness became popular.

In ancient Greece pills were called καταπóτιον /katapótion/, which means "something to be swallowed", the diminutive of κατάποτον /katápoton/ "pill, bolus", ultimately < καταπίνω /katapínō/ "to gulp, swallow down of liquids and solids". It may be of interest to mention that before the extensive use of pills medicine was mainly administered in some form of liquid, e.g. by soaking herbs in water or alcohol that had to be drunk by the patient.

Latin pilula, i.e. "little ball, little globe", is as Simon rightly says the diminutive of pila "(playing) ball, globe". The word pilula is first recorded in the works of Pliny and of Celsus. But catapotia is still used exclusively in the Longobardic Dioscorides translation {? 6th c. AD or before}, both words are used in Marcellus Empiricus De medicamentis liber {end of 4th and beginning of 5th c.} as well as in De herbis femininis {? 6th c. AD}, but in the Herbarius Pseudoapulei {? 5th c. AD} only pilula is found.

For further information see online: Museum of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, Information sheet 7, "Pills and Pill-Making". [[1]]

WilfGunther 06/01/2014

See also: Catapodia

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