World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article


Article Id: WHEBN0000480203
Reproduction Date:

Title: Alembic  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Distillation, Retort, Pot still, Still, History of chemistry
Collection: Alchemical Tools
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Picture of an alembic from a medieval manuscript

An alembic (from Arabic الأنبيق (al-anbīq), from Greek ἄμβυξ (ambyx), possibly from Semitic[1]) is an alchemical still consisting of two vessels connected by a tube, used for distilling chemicals. Technically, the alembic is the lid with a tube attachment (the still-head), which is placed on top of a flask, the cucurbit, containing the material to be distilled, but the word is often used to refer to the entire distillation apparatus. If the lid and flask are in one piece, it may be called a retort. The liquid in the cucurbit flask is heated or boiled; the vapour rises into the alembic hood, where it cools by contact with the walls and condenses, running down the spout into a receiving flask.

A modern descendant of the alembic (used to produce distilled beverages) is the pot still.


  • Etymology 1
  • History 2
  • See also 3
  • References 4


Alembics from a 1606 alchemy book, showing the many sophisticated types.
Alembic metalwork in the staircase at the Chemical Faculty of Gdańsk University of Technology, 1904.

The word "alembic" is also used metaphorically for anything that refines or transmutes, as if by distillation (as in "the alembic of creative thought"). The word, like most alchemical terminology, comes from the Arabic: al-anbīq, meaning "still". The French spelling alambic is also commonly used, especially as the apparatus is often associated with cognac where it is known as alambic charentais (Charente alembic). In Shakespeare's plays, the older variant "limbeck" appears. An old French name for an alembic (more specifically, the cucurbit) was matras.[2]

The alembic symbol is Unicode U+2697 ALEMBIC ().


The earliest appearances of alembics are to be found in the works of ancient Persian alchemists,[3] such as Jabir al-Tusi (Geber). Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi, who conducted the first documented scientific studies on distillation, used alembics in his scientific work.[4] This work was extended during the Middle Ages by Muslim alchemists like Avicenna and Al-Farabi.

Ambix, cucurbit and retort of Zosimos, reproduced in Collection des anciens alchimistes grecs by Marcelin Berthelot
Copper retort

See also


  1. ^ Forbes, Robert James (1970) A Short History of the Art of Distillation: from the beginnings up to the death of Cellier Blumenthal. Leyden: E. J. Brill ISBN 978-90-04-00617-1; p. 23
  2. ^ Tolhausen brothers and Gardissal, ed.s, Dictionnaire technologique français-anglais-allemand: … (Technical dictionary in French, English, and German: … ), Part I, (Paris, France: A. Morel et Cie., 1864), p. 100.
  3. ^ AlchemyEncyclopædia Britannica 1911, .
  4. ^ Forbes, Robert James (1970) A Short History of the Art of Distillation: from the beginnings up to the death of Cellier Blumenthal. Leyden: E. J. Brill ISBN 978-90-04-00617-1; pp. 20-23
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.