Hieronymus Brunschwig

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Hieronymus Brunschwig
Brunschwig 1500a.png
the title page of Brunschwig's famous work, Liber de arte distillandi de simplicibus.
Born ca. 1450
Died ca. 1512
Residence Strasbourg
Nationality German
Known for Liber de arte distillandi de simplicibus

Hieronymus Brunschwig or Hieronymus Brunschwygk (ca. 1450 – ca. 1512), was a German surgeon („wund artzot“), alchemist and botanist. He was notable for his methods of treatment of gunshot wounds and for his early work on distillation techniques. His most influential book was the Liber de arte distillandi de simplicibus (also called Kleines Destillierbuch).


Brunschwig was born circa 1450 in the free imperial city of Strasbourg, which in his time was part of the Holy Roman Empire. Some notes in his Buch der cirurgia may suggest, that he studied in Bologna, Padua and Paris and that he participated in the Burgundian Wars, but all this is utterly unfounded.[1][2] He settled at Strasbourg at the end of the fifteenth century. He died in Strasbourg, circa 1512.


Brunschwig's early publications, all printed in Strasbourg by Johann Grüninger, included treatises on surgery and anatomy:

  • 1497: Das buch der cirurgia: hantwirckung der wundartzny.[3]
  • 1500: Liber de arte distillandi de simplicibus.[4]
  • 1500: Liber pestilentialis de venenis epidemie.[5]
  • 1505: Medicinarius,[6] consisting of:
    • the Liber de arte distillandi de simplicibus,
    • Marsilio Ficinos’ book De vita libri tres (translated by Johann Adelphi of Straßbourg),
    • glossarys of drugs and
    • Brunschwigs’ treatise: De Quinta essentia, which was largely influenced by Jean de Roquetaillades’ book De consideratione quintae essentiae.
  • 1512: Liber de arte distillandi de compositis.[7]

Liber de arte distillandi de simplicibus[edit]

Liber de arte distillandi de simplici­bus. 1500. „Distillation“ by filtration.
Liber de arte dist. de simpl. 1500. „Distillation“ by circulation.
Michael Puff. Büchlein von den ausgebrannten Wässern. Title page. Sporer, Erfurt 1498.

The Liber de arte distillandi de simplicibus (1500) was the earliest printed book dealing with the techniques of distillation from herbal and animal substances. It consisted of three parts:

  1. A detailed description of the methods and apparati, showing influences from Jean de Roquetaillades‘ book De consideratione quintae essentiae.[8][9][10] The name of distillation was given by the alchemists not only to the procedure that is nowadays called distillation, but as well to methods like „filtration“ and „circulation“ that were interpreted as methods of „de-stillatio (dropping down)“.[11]
  2. An enumeration of herbal and animal substances in alphabetical order with botanical remarks on indigenous plants, based on Brunschwigs‘ own observations. This was followed by the enumeration of indications of the „distilled” medicines. These indications were based as well on the writings in the textbooks of old tradition (Dioscorides …) as on prescriptions of folk medicine. The „Büchlein von den ausgebrannten Wässern“, ascribed to Michael Puff of Vienna and recipes in manuscripts of the 15th century were Brunschwigs‘ main sources.[12][13][14][15][16]
  3. A list of maladies „from head to feet“, with reference to the prescriptions given in the second part.

As the last of the fifteenth-century herbals, the Liber de arte distillandi de simplicibus is widely regarded to be an important link between the Middle Ages and modern times. Due to its in-depth description and many illustrations of distillation apparati and techniques, the book was considered to be an authoritative text well into the 16th century.[17]

Translations of the Liber de arte distillandi de simplicibus[edit]


Otto Brunfels and Hieronymus Bock, both called „fathers of botany“ („Väter der Botanik“) in honour of their truthful description of indigenous plants, respected Brunschwig as their predecessor.[22][23] Leonhard Fuchs, the third of the „fathers of botany“, did not mention Brunschwig at all.

Posthumous publications[edit]


  1. ^ Henry E. Sigerist. Hieronymus Brunschwig and his work. In: The book of Cirurgia by Hieronymus Brunschwig. R. Lier, Milano 1923, p. V.
  2. ^ Jan Frederiksen. Hieronymus Brunschwig. In: Die Deutsche Literatur des Mittelalters. Verfasserlexikon. De Gruyter, Berlin / New York 1978, Vol I, sp. 1073.
  3. ^ Buch der cirurgia. 1497. Digitalisat
  4. ^ Liber de arte distillandi de simplicibus. 1500.05.08. Digitalisat
  5. ^ Liber pestilentialis. 1500.08.19. Digitalisat
  6. ^ Medicinarius 1505. Digitalisat
  7. ^ Liber de arte distillandi de compositis. 1512. Digitalisat
  8. ^ Udo Benzenhöfer. Johannes‘ de Rupescissa. Liber de consideratione quintae essentiae omnium rereum deutsch. Studien zur Alchemia medica des 15. bis 17. Jahrhunderts mit kritischer Edition des Textes. Steiner, Stuttgart 1989, S. 58-63.
  9. ^ Jean de Roquetaillade. De consideratione quintae essentiae (in German language). Western Germany, 4th quarter of 15th century, fol. 1r-31r. Digitalisat
  10. ^ Jean de Roquetaillade. De consideratione quintae essentiae. Printing, Basel 1561. Digitalisat
  11. ^ Lawrence M. Principe. Arbeitsmethoden. In: C. Priesner and K. Figala (editors). Alchemie. Lexikon einer hermetischen Wissenschaft. Beck, Munich 1998, p. 53.
  12. ^ Michael Puff. Büchlein von den ausgebrannten Wässern. Johannes Blaubirer, Augsburg 1481 Digitalisat
  13. ^ Heidelberg Cpg 545, Nürnberg 1474, fol. 97v-120v. Digitalisat
  14. ^ Frankfurt, ms.germ. Qu. 17, Alsace, 1. quarter of the 15th century, fol. 340v-350v. Digitalisat.
  15. ^ Heidelberg Cpg 638 Alsace/Basel 2nd quarter of the 15th century, fol. 23v-26v. Digitalisat
  16. ^ Heidelberg Cpg 226, Alsace 1459-1469, fol. 102r-105r Digitalisat.
  17. ^ Bertrand Gille, Histoire des techniques (1978), ISBN 978-2-07-010881-7.
  18. ^ Agnes Arber. Herbals. Their origin and evolution. A chapter in the history of botany. 1470-1670. Cambridge 1912, p. 45.
  19. ^ Eleanor Sinclair Rhode. The old english herbals. Minerva, London 1922, pp. 69, 74.
  20. ^ The vertuose boke of Distillacyon 1527. Digitalisat
  21. ^ Josef Benzing. Bibliographie der Schriften Hieronymus Brunschwygs. In: Philobiblon. Eine Vierteljahreschrift für Buch- und Graphiksammler. 12 (1968), pp. 115-123.
  22. ^ Otto Brunfels. Kräuterbuch 1532, preface, chapter 32. Digitalisat
  23. ^ Hieronymus Bock. Kräuterbuch 1551 edition, preface, chapter 10. Digitalisat

External links[edit]