Luigi Ferdinando Marsili

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Luigi Ferdinando Marsili
Luigi Ferdinando Marsigli.jpg
Luigi Ferdinando Marsili
Born (1658-07-10)July 10, 1658
Died 1730
Nationality Italian
Other names Luigi Ferdinando Marsigli
Occupation soldier and naturalist
Known for Accademia delle Scienze dell'Istituto di Bologna

Count Luigi Ferdinando Marsili (or Marsigli) (Lat. Marsilius, 10 July 1658 – 1730), was an Italian soldier and naturalist.[1]


Mining map of Northern Transylvania (today Romania) published in the 1726 work Danubius Pannonico-Mysicus, vol. 2

He was born in Bologna. He was a member of an old patrician family and was educated in accordance with his rank. He supplemented his training by studying mathematics, anatomy, and natural history with the best teachers and by personal observations. After a course of scientific studies in his native city he travelled through the Ottoman Empire collecting data on its military organization, as well as on its natural history.

On his return he entered the service of the Emperor Leopold (1682) and fought with distinction against the Turks, by whom he was wounded and captured in an action on the river Rába, and sold to a pasha whom he accompanied to the battle of Vienna. His release was purchased in 1684. He returned to the imperial army and served as a talented military engineer. Marsili contributed to the successful siege of Buda in 1686 and in the following years in the military operations of the liberation war against the Turks.

After the Treaty of Karlowitz he was commissioned to lead the Habsburg border demarcation commission. Marsili mapped the 850 km long Habsburg-Ottoman border in the former Kingdom of Hungary (today Croatia, Serbia, Romania). During the twenty years he spent in Hungary he collected scientific information, specimens, antiques, took measurements and observations for his work on the Danube. He was assisted by Johann Christoph Müller of Nuremberg, who prepared the manuscript for printing and commissioned the engravers in Nuremberg. The sample of the work, Prodromus, was published in 1700 and the large work was expected by 1704. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in November 1691.[2]

Drawing of a Grey Heron, after a drawing by Raimondo Manzini and published in Danubius Pannonico-Mysicus, vol. 5.

During the War of the Spanish Succession Marsili was second in command under Count d'Arco at the fortress of Breisach, which surrendered in 1703. Count d'Arco was beheaded because he was found guilty of capitulating before it was necessary, while Marsili was stripped of all honours and commissions, and his sword was broken over him. His appeals to the emperor were in vain. Public opinion, however, acquitted him later of the charge of neglect or ignorance.

After he had to leave the Habsburg army he made journeys to Switzerland and then France, spending a considerable time at Marseilles to study the nature of the sea. He drew plans, made astronomical observations, measured the speed and size of rivers, studied the products, the mines, the birds, fishes, and fossils of every land he visited, and also collected specimens of every kind, instruments, models, antiquities, etc. Finally he returned to Bologna and presented his entire collection to the Senate of Bologna in 1712. There he founded his "Institute of Sciences and Arts", which was formally opened in 1715. Six professors were put in charge of the different divisions of the institute. Later he established a printing-house furnished with the best types for Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic. This was put in charge of the Dominicans, and placed under the patronage of St. Thomas Aquinas.

His major work on the Danube was published, after twenty years of delay, in 1726 in Amsterdam and the Hague. The maps of the work were published as an atlas in 1744. His treatise on the oceans was published in 1725, Marsili is considered the founding father of modern oceanography.

In 1727 he added to his other collections East India material which he collected in England and Holland. A solemn procession of the institute he founded was ordered for every twenty-five years on the feast of the Annunciation. In 1715 he was named foreign associate of the Paris Academy of Sciences; he was also a member of the Royal Society of London, and of Montpellier.


A list of his works, over twenty in number, is given in Niceron's Mémoirs. His principal works are the following: Osservazioni interne al Bosforo Tracio (Rome, 1681); Histoire physique de la mer, translated by Leclerc (Amsterdam, 1725); Danubius Pannonico-Mysicus, richly illustrated work in six volumes containing much valuable historic and scientific information on the river Danubius, (6 vols., the Hague, 1726); and L'Etat militaire de l'empire ottoman (Amsterdam, 1732).


  1. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg "Luigi Ferdinando, Count de Marsigli". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913. 
  2. ^ "Lists of Royal Society Fellows 1660-2007". London: The Royal Society. Retrieved 14 July 2010. [dead link]

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company. Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 


  • John Stoye: Marsigli's Europe. The life and times of Luigi Ferdinando Marsigli, soldier and virtuoso. Yale University Press, New Haven, N.J. 1994, ISBN 0-300-05542-0
  • Giuseppe Olmi, L'illustrazione naturalistica nelle opere di Luigi Ferdinando Marsigli, in Natura-Cultura. L'interpretazione del mondo fisico nei testi e nelle immagini, edited by G. Olmi, L. Tongiorgi Tomasi, A. Zanca, Firenze: Olschki, 2000, pp. 255–303.

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