Brunschwig (Also Brunswyck or Braunschweig), Hieronymus

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Brunschwig (Also Brunswyck or Braunschweig), Hieronymus

(b. Strasbourg, France, ca. 1450; d. Strasbourg, ca. 1512)


After receiving an education in surgery, Brunschwig traveled extensively through Alsace, Swabia, Bavaria, Franconia, and the Rhineland as far as Cologne, practicing surgery and acquiring experience in the preparation of medicines, specifically in the technique of distillation. It is frequently stated that he studied medicine in Bologna, Padua, and Paris, but this assertion cannot be verified. Brunschwig himself never mentions this training, which at that time was unusual for a surgeon, and he clearly differentiates his sphere of activity from that of the physicians.

Brunschwig probably did not become a military surgeon like his contemporary Hans von Gersdorff; and his often-mentioned participation in the campaign against Charles the Bold and in the battle of Morat in 1476 is doubtful. His reports on these engagements, as well as on battle wounds, are largely secondhand. His employment as a surgeon in Strasbourg apparently left him enough time to become a writer and to continue his travels.

Brunschwig’s works concern anatomy, treatment of wounds, and, in pharmacy, the preparation of medicines and simples. Written in German, they are directed primarily to barber-surgeons, barbers, and surgeons; his surgical texts, however, are also directed to laymen. They reveal an intense preoccupation with the medical tradition of Lanfranchi, Guglielmo Saliceti, Guy de Chauliac, Henri de Mondeville, and, through them, the tradition of Galen, Avicenna, Rhazes, Mesue, and Abul Kasim, all of whom Brunschwig cites as sources of his own knowledge. On the basis of his own experience, however, Brunschwig was also able to criticize their work. With its traditional knowledge, critical spirit, and careful citations, his Cirurgia (1497) is different from the books of his German-speaking forerunners, such as the Buch der Bündth-Ertznei (ca. 1460) by the empiricist Heinrich von Pfalzpaint (or Pfolspeunt) and the Chirurgie (1481) of Johann Schenk of Würzburg. In the treatment of wounds, fractures, and luxations, and in trepanation and amputation, he made extensive use of traditional methods.

Brunschwig’s Cirurgia, which has become an important cultural-historical source for medicine and pharmacy because of its excellent illustrations, represents a substantial step forward in the German surgery of that time, which lagged behind that of Italy and France. On the other hand, his Anathomia (1497), which shows some familiarity with dissection, had little lasting effect; and his discussion of pestilence (1500), which contains an early description of syphilis, had no lasting effect at all. The Liber de arte distillandi, de simplicibus (1500) reveals greater originality; primarily because of the description, complemented by abundant illustrations, of chemical and distillation apparatus, this book became a pharmaceutical-technical handbook that was the authority far into the sixteenth century. Appended to it was a compilation of illnesses “a capite ad calcem,” along with a list of vegetable distillates indicated for each case of illness. The Liber de arte distillandi, de compositis (1507) contains, among other things, a “Thesaurus pauperum” that—especially as it appeared in the 1512 edition—was often reprinted and became a model for later pharmacopeias for poor people.

Because of their completeness Brunschwig’s compilations of the technical terms adaptable to pharmacy in the early sixteenth century and his records of his experience in the treatment of gunshot wounds and in surgery are noteworthy accomplishments. Even if they are not the first of their kind, they still represent an important link between the Middle Ages and modern times.


I. Original Works. Brunschwig’s works are Anathomia ossium corporis humani (Strasbourg, 1497); Buch der Cirurgia, Hantwirckung der Wundartzney (Strasbourg, 1497), also trans. into English (London, 1525); Liber de arte distillandi, de simplicibus. Das Buch der rechten Kunst zu distillieren die eintzigen Ding (Strasbourg, 1500), also issued as Medicinarius, with a section entitled “De compositis” (Strasbourg, 1505); and Liber pestilentialis de venenis epidemie. Das Buch der Vergift der Pestilentz (Strasbourg, 1500). The Medicinarius was reissued as Liber de arte distillandi, de compositis. Das Buch der waren Kunst zu distillieren die Composita (Strasbourg, 1507) had a section entitled “Thesaurus pauperum,” also published separately as Apoteck für den gemainen Man (Strasbourg, 1507). The works on distillation were reissued under the title Grosses Buch der Destillation (Strasbourg, 1512).

II. Secondary Literature. Works on Brunschwig are A. Brunschwig, “Hieronymus Brunschwig,” in Annals of Medical History, n.s. 1 (1929), 640–644; Gerhard Eis, “H. Brunschwig,” in Neue deutsche Biographie, II (1965), 688; H. W. Grabert, “Nomina anatomica bei den deutschen Wundärzten Hieronymus Brunschwig und Hans von Gersdorff,” dissertation (Leipzig, 1943); F. Hommel, “H. Brunschwig,” in Archiv für Geschichte der Mathematik, der Naturwissenschaften und der Technik, 10 (1927), 155–157; G. Klein, Facsimile of the Cirurgia with introduction (Munich, 1911); H.E.Sigerist, Facsimile of the Cirurgia, with study on Hieronymus Brunschwig (Milan, 1923); J. Steudel, “Brunschwigs Anatomie,” in Grenzgebiete der Medizin, 1 (1948), 249 f.; K. Sudhoff, “Brunschwigs Anatomie,” in Archiv für Geschichte der Medizin, 1 (1907), 41–66, with a facsimile of the Anathomia, ibid., 141–156; and Deutsche medizinische Inkunabeln, Vols. II and III in the series Studien zur Geschichte der Medizin (Leipzig, 1908); and F.Wieger, Geschichte der Medizin und ihrer Lehranstalten in Strassburg vom Jahre 1497 bis zum Jahre 1872 (Strasbourg, 1885), pp. 4–15.

R. Schmitz

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Brunschwig (Also Brunswyck or Braunschweig), Hieronymus

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