Martinovics, Ignác

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(b. Pest, Hungary, 22 July 1755; d. Buda, Hungary, 20 May 1795)


Martinovics, the son of an army officer, entered the Franciscan order and studied philosophy and theology at the universities of pest and Vienna, but he soon displayed an interest in natural science and technology. He left the order and served an army chaplain at various garrisons in the Hapsburg dominions. In Galicia, he became the secretary to Count Potocki and traveled with him through western Europe. In England and France, Martinovics became acquainted with the most distinguished scientists of the age and was exposed to the progressive ideas of the French Enlightenment. Thereafter chemistry and politics determined the course of his life.

After returning home, Martinovics accepted the chair of physics at the University of Lembeerg (Lvov) in Galicia, where he remained from 1783 to 1791. At Lemberg he published his Praelectiones physicae experimentalis (1787), which showed that he still adhered to the phlogiston theory. He continued to oppose Lavoisier’s theory of combustion and sought to refute it with experiments with fulminating gold. He asserted that although combustion is indeed determined by a substance, that substance is not oxygen; the atmosphere plays no role in the explosion of fulminating gold, which therefore takes place without oxygen. Martinovics also carried out experiments on the solubility of gases in water ; he ascertained that the solubility diminishes with decreasing pressure and increasing temperature. In 1791 he undertook distillation experiment on Galician petroleum and determined the combustibility and specific gravity of various fractions.

Martinovics also published many philosophical writings that reflected the atheistic and materialistic views of d’Holbach. Inspired by the French Revolution, he fought for political reform in the Hapsburg state. At first he hoped this could be accomplished legally. He entered the service of the reform-minded Emperor Leopold II and furnished him with information concerning the political intentions of the nobility and by the Jesuits. Leopold’s successor, Francis, frightened by the events of the French Revolution, changed his predecessor’s policies and dismissed the reformers. Martinovics then joined in a plot to proclaim a republic. The plot was discovered. and Martinovics and four other conspirators were beheaded.


A list of Martinovics’ works is in Poggendorff, I, 65. On Martinovics, see V. Fraknoi, Martinovics (Budapest, 1921), in Hungarian; and Z. Szökefalvi-Nagy, “Ignatius Martinovics, 18th-century Chemist and Political Agitator,” in Journal of Chemical Education,41 (1964),458.

Ferenc SzabadvÁry

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Martinovics, Ignác

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