Rauwolf, Leonhard

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(b. Augsburg, Bavaria, Germany, 21 June 1535: d. Waitzen [now Vac]. Hungary, 15 September 1596)


Rauwolf’s father was probably of the merchant class in industrial Augsburg. The family was Lutheran and on 6 November 1556, “Leonhardus Rauwolil” matriculated at the University of Wittenberg. On 22 October 1560 he entered the renowned medical school at Monipellier, where Antoine Saporta became his chief adviser. The medical curriculum there was still within the Arabic tradition and included the works of lbn Sina (Avicenna) and al-Razi (Rhazes). This training was useful for his later botanical studies in the Near East. He also studied the work of Dioscorides under the famous botanist Rondelet. Rauwoif explored the rich flora of Provence and Languedoc and collected more than 400 specimens, which were the beginning of his outstanding herbarium. On some of these field trips the future botanist Jean Bauhin of Basel was his companion.

In 1562 Rauwolf transferred to the University of Valence, where he received his M.D. degree. In 1563 he left Valence for Augsburg; en route he collected 200 plants in northern Italy and in Switzerland. At Zurich he met the famous naturalist Gesner. Rauwoif eventually settled in Augsburg, maintained a botanical garden, and in 1565 was visited by the botanist L’Ecluse. Among his fellow botanists, Rauwolf was known as “Dasylycus” or “Shaggy Wolf.” On 26 February 1565 lie married Regina Jung, the daughter of a patrician Augsburg family. He later practiced medicine at Aich and Kempten; but in 1570 he returned to Augsburg and secured the post of “city physician,” which offered an annual salary of 100 gulden.

On 18 May 1573 Rauwolf left Augsburg for Marseilles and the Near East, thus beginning the fulfillment of his dream “to discover and to learn to know the beautiful plants and herbs described by Theophrastus, Dioscorides. Avicenna, Serapion, etc. in the location and places where they grow.“He also wished to encourage the apothecaries to stock such plants for drugs. The opportunity to make this field trip was given to him when he was appointed physician to the Near East factors of the Melchior Manlich merchant firm, which hoped to profit from his discovery of new drugs. Rauwolf’s brother, Georg, a factor of the firm, resided in Tripoli, Syria.

The Manlich ship took twenty-nine days to reach Tripoli, where Rauwolf remained for several weeks before departing for Aleppo. At both of these trading cities, he wrote descriptions of the local plants and collected specimens for his herbarium. After a stay of nine months in Aleppo, he traveled to Bir, on the upper Euphrates, where he boarded a flat-bottomed boat for the trip to Baghdad. The river trip to Felugia, the Euphrates port of Baghdad, took fifty-five days; but it enabled Rauwolf to observe the riparian vegetation. (He was the first modern European botanist to do so.) Although he intended to go from Baghdad to India (the fabled land of spices and drugs), his plans were changed when he heard that the Manlich firm was bankrupt. lie returned overland to Tripoli by way of Mosul, Nisibin (Nusaybin), Urfa, and Aleppo, again a pioneering and dangerous trip. From Tripoli he made excursions to the famous cedars on the Lebanon mountains and, as a devout Lutheran pilgrim, to JerusaJem. On 7 November 1575 he sailed from Tripoli for Venice; he arrived in Augsburg on 12 February 1576. His entire trip lasted thirty-three months.

At Augsburg, Rauwolf resumed his medical practice, maintained a botanical garden, and exchanged plants with several botanists, including L’Ecluse and Joachim Camerarius. By 1582, however, the ruling circles of Augsburg had become Catholic. Rauwolf, the city physician and a leader of the Protestant opposition to the introduction of Catholic festivals and the Gregorian calendar, was forced to leave Augsburg in the summer of 1588. He served as city physician at Linz for eight years but in 1596 joined the imperial troops lighting the Turks in Hungary, where he died of a severe case of dysentery.

In 1582, while at Augsburg and on the urgings of his friends, Rauwolf published his travel book. Written in Swabian German and based on the extensive notes taken on his trip, the work gives detailed information on peoples, places, trade, religions, customs, and political life, as well as descriptions of numerous plants. It illustrates very well the difficulties and dangers encountered on early scientific field trips.

Among the classical and Arabic authorities that Rauwolf cited are Dioscorides, Theophrastus, Pliny, Galen, Paul of Aegina, Strabo, Aristotle, Plutarch, Ptolemy, Josephus, Ibn Sina, al-Razi, and Serapion the Younger. Contemporary botanists cited include L’Ecluse, da Orta. Dodoens, and L’Obel. The third edition of the book (1583) included forty-two woodcuts woodcuts of exotic plants,

Rauwolf’ fame was increased with the publications of others. Dalechamps’ Historia generalis plantarum (1586–1587) contained a special section on exotic plants, probably written by Rauwolf himself, and was illustrated with thirty-five woodcuts from Rauwolf’ travel book. Camerarius’Hortus medicus et philo-sophicus (1588) often cited Rauwolf and described him as a most learned man, indefatigable in the study and investigation of nature.” Bauhin cited the discoveries of Rauwolf in his posthumously published Historia plantarum universalis . . . (1650–1651). Rauwolf was also cited by Leonard Plukenet, John Ray, and Robert Morison.

Upon his return from the Near East, Rauwolf prepared four folio volumes of his herbarium of 834 European and Near Eastern plants. The herbarium was sold to Duke William of Bavaria and placed in the Kunstkammer in Munich, but was taken to Sweden during the Thirty Year’ War. About 1650 Queen Christina presented the herbarium to Isaac Vossius, who later brought the collection to London. where it was studied by a number of botanists. In 1680 the volumes were purchased by the University of Leiden, where they remain a prized possession.

Rauwolf was the first modern botanist to collect and describe the flora of the regions east of the Levantine coast. Kurt Sprengel Historia rei herbariae, I [Amsterdam, 1809]; 377–379) credits him with thirty-three new discoveries. His descriptions of the busy and cosmopolitan city life of the provincial capitals of Tripoli, Aleppo, and Baghdad are informative and interesting historically. His description of the preparation and drinking of coffee in Aleppo is the first such report by a European. In 1703, in recognition of Rauwolf’ many achievements, Plumier dedicated to him a genus of tropical plants, Rauwolfia serpentina. Today Rauwolfia alkaloids are widely used in medical therapy for their calming and hypotensive effects.


I. Original Works. Rauwolf’s travel book appeared as Aigentliche beschreibungdcr der Raisz so er vor diser zeit gegen Auffgang inn die Morgenliindet fiirnemlich Syriam, ludaeam, Arabiam, Mesopotamim, Babyloniam, Assyriam Armenian, usw. nicht ohne geringe muhe unnd grosse gefahr selbs volhracht; neben vcrmeldung vil anderer selt-zamer und denckwiirdiger sacln-n die alle er auff solcher erkundiget gesehen und ohseruiert hat (Lauingen, 1582). Later editions were published in Frankfurt am Main (1582) and Lauingen (1583) with 42 woodcuts in pt. 4.

Rcyssbuch des heilligen Landes, Sigismund Feyerabend, ed. (Frankfurt am Main, 1584, 1609, 1629; Nuremberg, 1659), contains only pts. 1–3. An English trans, by Nicolas Staphorst was published in A Collection of Curious Travels and Voyages, John Ray, ed., I (London, 1693, 1705) and in Travels Through the Low-Countries Germany, Italy, and France, John Ray, ed., II (London, 1738). Dutch ed. by Peter van der Aa were published in Leiden in 1707, 1710, and 1727. Excerpts can be found in Max Pannvvitz, Deutsche Pfadfinder des 16. Jahrhunderts in Afrika, Asien und Sudamerika (Stuttgart, 1911), 122–138.

II.Secondary Literature. Bibliographical data can be found in Karl H. Dannenfeldt, Leonhard Rauwolf: Sixteenth-Century Physician, Botanist, and Traveler (Cambridge, Mass., 1968). The most important works are Franz Babinger, “Leonhard Rauwolf, ein Augsberger Botaniker und Orientreisender des sechzehnten Jahr hunderts,“inArchie fur die Geschichte der Naturwissen- schaften und der Technik, 4 (1913), 148–161; Johann Fredericus Gronovius, Flora orientalis sive Recensio Plantarum qttas Botankorum Coryphaeus Leonhardus Rauwolffus… observavif, et collegit (Leiden, 1755); and Ludovic Legre, La boianique en Provence ait XVI siecle:Leonard Rauwotff, Jacques Raynaudet(Marseilles, 1900).

Karl H. Dannenfeldt