Rülein, Ulrich (Usually Called Ulrich R

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(b. Calw [?], Germany, 1465/1469; d. Germany, 1523)

geology, mining, medicine.

Although Rülein was one of the leading figures of the German Renaissance, very little is known about him. Mentioned in the 1556 edition of Agricola’s De re metallica and in the dedicatory letter to the 1550 edition of that work, he was scarcely heard of again for nearly 350 years, until his place in the history of science was rediscovered toward the end of the nineteenth century. As a result of subsequent research, his name is permanently linked with the birth of modern geology and mining science and especially with the creation of the modern science of mineral deposits.

The year of Rülein’s birth, let alone the exact date, has not been established. Even the place of his birth cannot be determined from the surviving records, although his family’s place of origin can be asserted with confidence. The year of his death has been established with virtual certainty, but the sources yield no exact date or place.

The earliest confirmed mention of Rülein, his matriculation at the University of Leipzig in 1485, is the sole basis for making even an approximate calculation of the year of his birth. From the designation “molitoris” in the matriculation register, and from other information on the Rülein family, it is known that Rülein’s father and grandfather were millers. Accordingly, the family must have been relatively prosperous.

The designation “de Calb” formed part of Rülein’s Latinized name, and in German this element was written “Kalb.” It was therefore long assumed that he was born either in the city of Calbe (on the Saale River) or in Kalbe (on the Milde River), both of which are near Magdeburg. Recent research, however, has revealed that his family never lived in either city but, rather, in Calw, in Württemberg. Since the church records of Calw were burned in 1693, the date of Rülein’s birth probably will never be known.

Rülein may have attended Calw’s Latin school or he may have received his earliest instruction at the school in nearby Kloster Hirsau, which greatly emphasized mathematics. He studied the liberal arts at the University of Leipzig and earned his master’s and doctor’s degrees in 1490. His principal interest must have been in natural science and mathematics. He then turned to the study of medicine, obtaining his M.D. degree in 1496 or 1497. It is not known whether he completed his medical studies at Leipzig or at another university. It is very probable that Rülein was identical with an “Ulrich Kalb, of the University of Leipzig, master of the liberal arts and of philosophy and professor of mathematics.” A student of the latter’s, Balthasar Licht, dedicated an arithmetic book, Algorithmus linealis (1500), to him. It may, therefore, be supposed that Rülein was a Dozent in mathematics at Leipzig between 1490 and 1496 or 1497-while he was studying medicine—a situation not at all unusual at the time.

By then Rülein must already have enjoyed a reputation as a scholar and a man of practical experience. This is the only explanation for his being asked by the duke of Saxony in 1496 to plan the building of the city of Annaberg. Silver ore had been discovered there in 1492, and within a few years its mines had become the most productive in Europe. The immense influx of people made it necessary to create a comprehensive city plan as quickly as possible. Rülein’s success in this difficult assignment can be inferred from his having been commissioned in 1521 to plan another Saxon mining city, Marienberg, where silver had been found in 1520.

Rülein’s closest ties, however, were to the most famous German mining city, Freiberg. He was appointed its municipal physician in 1497, and in the same year he purchased a house there. (Hence, Agricola called him “Kalbius Fribergius.”) Rülein married in 1500. His wife, whose name and origins are unknown, died probably in 1524 or 1525; they had four sons and one daughter.

For more than twenty years Rülein was active in Freiberg as a physician, mining expert, surveyor, and politician. He often served as city councillor and twice as mayor (1514–1515 and 1517–1519). During his first term as mayor he loosened the dominant hold of the Church on education through the founding in 1515 of one of the earliest municipal Latin schools in Germany. (Later called a Gymnasium, the school is today a renowned high school, the Geschwister Scholl.) Rülein brought such famous scholars as Johann Rhagius Aesticampianus and Petrus Mosellanus to the school as teachers. In 1521 Rülein wrote two works on precautions to be taken against the plague. Highly respected as a physician, he was equally well regarded for the encouragement he gave to education and culture while holding public office. In short, he was the guiding spirit of the intellectual life of Freiberg in the period immediately preceding the Reformation.

Rülein’s most important achievement was a brief work entitled Ein nützlich Bergbüchlein. It appeared anonymously about 1500 (the date of publication of the first edition cannot be precisely determined), but no less an authority than Agricola attributed it to Rülein. Comprising ten chapters, the Bergbüchlein deals with the formation of ores, the nature of ore deposits in general, surveying techniques useful in mining, and particular characteristics of deposits of gold and mercury as well as of ores of silver, zinc, copper, iron, and lead. The book is structured as a dialogue between an experienced miner (Daniel) and a young man (Knappius) eager to learn about the industry.

In the introductory chapter on the formation of ores, Rülein repeats the traditional alchemical views but adopts a critical stance toward them. What is really new and important in the book is his description of ore deposits and his instructions for surveying a mine. Rülein was the first to examine fully the personal experiences of miners concerning ores and ore deposits, which he then generalized and introduced into the literature. Thus the publication of his book was a crucial first step in the development of the science of mining. The Bergbüchlein constituted a bridge between a centuries-old practice and the theory required by the opening of major new mines and the vastly increased demands for their yields.

The Bergbüchlein is also notable for having been written in German—although Rülein was fluent in Latin. In this respect it inaugurated an era of transition from the universal use of Latin in scholarly discourse to the publication of scientific works in the vernacular.

One of Freiberg’s wealthy citizens, Rülein owned several houses in the city and shares in a number of silver mines. His efforts to raise the level of education in Freiberg led to heated conflicts in the city council, from which he resigned in 1519. Rülein spent some of his remaining years in Leipzig, but it is not known whether he died there or in Freiberg.


I. Original Works. Ein nützlich Bergbüchlein, Rülein’s principal work, was first published (without indication of place or year) about 1500. The 2nd and 3rd eds. appeared under the title Ein wohlgeordnetes und nützliches Büchlein, wie man Bergwerk suchen und finden soll … (Augsburg, 1505; Worms, 1518). The 4th (Erfurt, 1527) bore the original title. Further eds. were sometimes accompanied by a Probierbüchlein—not written by Rülein (Frankfurt, 1533; Augsburg, 1534; Frankfurt, 1535). The Bergbüchlein also appeared as part of a collection by Johann Haselberger entitled Der Ursprung gemeiner Bergrecht (n.p., ca. 1538; Augsburg, 1539). It was subsequently reprinted in Ursprung und Ordnungen der Bergwerke (Leipzig, 1616); in Magazin für die Bergbaukunde (Dresden), no. 9 (1792), 219–274; and in Zeitschrift für Bergrecht (Bonn), 26 (1885), 508.

The Bergbüchlein was partially translated into French by Adolf Gurlt in Gabriel Auguste Daubrée, “La génération des minéraux métalliques, dans la pratique des mineurs du moyen âge, d’après le Bergbüchlein,” in Extrait du Journal des savants (Paris, 1890), 379–392, 441–452. It was translated into English by Anneliese G. Sisco and Cyril S. Smith in Bergwerk- und Prohierbüchlein. A Translation From the German (New York, 1949). See also Judica I. M. Mendels. “Das Bergbüchlein. A Text Edition” (Ph.D. diss., Johns Hopkins, 1953). The most recent ed. of the work, containing a facs. of the original ed. and a new German trans., is in Wilhelm Pieper, Ulrich Rülein von Calw und sein Bergbüchlein (Berlin, 1955), no. D7 in the series Freiberger Forschungshefte—the only ed. based on the text of the 1st ed. It also contains the most comprehensive biography of Rülein and a critical discussion of much of the information presented in previous accounts.

In a Pestschrift published in 1521 Rülein described the plague and gave instructions on how to protect against it. This work has not survived, and we possess only a seven-page extract entitled Eine Unterweisung we man sich zu Zeiten der Pestilenz, verhalten soll (1521), which appeared anonymously, with no indication of place or year of publication.

II. Secondary Literature. The earliest biographical account of Rülein is in Hieronymus Weller, Analecta Welleriana. In lateinischer Sprache zussamengelesen und verdeutscht durch Michael Hempel, II (Freiberg, 1596), chs. 30 and 31, 67b–68b. After 300 years Rülein was rediscovered by Georg Heinrich Jacobi, who examined his relationship with Agricola in Der Mineralog Georgius Agricola und sein Verhältnis zur Wissenschaft seiner Zeit (Werdau, Saxony, 1889).

The first modern biographical study is Constantin Täschner, “Der Arzt, Bürgermeister und Bergbauschriftsteller Ulrich Rülein von Kalbe,” in Mitteilungen des Freiberger Altertumsvereins, no. 50 (1915), 21–27. Further details are in Otto Clemen, “Der Freiberger Stadtphysikus Ulrich Rülein von Kalbe,” in Neues Archiv für sächsische Geschichte und Altertumskunde, 41 (1920), 135–139; Ernst Darmstaedter, Berg-, Probierund Kanstbüchlein, which is Münchener Beiträge zur Geschichte und Literatur der Naturwissenschaft und Medizin, nos. 2–3 (Munich, 1926); Otto E. Schmidt, “Ulrich Rülein von Kalbe,” in Mitteilungen des Landesvereins sächsischer Heimatschutz, 26 (1932), 111–114; and Karl Lüdemann, “Ulrich Rülein von Kalbe, der Verfasser des ersten deutschen Buches über den Bergbau,” in Mitteilungen des Freiberger Altertumsvereins, no. 64 (1934), 67–75.

Hans BaumgÄrtel