Georg Agricola.

De Re Metallica, Translated from the First Latin Edition of 1556 online

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Biographical Introduction, Annotations and Appendices upon
the Development of Mining Methods, Metallurgical
Processes, Geology, Mineralogy & Mining Law
from the earliest times to the 16th Century



A. B. Stanford University, Member American Institute of Mining Engineers,
Mining and Metallurgical Society of America, Société des Ingéniéurs
Civils de France, American Institute of Civil Engineers,
Fellow Royal Geographical Society, etc., etc.



A. B. Stanford University, Member American Association for the
Advancement of Science, The National Geographical Society,
Royal Scottish Geographical Society, etc., etc.


_Dover Publications, Inc._




_The inspiration of whose teaching is no less great than his
contribution to science._

This New 1950 Edition of DE RE METALLICA is a complete and unchanged
reprint of the translation published by The Mining Magazine, London, in
1912. It has been made available through the kind permission of
Honorable Herbert C. Hoover and Mr. Edgar Rickard, Author and Publisher,
respectively, of the original volume.



There are three objectives in translation of works of this character: to
give a faithful, literal translation of the author's statements; to give
these in a manner which will interest the reader; and to preserve, so
far as is possible, the style of the original text. The task has been
doubly difficult in this work because, in using Latin, the author
availed himself of a medium which had ceased to expand a thousand years
before his subject had in many particulars come into being; in
consequence he was in difficulties with a large number of ideas for
which there were no corresponding words in the vocabulary at his
command, and instead of adopting into the text his native German terms,
he coined several hundred Latin expressions to answer his needs. It is
upon this rock that most former attempts at translation have been
wrecked. Except for a very small number, we believe we have been able to
discover the intended meaning of such expressions from a study of the
context, assisted by a very incomplete glossary prepared by the author
himself, and by an exhaustive investigation into the literature of these
subjects during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. That discovery
in this particular has been only gradual and obtained after much labour,
may be indicated by the fact that the entire text has been
re-typewritten three times since the original, and some parts more
often; and further, that the printer's proof has been thrice revised. We
have found some English equivalent, more or less satisfactory, for
practically all such terms, except those of weights, the varieties of
veins, and a few minerals. In the matter of weights we have introduced
the original Latin, because it is impossible to give true equivalents
and avoid the fractions of reduction; and further, as explained in the
Appendix on Weights it is impossible to say in many cases what scale the
Author had in mind. The English nomenclature to be adopted has given
great difficulty, for various reasons; among them, that many methods and
processes described have never been practised in English-speaking mining
communities, and so had no representatives in our vocabulary, and we
considered the introduction of German terms undesirable; other methods
and processes have become obsolete and their descriptive terms with
them, yet we wished to avoid the introduction of obsolete or unusual
English; but of the greatest importance of all has been the necessity to
avoid rigorously such modern technical terms as would imply a greater
scientific understanding than the period possessed.

Agricola's Latin, while mostly free from mediæval corruption, is
somewhat tainted with German construction. Moreover some portions have
not the continuous flow of sustained thought which others display, but
the fact that the writing of the work extended over a period of twenty
years, sufficiently explains the considerable variation in style. The
technical descriptions in the later books often take the form of
House-that-Jack-built sentences which have had to be at least partially
broken up and the subject occasionally re-introduced. Ambiguities were
also sometimes found which it was necessary to carry on into the
translation. Despite these criticisms we must, however, emphasize that
Agricola was infinitely clearer in his style than his contemporaries
upon such subjects, or for that matter than his successors in almost any
language for a couple of centuries. All of the illustrations and display
letters of the original have been reproduced and the type as closely
approximates to the original as the printers have been able to find in a
modern font.

There are no footnotes in the original text, and Mr. Hoover is
responsible for them all. He has attempted in them to give not only such
comment as would tend to clarify the text, but also such information as
we have been able to discover with regard to the previous history of the
subjects mentioned. We have confined the historical notes to the time
prior to Agricola, because to have carried them down to date in the
briefest manner would have demanded very much more space than could be
allowed. In the examination of such technical and historical material
one is appalled at the flood of mis-information with regard to ancient
arts and sciences which has been let loose upon the world by the hands
of non-technical translators and commentators. At an early stage we
considered that we must justify any divergence of view from such
authorities, but to limit the already alarming volume of this work, we
later felt compelled to eliminate most of such discussion. When the
half-dozen most important of the ancient works bearing upon science have
been translated by those of some scientific experience, such questions
will, no doubt, be properly settled.

We need make no apologies for _De Re Metallica_. During 180 years it was
not superseded as the text-book and guide to miners and metallurgists,
for until Schlüter's great work on metallurgy in 1738 it had no equal.
That it passed through some ten editions in three languages at a period
when the printing of such a volume was no ordinary undertaking, is in
itself sufficient evidence of the importance in which it was held, and
is a record that no other volume upon the same subjects has equalled
since. A large proportion of the technical data given by Agricola was
either entirely new, or had not been given previously with sufficient
detail and explanation to have enabled a worker in these arts himself to
perform the operations without further guidance. Practically the whole
of it must have been given from personal experience and observation, for
the scant library at his service can be appreciated from his own
Preface. Considering the part which the metallic arts have played in
human history, the paucity of their literature down to Agricola's time
is amazing. No doubt the arts were jealously guarded by their
practitioners as a sort of stock-in-trade, and it is also probable that
those who had knowledge were not usually of a literary turn of mind;
and, on the other hand, the small army of writers prior to his time
were not much interested in the description of industrial pursuits.
Moreover, in those thousands of years prior to printing, the tedious and
expensive transcription of manuscripts by hand was mostly applied to
matters of more general interest, and therefore many writings may have
been lost in consequence. In fact, such was the fate of the works of
Theophrastus and Strato on these subjects.

We have prepared a short sketch of Agricola's life and times, not only
to give some indication of his learning and character, but also of his
considerable position in the community in which he lived. As no
appreciation of Agricola's stature among the founders of science can be
gained without consideration of the advance which his works display over
those of his predecessors, we therefore devote some attention to the
state of knowledge of these subjects at the time by giving in the
Appendix a short review of the literature then extant and a summary of
Agricola's other writings. To serve the bibliophile we present such data
as we have been able to collect it with regard to the various editions
of his works. The full titles of the works quoted in the footnotes under
simply authors' names will be found in this Appendix.

We feel that it is scarcely doing Agricola justice to publish _De Re
Metallica_ only. While it is of the most general interest of all of his
works, yet, from the point of view of pure science, _De Natura
Fossilium_ and _De Ortu et Causis_ are works which deserve an equally
important place. It is unfortunate that Agricola's own countrymen have
not given to the world competent translations into German, as his work
has too often been judged by the German translations, the infidelity of
which appears in nearly every paragraph.

We do not present _De Re Metallica_ as a work of "practical" value. The
methods and processes have long since been superseded; yet surely such a
milestone on the road of development of one of the two most basic of
human industrial activities is more worthy of preservation than the
thousands of volumes devoted to records of human destruction. To those
interested in the history of their own profession we need make no
apologies, except for the long delay in publication. For this we put
forward the necessity of active endeavour in many directions; as this
book could be but a labour of love, it has had to find the moments for
its execution in night hours, weekends, and holidays, in all extending
over a period of about five years. If the work serves to strengthen the
traditions of one of the most important and least recognized of the
world's professions we shall be amply repaid.

It is our pleasure to acknowledge our obligations to Professor H. R.
Fairclough, of Stanford University, for perusal of and suggestions upon
the first chapter; and to those whom we have engaged from time to time
for one service or another, chiefly bibliographical work and collateral
translation. We are also sensibly obligated to the printers, Messrs.
Frost & Sons, for their patience and interest, and for their willingness
to bend some of the canons of modern printing, to meet the demands of
the 16th Century.

_July 1, 1912._

The Red House,
Hornton Street, London.



Georgius Agricola was born at Glauchau, in Saxony, on March 24th, 1494,
and therefore entered the world when it was still upon the threshold of
the Renaissance; Gutenberg's first book had been printed but forty years
before; the Humanists had but begun that stimulating criticism which
awoke the Reformation; Erasmus, of Rotterdam, who was subsequently to
become Agricola's friend and patron, was just completing his student
days. The Reformation itself was yet to come, but it was not long
delayed, for Luther was born the year before Agricola, and through him
Agricola's homeland became the cradle of the great movement; nor did
Agricola escape being drawn into the conflict. Italy, already awake with
the new classical revival, was still a busy workshop of antiquarian
research, translation, study, and publication, and through her the Greek
and Latin Classics were only now available for wide distribution.
Students from the rest of Europe, among them at a later time Agricola
himself, flocked to the Italian Universities, and on their return
infected their native cities with the newly-awakened learning. At
Agricola's birth Columbus had just returned from his great discovery,
and it was only three years later that Vasco Da Gama rounded Cape Good
Hope. Thus these two foremost explorers had only initiated that greatest
period of geographical expansion in the world's history. A few dates
will recall how far this exploration extended during Agricola's
lifetime. Balboa first saw the Pacific in 1513; Cortes entered the City
of Mexico in 1520; Magellan entered the Pacific in the same year;
Pizarro penetrated into Peru in 1528; De Soto landed in Florida in 1539,
and Potosi was discovered in 1546. Omitting the sporadic settlement on
the St. Lawrence by Cartier in 1541, the settlement of North America did
not begin for a quarter of a century after Agricola's death. Thus the
revival of learning, with its train of Humanism, the Reformation, its
stimulation of exploration and the re-awakening of the arts and
sciences, was still in its infancy with Agricola.

We know practically nothing of Agricola's antecedents or his youth. His
real name was Georg Bauer ("peasant"), and it was probably Latinized by
his teachers, as was the custom of the time. His own brother, in
receipts preserved in the archives of the Zwickau Town Council, calls
himself "Bauer," and in them refers to his brother "Agricola." He
entered the University of Leipsic at the age of twenty, and after about
three and one-half years' attendance there gained the degree of
_Baccalaureus Artium_. In 1518 he became Vice-Principal of the Municipal
School at Zwickau, where he taught Greek and Latin. In 1520 he became
Principal, and among his assistants was Johannes Förster, better known
as Luther's collaborator in the translation of the Bible. During this
time our author prepared and published a small Latin Grammar[2]. In 1522
he removed to Leipsic to become a lecturer in the University under his
friend, Petrus Mosellanus, at whose death in 1524 he went to Italy for
the further study of Philosophy, Medicine, and the Natural Sciences.
Here he remained for nearly three years, from 1524 to 1526. He visited
the Universities of Bologna, Venice, and probably Padua, and at these
institutions received his first inspiration to work in the sciences, for
in a letter[3] from Leonardus Casibrotius to Erasmus we learn that he
was engaged upon a revision of Galen. It was about this time that he
made the acquaintance of Erasmus, who had settled at Basel as Editor for
Froben's press.

In 1526 Agricola returned to Zwickau, and in 1527 he was chosen town
physician at Joachimsthal. This little city in Bohemia is located on the
eastern slope of the Erzgebirge, in the midst of the then most prolific
metal-mining district of Central Europe. Thence to Freiberg is but fifty
miles, and the same radius from that city would include most of the
mining towns so frequently mentioned in _De Re Metallica_ - Schneeberg,
Geyer, Annaberg and Altenberg - and not far away were Marienberg,
Gottesgab, and Platten. Joachimsthal was a booming mining camp, founded
but eleven years before Agricola's arrival, and already having several
thousand inhabitants. According to Agricola's own statement[4], he spent
all the time not required for his medical duties in visiting the mines
and smelters, in reading up in the Greek and Latin authors all
references to mining, and in association with the most learned among the
mining folk. Among these was one Lorenz Berman, whom Agricola afterward
set up as the "learned miner" in his dialogue _Bermannus_. This book was
first published by Froben at Basel in 1530, and was a sort of catechism
on mineralogy, mining terms, and mining lore. The book was apparently
first submitted to the great Erasmus, and the publication arranged by
him, a warm letter of approval by him appearing at the beginning of the
book[5]. In 1533 he published _De Mensuris et Ponderibus_, through
Froben, this being a discussion of Roman and Greek weights and measures.
At about this time he began _De Re Metallica_ - not to be published for
twenty-five years.

Agricola did not confine his interest entirely to medicine and mining,
for during this period he composed a pamphlet upon the Turks, urging
their extermination by the European powers. This work was no doubt
inspired by the Turkish siege of Vienna in 1529. It appeared first in
German in 1531, and in Latin - in which it was originally written - in
1538, and passed through many subsequent editions.

At this time, too, he became interested in the God's Gift mine at
Abertham, which was discovered in 1530. Writing in 1545, he says[6]:
"We, as a shareholder, through the goodness of God, have enjoyed the
proceeds of this God's Gift since the very time when the mine began
first to bestow such riches."

Agricola seems to have resigned his position at Joachimsthal in about
1530, and to have devoted the next two or three years to travel and
study among the mines. About 1533 he became city physician of Chemnitz,
in Saxony, and here he resided until his death in 1555. There is but
little record of his activities during the first eight or nine years of
his residence in this city. He must have been engaged upon the study of
his subjects and the preparation of his books, for they came on with
great rapidity soon after. He was frequently consulted on matters of
mining engineering, as, for instance, we learn, from a letter written by
a certain Johannes Hordeborch[7], that Duke Henry of Brunswick applied
to him with regard to the method for working mines in the Upper Harz.

In 1543 he married Anna, widow of Matthias Meyner, a petty tithe
official; there is some reason to believe from a letter published by
Schmid,[8] that Anna was his second wife, and that he was married the
first time at Joachimsthal. He seems to have had several children, for
he commends his young children to the care of the Town Council during
his absence at the war in 1547. In addition to these, we know that a
son, Theodor, was born in 1550; a daughter, Anna, in 1552; another
daughter, Irene, was buried at Chemnitz in 1555; and in 1580 his widow
and three children - Anna, Valerius, and Lucretia - were still living.

In 1544 began the publication of the series of books to which Agricola
owes his position. The first volume comprised five works and was finally
issued in 1546; it was subsequently considerably revised, and re-issued
in 1558. These works were: _De Ortu et Causis Subterraneorum_, in five
"books," the first work on physical geology; _De Natura Eorum quae
Effluunt ex Terra_, in four "books," on subterranean waters and gases;
_De Natura Fossilium_, in ten "books," the first systematic mineralogy;
_De Veteribus et Novis Metallis_, in two "books," devoted largely to the
history of metals and topographical mineralogy; a new edition of
_Bermannus_ was included; and finally _Rerum Metallicarum
Interpretatio_, a glossary of Latin and German mineralogical and
metallurgical terms. Another work, _De Animantibus Subterraneis_,
usually published with _De Re Metallica_, is dated 1548 in the preface.
It is devoted to animals which live underground, at least part of the
time, but is not a very effective basis of either geologic or zoologic
classification. Despite many public activities, Agricola apparently
completed _De Re Metallica_ in 1550, but did not send it to the press
until 1553; nor did it appear until a year after his death in 1555. But
we give further details on the preparation of this work on p. xv. During
this period he found time to prepare a small medical work, _De Peste_,
and certain historical studies, details of which appear in the Appendix.
There are other works by Agricola referred to by sixteenth century
writers, but so far we have not been able to find them although they may
exist. Such data as we have, is given in the appendix.

As a young man, Agricola seems to have had some tendencies toward
liberalism in religious matters, for while at Zwickau he composed some
anti-Popish Epigrams; but after his return to Leipsic he apparently
never wavered, and steadily refused to accept the Lutheran Reformation.
To many even liberal scholars of the day, Luther's doctrines appeared
wild and demagogic. Luther was not a scholarly man; his addresses were
to the masses; his Latin was execrable. Nor did the bitter dissensions
over hair-splitting theology in the Lutheran Church after Luther's death
tend to increase respect for the movement among the learned. Agricola
was a scholar of wide attainments, a deep-thinking, religious man, and
he remained to the end a staunch Catholic, despite the general change of
sentiment among his countrymen. His leanings were toward such men as his
friend the humanist, Erasmus. That he had the courage of his convictions
is shown in the dedication of _De Natura Eorum_, where he addresses to
his friend, Duke Maurice, the pious advice that the dissensions of the
Germans should be composed, and that the Duke should return to the bosom
of the Church those who had been torn from her, and adds: "Yet I do not
wish to become confused by these turbulent waters, and be led to offend
anyone. It is more advisable to check my utterances." As he became older
he may have become less tolerant in religious matters, for he did not
seem to show as much patience in the discussion of ecclesiastical topics
as he must have possessed earlier, yet he maintained to the end the
respect and friendship of such great Protestants as Melanchthon,
Camerarius, Fabricius, and many others.

In 1546, when he was at the age of 52, began Agricola's activity in
public life, for in that year he was elected a Burgher of Chemnitz; and
in the same year Duke Maurice appointed him Burgomaster - an office which
he held for four terms. Before one can gain an insight into his
political services, and incidentally into the character of the man, it
is necessary to understand the politics of the time and his part
therein, and to bear in mind always that he was a staunch Catholic under
a Protestant Sovereign in a State seething with militant Protestantism.

Saxony had been divided in 1485 between the Princes Ernest and Albert,
the former taking the Electoral dignity and the major portion of the
Principality. Albert the Brave, the younger brother and Duke of Saxony,
obtained the subordinate portion, embracing Meissen, but subject to the
Elector. The Elector Ernest was succeeded in 1486 by Frederick the Wise,
and under his support Luther made Saxony the cradle of the Reformation.
This Elector was succeeded in 1525 by his brother John, who was in turn
succeeded by his son John Frederick in 1532. Of more immediate interest
to this subject is the Albertian line of Saxon Dukes who ruled Meissen,
for in that Principality Agricola was born and lived, and his political
fortunes were associated with this branch of the Saxon House. Albert was
succeeded in 1505 by his son George, "The Bearded," and he in turn by
his brother Henry, the last of the Catholics, in 1539, who ruled until
1541. Henry was succeeded in 1541 by his Protestant son Maurice, who was
the Patron of Agricola.

At about this time Saxony was drawn into the storms which rose from the
long-standing rivalry between Francis I., King of France, and Charles V.
of Spain. These two potentates came to the throne in the same year
(1515), and both were candidates for Emperor of that loose Confederation
known as the Holy Roman Empire. Charles was elected, and intermittent
wars between these two Princes arose - first in one part of Europe, and
then in another. Francis finally formed an alliance with the
Schmalkalden League of German Protestant Princes, and with the Sultan of
Turkey, against Charles. In 1546 Maurice of Meissen, although a
Protestant, saw his best interest in a secret league with Charles
against the other Protestant Princes, and proceeded (the Schmalkalden
War) to invade the domains of his superior and cousin, the Elector
Frederick. The Emperor Charles proved successful in this war, and
Maurice was rewarded, at the Capitulation of Wittenberg in 1547, by
being made Elector of Saxony in the place of his cousin. Later on, the
Elector Maurice found the association with Catholic Charles unpalatable,
and joined in leading the other Protestant princes in war upon him, and
on the defeat of the Catholic party and the peace of Passau, Maurice
became acknowledged as the champion of German national and religious
freedom. He was succeeded by his brother Augustus in 1553.

Agricola was much favoured by the Saxon Electors, Maurice and Augustus.
He dedicates most of his works to them, and shows much gratitude for
many favours conferred upon him. Duke Maurice presented to him a house

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