Georg Agricola.

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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 i6th Century



A. B. Stanford University, Member American Institute of Mining Engineers,

Mining and Metallurgical Society of America, Societi des Ingenieurs

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.

Published for the Translators by




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



HERE are three objectives in translation of works
of this character : to give a faithful, literal trans-
lation 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 mediaeval corruption, is some-
what 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, suffic-
iently 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 dis-
cussion. 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 Schliiter'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 guid-
ance. Practically the whole of it must have been given from personal ex-
perience and observation, for the scant library at his service can be appreci-
ated 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 li ved. 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

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, week-
ends, 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 i6th Century.

THE RED HOUSE, July i, 1912.




EORGIUS 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 print-
ed but forty years before ; the Humanists had but
begun that stimulating criticism which awoke the
Reformation ; Erasmus, of Rotterdam, who was sub-
sequently to become Agricola's friend and patron,
was just completing his student days. The Refor-
mation itself was yet to come, but it was not long delayed, for Luther
was bom the year before Agricola, and through him Agricola's home-
land 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 dis-
covered 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

1 For the biographical information here set out we have relied principally upon the
following works : Petrus Albinus, Meissnische Land Und Berg Chronica, Dresden, 1590 ;
Adam Daniel Richter, Umstdndliche. . . . Chronica der Stadt Chemnitz, Leipzig, 1754 ;
Johann Gottfried Weller, Altes Aus Allen Theilen Der Geschichte, Chemnitz, 1766;
Freidrich August Schmid, Georg Agrikola's Bermannus, Freiberg, 1806 ; Georg Heinrich
Jacobi, Der Miner alog Georgius Agricola, Zwickau, 1881 ; Dr. Reinhold Hofmann, Dr. Georg
Agricola, Gotha, 1905. The last is an exhaustive biographical sketch, to which we refer
those who are interested.


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 Forster,
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 Flatten.
Joachimsthal was a booming mining camp, founded but eleven years before
Agricola's arrival, and already having several thousand inhabitants. Accord-
ing 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.

*Georgii Agricolae Glaucii Libellus de Prima ac Simplici Institutions Grammatica,
printed by Melchior Lotther, Leipzig, 1520 Petrus Mosellanus refers to this work (without
giving title) in a letter to Agricola, June, 1520.

3 Briefe an Desiderius Erasmus von Rotterdam. Published by Joseph Forstemann
and Otto Giinther. xxvn. Beiheft zum Zentralblatt fur BiUiothekswesen, Leipzig, 1904.

P- 44-

*De Veleribus et Novis Metallis. Preface.

8 A summary of this and of Agricola's other works is given in the Appendix A.


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
Albertham, 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. I n 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

*De Veteribus et Novis Metallis, Book I.

'Printed in F. A Schmid's Georg Agrikola's Bermannus, p 14, Freiberg, 1806.

"Op. Cit., p. 8.


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 classi-
fication. Despite many public activities, Agricola apparently completed
De Re MetalUca 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 re-
ferred 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 Princi-
pality. 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 Princi-
pality 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

Online LibraryGeorg AgricolaGeorgius Agricola De re metallica → online text (page 1 of 74)