|Georg Agricola was a contemporary of Martin Luther, and is regarded as the father of mineralogy.
Born George Bauer at Glauchau, Agricola was, like Luther, a Saxon. Unlike Luther, Agricola was a
The Saxon Erzgebirge at one time formed the mountainous border between Bohemia and Saxony,
and the old trade routes from Franconia to Silesia passed through the old cities of Zwickau, Freiberg
and Chemnitz in the northern foothills and led over the mountains into Bohemia. In the 12th century,
Zwickau's position on the old highway, as well as its intermediate position between Leipzig and
Prague on the other side of the Erzgebirge, brought in new settlers from Franconia and the Rhine
who, lured by promises of money and freedom, settled on the uninhabited mountainsides along the
river valleys and high passes of the Erzgebirge in long, thin farmsteads. Protected by royal fortified
structures, villages such as Stein, Wildenfels, Hartenstein, Schwarzenberg and Hoheneck formed the
western Erzgebirge; Scharfenstein, Zschopau, Wolkenstein and Rauenstein, the central Erzgebirge;
and Lauenstein, Frauenstein, Berenstein and Dohna, the eastern.
After large silver deposits were discovered in Schneeberg in 1470, the settlements of Schneeberg,
Annaberg and Marienberg formed along with the mines, and 8,000 people lived in Schneeberg by
1500. The Berggeschrei or call-of-the-mountain lured more immigrants from Franconia, and while
these settlers were allowed to freely prospect, a Bergrechts or mountain tithe had to be paid. The
town of Marienberg was planned in a chess board fashion in 1521 after a sizable silver deposit was
found in 1519. Annaberg, the center of the upper Erzgebirge, had a similar influx of settlers in 1492
when silver was found at Schreckenberg, and by 1540 it had a population of 12,000. As Annaberg
developed, a mint was established and technological advances greatly modernized the mining
industry. Georg Aricola was at the forefront of these great advances.
Agricola's greatest work, 'De Re Metallica', carefully depicted and described all facets of mining from
ores to mining machinery. Intellectually gifted, he was appointed Rector extraordinarius of Greek at
the Great School of Zwickau by age twenty and began philosophic writing. Soon, he went to Leipzig
as rector and began to study medicine, physics and chemistry. From 1524 to 1526, he travelled to
Italy where he took his doctor's degree. He studied medicine, natural science, and philosophy in
Bologna and Padua, then clinical studies in Venice.
In Italy, he befriended the great scholar Erasmus. Upon returning to Zwickau in 1527, he was
appointed town physician at Joachimsthal, a center of mining and smelting works, where he began
intensive studies about mineralogy by careful observation of ores and the methods of their treatment
which he then constructed into a logical system which he began to publish in 1528.
Agricola's dialogue 'Bermannus, sive de re metallica dialogu's was the first scientific writing of its
kind and brought Agricola recognition. Partly in the hope of finding new drugs among the local ores
and minerals, he visited mines and smelting plants, talked to the better educated miners, and read
classical authors on mining. 'Bermannu's was based upon information obtained from conversations
with the "learned miner" Lorenz Berman during his time at Joachimsthal.
In 1533, he went to the center of the mining industry in Chemnitz as town physician and published a
book about Greek and Roman weights and measures. He was soon elected burgmeister. However,
Agricola was a staunch Catholic and Chemnitz was a hotbed of the new Protestant movement, and
he was forced to resign. He authored a historical work in 1544 and then laid the first foundations of a
physical geology criticizing the theories of the ancients in De ortu et causis subterraneorum. In 1545,
1546 and 1548, he published important studies about the discovery and occurrence of minerals.
Agricola observed that rocks were in strata of a consistent order, and that these layers could be
traced over a wide area. This was one of the first contributions to stratigraphic geology and in
understanding 'the arrangement and origins of the rocks of the Earth. Unlike previous writings on
rocks and minerals, Agricola classified them not alphabetically or by their mystical powers, but by
simple physical properties.
He gave standardized names to various minerals, recorded their appearance and the localities where
they could be found. He 'also noted fossils might vary in color and appearances in different locations.
Agricola's geological writings reflect an immense amount of study and first-hand observation, not just
of rocks and minerals, but of every aspect of mining technology and practice of the time. His most
famous work, 'De re metallica libri xii,' 1556, is a systematic treatise on mining and metallurgy,
illustrated with many fine and interesting woodcuts. In an appendix, he put German equivalents for
the technical terms used in the Latin text (Agricola wrote in Latin 'even though it was at the time a
Aside from his job as a diplomat, Agricola was not very politically minded, although in 1529 he gave
a very popular and widely distributed "Turkish Speech" calling for an end to political and religious
friction and urging the Holy Roman emperor Ferdinand I to begin a war against the Turks as a
Environmentally conscious Agricola stated that: "When the woods and groves are felled, then are
exterminated the beasts and birds, very many of which furnish a pleasant and agreeable food for
man. Further, when the ores are washed, the water which has been used poisons the brooks and
streams, and either destroys the fish or drives them away. Therefore the inhabitants of these regions
find great difficulty in procuring the necessities of life " (De Re Metallica ) Agricola was years ahead
of his time in the area of workplace hazards, and he recommended protective long leather gloves for
work with aggressive minerals, a face veil to screen from dangerous dusts and high rawhide boots for
workers standing in water. Agricola recommended that mines have 5 day work week with 3 shifts of
8 hours each per day; he also recommended doing away with the late (3rd) shift and that miners
should not work two shifts per day because of the increased risk of injury.
It is said he died from a stroke brought on by a heated argument with a Protestant at Chemnitz on
November 21, 1555. De Re Metallica was unequalled for two centuries. 1n 1912, the exceedingly
difficult task of creating an English translation was accomplished by American mining engineer,
Herbert Hoover, the former President of the United States, and his wife Lou Henry Hoover. It is
interesting that Hoover's family name was originally Huber, and he was of German ancestry. Hoover
stated that Agricola was "the first to found any of the natural sciences upon research and observation,
as opposed to previous fruitless speculation."
Agricola noted that music played an important role in the miners' lives, and indeed, the music of the
miners of Schneeberg mountain was published in Nurnberg in 16th century. Only 3 pieces survived.
Some exiles Salzburger miners mixed in with the Bohemian Exulanten in Saxony, taking their skills
with them. Many were traditionally good woodworkers and they worked for and established wooden
clock and toy making businesses, but some became musical instrument makers. While the most
valuable instruments from the 17th and 18th centuries are today all thought as Italian, many of the
“Italian” makers, such as Steiner, Goffriller, and Tecchler, were actually German. German
immigrants started the violin and lute making traditions in much of Italy even as far back as the 15th
century. The Saxon town of Füssen was among the earliest instrument-making centers and the
birthplace of German violin making by around 1546.
Their crafters also made gambas, lutes (derived from “luthier”) and most other stringed instruments,
including experimental creations. Many luthiers of Füssen were victims of the Thirty Years War or
religious persecution and forced to flee, and the art of luthiery was spread to the many towns they
settled in. Many of the centers of European violin making that began in these places in the 17th
century trace their history directly to these origins. Klingenthal, Saxony was home to the cottage
industry of carving instrument parts at home. Near Klingenthal, in the region known today as
Vogtland, farmers from neighboring Frankonia and western Thuringia, together with some settlers
from what is today the Upper Palatinate, settled in this hilly, forested land.
The Annaberg silver mining industry declined towards the end of the 16th century and the lovely,
rich city burned almost completely in 1604. A new lace industry developed there. Marienberg, like
the others in the region, declined between the 17th and 19th centuries. It was not suitable for
farmland, and the people began manufacturing wood products, toys and even stockings. When the
railroad came to the Erzgebirge in 1858, it made it accessible for tourists.
|"I have omitted all those things which I have not myself seen,
or have not read or heard of from persons upon whom I can rely.
That which I have neither seen, nor carefully considered after reading
or hearing of, I have not written about. The same rule must be
understood with regard to all my instruction, whether I enjoin things
which ought to be done, or describe things which are usual, or
condemn things which are done." Agricola, 1556
|GEORG AGRICOLA: The Father of Mineralogy