Sebastian Münster (1488-1552)

#OTD, January 20th, 1488 the humanist, hebraist and cosmograph Sebastian Münster (1488-1552) was born in Ingelheim.

He came from modest beginnings and rose to be rector of the university of Basel and the “German Strabo and Esra”. He was a true renaissance man with wide ranging interests, a renowned expert in Greek and Hebrew as well as in mathematics and astronomy.

He is most famous for his “Cosmographia”, the first attempt to provide a comprehensive “description of the whole world and all that is in it”. Cosmographia not only contained the latest maps and views of many well-known cities, but also included an encyclopaedic amount of detail about the known — and unknown — world, and was one of the most widely read books of its time.

Aside from maps, including the first map showing the Americas as separate continents, the text is full of engaging accounts: portraits of kings and princes, costumes and occupations, habits and customs, flora and fauna, monsters, wonders, and horrors.

He collected all available information from existing literary sources, interviews of travellers and merchants and his own investigations. For instance his chapter on India, based on Marco Pol and Strabo, contains descriptions of the use of elephants in agriculture, the caste system, but also a long section on dragons fighting elephants as well as huge serpents, enormous scorpions and griffins.

Colombia university has produced a great page on the Cosmographia with links to individual pages and the famous woodcuts – well worth checking out (http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00generallinks/munster/munster.html)

Older Germans may remember him mainly for his image on the old 100,- Deutschmark bill, a rare sight at the time, at least for me.


For more on German history, check out my website, historyofthegermans.com and my podcast History of the Germans, available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and wherever you get your podcasts from. Season 3 – the Hohenstaufen has just started!

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