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1556 Mining in Germany

Last Updated: 25th Jan 2019

By Dave Crosby

Agricola (1492-1555) De Re Metallica, 1556

For over 180 years with its 422 illustrations, THIS was THE book on mining and assaying.

You can download your copy here:


The location of Zwickau - the focal point of this book.
Zwickau, Germany


Georg Bauer (or Pawer) was born at Glauchau in Saxony in 1494 just two years after Columbus "sailed the ocean blue."
Many authors of the time "Latinised" their names in their published works. Bauer means ‘peasant’ or ‘farmer’ in German so the Latin noun for farmer, Agricola, was used by his contemporaries and he is known to history as Georgius Agricola.

Agricola 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.

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.

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. According to Agricola's own statement, he spent all the time not required for his medical duties in visiting the mines and smelters, making drawings and 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 called the "learned miner."

De Re Metallica was published the year aftr Agricola's death and just forty years after Gutenberg's first book was printed.

This is the July 1, 1912 Hoover Translation - translated by the future US President Herbert Clark Hoover, who was a mining engineer by profession, and his wife Lou Henry, a geologist and Latinist.

President and Lou Hoover

Lou had seen a copy of De re metallica in London in 1905 and, for the next five years, she and her husband worked on translating it.

Nearly every detail of the works Agricola observed is clearly covered in the text and his illustrations.
He began by explaining the sciences required in mining and knowledge of miners.

Here I offer a taste of each of his separate books.

Agricola Book 1 - p1
MANY persons hold the opinion that the metal industries are fortuitous and that the occupation is one of sordid toil, and altogether a kind of business requiring not so much skill as labour. But as for myself, when I reflect carefully upon its special points one by one, it appears to be far otherwise.
For a miner must have the greatest skill in his work, that he may know first of all what mountain or hill, what valley or plain, can be prospected most profitably, or what he should leave alone ; moreover, he must understand the veins, stringers and seams in the rocks. Then he must be thoroughly familiar with the many and varied species of earths, juices, gems, stones, marbles, rocks, metals, and compounds.
He must also have a complete knowledge of the method of making all underground works. Lastly, there are the various systems of assaying substances and of preparing them for smelting ; and here again there are many altogether diverse methods. For there is one method for gold and silver, another for copper, another for quicksilver, another for iron, another for lead, and even tin and bismuth are treated differently from lead.

Although the evaporation of juices is an art apparently quite distinct from metallurgy, yet they ought not to be considered separately, inasmuch as these juices are also often dug out of the ground solidified, or they are produced from certain kinds of earth and stones which the miners dig up, and some of the juices are not themselves devoid of metals. Again, their treatment is not simple, since there is one method for common salt, another for soda7, another for alum, another for vitriol, another for sulphur, and another for bitumen.

Furthermore, there are many arts and sciences of which a miner should not be ignorant.
First there is Philosophy, that he may discern the origin, cause, and nature of subterranean things ; for then he will be able to dig out the veins easily and advantageously, and to obtain more abundant results from his mining.
Secondly, there is Medicine, that he may be able to look after his diggers and other workmen, that they do not meet with those diseases to which they are more liable than workmen in other occupations, or if they do meet with them, that he himself may be able to heal them or may see that the doctors do so.
Thirdly follows Astronomy, that he may know the divisions of the heavens and from them judge the direction of the veins.
Fourthly, there is the science of Surveying that he may be able to estimate how deep a shaft should be sunk to reach the tunnel which is being driven to it, and to determine the limits and boundaries in these workings, especially in depth.
his knowledge of Arithmetical Science should be such that he may calculate the cost to be incurred in the machinery and the working of the mine.
Sixthly, his learning must comprise Architecture, that he himself may construct the various machines and timber work required underground, or that he may be able to explain the method of the construction to others.
Next, he must have knowledge of Drawing, that he can draw plans of his machinery.
Lastly, there is the Law, especially that dealing with metals, that he may claim his own rights, that he may undertake the duty of giving others his opinion on legal matters, that he may not take another man's property and so make trouble for himself, and that he may fulfill his obligations to others according to the law.

Agricola Book 2 - p25
QUALITIES which the perfect miner should possess and the arguments which are urged for and against the arts of mining and metallurgy, as well as the people occupied in the industry, I have sufficiently discussed in the first Book.

Now I have determined to give more ample information concerning the miners.

Locating Ore


Agricola Book 3 - p43
PREVIOUSLY I have given much information concerning the miners, also I have discussed the choice of localities for mining, for washing sands, and for evaporating waters ; further, I described the method of searching for veins. With such matters I was occupied in the second book;

now I come to the third book, which is about veins and stringers, and the seams in the rocks. The term "vein" is sometimes used to indicate canales in the earth, but very often elsewhere by this name I have described that which may be put in vessels; I now attach a second significance to these words, for by them I mean to designate any mineral substances which the earth keeps hidden within her own deep receptacles.

The next 34 illustrations are about the ore veins his miner friends were exploiting.

Types of Ore Veins


Agricola Book 4 - p77
THE third book has explained the various and manifold varieties of veins and stringers.

This fourth book will deal with mining areas and the method of delimiting them, and will then pass on to the officials who are connected with mining affairs.
Now the miner, if the vein he has uncovered is to his liking, first of all goes to the Bergmeister to request to be granted a right to mine, this official's special function and office being to adjudicate in respect of the mines. And so to the first man who has discovered the vein the Bergmeister awards the head meer (claim), and to others the remaining meers, in the order in which each makes his application.
The size of a meer is measured by fathoms, which for miners are reckoned at six feet each. The length, in fact, is that of a man's extended arms and hands measured across his chest; but different peoples assign to it different lengths, for among the Greeks, who called it an ------, it was six feet, among the Romans five feet. So this measure which is used by miners seems to have come down to the Germans in accordance with the Greek mode of reckoning. A miner's foot approaches very nearly to the length of a Greek foot, for it exceeds it by only three-quarters of a Greek digit, but like that of the Romans it is divided into twelve unciae.

Claim Size


Agricola Book 5 -p101
IN the last book I have explained the methods of delimiting the meers along each kind of vein, and the duties of mine officials.

In this book I will in like manner explain the principles of underground mining and the art of surveying. First then, I will proceed to deal with those matters which pertain to the former heading, since both the subject and methodical arrangement require it.
And so I will describe first of all the digging of shafts, tunnels, and drifts on venae profundue;
next I will discuss the good indications shown by canales, by the materials which are dug out, and by the rocks;
then I will speak of the tools by which veins and rocks are broken down and excavated;
the method by which fire shatters the hard veins;
and further, of the machines with which water is drawn from the shafts and air is forced into deep shafts and long tunnels, for digging is impeded by the inrush of the former or the failure of the latter;
next I will deal with the two kinds of shafts, and with the making of them and of tunnels;
and finally, I will describe the method of mining venae dilatatae, venae cumulatae, and stringers.

Vertical Shafts


Agricola Book 6 - p149
DIGGING of veins I have written of, and the timbering of shafts, tunnels, drifts, and other excavations, and the art of surveying. I will now speak first of all, of the iron tools with which veins and rocks are broken, then of the buckets into which the lumps of earth, rock, metal, and other excavated materials are thrown, in order that they may be drawn, conveyed, or carried out. Also, I will speak of the water vessels and drains, then of the machines of different kinds,1 and lastly of the maladies of miners. And while all these matters are being described accurately, many methods of work will be explained.

Machines of Different Kinds


Agricola Book 7 - p219
SINCE the Sixth Book has described the iron tools, the vessels and the machines used in mines,

this Book will describe the methods of assaying ores; because it is desirable to first test them in order that the material mined may be advantageously smelted, or that the dross may be purged away and the metal made pure.
Although writers have mentioned such tests, yet none of them have set down the directions for performing them, wherefore it is no wonder that those who come later have written nothing on the subject.

By tests of this kind miners can determine with certainty whether ores contain any metal in them or not ; or if it has already been indicated that the ore contains one or more metals, the tests show whether it is much or little ; the miners also ascertain by such tests the method by which the metal can be separated from that part of the ore devoid of it ; and further, by these tests, they determine that part in which there is much metal from that part in which there is little.

Assay Scales


Agricola Book 8 - p267
QUESTIONS of assaying were explained in the last Book,
and I have now come to a greater task, that is, to the description of how we extract the metals.
First of all I will explain the method of preparing the ore; for since Nature usually creates metals in an impure state, mixed with earth, stones, and solidified juices, it is necessary to separate most of these impurities from the ores as far as can be, before they are smelted, and therefore I will now describe the methods by which the ores are sorted, broken with hammers, burnt, crushed with stamps, ground into powder, sifted, washed, roasted, and calcined.

Never an argument?
Sorting Ore


Agricola Book 9 - p353
SINCE I have written of the varied work of preparing the ores, I will now write of the various methods of smelting them. Although those who burn, roast and calcine2 the ore, take from it something which is mixed or combined with the metals; and those who crush it with stamps take away much; and those who wash, screen and sort it, take away still more ; yet they cannot remove all which conceals the metal from the eye and renders it crude and unformed.

Wherefore smelting is necessary, for by this means earths, solidified juices, and stones are separated from the metals so that they obtain their proper colour and become pure, and may be of great use to mankind in many ways. When the ore is smelted, those things which were mixed with the metal before it was melted are driven forth, because the metal is perfected by fire in this manner. Since metalliferous ores differ greatly amongst themselves, first as to the metals which they contain, then as to the quantity of the metal which is in them, and then by the fact that some are rapidly melted by fire and others slowly, there are, therefore, many methods of smelting.

Smelting Ores


Agricola Book 10 - p439
QUESTIONS as to the methods of smelting ores and of obtaining metals I discussed in Book IX.
Following this, I should explain in what manner the precious metals are parted from the base metals, or on the other hand the base metals from the precious.
Frequently two metals, occasionally more than two, are melted out of one ore, because in nature generally there is some amount of gold in silver and in copper, and some silver in gold, copper, lead, and iron ; likewise some copper in gold, silver, lead, and iron, and some lead in silver ; and lastly, some iron in copper. But I will begin with gold.

Separating Metals

Agricola Book 11 - p491
DIFFERENT methods of parting gold from silver, and, on the other hand, silver from gold, were discussed in the last book; also the separation of copper from the latter, and further, of lead from gold as well as from silver; and, lastly, the methods for refining the two precious metals. Now I will speak of the methods by which silver must be separated from copper, and likewise from iron.

The officina, or the building necessary for the purposes and use of those who separate silver from copper, is constructed in this manner. First, four long walls are built, of which the first, which is parallel with the bank of a stream, and the second, are both two hundred and sixty-four feet long. The second, however, stops at one hundred and fifty-one feet, and after, as it were, a break for a length of twenty-four feet, it continues again until it is of a length equal to the first wall. The third wall is one hundred and twenty feet long, starting at a point opposite the sixty-seventh foot of the other walls, and reaching to their one hundred and eighty-sixth foot.

Separating Metals


Agricola Book 12 - p545
PREVIOUSLY I have dealt with the methods of separating silver from copper.

There now remains the portion which treats of solidified juices ; and whereas they might be considered as alien to things metallic, nevertheless, the reasons why they should not be separated from it I have explained in the second book.

Solidified juices are either prepared from waters in which nature or art has infused them, or they are produced from the liquid juices themselves, or from stony minerals. Sagacious people, at first observing the waters of some lakes to be naturally full of juices which thickened on being dried up by the heat of the sun and thus became solidified juices, drew such waters into other places, or diverted them into low-lying places adjoining hills, so that the heat of the sun should likewise cause them to condense. Subsequently, because they observed that in this wise the solidified juices could be made only in summer, and then not in all countries, but only in hot and temperate regions in which it seldom rains in summer, they boiled them in vessels over a fire until they began to thicken. In this manner, at all times of the year, in all regions, even the coldest, solidified juices could be obtained from solutions of such juices, whether made by nature or by art. Afterward, when they saw juices drip from some roasted stones, they cooked these in pots in order to obtain solidified juices in this wise also. It is worth the trouble to learn the proportions and the methods by which these are made.

Separating Salts








last Printed Page - p640


Herwig Pelckmans OF MKA (Min. Soc. of Antwerp) Belgium OFFERED THIS LIST OF BOOKS BY AGRICOLA. Many thanks!

On the website of the Virtual Museum of the History of Mineralogy, there is a large list of all the different versions and editions of AGRICOLA's books.
It is arranged by author (A to Z) and then by date of publication (oldest first).
There is a link behind every light-blue entry in the list, that will show photos of that book.
See http://www.mineralogy.eu/bookarchive/a/a.html#ag

Cheers, Herwig

List of Books by Agricola

Article has been viewed at least 666 times.


Dear Dave,

Very interesting! Thanks for sharing this on Mindat.

On the website of the Virtual Museum of the History of Mineralogy, there is a large list of all the different versions and editions of AGRICOLA's books.
It is arranged by author (A to Z) and then by date of publication (oldest first).
There is a link behind every light-blue entry in the list, that will show photos of that book.
See http://www.mineralogy.eu/bookarchive/a/a.html#ag

Cheers, Herwig

Herwig Pelckmans
MKA (Min. Soc. of Antwerp) Belgium

Herwig Pelckmans
13th Jan 2019 12:02pm
Thanks Herwig! I tried to simplify and make it interesting so others would investigate it.

Dave Crosby
14th Jan 2019 2:51pm

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