Hermann Conring (Polyhistor)

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Hermann Conring

Hermann Conring (born November 9, 1606 in Norden , East Friesland ; † December 12, 1681 in Helmstedt ) was a polyhistor and imperial journalist , as well as a physician and personal physician to Queen Christina of Sweden , Danish State Councilor and head of the Bremen-Verdean archive in Stade . He is considered to be the founder of the science of German legal history . In addition, Conring did research in the fields of philosophy, physics and medicine. He also worked as a doctor and was politically active as a councilor at various European courts .



Hermann Conring was born as the second youngest of ten children of the Lutheran pastor Hermann Conring and his wife, the pastor's daughter Galathea Copin. His father had studied theology in Rostock and Wittenberg and from 1588 held a pastor's position in Hinte , which he had to give up in 1600. He and his family moved north, where he served again as a pastor. Conring's paternal grandfather, Johannes, came from Drenthe , from where he came north around 1550. With the exception of the oldest brother Johannes, all of his nine siblings died in a plague epidemic in 1611. His brother, with whom he had a close relationship throughout his life, studied theology at the University of Helmstedt from 1611 . Conring's father-in-law was Johann Stucke .


Conring received his first school education in the form of home schooling in Latin from his mother . Between 1613 and 1620 he then attended the Latin school in Norden. As a schoolboy he wrote his first essays on philosophy. Among them was a satire called Somnium seu Satyra Menippaea , in which Conring dealt with the work of great philosophers such as Virgil . This essay came into the hands of Cornelis Martini through his brother Johannes , who was teaching philosophy at the University of Helmstedt at the time. At his insistence, Conring was enrolled at the University of Helmstedt on October 25, 1620 . During his five-year study in Helmstedt, he attended lectures, including on the philosophy of Aristotle , from Martini, who died in 1621, Georg Calixt and Konrad Hornejus . He was also shaped by Rudolf Diephold , Christoph Heidmann and Nicolaus Granius (1569–1631).

In 1623, at the request of his parents, Conring had to return north due to the effects of the Thirty Years War . A year later he briefly returned to the university, but in 1625, due to an epidemic of the plague, made his way back to his parents' house. That same year he traveled on the recommendation of Calixtus and hosted by Matthias van Overbeck after suffering , where he attended the local to 1631 University studied. During this time he developed an initial interest in science and medicine . He attended lectures in medicine and natural history as well as in politics and political science. He also came under the influence of Hugo Grotius , who lived in Paris during Conring's studies, but whose teachings he dealt with in detail. In 1630 he received his doctorate with a thesis entitled De origine formarum secundum Aristotelem .

Professorship for natural philosophy and rhetoric

Shortly after Conring had finished his studies in Leiden, Calixt turned to him and offered him a well-paid position as tutor of the son of Arnold Engelbrecht , at that time Chancellor of the Principality of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel . After a moment's hesitation, he accepted the position and went to Braunschweig . After teaching the chancellor's son for a year, Conring applied for the professorship for natural philosophy and rhetoric at the University of Helmstedt by letter of March 17, 1632 . As early as April 27, 1632, he was promised the position, mainly because of the encouragement of his employer and his close ties to the university.

The approaches he developed in the field of natural philosophy can always be traced back to Aristotle. Based on this, he always advocated polyhistorism in his lectures . Conring also wrote a textbook on natural philosophy, which he never completed, but in which he dealt with the basic physical concepts of time, space and place, as well as with astronomy .

Conrings residential building in Helmstedt

Professor of Medicine

Despite his two-time professorship, Conring found himself in serious financial problems, mainly because of the effects of the war, and was also not sufficiently appreciated in professional terms by his colleagues at the university. From 1634 he therefore turned to medicine, since it was easier to earn money here. On July 29, 1634, he received his doctorate degree in medicine and shortly afterwards, with a thesis on scurvy , also obtained a doctorate. From then on he practiced as a doctor. In 1636 a professorship for medicine became vacant at the University of Helmstedt, to which Conring, who had also received his doctorate in philosophy in 1636, was not appointed until 1637. Until 1640 he held the post of professor of natural philosophy and rhetoric as well as that of professor of medicine.

During his teaching activities in the field of medicine, he gave an extensive textbook with the title Introductio in universam artem mediciam singulasque eies partes ( Introduction to the whole of medicine and its individual parts ). The approaches already represented by Aristotle can also be found here. Furthermore, Conring dealt with the teaching of William Harvey on the blood circulation . In his lectures on the fundamentals of medicine, he attached great importance to practical experiments, whereby it was often extremely difficult to obtain suitable corpses for the lecture in anatomy . In addition to his work in the field of medical research and practice, Conring was also a personal physician at various European ruling houses. In 1649 Juliane Louise von Ostfriesland appointed him to be her personal physician. On a trip to Stockholm , which he made with Johan Adler Salvius in 1650 , this title was also awarded to him by Christina of Sweden .

Professorship for Politics

In 1650, Conring succeeded in being appointed as the successor to Heinrich Julius Scheurl to the professorship of politics at the University of Helmstedt , combined with a considerable increase in his salary . He achieved this mainly because he had received an offer from Christina of Sweden to emigrate permanently to Sweden and work at the court there. Conring has been giving lectures and supervising dissertations in the field of political science since 1635 . Now, among other things, he dealt with the teachings of Joachim Hopper and Niccolò Machiavelli and began to write a work on comparative statology, in which he examined the historical development of different countries, which however never came to a conclusion.

In his political philosophy he turned away from the dominance of theological ideas in statecraft, which meant in particular that the enforcement of one's own denomination was no longer seen as a central task of the sovereign. In his “Dissertatio de optima principo” of 1652 he postulated the novel idea that, based on the history and psychology of a people, there could be different forms of government and government that are suitable for different states. This preoccupation with the history of peoples led to a reflection on the pre-state period of a state of nature that was also concerned with more influential contemporary state philosophers such as Thomas Hobbes and John Locke .

Christina of Sweden, for whom Conring worked as a personal physician

Political activities

In addition to the theoretical discussion of the political conditions in the German Reich, Conring was also politically active on a practical level. At the court of Juliane von Ostfriesland and Christina von Sweden, in addition to his title as personal physician, he was also appointed councilor . He also advised Friedrich III. of Denmark and August the Younger . He cultivated one of his most important political ties to Louis XIV , for whom he prepared legal opinions several times and who paid him a pension from 1664.

Reception and aftermath

Conring as the founder of German legal history

Conring is considered the father of German legal history. His interest in the political conditions in the German Reich was aroused during his studies in Leiden and from this direction he also approached research into the development of German law. Under the influence of Jakob Lampadius , whom Conring got to know while working at Engelbrecht, he dealt with the constitutional law of the German Empire from 1632 . This interest found its way into his lectures as early as 1634/35.

Conring's main work entitled De origine iuris Germanici ( From the origin of German law , editio prima: 1643) has its roots in this period. In this work he refuted, among other things, the Lothar legend and proved that there was no legislative act of Emperor Lothar III. von Supplinburg, who made Roman law imperial law. Methodically, Conring did not deal exclusively with the history of laws in force in the German Reich in his work. Rather, he also included the institutions enacting them in his deliberations and ultimately wondered against what background the laws had a certain effect.

The book was published in three editions between 1643 and 1665 and is divided into 34 chapters in the first two editions and 35 chapters in the third edition, which depict the development of German law from the Germanic era through the Frankish to the Post-Frankish period. The contemporary response to the book's publication has been extremely negative. Johannes Gryphiander , a lawyer and writer from Oldenburg , accused him of plagiarism .


When he died, Conring was the last German polymath. Today he is considered to be the founder of the science of legal history. He supported the famous Wolfenbüttel library, today's Herzog August Bibliothek, with expert opinions and advice . In his honor, the oriental field cabbage bears the scientific name Conringia orientalis . The Latin inscription on his tombstone, which stands on an estate in Groß Twülpstedt (his coffin is in the crypt of the local church of St. Maria St. Cyriakus), reads: “In this hill, the advisor to kings and princes, doctor, is decided of public international law, connoisseur of all philosophy, practical and theoretical, an excellent philologist, speaker, poet, historian, doctor, theologian. Do you think many are buried here? There is one: Hermann Conring, the miracle of the century. "

Fonts (selection)

  • De origine iuris Germanici (Helmstedt, 1643)
  • De finibus imperii Germanici (1654)
  • Introductio in universam artem mediciam singulasque eies partes

Text editions and translations

  • The Bibliotheca Augusta in Wolfenbüttel. At the same time about libraries in general. Translated by Peter Mortzfeld.
  • The origin of German law. Edited by Michael Stolleis, translated by Ilse Hoffmann-Meckenstock. Insel, Frankfurt am Main 1994.


Lexicon article

Web links

Wikisource: Hermann Conring  - Sources and full texts
Commons : Hermann Conring  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. a b c d Jori, p. 1.
  2. Jori, p. 2.
  3. Jori, p. 9.
  4. Jori, p. 10 f.
  5. ^ Wolf-Dieter Müller-Jahncke: Conring, Hermann. 2005, p. 269.
  6. Jori, p. 13.
  7. Jori, p. 30.
  8. Jori, p. 32.
  9. The book is entitled Introductio in naturalem philosiphiam et naturalium institutionum liber I. Quibus praecipue vera ac Arestotelica cum philosophandi ratio, tum doctrina de ortu rerum ex materia illustratur and appeared in 1638, cf. Jori, p. 36 ff.
  10. a b Jori, p. 38.
  11. ^ Wolf-Dieter Müller-Jahncke: Conring, Hermann. 2005, p. 269.
  12. Jori, p. 39.
  13. Jori, p. 41.
  14. Jori, p. 46.
  15. a b c Jori, p. 119.
  16. Jori, p. 112.
  17. Jori, p. 116 f.
  18. Jori, p. 71.
  19. Jori, p. 103, fn. 196.