Isidore of Seville

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From Isidor's Etymologiae : Bishop Braulio and Isidore of Seville, illumination from the 10th century, Einsiedeln Abbey

Isidore of Seville (Latin Isidorus Hispalensis ; * around 560 in Carthago Nova ( Cartagena ), Spain, † April 4, 636 in Seville ) was the successor of his brother Leander in the office of Bishop of Seville . In his encyclopedia Etymologiarum sive originum libri XX , he compiled the knowledge of antiquity still existing in the west of the Mediterranean around 600 (→ book losses in late antiquity ), linked it with patristicism and made it available in his time. Isidore was one of the most widely read authors of the Middle Ages.


Isidore of Seville came from a family of the Romanized upper class and lived in a time when Eastern Romans and Visigoths were struggling for control of southern Spain. From 600 to 636 he was Archbishop of Seville ( Hispalis ). In 619 he presided over a synod under the Visigothic King Sisebut (to whom he also dedicated his Etymologiae ), in 633 he presided over the 4th Imperial Council of Toledo under King Sisenand .

Isidore of Seville was one of the most important writers and scholars of the early Middle Ages and at the same time can be counted among the last authors of late antiquity because he collected and organized the ancient knowledge that was still available. In its time, the Hispanic Visigoth Empire was characterized by the mixture of Roman and Germanic cultures. Parts of the Iberian Peninsula - including Isidor's birth town Cartagena - were also temporarily under the control of the Eastern Roman emperor after the middle of the 6th century , which made it easier to access ancient works.


Isidore wrote his writings in Latin as the “striking keystone of Latin antiquity” . He dealt with very different areas of knowledge and left behind a large number of works.

Preserved works

Complete edition of the works, 1797


Isidore's Etymologiae in the manuscript Vercelli, Biblioteca capitolare, CCII, fol. 66r (9th century)

Isidor's encyclopedia Etymologiarum sive originum libri XX (short: Etymologiae ) is particularly well known . King Sisebut, to whom it is dedicated in the preface, died in 621, but 15 years later, when Isidore died, the work was still unfinished and was first arranged and published by his pupil Braulio. With this work Isidore shaped the knowledge of his epoch into the early modern period; the first three books, which dealt with the literary trivium (grammar, rhetoric, dialectic) and the mathematical quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music), were particularly effective . In this way Isidore laid the foundation for every higher education in the Middle Ages. Other of his rediscoveries, such as the ancient atomic theory , initially received no attention.

Isidore's cosmographic explanations in chapters 3–6 and in chapter 8 on the mountains of Book XIV; in the XIII. Book the chapters about oceans, seas, gullies and other things about waters and in the XV. Book about the cities, had a lasting influence on medieval cartography. Its geographical information is then preceded in the XIV. Book with explanations about the circularity of the earth and its T-shaped division. The interpretation of these sentences is controversial: some believe that he thought the earth was flat, while others argue that when he said “circular” he only meant the inhabited part of the earth.

The independent chapter De Medicina describes philosophy and medicine ( secunda philosophia ) as disciplines encompassing the whole human being. In this chapter Isidore goes into the history and the tasks of medicine in detail. To practice it, the doctor must have been trained in all subjects of the trivium and quadrivium , even if medicine itself is not one of the liberal arts .

Historical works

Isidore wrote two historical works: a world chronicle up to the year 615 and a history of the Goths ( Historia Gothorum ), especially of the Visigoth Empire , of which he was a subject. Research has suggested that his Goth history may have been closely based on the lost historiola of Maximus of Saragossa , but this cannot ultimately be proven. Isidore certainly also relied on numerous other late antique chronicles (such as Eusebius of Caesarea , Hydatius of Aquae Flaviae , Johannes von Biclaro and others). In this context, Isidore tried to harmonize the Visigothic empire and the Catholic faith in his history.


Isidor's worldview as mappa mundi , reconstructed by Konrad Miller based on the geographical explanations in the Etymologiae

Isidore's writings were eagerly copied by monks in the Middle Ages . Some statements by ancient authors are only known through his quotations. His work had an enormous influence on the following generations, both through his biblical exegesis and because of his transmission of ancient knowledge to the world of the Middle Ages. His writings were soon translated into other languages ​​and found wide distribution. Some of Isidore's writings were translated into Old High German . The corpus of these writings is often abbreviated as "Isidore" (see also Mondseer Fragments ).

His reports on the Visigoth Empire established the myth of the superiority of the Goths and later legitimized the Reconquista . Isidore is also responsible for the strong anti-Semitism of the Visigoths after they converted to the Catholic faith. His prediction of an important role for Spain in world affairs became important for the later Spanish self-image.

His “invention” of a universally applicable method of explaining the world by means of finding the truth through language, which he called etymology , was of the greatest general importance for the construction of realities in the next 1000 years . He understood etymology differently from today's linguistics. Isidor's etymology method, which gave his main work the title, can be paraphrased briefly as follows: “If you want to recognize something true in a word about the object denoted by the word, then check the origin of the object, or its effect or the opposite of it whether you find linguistic and / or factual / content-related similarities between word and thing. ”A knowledge of the essence of a term obtained in this way“ etymologically ”is considered more profound than in comparison to knowledge obtained differently (philosophically, scientifically).

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo : Isidore of Seville, fantasy from the 17th century

Remembrance day and tribute

Isidore is considered to be the last church father in the West. According to the prevailing traditional view, his death is the end of the patristic era .

Isidore of Seville is depicted on the city arms of Seville. The lunar crater Isidorus is named after this church father.


Isidore was canonized in 1598 . His feast day within the Catholic Church is April 4th ( non-mandatory feast day in the general Roman calendar ). In 2001 he was talked about as patron of the Internet . The Vatican has not yet announced an official patron saint of the Internet. In the same year, the Isidor Award was donated, which was awarded to shareware programs in 2002 and 2003 .

Counterfeit works

There are extensive forgeries from the 9th century that were circulated under the name of Isidors. These fakes had an enormous history of effectiveness. There are reasonable guesswork about authorship but no final evidence. These works now bear the artificial name Pseudoisidor as the author.


Web links

Commons : Isidore of Seville  - Album with pictures, videos and audio files
Primary texts
Wikisource: Isidore of Seville  - Sources and full texts
Wikisource: Isidorus Hispalensis  - Sources and full texts (Latin)
Secondary literature


  1. Max Manitius: History of the Latin Literature of the Middle Ages . CH Beck, Munich 1974, ISBN 3-406-01400-3 , p. 52 ( online in Google Book Search).
  2. C. Eisenseer: The life and death of Latin. Approaches to a revitalization. in: Fodor / Hagège / IV: Sprachreform vol. IV. Hamburg 1989, p. 201.
  3. ^ Edited by Wallace Martin Lindsay , 2 volumes, Oxford 1911; a new multi-volume edition appears in Paris under the direction of Jacques Fontaine since 1981. English translation: Stephen A. Barney, WJ Lewis, JA Beach et al .: The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville . Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2006. A German translation was provided by Lenelotte Möller : The Encyclopedia of Isidore of Seville . Marixverlag, Wiesbaden 2008, ISBN 978-3-86539-177-3 .
  4. Brigitte English: The Artes Liberales in the Early Middle Ages (5th – 9th centuries) . Steiner, Stuttgart 1998, ISBN 3-515-06431-1 .
  5. Anna-Dorothee von den Brincken : Space and Time in the History Encyclopedia of the High Middle Ages . In: Historischer Verein für Stadt und Stift Essen (Ed.): Contributions to the history of the city and monastery Essen . tape 96 , 1981, ISSN  0341-9088 , pp. 6-21 .
  6. ^ Rudolf Simek: Old Norse Cosmography . de Gruyter, Berlin 1990, ISBN 3-11-012181-6 , p. 104 .
  7. ^ Heinrich Schipperges (†): Isidore of Seville. In: Werner E. Gerabek u. a. (Ed.): Encyclopedia of medical history. De Gruyter, Berlin / New York 2005, ISBN 3-11-015714-4 , p. 683 f.
  8. See Jamie Wood: The Politics of Identity in Visigothic Spain. Religion and Power in the Histories of Isidore of Seville. Leiden 2012.
  9. ^ Hans-Jörg Neuschäfter: Spanish literary history. 3. Edition. Stuttgart, Weimar 2006, p. 3.
  10. ^ Udo Kindermann : Isidore of Seville . In: Wolfram Ax (ed.): Latin teachers in Europe . Böhlau, Cologne 2005, ISBN 3-412-14505-X , p. 273-290 .
  11. Harald Taglinger: Heaven thunder weather. In: Telepolis. February 7, 2001, accessed January 26, 2010 .
  12. Peter Wagner: Thekla or Isidor - who hears the complaints of web users? In: February 10, 2008, accessed November 18, 2015 .
  13. See Isidor Awards 2003: The best shareware on the Internet, June 14, 2003.
predecessor Office successor
Leander Archbishop of Seville