Leo Frobenius

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Leo Frobenius, 1938

Leo Frobenius (born June 29, 1873 in Berlin , † August 9, 1938 in Biganzolo , Italy) was a German ethnologist .


Growing up as the son of the Prussian officer Hermann Frobenius , brother of the painter Hermann Frobenius and grandson of the director of the Berlin zoological garden Heinrich Bodinus , he had an unsteady childhood, left high school without a high school diploma and did a business apprenticeship.

As an autodidact, he turned to ethnology at an early age , was a temporary volunteer at various museums and founded his “ Africa Archive ” in Munich in 1898 , which he later renamed the Institute for Cultural Morphology . In 1905 he founded the German Inner-African Research Expedition, DIAFE, with which he carried out twelve large research expeditions to Africa until 1935 , in particular to Togo , Tunisia , Zambia, as well as Sudan , the Congo and Ethiopia .

At the beginning of World War I , Frobenius led a secret mission to neutral Abyssinia to organize an uprising in Anglo-Egyptian Sudan . However, the Italian authorities in Massaua ( Eritrea ) forbade onward travel and Frobenius returned to Europe. Previously, he arranged for the distribution of food from German interned ships to the needy on the Arabian Peninsula .

In 1925 the city of Frankfurt am Main acquired the extensive collections of its Institute for Cultural Morphology, with which he relocated to Frankfurt (today: Frobenius Institute ). In 1932 he was appointed honorary professor at Frankfurt University and in 1934 director of the local Völkermuseum . He was also a member of the Berlin Society for Anthropology, Ethnology and Prehistory .


Leo Frobenius

With his essay on the origin of African cultures published in 1898, he founded the culture of culture , which was later expanded by Ankermann and Graebner, but from which he turned away again because it seemed too mechanistic to him. Frobenius published numerous works, including an extensive collection of African folk tales. In addition to other supporters, he was also able to win over the journalist Else Frobenius , the wife of his brother Hermann, for the dissemination of his research results. He took special interest in the first of Heinrich Barth described rock art of the Sahara contrary, he considered for the purposes of the explorer as an important source for the reconstruction of African history.

Frobenius dealt intensively with the Atlantis hypothesis. Between 1921 and 1928 he published a twelve-volume series with folk tales and stories from North and West Africa under the title Atlantis . The climax reached the presentation of his Atlantis theory in volume 10 with the title The Atlantische Götterlehre . In 1931 he switched himself to work in Erythräa. Countries and times of holy regicide in the discussion about the ruins of Zimbabwe and, in contrast to Gertrude Caton-Thompson, took the view that these were very ancient cultures.

At the same time he developed the main features of his “ culture morphology ”, which understood the individual cultures as organisms . a. was influenced by Oswald Spengler . Central to his theory is the concept of “ Paideuma ”, the “ cultural soul ”, which he also used in 1938 as the title for the magazine he founded. The sum total of his knowledge and research as well as his intellectual and cultural-historical theories can be found in the cultural history of Africa published in 1933 .


Pende mask from the Frobenius collection, acquired in 1904 for the Berlin Ethnographic Collection (now the Berlin-Dahlem Ethnological Museum )

Because of his research on African history, he is still valued in many African countries today. He particularly influenced the founder of the Négritude Léopold Sédar Senghor , who once wrote of him that he had "given Africa its dignity and identity back ", as well as Aimé Césaire , for whose poetic and essayistic work he was just as fundamental. Frobenius considered African culture to be on par with European culture, which was unusual for a scholar of his time.

An extensive collection of around 4700 copies of prehistoric African rock art, which is now in the Frobenius Institute in Frankfurt, can be traced back to him. Even Erika Trautmann Nehring (1897-1968) the copied petroglyphs of Valcamonica on his behalf.

Frobenius and his student Adolf Ellegard Jensen shaped a number of German ethnologists. Frobenius' students include Hans Rhotert (Director of the Linden Museum in Stuttgart from 1957 to 1970), Adolf Friedrich (University of Mainz), Helmut Straube (University of Munich) and Helmut Petri (University of Cologne), Hertha von Dechend (University of Frankfurt) as well as the UN advisor Heinz Wieschhoff . Adolf Friedrich, Horst Nachtigall (University of Marburg), Wolfgang Rudolph (Free University of Berlin) and Eike Haberland (University of Frankfurt) studied with Jensen .


Honor grave in Frankfurt

His grave in the main cemetery in Frankfurt is a grave of honor for the city.

In 1932 he received the Leica camera with the number 100,000 from the Ernst Leitz Wetzlar company .


  • From the boozy years of mankind. Images of the life, drive and thinking of the wild . Jänecke Brothers, Hanover 1901.
  • The age of the sun god . Georg Reimer, Berlin 1904.
  • In the shadow of the Congo state: Report on the course of the first trips of the DIAFE from 1904–1906, on their research and observations in geographical and colonial economic areas . Berlin 1907.
  • And Africa spoke . Berlin 1912 (English translation: The Voice of Africa , London 1913)
  • The people's circus of our enemies . Eckart-Verlag, Berlin 1917.
  • Paideuma. Outlines of a doctrine of culture and the soul. Munich 1921.
  • Atlantis - Folk Tales and Folk Poetry of Africa. Publications of the Institute for Cultural Morphology. Edited by Leo Frobenius. 12 volumes. Jena: Diederichs 1921–1928
    • Volume 1: Folk Tales of Kabyle , Volume 1: Wisdom (1921)
    • Volume 2: Folk Tales of the Kabyle, Volume 2: The Unseenliche (1922)
    • Volume 3: Folk Tales of the Kabyle, Volume 3: The Fabulous (1921)
    • Volume 4: Fairy Tales from Kordofan (1923)
    • Volume 5: Poetry and Thinking in Sudan (1925)
    • Volume 6: Minstrels' Tales of the Sahel (1921)
    • Volume 7: Demons of Sudan: All Kinds of Religious Condensation (1924)
    • Volume 8: Stories from West Sudan (1922)
    • Volume 9: Folk Tales and Folk Poetry from Central Sudan (1924)
    • Volume 10: The Atlantic doctrine of gods (1926)
    • Volume 11: Folk poems from Upper Guinea , Volume 1 / Fabuleien three peoples (1924)
    • Volume 12: Poetry of the Kassaiden (1928)
  • Cultural history of Africa, prolegomena to a historical Gestalt theory . Phaidon Verlag, Zurich 1933 (Reprint: Peter Hammer Verlag, Wuppertal 1998)
  • Origin of African cultures . Berlin 1898.
  • From the cultural realm of the mainland (documents on cultural physiognomics), Berlin 1923.
  • The head as fate . Wolff, Munich 1924.
  • Erythraea. Countries and times of holy regicide , Atlantis-Verlag, Berlin / Zurich 1931.
  • From the desk to the equator . Ed. Ute Luig, Frankfurt 1982 (an annotated anthology with a bibliography).
  • "Forms of thought of past humanity." Scientia , Vol. 64, Milano 1938

See also


Web links

Wikisource: Leo Frobenius  - Sources and full texts
Commons : Leo Frobenius  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Jensen, AE, Rhotert, H. and Frobenius, L .: Course and results of the 12th German Inner-African Research Expedition (DIAFE) 1934/35 under the leadership of Leo Frobenius. Strecker & Schröder, Stuttgart 1938.
  2. Peter Heine : Leo Frobenius as a political agent, in: Paideuma , vol. 26 (1980), pp. 1-5. ( Online resource ; summary ).
  3. ^ Heinrich Pleticha, Siegried Augustin: Lexicon of adventure and travel literature from Africa to Winnetou , Edition Erdmann, Stuttgart, Vienna, Bern 1999, p. 99 ff.