Grosses vollständiges Universal-Lexicon

Zedler's Universal-Lexicon is considered the most important German-language encyclopedia of the 18th Century. Contrary to the claim on the title page shown here, the first volume had already appeared at the Leipzig Michaelmas Fair of 1731.

The Grosses vollständiges Universal-Lexicon aller Wissenschafften und Künste (English: Great Complete Encyclopedia of All Sciences and Arts) is a 68-volume German encyclopedia published by Johann Heinrich Zedler between 1731 and 1754. It was the first encyclopaedia to include biographies of living people.


The bookseller and publisher Zedler published this book in Leipzig under the name Great Complete Encyclopaedia of All Sciences and Arts Which So Far Have Been Invented and Improved by Human Mind and Wit: Including the Geographical and Political Description of the Whole World According to All Monarchies, Empires, Kingdoms, Principalities, Republics, Free Sovereignties, Countries, Towns, Sea Harbors, Fortresses, Castles, Areas, Authorities, Monasteries, Mountains, Passes, Woods, Seas, Lakes ... and also a Detailed Historical and Genealogical Description of the World's Brightest and Most Famous Family Lines, the Life and Deeds of the Emperors, Kings, Electors and Princes, Great Heroes, Ministers of State, War Leaders... ; Equally about All Policies of State, War and Law and Budgetary Business of the Nobility and the Bourgeois, Merchants, Traders, Arts.

Zedler himself called his encyclopedia "Zedler's Encyclopedia" (Zedlersches Lexikon).


Zedler's encyclopedia was the first which was worked on by editors who were specialists, and which was not named after the author or the editor, but instead after the publisher. The main editors were Jacob August Franckenstein (volumes 1-2), Paul Daniel Longolius (volumes 3-18), and Carl Günther Ludovici (volumes 19-64 and supplements).

Nothing certain is known about the individual authors of the encyclopedia. Heinrich Winkler wrote many medical articles, and Friedrich August Müller probably wrote articles on philosophy.[1] Lorenz Christoph Mizler (1711–1778) claimed to have written mathematical articles. Johann Heinrich Rother and Johann Christoph Gottsched have also been suggested as possible collaborators, though both denied it.[2]


The Grosses vollständiges Universal-Lexicon is sometimes considered the first modern encyclopedia in the German language; at the time, it was the largest printed encyclopaedia in the western world. It was originally supposed to be printed in about 12 volumes, an estimate later extended to 24, but its final printing was in 64 volumes plus four supplements, with about 284,000 articles on 63,000 two column pages. Ludovici had even been intended to write a further four supplements. Initial production was funded through Praenumeration, where buyers paid in advance and received a discount on the volume that was later delivered.

The volumes were all printed in the cellars of Halle Orphanage, not far from Leipzig. This print shop belonged to August Hermann Francke's Halle Foundation. Later, between 1961 and 1964, the book was republished in Graz, Austria.

Online copy

The Bavarian State Library's digitisation center in Munich (Münchener Digitalisierungszentrum, MDZ) digitized the encyclopedia completely, including the three supplements, in the form of images and PDF files. The 68 volumes have an index and readers can browse through the pages.


  1. Ulrich Johannes Schneider, "Die Konstruktion des allgemeinen Wissens in Zedlers Universallexikon," in Wissenssicherung, Wissensordnung und Wissensverarbeitung: Das europäische Modell der Enzyklopädien, ed. Theo Stammen et al. (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2004), 87n.
  2. Ines Prodöhl, "´Aus denen besten Scribenten´: Zedlers Universal-Lexicon im Spannungsfeld zeitgenössischer Lexikonproduktion," Das achtzehnte Jahrhundert 29 (2005): 89-91.

Further reading

Gu Zhengxiang: "Zum China-Bild des Zedlerschen Lexikons: Bibliographie der in seinen China-Artikeln besprochenen oder als Quellen genannten Werke", in: Suevica. Beiträge zur schwäbischen Literatur- und Geistesgeschichte, hrsg. von Reinhard Breymayer, 9 (2001/2002). Stuttgart: Heinz, 2004 [2005], pp. 477–506, ISBN 3-88099-428-5.

External links

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