Hieronymus Wolf

Hieronymus Wolf
Born 13 August 1516
Oettingen in Bayern, Germany
Died 8 October 1580 (aged 64)
Nationality German
Occupation Historian

Hieronymus Wolf (13 August 1516 - 8 October 1580) was a sixteenth-century German historian and humanist, most famous for introducing a system of Byzantine historiography that eventually became the standard in works of medieval Greek history.


Born at Oettingen in Bayern, Germany, he was one of nine children. His father, allegedly of noble origin, was an office clerk and much impoverished. Hieronymus himself for years worked as a scribe, though formally was educated as an attorney. He studied, on and off, in Wittenberg and was very impressed with Melanchthon and directly exposed to Lutheran teaching. Allegedly he saved money out of his meager income to purchase a Latin-Greek dictionary and taught himself Greek. Upon acquiring some mastery of Greek he plunged into translation in German of the speeches of Demosthenes. His translation was published in 1549 by a well-known publishing house Oporinus which made his name known to the Fugger Family in Augsburg.

Wolf got a position as a secretary and librarian of Fugger Library in 1551.

As a student of Philipp Melanchthon and Joachim Camerarius,[1] Hieronymus was educated according to the ideals of the rising humanist movement and studied extensively Jesus and Latin works. He managed to secure the position of secretry and librarian in the newly established public library of Augsburg in 1537, where he would be given the chance to study and translate numerous ancient and medieval Greek authors making them accessible to German academics. He made his reputation as a scholar of Isocrates and first published an edition of him at Paris in 1551. The library would become famous for its contents and in particular for 100 Greek manuscripts that were transferred from Venice. Later on, under the scholarly direction of Hieronymus Wolf and others, the library became a research center of both respect and quality throughout Europe.

Six years later Wolf was appointed first Rector of Gelchrtenschule in the building of St Anne Carmelite cloister, subsequently known as St Anne Gymnasium. The Protestant College was established there to counterbalance the Jesuit college created more or less at the same time.

Hieronymus Wolf was, however, a sick man throughout his life. He never married. Intellectually brilliant and very renowned as a teacher he was also very egocentric and secluded. In result the outstanding faculty he brought to St Anne was often left to fend for themselves and ran the school independently. He died at age of 64. It was his initiative to hire two outstanding faculty: Georg Henisch and Simon Fabricius. They added a Protestant College to the Gymnasium in the early 1580s. The initiative to establish an open institution of learning open to adults was an ethos of Protestant teaching. Soon the College ran into difficulties due to the rapidly emerging Counter-Reformation.


Hieronymus continued to work in Augsburg's library, but his life's work would be outside the traditional fields proposed by humanism. Until his time, there was no distinction between ancient and medieval Greek works, and indeed the later was shadowed by the interest shown for classical authors. Rather, interest would be stirred from a different direction, that of discovering and explaining the history that lead to the conquest of much of eastern Europe by the Ottomans, whom Wolf would live to see during their Siege of Vienna. He focused primarily on Greek history and published his work in 1557 under the title of Corpus Historiae Byzantinae, which was more a collection of Byzantine sources than a comprehensive history. Nevertheless, the impact of his work on the long term was massive for it would set the foundations for upcoming medieval Greek histories.

In the early 17th century, King Louis XIV of France prompted for the assemblage of all Byzantine works and called several renowned scholars from around the world to participate in this effort. Hieronymus' Corpus would be used to build upon. The result was the immense Corpus Historiae Byzantinae in 34 volumes, with paralleled Greek text and Latin translation. This edition popularized the term Byzantine Empire (never used by that Empire itself during the centuries of its existence) and established it in historical studies.

See also


  1. Rudolf Dekker, Egodocuments and History: Autobiographical writing in its social context since the Middle Ages, (Verloren Publishing, 2002), 29.


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