Sebastian Münster

Portrait of Sebastian Münster by Christoph Amberger, c. 1552

Sebastian Münster (20 January 1488 – 26 May 1552),[1] was a German cartographer, cosmographer, and a Christian Hebraist scholar. His work, the Cosmographia from 1544, was the earliest German description of the world.


He was born in Ingelheim, near Mainz, as the son of Andreas Münster. His parents and other ancestors were farmers.[1][2] In 1505, he entered the Franciscan order. Four years later, he entered a monastery where he became a student of Konrad Pelikan for five years.[1] Münster completed his studies at the Universität Tübingen in 1518. His graduate adviser was Johannes Stöffler.[3]

He left the Franciscans for the Lutheran Church in order to accept an appointment at the Reformed Church-dominated University of Basel in 1529.[2][4] He had long harbored an interest in the Lutherans, and during the German Peasants' War, as a monk, he had been repeatedly attacked.[2] A professor of Hebrew, and a disciple of Elias Levita, he edited the Hebrew Bible (2 vols. fol., Basel, 1534-1535), accompanied by a Latin translation and a large number of annotations. He was the first German to produce an edition of the Hebrew Bible.[5]

He published more than one Hebrew grammar, and was the first to prepare a Grammatica Chaldaica (Basel, 1527). His lexicographical labours included a Dictionarium Chaldaicum (1527), and a Dictionarium trilingue for Latin, Greek, and Hebrew in 1530.[5]

He released a Mappa Europae (map of Europe) in 1536. In 1537 he published a Hebrew Gospel of Matthew which he had obtained from Spanish Jews he had converted. In 1540 he published a Latin edition of Ptolemy's Geographia with illustrations. The 1550 edition contains cities, portraits, and costumes. These editions, printed in Germany, are the most valued of this work. Other writings that followed are Horologiographia (a treatise on dialling — constructing sundials, Basel, 1531), and Organum Uranicum (a treatise on the planetary motions, 1536).[4]

His Cosmographia of 1544 was the earliest German-language description of the world. It had numerous editions in different languages including Latin, French, Italian, English, and even Czech. The Cosmographia was one of the most successful and popular works of the 16th century. It passed through 24 editions in 100 years.[6] This success was due to the fascinating woodcuts (some by Hans Holbein the Younger, Urs Graf, Hans Rudolph Manuel Deutsch, and David Kandel), in addition to including the first to introduce "separate maps for each of the four continents known then--America, Africa, Asia and Europe."[7] It was most important in reviving geography in 16th century Europe. The last German edition was published in 1628, long after his death.

His Rudimenta Mathematica was published in Basel in 1551.[4]

He died at Basel of the plague in 1552. His tombstone described him as the Ezra and the Strabo of the Germans.[5]

Several paintings with oil on canvas, woodcuts and copper etchings depict Sebastian Münster, by Hans Holbein d. J. (Basel, c. 1530), Willem de Haen (1615), as rector of the University of Basel (by Christoph Amberger, um 1547), and on the 100-DM-bill as used 1962 to 1991.


  1. 1 2 3 Miles Baynton-Williams. "MapForum Issue 10". Retrieved 2012-06-05.
  2. 1 2 3 Horst Robert Balz; Gerhard Krause; Gerhard Müller (1994). "Münster, Sebastian (1488-1552)". Theologische Realenzyklopädie. 23. Walter de Gruyter. p. 407. ISBN 3-11-013852-2.
  3. "Mathematics Genealogy Project". Retrieved 2012-06-05.
  4. 1 2 3  Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Münster, Sebastian". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  5. 1 2 3  Baynes, T.S.; Smith, W.R., eds. (1884). "Münster, Sebastian". Encyclopædia Britannica. 17 (9th ed.).
  6.  Gilman, D. C.; Thurston, H. T.; Colby, F. M., eds. (1905). "Münster, Sebastian". New International Encyclopedia (1st ed.). New York: Dodd, Mead.
  7. National Library Board of Singapore. Visualising Space: Maps of Singapore and the Region. Collections from the National Library and National Archives of Singapore, 2014, p. 42

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