Nova acta physico-medica Academiae caesareae Leopoldino-Carolinae naturae curiosorum

This fascinating 18th century natural history journal is in the Rare Medical Periodicals Collection of the Bernard Becker Medical Library (7).  This journal was published by the oldest national medical academy still in existence, Deutsch Akademie der Naturforscher.  Founded in 1652 in Schweinfur, the academy was first a private institution but it grew rapidly for several decades after becoming an imperial institution.  But compared to other academies in Europe, the English Royal Society or the French Academy des Sciences, it never gained similar status, because it never had a geographic center. Its 6th president was Andreas Elias Buchner, Professor of Medicine at Erfurt and the 13th was botanist, Christoph Jacob Trew.  They were contemporaries and their long-distance correspondence from 1750 survives (9).

I admire the journal’s beautiful typography and striking copper engraved illustration and I have filled a number of inter-library loan requests for the journals in more than ten years here. Our set has had a run from 1727-1870 with only two title changes. Some requests have been from botanical garden libraries. Since I worked at a botanical garden library, I know that early natural history journals are important to botany, zoology, and geology because their type descriptions of species. This journal is also important to the history of medicine because of its case reports with striking illustrations.

A illustrated case report of opisthotonos

George Chistian Maternus de Cilano, Copper Engraving 1775In Figure 1-3 is an illustrated two page medical case report from page 16-17 of Volume 1, 1757. The copper plate engraving shows opisthotonos (5), a spasm of the muscles causing backward arching of the head, neck, and spine.  In adults, opisthotonos may appear in tetanus, some kinds of meningitis and strychnine poisoning (8). The case occurred in Altena  (Germany) on the 18 of January in 1754 (5).

In 1757, the author, George Christian Matern de Cilano (1696-1773) was about 61 years old, a learned Hungarian born at Presburg (4). He studied theology and natural science at Halle and earned a doctorate at Helmstedt in 1724 (2).  He was professor of medicine and natural history and Roman and Greek history at the Royal Gymnasia and Academy in Altena from 1738 (2&6).  A member of the Deutsch Akademie der Naturforscher, he published at least 5 other articles on medicine in this journal (3).  He wrote many editions of a book on roman history and two on physical phenomena such as earthquakes and the aurora borealis, with only a few monographs on medicine. He died at Altena, a town in North Rhine, Westphalia, in Germany (4)


  1. BSB Bayerische StaatsBibliothek Opacplus Accessed 31 July 2015;jsessionid=177E126D4863A5034C546A9AEF27F410.touch03?methodToCall=submitButtonCall&CSId=48814N270S870c55e49db35c56f9cfdeb9b2dec0ce764e546b&methodToCallParameter=submitSearch&refine=false&searchCategories[0]=-1&searchString[0]=&combinationOperator[1]=AND&searchCategories[1]=200&searchString[1]=&combinationOperator[2]=AND&searchCategories[2]=100&searchString[2]=Matern%2C+Georg+Christian&combinationOperator[3]=AND&searchCategories[3]=600&searchString[3]=&submitButtonCall_submitSearch=Suchen&searchRestrictionValue1[0]=&searchRestrictionID[0]=10&searchRestrictionValue1[1]=&searchRestrictionID[1]=11&searchRestrictionValue1[2]=&searchRestrictionID[2]=8&searchRestrictionValue2[2]=&numberOfHits=10&rememberList=-1
  2. “Georg Christian Maternus de Cilano,” Wikipedia: die Frei Enzykopaedie Accessed 31 July 2015
  3. Indexcat search for "Maternus de Cilano
  4. “Maternus de Cilano (George Christian) ”The London Encyclopaedia, Or Universal Dictionary of Science, Art …, T. Tegg & Son, 1837 , Volume 13, page 668,  Accessed 31 July 2015 http:// dq=indGeorge%20Christian%20Matern%20de%20Cilano%20excat&pg=PA668#v=onepage&q=indGeorge%20Christian%20Matern%20de%20Cilano%20excat&f=false
  5. Matern de Cilano, Georg Christian, “Observatio VI: Spasmo opisthotono lethali, ex nervi plantaris laesione orto,” Nova acta physico-medica Academiae caesareae Leopoldino-Carolinae naturae curiosorum, Volume 1; Norimbergae: impensis Ioannis Adami Steinni, 1757 page 16-17 and plate I.

  6. Matern de Cilano, Georg Christian, Ausführliche Abhandlung der römischen Alterthümer, Hamburg: Bohn, 1776 Accessed 31 July 2015

  7. Nova acta physico-medica Academiae caesareae Leopoldino-Carolinae naturae curiosorum, Norimbergae: impensis Ioannis Adami Steinni, 1757-, Washington University Medical Center Libraries catalog Accessed 31 July 2015 Holdings at Becker Library

  8. “Opisthotonos,”Oxford Dictionaries, Accessed 31 July 2015

  9. [Schnalke, T. “[Leopoldina insights. The "Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher" around 1750 as reflected in its correspondence.”]Wurzbg Medizinhist Mitt. 2003;22:158-66. ]pubmed abstract of article in German only ]