Open Journal Systems

Samuel Thomas von Söemmerring (1755-1830)

Islam Aly, R. Shane Tubbs, Mohammadali M. Shoja, Marios Loukas


The life of the German anatomist Samuel von Söemmerring is anything but ordinary. From the moment a pen was put into his hands, it was apparent that this man was destined for greatness; a literary genius from the age of 6 years, an artist of his time, constantly struggling to follow his passion of anatomical sciences, and begging for funds from his frugal father to pursue his early career. His doctoral dissertation, De basi encephali et originibus nervorum cranio egredientium libri quinque (Five Chapters on the Base of the Brain and the Origin of the Nerves Exiting the Skull), put forward the universally accepted 12-pair classification of the cranial nerves up to the present day. When Félix Pinkus discovered a new cranial nerve in the dipnoan fish in 1894, and the same nerve was identified in human embryos in 1905 and in adults in 1914, the proper classification of the cranial nerves required moving up each nerve by one number. But because of the widespread acceptance of Söemmerring’s proposed classification among anatomists and clinicians, the new cranial nerve was given the number zero. This paper presents a biography of Söemmerring, and it examines some of his studies and ideas regarding anatomy and neuroscience.

Full Text:



Hildebrand R. Söemmerring’s work on the nervous system: a view on brain structure and function from the late eighteenth century. Anat Embryol (Berl) 2005; 210(5– 6): 337–342.

Aslam S, Khan B, Khan F. The physical characteristics of the vomeronasal organ in the Pakistani population. Biomedica 2013; 29: 157–163.

Bast T. The life and work of Samuel Thomas von Sömmerring. Ann Med Hist 1924; 6: 369–386.

Moog FP, Karenberg A. Samuel Thomas Söemmerring (1755–1830). J Neurol 2004; 251(11): 1420–1421.

Hildebrand R. Attic perfection in anatomy: Bernhard Siegfried Albinus (1697–1770) and Samuel Thomas Söemmerring (1755–1830). Ann Anat 2005; 187(5-6): 555–573.

Flamm ES. Historical observations on the cranial nerves. J Neurosurg 1967; 27(4): 285–297.

Brookover C. The nervus terminalis in adult man. J Comp Neurol 1914; 24: 131–135.

Söemmerring ST. U¨ ber Die Körperliche Verschiedenheit Des Mohren Vom Europäer [Concerning the Physical Difference between the Moor and the European]. Mainz, 1784.

Schiebinger L. The anatomy of difference: race and sex in eighteenth century science. Eighteenth Century Stud 1990; 23(4): 387.

Mungazi D. The Mind of Black Africa. Westport, Praeger, 1996; 102.

Binder DK, Schaller K, Clusmann H. The seminal contributions of Johann-Christian Reil to anatomy, physiology, and psychiatry. Neurosurgery 2001; 61(5): 1091–1096; discussion 1096.

Riese W. The 150th anniversary of S. T. Söemmerring’s organ of the soul; the reaction of his contemporaries and its significance today. Bull Hist Med 1946; 20(2): 310–321.

Capozzi M. Kant, Söemmerring and the importance of the sense of hearing. Lex Philos 2014; 2: 25–40.

Söemmerring S. Uber Das Organ Der Seele [About the Organ of the Soul]. Königsberg, Nicolovius, 1796.

Kant I. Anthropology Friedlander. In: Louden RB, Wood AW (Trans., Eds.), Clewis RR, Munzek GF (Trans.). Lectures on Anthropology. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2012: p. 498.

Karenberg A. Cerebral localization in the eighteenth century–an overview. J Hist Neurosci 2009; 18(3): 248–253.

Jay V. A portrait in history. The anatomical legacy of Dr Sömmerring. Arch Pathol Lab Med 1999; 123(9): 762.

Gould GM, Scott RJE. The Practitioner’s Medical Dictionary. Philadelphia, P. Blakiston’s Son & Co, 1919; 20–22.

Kappelhof JP, Vrensen GF, Vester CA, Pameyer JH, de Jong PT, Willekens BL. The ring of Söemmerring in the rabbit: A scanning electron microscopic study. Graefe’s Arch Clin Exp Ophthalmol 1985; 223(3): 111–120.

Swanson LW. Neuroanatomical Terminology. New York, Oxford University Press, 2015; 51.

Pinkus F. Ueber einen noch nicht beschriebenen Hirnnerven des Protopterus annectens. Anat Anz 1894; 9: 562–566.

Olry R. Did the German Anatomist Samuel Thomas von Söemmerring Turn in his Grave in 1894? Département Chim Univ du Québec a` Trois-Rivières. Accessed September 9, 2016.

De Vries E. Note on the ganglion vomeronasale. Proc kon ned Akad Wet 1905; 7: 704–708.

Johnston J. The nervus terminalis in man and mammals. Anat Rec 1914; 8: 185–198.


Article Metrics

Metrics Loading ...

Metrics powered by PLOS ALM

Article Metrics Graph

Metrics powered by


  • There are currently no refbacks.