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Acosta, Cristobal

1. Dates
Born: Cape Verde Islands, or possibly a Portuguese possession in Africa,1515
Died: Huelva, Spain, c.1594
Dateinfo: Death Uncertain
Lifespan: 79
2. Father
Occupation: No Information
No information on financial status.
3. Nationality
Birth: Portuguese
Career: Portuguese and Spanish
Death: Spanish
4. Education
Schooling: Unknown, M.D.
There is no apparent record, but no one doubts that Acosta had a university career, and most agree that he proceeded to the license in medicine.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Catholic, Jew
From a converted Jewish family. He lived as a Catholic.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Natural History, Pharmacy, Botany
Acosta was one of the pioneers in studying the plants, especially in their pharmaceutical uses, of the orient. His Tractado de las drogas y medicinas de las Indias orientales (dedicated to Burgos) contains systematic, first hand observations on oriental drugs. It acknowledges d'Orta's work but includes plants he did not mention and is illustrated by drawings. He also wrote a Tractado de la yerbas, plantas, frutas y animales (of the East) that is lost. He included (I think in the published work) a description of the oriental elephant. His work on drugs widely translated.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Governmental Office, Medical Practice
He went to the East Indies before 1550 as a soldier, and visited Persia, India, Malaya, and perhaps China. On this trip, or perhaps on his later one, he met Garcia d'Orta in Goa.
After returning to Portugal, he rejoined his former captain, Luiz de Ataide, newly appointed viceroy of India. Arrived in Goa in 1568.
Appointed physician to the royal hospital in Cochin, 1569.
By 1571, he was collecting botanical specimens in various parts of India.
When Ataide ended his term in 1572, Acosta returned to Lisbon with him.
Practiced medicine in Burgos, 1576-87. He was the contracted surgeon and then the contracted physician to the city, both positions being well salaried. After the death of his wife (1587?) he retired to a hermitage.
8. Patronage
Types: Aristocracy And City Magistrates
See his relationship with Ataide and the dedication of his book to Burgos (as well as his positions there).
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Pharmacy, Medicine
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
  1. José Maria Lopez Piñero, et al., Diccionaria historico de la ciencia moderna en España, 2 vols. (Barcelona: Ediciones Peninsula, 1983). Umberto Giulio Paoli, "Cristobal Acosta e le sue opere," Archeion, 19 (1937), 317-47.
  2. Jacob Seidi, "The Relationship of Garcia de Orta's and Cristobal Acosta's Botanical Works," Actes du VIIe Congress International d'Histoire des Sciences, (Paris, 1955), 56407.
  3. Harry Friedenwald, The Jews and Medicine, 2 vols. (Baltimore, 1944), Essay XXXI. M. Ferreira de Mira, Historia da medicina portuguesa.
  4. Chincilla, Historia de la medicina española, 2, 51-9.
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. Joachim Olmedilla y Puig, Estudio historico de . . . Cristobal de Acosta, (Madrid, 1899). I gather that this is primarily a panegyric.
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University
Note: the creators of the Galileo Project and this catalogue cannot answer email on geneological questions.
©1995 Al Van Helden
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