The Galileo Project
site map

Varenius [Varen], Bernhard

1. Dates
Born: Hitzacker, Hannover, Germany, 1622
Died: Amsterdam, 1650 He most probably died in 1650, and definitely had died by 1655.
Dateinfo: Death Uncertain
Lifespan: 28
2. Father
Occupation: Cleric
His father, Heinrich, was court preacher to the Duke of Brunswick.
This sounds like affluence, but the father died when Varenius was only thirteen, and he was left wholly dependent on others for his education. Given this, I list his circumstances as poor.
3. Nationality
Birth: Hitzacker, Hannover, Germany
Career: Amsterdam, Holland
Death: Amsterdam, Holland
4. Education
Schooling: Koenigsberg; Leiden, M.D.
1640-2, he studied at the gymnasium of Hamburg.
1643-5, University of Königsberg.
1648-9, University of Leiden; received an M.D. in 1649. I assume a B.A. or its equivalent.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Lutheran
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Geography, Mathematics
Beyond his well-known work in geography, Varenius left behind a manuscript on the conics.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Schoolmastering
1646-8, he worked as a tutor in Amsterdam, evidently earning a salary of 40 to 60 reichstaler (see 8 ).
1649, he settled in Amsterdam with the intention of practicing medicine, but his friendship with Willem Blaeu and other geographers led him to concentrate on geography. There is no evidence that he ever practiced medicine, and the failure of his name to appear on the list of Amsterdam physicians suggests that he did not.
War destroyed his native town, thus preventing him from receiving his inheritance.
8. Patronage
Types: Scientist, City Magistrate, Court Official
Joachim Jungius, the rector of the Hamburg gymnasium was a patron in the sense that Varenius maintained contact with him after leaving Hamburg, often seeking advice and counsel. Jungius and Tassius also appear to have tried to help Varenius find a position. According to Ratzel, Jungius supported Varenius while he was at the gymnasium. I categorize Jungius, who appears in this catalogue, as a scientist; academic might be equally valid.
Varenius had a patron while he was in Amsterdam, almost certainly the father of the children he was tutoring. This patron paid Varenius a salary of 40 reichstaler, which Varenius negotiated up to 60. I have not found the name of the patron, but evidently he was a mayor of Amsterdam, who died on a trip to Moscow in 1648.
According to Ratzel, Varenius's description of Japan (1649) was dedicated to the mayor and city council of Hamburg in thankful memory of his education at the gymnasium.
His book on Japanese religion, Tractatus de religione Japonicorum (1648), was dedicated--certainly in the hope of financial return--to Queen Christina of Sweden, a known patroness of science.
Ratzel asserts that Varenius hoped to get Pell's chair at the Amsterdam gymnasium, but was disregarded by the mayor, who evidently did not want a Lutheran in the position. In an effort to gain favor, Varenius dedicated his major work, the Geographia generalis (1650), to the mayor, the trustees of the gymnasium, and the city treasurer of Amsterdam.
9. Technological Involvement
Type: None
The assertation that he practiced medicine is highly dubious. Ratzel reports that his name was not entered on the list of Amsterdam physicians for that period.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None known
  1. Siegmund Günther, Varenius [Klassiker der Naturwissenschaften, 4]
  2. (Leipzig: Theod. Thomas, 1905). [Geo. G114.V3 G8]
  3. Hans Offe, "Bernhard Varenius (1622-1650)," Geographisches Taschenbuch und Jahrweise zur Landes Kunde, 1960-1961 (Wiesbaden: Steiner), pp. 435-8. [G72.G34]
  4. Nieuw Nederlandsch Biographisch Woordenboek.
  5. F. Ratzel, Allgemeine deutsche Biographie, 39, 487-90.
  6. Note: Ratzel is now regarded as somewhat inaccurate. Because I don't know what parts are not accurate, I have explicitly noted which information I got from his article.
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
Last updated
Home | Galileo | Biography | Chronology | Family | Portraits |
Science | Christianity | Library | About | Site Map | Search

Please note: We will not answer copyright requests.
See the copyright page for more information.