Herman Dalmatin
Prominent Istrians

erman Dalmatin is also known as Hermanus Dalmata, Sclavus Dalmata, Secundus, and Herman de (of) Carinthia. He is the earliest Istrian scientist and philosopher and considered one of the greatest.

Old drawing of Euclid (left) and Herman Dalmatin (right, holding an astrolabe in his hand).

astronomer, astrologer, mathematician, translator and author

born in Central Istria
circa 1110

Born circa 1110 and his death being circa 1154 or 1160, he is sometimes referred to as a Slovene (Herman Koroški) or Croatian, the precise town of Herman Dalmatin's birth is unknown, but according to his own words he was born in the "heart of Istria". 

Herman Dalmatin probably began his education in a Benedictine monastery in Istria, then went on to the Cathedral School at Chartres and in Paris in his early twenties (1130-1134) where he continued his education by studying natural science and philosophy. During this time he attended lectures of the famous Theodoric (Thierry) de Chartres (c. 1085 - c. 1150). 

Shortly thereafter (1134) he embarked on a four-year journey of discovery with his English classmate and friend Robert of Ketton, which took him through France, the city-states of Northern Italy, the Croatian Kingdom, the Byzantine Empire and the Middle East where both were seriously involved in the study of Arabian science and philosophy in Constantinople and Damascus.

The pair based themselves in Damascus where they mastered the Arabic language and studied Arabian science and philosophy. Herman was captivated by Arabian contributions in the fields of mathematics and astrology and also took a great interest in the science of other Eastern nations such as India. In 1138, he returned to Europe, fraternising with, and influencing some of the greatest scholars of the time, including Rudolf of Bruges, William of Conches, Domingo Gonzales and Daniel of Morley.

About 1138 Herman returned to Europe and attended lectures of the famous Thierry de Chartres in Paris in the thirties of the 12th century and was active in both France and Spain. Using the knowledge he attained in Chartres and utilizing numerous Eastern sources, he wrote over 20 original books and translations, thus contributing a great deal to natural philosophy and exact sciences in Europe. A huge majority of his works, however, remained anonymous.

60538.gif (6425 bytes)He translated many important books from Arabian into Latin, including Arabic translations of ancient Greek scientific treatises. His first known translation in 1138, was of the sixth part of an astrological treatise under the Greek astrological tradition, Liber sextus astronomie, of the 9th century Arabian-Jewish writer Saul ben ibn Bishr and published in Spain under his translated title Zaelis fatidica (Prophecy). Bishr's first fiver books were preserved in the translation of John of Seville (Johannes Hispanus, c. 1090-c. 1150). A text of the sixth book is divided into seven treatises, which deal with three thematic topics. The first topic is about different changes from the world, the second about the changes from the air and the third about inequalities among people, which originate on account of inevitable various influences. This work contains a treatises about planets, a divinations from their retrograde movements and their mutual positions, and a divinations, based on the movements of comets.

At the same time, Herman wrote the astrological works Liber imbrium and De indagatione cordis, compilations from Indian and Arabic texts. 

Circa 1140, he translated into Latin the astronomical work of Abu Ma'shar Kitab al-madkhal itla ilm ahkam al nujum (Introduction to the astronomy). This translation was published several times under the title Liber introductorius in astronomiam Albunasaris (Augsburg 1489; Venice 1495 and 1506). This work was first separately translated into Latin by John of Seville in 1133, and it contains problems from Greek philosophy, Arabic astronomy, and Eastern astrology. A large part of Herman's translation was copied into Roger of Hereford's Book of Astronomical Judgements. 

Venus gets its own light (left), lunar eclipse (right), drawings from Herman's "De essentiis" (Béziers 1143), reprint of 14th century (British Museum

The significance of this astronomical work is mentioned in a brief description from Music in Art, International Journal for Music Iconography, Vol. XXIII/1-2 (1998) - an article by Zdravko Blazekovic, "The understanding and misunderstanding of terminology and iconography of instruments in Fendulus’s abridgment of Introductorum maius in astronomiam":

Introductorium maius in astronomian

Between the 1220s and about 1500, an abridgment of Introductorium maius in astronomiam, written by Abã Mašar (787-886), was copied several times and six copies have been preserved, originating from southern Italy, the Low Countries, and Paris. The abridgment itself, based upon a Latin translation of the treatise by Herman Dalmatin [corrected from Hermann of Dalmatia] (from 1140-43), was made in the second part of the twelfth century by Georgius Zothorus Zaparus Fendulus. The total number of images representing instruments, in all six manuscripts, is about 150. It is a rare opportunity to have such a chain of textual and iconographic sources, wherein we can trace almost the exact origin of each organological term and, through its illustration, recognize its precise meaning at the time. A comparison of corresponding images shows textual and iconographical changes occurring in the terminology of instruments during the translation of Abã Ma)šar’s text from Arabic into Latin, clues about instruments which provide Fendulus's misunderstanding of Latin terminology in his illustrated prototype of the abridgment, and the changes which occurred in the iconography during the transmission of the treatise throughout Europe over almost 300 years.

In Spain in 1142, Herman and Robert met Petrus Venerabilis / Peter the Velnerable (1094-1156), the Abbot of Cluny who encouraged them to translate the Kur'an / Qur'an / Koran.  In Leon, Herman began his translation into Latin. There, he also translated two shorter treatises, De generatione Mahumet et nutritura eius and Doctrina Mahumet, then continued to work with his unfinished Kur'an. The Kur'an translation was completed by his English friend Robert of Chester de Retin [s.b. Robert of Ketton who is attributed to the first translation in 1143]. The original manuscript of a translation was found in Constantinople by Ivan Stay. After this manuscript and the revised Latin translation by Peter the Venerable, in 1543 Theodor Bibliander (1504-1564) published his edition of the Kur'an in Basel. In this edition, both of Herman's translations of mentioned treatises about Islam were announced together with Martin Luther's Preface.

Herman's translations from Arabic represent an unavoidable ingredient of the so-called `Toledo corpus' of texts on Islam. Its main objective was to resist Islam not by force as the Crusaders did, but by understanding and love. The Arabic culture was a bridge across which the spiritual heritage of the Ancient Greeks came to the West. Thus, the joint work of Herman and Robert on the Kur'an and Herman's texts on the Islam had considerable importance in acquainting scholars in Christian Europe with the Islamic religion. 

After leaving Spain, Herman went to France, working in Toulouse and Beziers. It was here that Herman translated Claudius Ptolomeus' work Planisphaerium and revised Euclid's Euclidis geometrica (Elementa) (Euclid's Geometrical Elements) which was translated by Adelard from Bath. Published in Toulouse 1143, in Islamic literature it is known as Almagest.  He translated it from an Arabic translation from Greek jointing it with commentaries of Maslam ibm Ahmed al-Majriti, who worked in Cordoba in the 10th century. 

Within this time period Herman also worked on Adelard's 1126 translation of Muhammad al-Khwarizmi's astronomical tables (zij), most likely from Arabic translations. He probably wrote about the astrolabe, but these texts are not firmly attributed. He may also have translated at least some excerpts from Plotomeus' Almabest

He gave an outline of  his original thinking in his most notable work, the astrologico-cosmological treatise De Essentiis, which he completed in Beziers in 1143. In it, he introduced new scientific and philosophical concepts to Europe and in particular in the fields of astronomy and physics. This work expounds his own system based on natural philosophy and natural science. It is based on Aristotelian ideas in the Arban tradition which he found in Abu Ma'shar's work, and on the Platonism he learned at Chartres. He also set forth his views and astronomy and added some astrological concepts found in Arabic philosophers. In this work an important role is given to five essences: cause, motus, tempus, locus, and habitudo.

Herman died after February 26, 1154. He is honoured today both by scientists and historians, not only as the first intermediary between European and Arabic intellectuals, but as one of the greatest scientists of the Middle Ages. With De essentiis and the translation of Abu Ma'shar's Introductorium in astronomiam, Herman influenced Rudolph from Bruges, Domingo Gonzales (Gundisalvi) and Daniel from Morley who lived in the 12th century. These two works together with his translation of Ptolomeus were influential throughout the Middle Ages, and his works remained influential for many centuries afterwards. 


  • http://www.hr/darko/etf/lat.html (English) and http://us-mirror.math.hr/darko/etf/lat.html (Croatian, no longer exists online)
  • http://pubwww.srce.hr/zuh/English/srv_e.htm (English) and http://pubwww.srce.hr/zuh/do1874/srv/srv_5.htm   (Croatian)
  • http://jagor.srce.hr/zuh/English/velik_e.htm (English - also Mohorovicic & Frane Petric)
  • http://www.dalmatia.net/croatia/history/great_men_of_croatian_science.htm (currently offline)
  • http://royalcroatia.tripod.com/hermandalmatin.htm
  • Istarska enciklopedija, Leksikografski Zavod Miroslav Krleža (Zagreb, 2005)
  • Image - Chronica Maiora written by Matthew of Paris in the 13th century).

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Created: Friday, November 19, 1999: Last Updated: Sunday, October 21, 2012
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