Santorio Santorio
Prominent Istrians

antorio Santorio (as known as Santorio Santorii, Sanctorius of Padua, Sanctorius Sanctorius and various other combinations of these names), was born on March 26 (or 29), 1561 in Justinopolis, Istria (later Capodistria, Italy; now Koper, Slovenia).

medical scientist

born in

He was the elder son of Antonio Santorio who, according to Gravisi, was a native of Spilinibergo in the province of Friuli, who became a soldier and in 1548 removed to Justinopolis where he held the position of Chief of Ordnance (Supromassaro alle Munizie e di Bombardiere), thus being the first of his name there. Another biographer, Capello, claims the family was of noble origin. His mother, Elisabetta Cordona (or Cordoni or Cordonia), was the heiress of a local noble family in Justinopolis.

In 1575, Sanctorius (as he generally called himself) left Capodistria and proceeded to Venice, where he spent a year and shared the same tutors as the patrician Morosini's son. He he entered the University of Padua and received his medical  degree in 1582 at the age of 21, after taking courses in Medicine under Professor Bernardino Paterno, and Physics under Prof. Giacomo Zabarella, the latter of whom was a famous Greek scholar who may have been his teacher of Greek, a language proficiency shown in his later writings. For three three years thereafter he applied himself to clinical study and was then admitted to general practice.

In 1589 he received a public medical appointment at Capodistria, with a stipend of 200 ducats per annum. Several years later he was offered a professorship in Poland; whether he accepted this offer or not is uncertain. Two of his biographers, Caparroni and Castiglioni say that Santorio went to Poland immediately after completing his medical degree, and was the personal physician to the King and the upper aristocracy. whereas others (Capello and Prof. del Gaizo) claim that he did accept the offer and rose to considerable eminence there. It is now generally agreed that this could not be correct, and that rather he was in Croatia between the years 1587 and 1599 and was the personal physician of a leading local nobleman, probably Count Zrinski. What is not doubted, however, is that he was in foreign lands during this period as he speaks in his works of observations made in Hungary and Croatia.

© Istituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza

In 1599 he set up a medical practice in Venice where he spent the rest of his life. He quickly became part of the circle of learned men (the circle) that met in Andrea (?) Morosini's home, a meeting place for the proponents of the new science. He became friends with Galileo (1564-1642), fra Paolo Sarpi (1552-1623), Girolamo Fabrici, Giambattista Della Porta (1535-1615), and Giovanfrancesco Sagredo (1571-1620), among others. In 1607, together with Fabrizio (or Fabrici?), he treated and cured Sarpi after an attempted assasination.

His adaptation of the pendulum to medical practice was probably inspired by discussions with Galileo on the latter's experiments with pendulums in 1602. Santorio described the medical use of the pendulum in a book he then published late 1602 or early 1603 in eighteen parts in Venice, Methodi vitandorum errorum [...] in arte medica [Methods to avoid errors in medical practice]. It passed through several editions, and was finally published with the addition of another part (De invectione remediorum) in Geneva in 1631.

He was a pioneer in the use of physical measurements in medicine; his most famous apparatus was a large balance to study metabolic transformations. His own great achievement was the introduction of quantitative experimentation into biological science. In his Methodus vitandorum errorum omnium qui in arte medica contingent [Methods to avoid errors in medical practice] which he published in late 1602 or early 1603. In his comprehensive study on the method of healing which he dedicated to Ferdinand of Austria, he mentioned a few measuring  instruments, including the medical use of the pendulum, a large balance to study metabolic transformations - his most famous apparatus.

Among those who volunteered for Santorio's experiments was Galileo who in 1593 had invented a "pulsilogium" (pulsilogon; pulsiometer), a rudimentary water thermometer which, for the first time, allowed for the measuring of temperature variations. It was a device that consisted of a long glass tube inverted in a sealed jar that containing both air and water. When the jar was heated, the air expanded and pushed the liquid up the tube. The water level in the tube could be compared at different temperatures to show relative changes as heat was added or removed. The predecessor to the thermometer, the thermoscope is a thermometer without a scale, indicates differences in temperature only ie it can show if the temperature is higher, lower or the same, but unlike a thermometer it cannot measure the difference nor can the result be recorded for future reference. The thermoscope was widely used by a group of scientists in Venice that included and was attributed to Galileo. It was only a small step from the thermoscope to the thermometer.

Santorio's passion for describing phenomena in terms of numbers led him to invent  his own "pulsilogium" (a pulse clock; pulse pendulum), pictured left. It is a scale and bullet marked with a central white line. We swing the pendulum and note the pulse with the fingers. If the pendulum be faster than the pulse, we lengthen the line; if slower, we shorten it until they coincide. "Then," he says "we keep this degree in mind until the next day and compare it with a new record. And so we can study the pulse of health and disease." Also he defines the values and defends the accuracy of the pendulum; but of Galileo, not a word.

He also invented the thermoscope to which he was the first to add a scale, thereby transforming it into a thermometer. Both of these instruments are also mentioned by Galileo, and, especially in the case of the thermoscope, so there has been controversy as to who was the actual inventor of both the "pulsilogium" and the thermoscope. Both may best be described as products of the circle. However, it was Santorio who first used the thermometer for medical purposes. He applied a numerical scale to his thermoscope which had previously only been used to measure air temperature, to measuring human body temperature, thereby adapting it into the first thermometer - in his Commentaria in artem medicinalem Galeni (1612) which he dedicated to Andrea Morosini, he makes the first printed mention of an air thermometer.  He is thus given credit as being the inventor of the thermometer. "The patient grasps the bulb" of the thermometer, he wrote, "or breathes upon it into a hood, or takes the bulb into his mouth, so that we can tell if the patient be better or worse."  Unfortunately, the accuracy of Santorio's air thermometer was poor since the effects of varying air pressure on the thermometer were not understood at that time. It was not until precisely one hundred years after Santorio's documentation of his precurser thermoscope, however, that Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit (1686-1736) - a German physicist who had invented the alcohol thermometer in 1709 - then invented the modern (mercury) thermometer in 1714.

Sanctorius Sanctorii, Commentaria in primam fen primi libri Canonis Auicennae. Venetiis, 1625. Thermometer

Santorio's use of the thermometer and other devices for measuring and quantifying the body's workings helped to take much of the mysticism out of medicine, but he did not stop there. He also invented a pendulum for measuring the pulse rate, a special syringe for extracting bladder stones, a bathing bed. Beyond medicine he invented a hygrometer to measure humidity, a wind gauge and a device to measure the force of water currents. Ever inventive, Santorio studied digestion by constructing a wooden frame that supported a chair, bed, and work table - his most famous experiment.

The study of bodily weight

In 1614, Santori published De statica medicina et de responsione ad staticomasticem. Aphorismorum sectionibus septem comprehensa, [Concerning Static Medicine], the first systematic study of basal metabolism and the work that 'introduced quantitative experimentation into biological science'.

"In a letter to Galileo he (Santorio) explained that his work De medicina was based on two principles: first, Hippocrates' view that medicine is essentially the addition of what is lacking and the removal of what is superfluous; and second, experimentation. The origin of "static medicine" was, in fact, the Hippocratic conception that health consists in the harmony of the humors. One expression of this harmony is the equilibrium between the substances consumed by the organism and those rejected by it. According to this view, pathological conditions should be accompanied by a quantitave disequilibrium of the exchanges between the living body and its surroundings. To verify this suppodition, Santorio turned to quantitative experimentation.

With the aid of a chair scale, he systematically observed the daily variations in the weight of his body and showed that a large part of excretion takes place in the skin and lungs (perspiratio insensibilis). Moreover, he sought to determine the magnitude of this invisible excretion; its relationship to visible excretion; and its dependence on various factors, including the state of the atmosphere, diet, sleep, exercise, sexual activity, and age. Thus he invented instruments to measure ambient humidity and temperature. From this research he concluded that perspiration insensibilis, which had been known since Erasistratus but which was considered imponderable, could be determined by systematic weighing; that it is, in itself, greater than all forms of sensible bodily excretions combined; and that it is not constant but varies considerably as a function of several internal and external factors, for example, cold and sleep lessen it and fever increases it" (Dictionary of Scientific Biography).

The 4th Edition in Italian translation.

The 5th Edition in English translantion.

In this book, Santori briefly describes the results of a his most famous experiment, actually a long series of experiments, that he conducted on himself with a scale and other measuring instruments. This research into metabolism was then known as perspiratio insensibilis or 'insensible perspiration', a term that Santorio invented to account for differences in body weight. He believed that weight was gained or lost through the pores or during respiration, and through a long series of experiments and careful record-keeping he established that a large part of excretion occurs invisibly through the skin.

He devised an elaborate weighing chair - a platform suspended from the ceiling with an enormous (steelyard) balance - and with this recorded changes in his weight. The device is operated in a negative feedback mode, employs the concept of transduction, and measures pulse through another dimension--length. More than 100 years after its invention, the pulsilogium found useful application by de la Croix in measurements of cardiac function during "electrification."

"For thirty years, Santorio slept, ate, worked, and made love in the weighing contraption to record how much his weight changed as he ate, fasted, or excreted." [© Frank I. Katch, William D. McArdle, Victor L. Katch. 1997.] Often depriving himself of food and drink, Santorio determined that the daily change in body mass approached 1.25 kg.

From this research Santorio concluded that perspiration insensibilis, which had been known since Erasistratus but which was considered imponderable, could be determined by systematic weighing; that it is, in itself, greater than all forms of sensible bodily excretions combined; and that it is not constant but varies considerably as a function of several internal and external factors, for example, cold and sleep lessen it and fever increases it" (Dictionary of Scientific Biography).

First publisdhed in 1619, this little book of aphorisms drew worldwide attention, made Santorio Santorio famous throughout Europe, and is today considered a medical classic. There is only one copy of the first edition listed in NUC (Yale) and only one of the second edition (NLM). A third copy was published in Venice by Marc'antonio Brogiollo in 1634. In 1728, the fourth edition, in full leather binding, was translated to English and published in London by J. Osborn and T. Longman and J. Newton with the title Medicina Statica: Being the Aphorisms of Sanctorius. The translantion included large explanations to which was added Dr. Keil's Medicina Statica Britannica, with Comparative Remarks and Explanations. A fifth edition was published in 1737.

Academic and medical career

In 1611 Santorio was appointed to the chair of theoretical medicine at the University of Padua with an initial salary of 800 ducats, later raised to 1500 (though this information may be in error, as Padua stated salaries in florins, not ducats), in 1616 by a "ducal decree,"Sactorius was elected president of a new college founded that year ijn Padua. The following year, the Venetian Senate extended his original 6-year contract at the University of Padua for six more years and granted him an exceptionally high salary, while also carrying on a busy practice with the Venetian aristocracy. As far as can be ascertained, he seems to have held both positions contemporaneously, continuing to teach there until his retirement in 1622 or 1624 whe his resigned his professorships and removed to Venice.

When Santorio retired, the Senate awarded him both the continuation of his salary and the permanent title of professor which he held until his death. Santorio spent the remainder of his life in Venice devoting himself wholly to the practice of medicine and there amassed a large fortune. In 1624 he published his "Commentaria in Primam Fen primi libri Canonis Avicennae," in which are described the Pulsilogia, Thermometers, and Hygrometers with which he had been experimenting, as well as a primitive Trocar and Canula, an instrument for removing Vesical Calculi, and a bed for medical purposes.

In 1630, when Venice was vexed with the plague, the Venetian government entrusted Santorio with the care of the publich health, and when the plague was over he made a report to the Health Officer of the City which is still preserved in the General State Archives.

Although in treating his patients Santorio did not stray far from Hippocratic and Galenic practice (based on the notion of a balance of the fluids, or "humors"), in his theory and method of investigation he differed a great deal from the classical authors. Rather than relying on authority in the first instance, as so many of his colleagues still did, Santorio argued that one should first rely on sense experience, then on reasoning, and only lastly on authority.

Rather than describing the body and its functions in terms of Aristotelian (and Galenic) elements and qualities, Santorio argued throughout his career that the fundamental properties were mathematical ones, such as number, position, and form. The body was like a clock, the workings of which were determined by the shapes and positions of its interlocking parts. Although he did not explain the role of nutrition in weight gain or loss, Santorio nevertheless inspired later researchers in metabolism. 'Through most of the 17th and 18th centuries Santorio's name was linked with that of physiologist William Harvey (1578-1657) as the greatest figure in physiology and experimental medicine because of his introduction of precision instruments for quantitative studies. He was also the founder of modern metabolic research' (Garrison and Morton n. 572.1).

In 1632, in collaboration with Theobaldus, Sanctorious published his last book, "Consultatio de lithotomia, seu Calculi Vesicae Sectione."

Santorio Santorio died in Venice on February 22 (alternately given as February 26 or March 6) of 1636 of what Pietro Stancovich called a "grave discuria" (see note) in the parish of St. Hermagora and Fortunatus (SS. Ermagora e Fortunato). He was laid at rest in the cloisters of Santa Beata Servorum (Church of the Servi), in a mausoleum which he had made for him while still alive. On his tombstone was the following Inscription by Bernardi (corrected to Pietro Stancovich's version in his Biografie degli uomini illustri dell'Istria 1828-29, p. 245):


A marble bust of Santorio was placed near the entrance door to the cloister of the same church with the following inscription (also corrected to Stancovich):

P. Q. P.

[To be translated to English] Nella chiesa de' servi di Capodistria vi era pura il busto in marmo del Santorio, colla qui unita epigrafe, la quale per qualche tempo smarrita, dal zelo del sign. conte Giovanni cavalier Totto poscia rinvenuta, fu collocata sopra la facciata della cattedrale, essendo il busto marmoreo trasportato a Vienna nel 1802 da sua eccellenza Francesco M. barone de Stefanèo commissario aulico plenipotenziario per l' Istria, Dalmaza, ed Albania. Questo monumento, ed i precedente furono erretti da Elisabetta nipote di Santorio, la quale per testamento era stata dichiarato erede unitamente al di essa fratello Antonio, ambidue figli di quell'Isidoro, che unitamente a Santorio fu educato in casa Morosini... In queste epigrafi, non trovanto il nome di Antonio, dobbiamo credere ch' egli morto fosse poco dopo del zio.


In the early part of the 19th century, the Church of the Servi was destroyed by Napoleon, and the bones of Sanctorio were entrusted to Francesco Aglietti, a physician in Venice, who preserved them and the bust monument was later placed in the Atrium of the Ateneo Veneto, where they still remain (check this out).

There is another bust of Santorio with a different inscription in the Church of Il Santo de Padua. This inscription is given in full in the memoir of Gravisi, and yet another inscription was placed, we are told, iin the Cathedral at Capodistria..

Santorio left a considerable fortune to be divided amongst his heirs. One of his legacies was an annuity of 50 ducats to the College of Medicine in Venice, which bequest was for a time annually celebrated by a public commemoration, with an oration ini his praise.

Further readings (derived by a search at

  1. Antorio Santorio. by Ralph Hermon Major, New York, Hoeber, 1938.
  2. Santorio Santorio; o, Della dermatologia funzionale. by E Leban, [Firenze] Santoriana, 1952.
  3. Santorio Santorio. La vita ele opere. by Lieta Stella Ettari; Procopio Mario. Publisher: Roma, Istituto nazionale della nutrizione; Città universitaria, 1968.
  4. Santorio Santorio i njegovi aparati i instrumenti. by Mirko Drazen Grmek, Zagreb [Jugoslavenska akademija znanosti i umjetnosti, 1952]
  5. La vita e l'opera di Santorio Santorio Capodistriano, MDLXI-MDCXXXVI. by Arturo Castiglioni. Bologna, Cappelli, 1920.
  6. La vita e l'opera di Santorio Santorio, Capodistriano, 1561-1636. by Arturo Castiglioni, Bologna : L. Cappelli, 1920.
  7. Santorio Santorio (1561-1636). by Albert Van Helden, Albert Van Helden.
  8. Ricerche storiche intorno a Santorio Santorio, ed alla medicina statica ... by Modestino del Gaizo, Napoli, A. Tocco, 1889.
  9. Life and work of Sanctorius. by Arturo Castiglioni, [New York] Medical Life Press [1931] [Collection of printed and manuscript copies of materials relating to Sanctorius Sanctorius; with English translations and notes. by S Weir Mitchell; 
  10. Santorio Santorio; Arcadio Capello; Modestino Del Gaizo; Joannes Hieronymus Zanetti; Mario Girardi; John S Billings; Girolamo Gravisi, Marchese de, Philadelphia? before 1892?]
  11. De vita cl. viri Sanctorii Sanctorii olim in Patavino Gymnasio medicinam theoricam primo loco prositentis sermo : habitus Venetiis in Almo Physicorum Collegio XV. Kal. Novemb. anno sal. MDCCXLIX pro annua studiorum instauratione by Arcadio Capello; Santorio Santorio, Venetiis: Apud Jacobum Thomasinum, 1750.
  12. De impedimento perspirationis insensibilis ex immodico alimentorum usu secundum aphorismos Sanctorii ... by Knud Lund; Jakob Jersin Mathiesen, [Hafniae], Augusti Friderici Steinii [1774]
  13. De laudibus Sanctorii Sanctorii : oratio habita in collegio medicorum ven. IV. Kal by Joannes Hieronymus Fanetti; S Weir Mitchell; John S Billings [Thesis/dissertation/manuscript.
  14. Positiones medicae de insensibili perspiratione Sanctoriana et structura cutis ... by Claude Passavant, Basileae, Joh. Henrici Deckeri, [1733]
  15. De laudibus Sanctorii oratio ... by Jacopo Grandi, [Venetiis] Apud Joannem Franciscum Valvasensem [1671?]
  16. De laudibus Sanctorii oratio ... by Jacobo Grandi, [Venetiis] Apud Joannem Franciscum Valvasensem [1671?]
  17. A rational account of the causes of chronic diseases ... by John Morland, London, S. Hooper [1780?].
  18. [Santorio Santorio seated in weighing chair in front of table, part of his quantitative approach to medicine, and title page of De statica medicina aphorismorum], [published 1703].
  19. La medicina statica ... Divisa in sette sezioni: co' comentarii di Martin Lister ... e i Canoni della medicina de' solidi di Giorgio Baglivi ... Aggiuntivi gli Aforismi d'Ippocrate e i suoi Prasagi nelle due lingue Latina ed Italiana ... Idea, e fatica dell'Abbate Chiari da Pisa. by Santorio Santorio; Giorgio Baglivi; Francesco Raniero Chiari; Luigi Cornaro; Martin Lister; Hippocrates. Publisher: Venezia, Appresso l'erede di Domenico Occhi, 1784.
  20. Memoir of Santorio by Girolamo De Gravisi, Marchese [Thesis/dissertation/manuscript].
  21. Alle de medicinale, chirurgicale en philosophische werken Eerste deel. Bestaande in de nieuwe beginzelen tot de genees- en heel-konst ... Nevens een verklaring over de doorwazeming van Sanctorius, en nader onderzoek over 't II. deel der wysbegeerte, van R. des Cartes. by Heydentryk Overkamp, Amsterdam, Jan teen Hoorn, 1694.
  22. Sanctorii Sanctorii ... Commentaria, in artem Medicinalem Galeni : libri tres. by Galen, Lugduni : Pillehotte, Caffin et Plaignard, 1631.
  23. A vindicatory schedule concerning the cure of fevers containing a disquisition theoretical and practical, of the new and most effectual method of curing continual fevers, first invented and delivered by the sagacious Dr. Tho. Sydenham : also shewing by way of preliminary, the indispensible charge lying on physicians to improve themselves and the art ... : with an appendix of Sanctorius his Medicina statica ... by Andrew Brown, Edinburgh : Printed by John Reid ... to be sold be [sic] John Mathis ..., 1691.
  24. A vindication of Dr. Sydenham's nevv method of curing continual fevers in which a new hypothesis of fevers in laid down, and all their phenomena are explain'd, after a new method : together, vvith an appendix of the doctrine of insensible transpiration, advanc'd by Sanctorius, in his Medicina Statica : to which is prefix'd an essay, offering some reasons for the small progress of physical improvements by Andrew Brown, London: Printed for John Hepburn ..., 1700.
  25. Dr. Carr's medicinal epistles upon several occasions : done into English, as a supplement to the explanations of Sanctorius's Aphorisms by Richard Carr; John Quincy, London: Printed for William Newton, and J. Phillips, 1714.
  26. Dissertatio medica inauguralis, De perspiratione Sanctoriana : quam, annuente summo numine ex auctoritate reverendi admodum viri D. Gulielmi Wishart ... pro gradu doctoratus ... by Robert Mercer; William Wishart, Edinburgi: Apud T.W. & T. Ruddimannos, 1742.
  27. Lecture notes of a science student [Thesis/dissertation/manuscript].
  28. A vindicatory schedule concerning the cure of fevers containing a disquisition theoretical and practical, of the new and most effectual method of curing continual fevers, first invented and delivered by the sagacious Dr. Tho. Sydenham : also shewing by way of preliminary, the indispensible charge lying on physicians to improve themselves and the art ... : with an appendix of Sanctorius his Medicina statica ... by Andrew Brown, Edinburgh: Printed by John Reid ... to be sold be [sic] John Mathis ..., 1691.


  • Top image -
  • Sportscience History Makers - Santorio -
  • Santorio Santorio (1561-1636) (author: Albert Van Helden) -
  • Arturo Castiglioni, "The Life and Work of Santorio Santorio," tr. Emilie Recht, Medical Life, 38 (1931), 729-85.
  • Davide Giordano, "Parole dette in Capodistria il 9 giungo 1924 per la inaugurazione di un busto a Santorio Santorio," in Giordano, Scritte e discorsi pertinenti alla storia della medicina e ad argomenti diversi, (Milano, 1930), pp. 204-10.
  • Dezeimeris, J.E. Ollivier and Raige-Delorme, Dictionnaire historique de la medecine ancienne et moderne, 4 vols. (Paris, 1828-39), 4, 63-4. The names, without first names or initials except for Ollivier, appear this way on volume 1; Dezeimeris alone appears on the remaining volumes.
  • Pietro Capparoni, Profili bio-bibliografici di medici e naturalisti celebri italiani dal sec. XV al sec. XVII, 2 vols. (Rome, 1925-28), 2, 67-70. (G.V. note: In the copy I have, vol. 1 is from the second ed, (1932) and vol. 2 from the first (1928). I gather that pagination in the two editions is not identical.)
  • Ralph H. Major, "Santorio Santorio," Annals of Medical History, 10 (1938):369-381.
  • Image - Top portrait and image on Index page: Arturo Castiglioni, "The Life and Works of Sanctorius," Medical Life, 38 (1931): 726.
  • Image - Santorio on the balance: Ralph H. Major, "Santorio Santorio," Annals of Medical History, 10 (1938): p. 374.
  • Book image -
  • Portrait Bust - Alinari/Art Resource, New York -
  • Book cover -
  • WorldCat bibliography -
  • Silas Weir Mitchell, The Early History of Instrumental precision in medicine: An address before the second Congress of American physicians and surgeons, September 23rd, 1891, Vol. 2 of Transactions of the Congress of American Physicians and Surgeons, Tuttle, Morehouse & Taylor (1892); Google books -

Ed. note:

  • Discuria = cure distorte. "La discuria è la distorsione della prestazione della cura; in realtà le cure vengono effettuate, ma non sono adeguate al momento evolutivo." This term in modern times refers to the psychological or sexual mistreatment of children, but in Santorio's and/or Stancovich's time may have had a different meaning. [Source:] and others; another similar term is Discurria insessa (Seaweed limpit)

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