Carl Linnaeus


Carl Linnaeus, less commonly Karl Linnaeus (Swedish: Carl Linnaeus, Carl von Linnaeus). Carl Linnaeus, Carl Linné, Latin Carolus Linnaeus, after receiving the nobility in 1761, Carl von Linné, Carl von Linné; 23 May 1707, Roschult – 10 January 1778, Uppsala) was a Swedish naturalist (botanist, zoologist, mineralogist) and medical scholar. He studied at Lund, then at Uppsala University. In 1732 he made a scientific trip alone to Lapland, overcoming more than 2000 kilometers for five months. He lived in Holland for several years, where he defended his doctoral thesis and published a series of botanical and general biological works which in a short time made him famous all over the world. From 1741 until the end of his life he was professor at Uppsala University.

Carl Linnaeus is the creator of a unified system of classification of flora and fauna, which summarized and to a large extent streamlined the knowledge of the entire previous period of development of biological science. Among the main merits of Linnaeus are the introduction of precise terminology in the description of biological objects, the introduction of binominal (binary) nomenclature into active use, the establishment of a clear hierarchy between the systematic (taxonomic) categories. Another achievement of Linnaeus was the definition of biological species as the initial category in taxonomy, as well as the definition of criteria for attributing natural objects to one species. Linnaeus was the author of the Sexual System of Plant Classification, which was actively used in the 18th and 19th centuries. In Sweden, Linnaeus is also valued as one of the creators of the literary Swedish language in its modern form. Among Linnaeus’s organizational achievements are his participation in the creation of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and his great efforts to introduce the teaching of natural sciences into the university system.

Born into the family of a poor village priest, Linnaeus became well known both at home and in other countries during his lifetime and was elected a member of many academies and scientific societies. In Sweden he was awarded the Order of the Polar Star and was elevated to the nobility. In many countries Linnaean societies were established to disseminate his teachings. “The Linnean Society of London is still one of the world’s largest scientific centers, and the basis of its collection is the richest Linnaean collection transported from Sweden to Great Britain. Since 1959, Linnaeus has been considered the lectotype of the species Homo sapiens.

Early Years

Carl Linnaeus was born in 1707 in southern Sweden, in the historic province of Småland, in the village of Roschult in the county of Krunuberg. The date of his birth according to the so-called Swedish calendar, valid at that time in Sweden, was May 13 (by the Gregorian calendar – May 23, by the Julian calendar – May 12). His father was a rural Lutheran pastor, Nikolaus (having graduated from Växjö grammar school, he studied for a while at Lund University, but due to lack of money was forced to interrupt his studies, never getting a degree. Returning to Småland, Niels settled in Stenbruhult, finding lodging and work as an assistant with the parish pastor Samuel Brodersonius (1656-1707). In 1704 he was ordained a clergyman and given the position of parish vicar (assistant pastor). Karl Linnaeus’s mother was Anna Christina Brodersonius (1688-1733), the eldest daughter of Samuel Brodersonius. Niels Linnaeus married her in 1706 when she was 17 years old, after which the young family moved to Roschult, two kilometers from Stenbruchult. Karl was the first-born in the family, and later four more children were born – three girls and a boy.

In Sweden, Carl Linnaeus is usually called Carl von Linné, after the name he began to wear when he was elevated to the nobility; in English-language literature, he is traditionally called Carl Linnaeus, that is, by the name he was given at birth. Carl Linnaeus’ father, Nils Ingemarsson, like most members of the lower classes, did not originally have a last name: Ingemarsson was his patronymic, formed from his father’s genitive name and the word “son. Niels was born to Ingemar Bengtsson (1633-1693), a farmer, in the village of Vittarjüd in the county of Krunuberg, some 40 km east of Stenbruhult. Both Niels’ father and his mother, Ingrid Ingemarsdotter (1641-1717), came from peasant families, but at the same time there were many clergymen among their relatives. Nils, as was the custom at the time, when he entered university in 1699, thought up his own name (Latin pseudonym), Linnæus: the Latinized Swedish name for a linden (lind). The choice of this word was related to the ancestral symbol – a large three-branched linden that grew on his ancestral land; his relatives on his mother’s side had done the same earlier, taking the surname Tiljander – from the Latin name of a linden, tilia.

At the end of 1707 Carl’s maternal grandfather, Pastor Brodersonius, passed away – and in 1709, after Nils Linnaeus was appointed to his position, the boy and his parents moved to Stenbruhult to the parsonage. Near the house, Nils Linnaeus planted a small garden, which he lovingly tended; here he grew vegetables, fruits, and a variety of ornamental plants, and knew all their names. Carl was also interested in plants from an early age; by the age of eight he knew the names of many plants that could be found around Stenbruchult, and he was also given a small plot in the garden for his own little garden. According to Carl Linnaeus’ own recollections, he was more like his mother than his father: his mother was “diligent, industrious and never gave herself any rest,” while his father “lived in his own world, without too much noise and fuss.

From 1716 Linnaeus studied in Växjö (where his father also received his schooling): first at the grammar school (1716-1724), then at the gymnasium (1724-1727). Since Weckschö was about fifty kilometers from Stenbruchult, Karl was only at home during vacations. His parents wanted him to train as a pastor and to take his father’s place as the eldest son in the future, but Karl studied very poorly, especially in the basic subjects – theology and ancient languages. He was only interested in plants, and the only subject he was interested in was mathematics; he often skipped classes, going to the countryside instead of school. The school authorities declared the child incompetent and advised his father to let him learn a trade, but Dr. Johan Stensson Rotman (1684-1763), the district physician who had taught logic and medicine at Linnaeus’ school, persuaded Niels Linnaeus, whom he knew, to keep his son in school so that he could prepare to become a doctor. Carl Linnaeus moved in with Rothman and he began to study medicine, physiology and botany with him individually and introduced him to books on natural history. Karl’s parents were not very supportive of their son’s desire to become a doctor, because at that time it was not easy to find work for a doctor, unlike work for a priest, in Sweden.

Studying in Lund and Uppsala

Lund was the closest town to Växjö, which had an institution of higher learning. In 1727 Linnaeus passed his exams and was admitted to Lund University under the Latinized name of Carolus Linnaeus. He received formal assistance with the formalities of his admission from Gabriel Göck, his former schoolmaster, and he also helped Linnaeus with his lodgings by introducing him to Professor Kilian Stobæus (1690-1742). Linnaeus settled in at the professor’s house and in due course, like some other students, was given free access to his extensive library. In addition, Stobæus had a large collection that included shells of mollusks, fish, stuffed birds, and minerals, as well as plants dried for herbaria. The idea of storing plants in this form was new to Linnaeus – and he was actively engaged in herbarizing the plants growing in the vicinity of Lund. At university, Linnaeus studied mostly medicine and chemistry. Stobelius’ lectures were very important to him, because with their help he was able to put in order the natural sciences that he had previously learned from books and his own observations. The idea of “questioning everything,” which Linnaeus preached throughout his life, must also be found in the lectures of Stobaeus, who introduced students to the basic philosophy of Descartes, who saw doubt as the only method of thinking that could lead to the truth. At the same time as teaching, Stobéus had a large medical practice at Lund and eventually began to take Linnaeus with him when he visited the sick as an assistant. Linnaeus later wrote of Stobaeus that he would be grateful to him as long as he lived “for his love for me; he loved me not as a pupil, but rather as his son.

In August 1728, on the advice of Johan Rothmann, Linnaeus moved to the larger and older Uppsala University, founded as early as 1474, where he had more opportunities to study medicine, with lectures by two famous professors of medicine, Olof Rudbeck the Younger (1660-1740) and Lars Ruberg (1664-1742). Since Linnaeus’s household was unable to help him, his financial situation at the beginning of his studies was extremely difficult. As for the level of teaching, it was not very high at both Lund and Uppsala Universities; most of the time students were engaged in self-education. At Uppsala University, Linnaeus met his peer, the student Peter Artedi (1705-1735), with whom they began working on a critical revision of the natural-historical classifications that existed at the time. Linnaeus was predominantly concerned with plants in general, Artedi with fish, amphibian amphibians, and umbrella plants.

In 1729 Linnaeus met Olof Celsius (1670-1756), professor of theology, who was a keen botanist. This meeting turned out to be very important for Linnaeus, also because Celsius helped him in some way to solve his material problems. Linnaeus soon settled in the professor’s house and had access to his extensive library.

It was to Olof Celsius that Linnaeus presented his first scientific work as a New Year present – a small manuscript work Praeludia sponsaliorum plantarum (“Introduction to the Sex Life of Plants”, “Introduction to Plant Engagements”) written in late 1729. It outlined the main ideas of his future sexual classification of plants. The manuscript was a survey of opinions on sex in plants (starting with the authorities of antiquity, Theophrastus and Pliny the Elder, and ending with the botanists of the early 18th century, Tournaefort and Vaillant), and a description of the functions of the various parts of the flower in accordance with Vaillant’s ideas (indicating the subsidiary role of petals and the fundamental role of stamens and pistils). This manuscript aroused great interest in academic circles in Uppsala, and was noticed in particular by Professor Rudbeck the Younger, and from May 1730 Linnaeus began teaching under him as a demonstrator in the botanical garden of the university. Linnaeus’ lectures were a great success. In the same year he moved into the professor’s house and began to serve as a homeroom teacher in his family.

With another professor of medicine, Lars Ruberg, Linnaeus also developed a good relationship. He was a follower of the Cynic philosophy, seemed a strange man, dressed poorly, but was a gifted scholar and the owner of a large library. Linnaeus admired him and was an active follower of the jatrophysics (mechanistic physiology) advocated by Ruberg, which was based on the idea that all the diversity of the world had a single structure and could be reduced to a relatively small number of rational laws, just as physics is reduced to Newton’s laws. The basic tenet of this doctrine, “man is a machine” (lat. homo machina est), as applied to medicine, as expressed by Ruberg, was as follows: “The heart is a pump, the lungs a bellows, the stomach a trough.” It is known that Linnaeus was also an adherent of another thesis – “man is an animal” (Latin homo animal est). In general, this mechanistic approach to natural phenomena facilitated many parallels both between different areas of the natural sciences and between nature and socio-cultural phenomena. Such views were the basis of the plans of Linnaeus and his friend Peter Artedi to reform the whole science of nature; their main idea was to create a single orderly system of knowledge that would be easy to review.

Lapland Expedition

After receiving funds from the Royal Society of Science in Uppsala, Linnaeus set out alone to Lapland on May 12, 1732. The idea for this trip belonged in large part to Professor Olof Rudbæk the Younger, who had traveled to Lapland in 1695 (Rudbæk’s trip can be called the first scientific expedition in Swedish history), and who later wrote and illustrated a book about birds, which he showed to Linnaeus, based on materials he had collected, including in Lapland.

Linnaeus traveled clockwise along the coast of the Gulf of Bothnia, traveling extensively into the Scandinavian Peninsula; on one occasion he crossed the peninsula by crossing the Hølen Highlands (northeastern part of the Scandinavian mountains) and reached the coast of the Norwegian Sea at Voll Bay. During this journey, Linnaeus explored and gathered plants, animals, and minerals as well as a variety of information about the culture and ways of life of the local people, including the indigenous Sami (Lapps). Linnaeus returned to Uppsala via Finland and the Åland Islands in October, having traveled a total of over two thousand kilometers in five months on foot and horseback, bringing with him a rich collection of natural science specimens as well as Sami household objects.

Linnaeus hoped that the report of his expedition would be published in Acta Litteraria Sueciae, the publication of the Royal Society of Uppsala. This did not happen, however, and the only work that was published in this publication in 1732 was Florula Lapponica (“Brief Lappish Flora”), which is a catalog of the plants he collected during the expedition. Florula Lapponica was the first published work by Linnaeus in which he applied his “sexual system of plant classification” of 24 classes based on the structure of stamens and pistils. Linnaeus was not able to publish a complete overview of the plant life of Lapland, the Flora Lapponica, until five years later, when he was already in Holland. The diary records that he kept during his expedition, Iter Lapponicum (some of Linnaeus’ observations of the Sami (Lapps) from this diary are of ethnographic value until today, as there is almost no other evidence of the way of life of the indigenous inhabitants of some areas of Lapland at that time.

In Faloona.

In 1733 Linnaeus, while continuing his studies at the university, simultaneously began to lecture on assaying, the basics of which he had learned in the mines during a trip to Lapland; he wrote a manual on this subject, which was approved by the university authorities. He also continued to work on the Flora of Lapland, as well as many other works, most of which would be published in a few years in Holland.

In the summer of 1734, Linnaeus, having received funds from the governor of Dalarna, whom he had known since his travels in Lapland, made a seven-week trip through the eastern and western parts of that province together with several students. In the report of the trip Linné wrote that during it he “made exceptional observations on natural history and agriculture,” and developed a project to tame the hills by growing an agricultural crop that had recently appeared in Sweden, the potato. Linnaeus’s decision to remain in Falun, the administrative center of Dalarna, also dates from this period, since without a doctorate he was virtually forbidden to teach in Uppsala; one could only obtain a doctorate in medicine outside Sweden, but Linnaeus had no money for that. Linnaeus began to teach assaying and mineralogy and to practice medicine.

By the end of 1734 Linnaeus had also met Sarah Lisa Morea in Falun, whom he proposed to in early 1735 – and who became his wife in 1739.

Dutch period

In the spring of 1735, Linnaeus traveled to the Netherlands (the Republic of the United Provinces, better known as the Dutch Republic by its largest province) to obtain a doctorate in medicine (since the second half of the 17th century, it was common for graduates of Swedish universities to defend their doctoral theses in the Netherlands). He received some of the money necessary for the trip from his future father-in-law, and some from one of his friends in Falun: Linnaeus was to accompany his son on an educational trip abroad.

Linnaeus reached Germany via Denmark, spent some time in Hamburg, and then continued on to the Netherlands. Wealthy applicants usually defended their theses at the University of Leiden, the poorer ones at the University of Harderwijk, where the defense was cheaper and faster. On June 18, 1735 Linnaeus arrived at Harderwijk, and on June 23 he received his Doctor of Medicine degree, having defended his thesis Dissertatio medica inauguralis in qua exhibetur hypothesis nova de febrium intermittentium causa (“…New hypothesis of the cause of intermittent fever”).

From Harderwijk Linnaeus went to Leiden, where he published the Systema Naturae, a short work (Linnaeus was assisted in its publication by Jan Gronovius (1686-1762), MD and botanist from Leiden: he was so impressed by this work that he expressed a desire to print it at his own expense. During this period Professor Hermann Bourgave taught at Leiden University (he was the center of attraction for physicians, naturalists and collectors of the Netherlands. Access to him was difficult, but after the publication of the System of Nature, Burgave himself invited Linnaeus, and soon persuaded him not to leave for his homeland and to stay for a time in the Netherlands. Linnaeus’ decision to postpone his departure for some time was to a large extent related to the situation in Sweden in the 1730s: the country’s level of scientific development in those years was very mediocre, its economy was just beginning to recover from the effects of more than twenty years of Northern War, in which Sweden had lost its former power, lost many territories and turned into an essentially secondary power. For the Netherlands, however, the 1730s were a time of economic and intellectual prosperity. Because of active trade with countries all over the world, especially the overseas colonies, exotic plants (both live and in seed form), including those previously unknown in Europe, were brought into the country in large quantities.

In August 1735 Linnaeus, under the patronage of Bourgave and Gronovius, was appointed house doctor, overseer of collections and botanical garden by George Clifford (1685-1760), burgomaster of Amsterdam, banker, one of the directors of the Dutch East India Company and an enthusiastic amateur botanist. The garden was located on the Hartekamp estate near Haarlem; during his two years of service to Clifford, Linnaeus was engaged in improving the garden, describing and classifying a large collection of living exotic plants brought to the Netherlands by the ships of the Dutch East India Company from all over the world. It was during the period of his work with Clifford (1735-1737) that Linnaeus’ works were published, which reformed biological science and made Linnaeus famous among scientists. It was also during this period that Linnaeus traveled to England in the summer of 1736 to meet the famous botanists of the time, Hans Sloane (1660-1753), Johannes Dillenius (1687-1747) and Philip Miller (1691-1771), as well as their collections.

Linnaeus’s time at Clifford’s also included an accident that happened to his close friend Peter Artedi, who was working in Amsterdam, putting in order the collections of the traveler, zoologist, and pharmacist Albert Seb (1665-1736). On September 27, 1735, while returning home at night, Artedi stumbled, fell into a canal, and drowned. By this time he had finished his generalizing work on ichthyology, and had identified all the fishes in Seb’s collection and made a description of them. Linnaeus and Artedi bequeathed their manuscripts to each other, but the landlord of Artedi’s apartment demanded a large ransom for the manuscripts, which Linnaeus paid thanks to the cooperation of George Clifford. Linnaeus later prepared his friend’s manuscript for printing and published it in 1738 under the title Ichtyologia. In addition, Linnaeus used Artedi’s suggestions on the classification of fishes and umbrella plants in his own work.

The three years Linnaeus spent in the Netherlands were one of the most fruitful periods of his scientific biography. During this time he published more than ten books, which can be said to have, in a sense, laid the foundation of biology as a full-fledged science.

In 1738 Linnaeus left the Netherlands. After arriving here as an unknown naturalist, Linnaeus left the country three years later as the most famous scientist and “head of the botanists” (Princeps Botanicorum). He first went to Paris, where he stayed for a month, meeting with French scientists, including the botanists brothers Jussieu, Antoine and Bernard. Linnaeus was elected a foreign corresponding member of the French Academy of Sciences, with the promise that if he accepted French citizenship he would be elected a full member of the Academy. From Paris Linnaeus traveled to Sweden via Rouen.

When Linnaeus returned home, he never left the country again, but the three years he spent abroad were enough for his name to become world-famous very soon. His many works published in the Netherlands and his personal acquaintance with many of the most important botanists of the time (although he was not a secular man and had a poor grasp of foreign languages) also contributed to this. As Linnaeus later characterized this period of his life, he “wrote more, discovered more, and made more major reforms in botany than anyone else before him in his whole life.

Works published by Linnaeus in the Netherlands

The publication of so many works was also made possible because Linnaeus often did not follow the process of publishing his works, but his friends did so on his behalf.


At the very end of 1734, during the Christmas vacations, Linnaeus met the 18-year-old Sarah Lisa (Elisabeth) Moreus (1716-1806) in Falun. She was the daughter of local town physician Johan Hansson Moreus (1672-1742), a very wealthy and educated man. Already two weeks after meeting her, Linnaeus proposed to her. As Linnaeus himself wrote in one of his autobiographies, he “met a girl with whom he would like to live and die. The “yes” he received from her on January 16 was confirmed by her father on January 17…. At the end of February 1735, shortly before his departure abroad, Linnaeus became engaged to Sarah (without a formal ceremony, which it was decided to postpone for three years).

In 1738, after his return to his homeland, Linnaeus and Sarah became officially engaged, and in September 1739 they were married at the Moreus family farm. Their first child (later known as Carl Linnaeus Junior) was born in 1741. They had a total of seven children (two boys and five girls), of whom two (a boy and a girl) died in infancy. In honor of his wife and her father, Linnaeus named a genus of beautifully flowering South African perennials in the Iris family, Moraea (Morrea).

Linnaeus family genealogy chart

Mature years in Stockholm and Uppsala

For three years after his return home Linnaeus lived in Stockholm and practiced medicine for the most part. His financial situation was at first very miserable and his practice very meager. As the Russian botanist Ivan Martynov wrote about this period of Linnaeus’ life, “his name, which had already become famous, aroused murmurs and intrigues among people of mediocre merit. Quite quickly, however, Linnaeus succeeded in gaining fame. After curing several ladies-in-waiting of their coughs with a decoction of fresh yarrow leaves, he soon became the court physician and one of the most fashionable doctors in the capital. Linnaeus was known to make extensive use of strawberries in his medical practice, both for treating gout, cleansing the blood, improving complexion, and reducing weight. In addition to his medical work, Linnaeus also taught at the School of Mines in Stockholm.

In 1739 Linnaeus was granted an annual stipend by Parliament, undertaking to lecture in botany and mineralogy, and at the same time Linnaeus was promoted to the rank of “royal botanist. In the same year Linnaeus was appointed head doctor of the navy, which brought him both material prosperity and a wealth of clinical material for research – especially since Linnaeus (the first in Sweden) managed to obtain permission to dissect the bodies of the dead in a naval hospital to determine the causes of death. Also in 1739 Linnaeus took part in the formation of the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences (which in its early years was a private society) and became its first president.)

In October 1741 Linnaeus took up the position of professor of medicine at Uppsala University and headed the chair of anatomy and medicine. At the beginning of 1742 he took over the chair of botany. Linnaeus lived in the professor’s house, which was located in the university botanical garden (now the Linnaean Garden). His position as professor allowed him to concentrate on writing books and dissertations on natural science; he continued to supplement and improve the System of Nature, his programmatic work, publishing new editions of this work from time to time. In addition, he arranged the university botanical garden, and in 1745 he founded the Museum of Natural History. On several occasions Linnaeus received quite lucrative offers to move to other universities – in Göttingen, Madrid, St. Petersburg – but he remained at the head of the Department of Botany in Uppsala for the rest of his life.

Beginning in the late 1740s, some of the Swedish students of Linnaeus began to participate in various expeditions to various parts of the world – they became known as “Linnaean apostles. Sometimes these were scientific expeditions (some of them were planned by Linnaeus himself or with his participation), sometimes the goals of the expeditions were not related to scientific research and Linnaeus’ students participated in them as medics. Most of the students brought (or sent) to their teacher plant seeds, herbarium and zoological specimens from their journeys, or processed and published them themselves. These expeditions were fraught with great danger: of the 17 disciples commonly referred to as “apostles,” seven died on their journeys. The same fate befell Christopher Tørnström (after Tørnström’s widow accused Linnaeus of having caused her children to grow up orphans, he began to send only those of his students who were unmarried on expeditions.

Linnaeus’s fame as a scientist and also as an excellent lecturer, able to arouse in his listeners an interest in learning about nature, especially plants, attracted a large number of young naturalists from Sweden and other countries to Uppsala; the number of students at Uppsala University tripled under Linnaeus, from 500 to 1500. Many of them defended their theses under Linnaeus, whose topics he usually gave himself (the text of these works was also largely written or dictated by Linnaeus himself). From 1749 the collections of these dissertations began to be published under the name Amoenitates Academicae (Academic Leisure Time). Among Linnaeus’s students were also several Russians, two of whom, Alexander Matveyevich Karamyshev and Matvey Ivanovich Afonin, defended their dissertations – Necessitas Promovendae Historia Naturalis In Rossia (“On the necessity of developing natural history in Russia”, 1764) and Usus Historiae Naturalis In Vita Communi (“On the benefits of natural history in domestic life”, 1766) respectively. Karamyshev (1744-1791) later worked in chemistry and metallurgy, held important government posts, and was elected a corresponding member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences; Afonin (1739-1810) was the first Russian professor of natural history; at Moscow University he taught courses in natural history and agriculture, as well as a course on “Botanical Terminology by Linnaeus with Herbarization in the Springtime.”

On behalf of the Swedish Parliament, Linnaeus participated in scientific expeditions in Sweden – in 1741 to Åland and Gotland (Swedish islands in the Baltic Sea), in 1746 to the province of Västergötland (Western Sweden), and in 1749 to the province of Skåne (Southern Sweden).

In 1750 Carl Linnaeus was first appointed Rector of the University of Uppsala (for a term of six months). After that, Linnaeus held this position twice more – in 1759 and 1772.

In 1758 Linnaeus purchased an estate (the country house in Hammarby became his summer estate (the buildings of the estate have survived and are now part of the Linnaeus Hammarby Cultural Reserve and Museum).

Recent years

Linnaeus’ health deteriorated in the 1770s, but he continued to work. His former pupil Johan Andreas Murray, who became a professor at the University of Göttingen and came to Uppsala in 1772, later wrote that during this meeting he found in his teacher “the same cordiality, the same liveliness of spirit, the same desire to collect rarities in natural history” which he had marveled at during his studies at Uppsala University. Linnaeus gave him a copy of the last edition of the System of Nature with numerous inserts containing changes and additions, agreeing to have Murray prepare it for printing. In 1774, Murray edited a new edition of the botanical part of the System of Nature, which appeared under the title Systema Vegetabilium (and was reprinted several times after Linnaeus’ death). Also in 1774, Linnaeus suffered his first stroke (cerebral hemorrhage), as a result of which he was partially paralyzed. After that he handed over his lectures to his son Karl and lived for the most part in Hammarby.

In the winter of 1776-1777 a second stroke occurred: he lost his memory, tried to leave home, and wrote, confusing Latin and Greek letters. Linnaeus died on January 10, 1778 in his home in Uppsala. As one of the prominent citizens of Uppsala, Carl Linnaeus was buried in Uppsala Cathedral.

Linnaeus’ works after his return to Sweden

Linnaeus’s most important publications after his return to his homeland:

Carl Linnaeus left a huge collection that included two herbaria, a collection of shells, a collection of insects and a collection of minerals, as well as a large library. “This is the greatest collection the world has ever seen,” he wrote to his wife in a letter which he bequeathed to publicize after his death.

After a long family disagreement and against Carl Linnaeus’ instructions, the entire collection went to his son, Carl Linnaeus junior (1741-1783), who took over the botany department of the university after his father’s death. He moved the collection from a Hammarby museum to his home in Uppsala and worked extremely hard to preserve it (the herbaria and the collection of insects had already suffered from pests and dampness). The English naturalist Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820) offered to sell him the collection, but he refused.

At the end of 1783, Carl Linnaeus Jr. died unexpectedly of a stroke. Soon afterwards his mother (the widow of Carl Linnaeus) wrote to Banks that she was ready to sell him the collection. He would not buy it himself, but persuaded the young English naturalist James Edward Smith (1759-1828) to do so. Other potential buyers included Baron Klas Ahlströmer (1736-1794), a student of Carl Linnaeus; the Russian Empress Catherine the Great; the English botanist John Sibthorpe (1758-1796); and others, but Smith was more agile: after quickly approving the inventory sent to him, he approved the transaction. Scholars and students at Uppsala University demanded that the authorities do everything to keep Linnaeus’ legacy in his homeland, but King Gustav III of Sweden was in Italy at the time, and government officials replied that they could not resolve the issue without his intervention.

In September 1784, the collection left Stockholm on an English brig and was soon safely delivered to England. The legend that the Swedes sent their warship to intercept the English brig carrying the Linnaean collection has no scientific basis, although it is depicted in an engraving from Robert Thornton’s book A New Illustration of the Linnaean System. The collection received by Smith included nineteen thousand herbarium sheets, more than three thousand specimens of insects, more than fifteen hundred shells, over seven hundred specimens of coral, two and a half thousand specimens of minerals; the library contained two and a half thousand books, over three thousand letters, and manuscripts of Carl Linnaeus, his son, and other scientists.

The number of Linnaeus’s publications is very large, and in addition to those published under his name, there were many works whose content or structure he was directly involved in, but which were published under the names of his students. Some of Linnaeus’s surviving manuscripts were published long after his death, until the beginning of the twentieth century.

A considerable part of Linnaeus’ works can be attributed to descriptive natural history, especially to that part of it which is related to the scientific inventory of natural bodies. Some of his works are devoted to the theoretical (including methodological) foundations of the inventory of nature, some to the practical implementation of these ideas. One of the obstacles to such an inventory in the Valennesian period was the lack of a clear definition of the plants and animals which made it difficult to decide whether a particular natural form should be described or whether it had already been described before. Linnaeus solved this problem by introducing precise terminology in the description of plants and animals. His contribution to botanical terminology is the greatest: for the precise description of the various parts of plants, Linnaeus introduced up to one thousand terms, the vast majority of which have survived in science to the present day. Many of the terms were authored by Linnaeus himself, while others were borrowed by him from the works of earlier botanists.

Classification of nature in general

The classification of nature proposed by Linnaeus was artificial, because the sets of key characters it was based on were very limited, often arbitrary, and therefore gave no real idea of the kinship between the groups. At the same time, this classification proved to be the most successful among such artificial systems and became the basis for the modern scientific classification of living organisms. Linnaeus divided the natural world into three kingdoms: mineral (minerals “neither live nor feel, but may grow”), plant (plants “live and grow but do not feel”), and animal (animals “live, feel, and grow”). Within each of the kingdoms, Linnaeus used systematic categories (“ranks”), between which he established a clear division: each biological species (which may have some variations – varieties) belonged to a certain genus, each genus to a certain order, each order to a certain class, each class to a kingdom (all these terms were applied by scientists before, but there was no strict and consistent conception of their use before Linnaeus). Each representative of the animal and plant world, as well as each mineral, received in these works characteristics (sets of features), the system of which corresponded to the system of hierarchically nested categories, with the characteristic of any group of a certain level (rank) extending to all the lower level groups included in it.

The first edition of the System of Nature, published in 1735, contained in the form of tables the most general scheme of division of nature into separate elementary parts. In subsequent editions the scheme was gradually fleshed out and supplemented, the tables were replaced by structured lists, the volume of the publication increased from 14 pages in the first edition to two and a half thousand in the twelfth edition, which appeared in four volumes. Both in the System of Nature and in his other works, Linnaeus relied heavily on the principle of divisio et denominatio (“divide and denominate”), the essence of which was to divide nature into separate elementary parts, arrange them in a certain order and attach a “label” to each part. This principle was not invented by Linnaeus, but it was he who was able to supplement it and apply it consistently to all the objects of nature known at the time. For quite a long period, natural science developed along the path of chaotic accumulation of facts, materials and observations. The real science, one of the goals of which was to systematize knowledge, emerged at the turn of the 17th and 18th centuries, when the accumulated knowledge was comprehensively analyzed and put in relative order; to a great extent this was due to Linnaeus’ activities.

Classification of plants

Linnaeus’ classification of plants was based on the ideas of Rudolf Camerarius (1665-1721), who was the first to scientifically prove the existence of sexual differences in plants and to develop a method of describing these differences, and Sebastian Vaillant (1669-1722), who based his research on the fundamental role of stamens and pistils in plant reproduction. Linnaeus rejected the long-standing division of the plant kingdom into herbs, shrubs and trees. The most essential and immutable (i.e., weakly dependent on the growing conditions) parts of plants, according to Linnaeus, were their reproductive organs; on this basis he based his classification, first, on “the number, proportionality and position of stamens and pistils” and, second, on the feature of division of sexes in plants. In total, Linnaeus distinguished 24 classes of plants: the first thirteen were based on the number of stamens, the 14th and 15th – on the basis of unequal length of stamens, and the next three – on the basis of stamen coalescence. The 19th class included plants with anthers fused but stamen filaments left free; the 20th class included plants with stamen filaments fused to the pistil column. Three more classes included plants with unisexual flowers – monoecious, dioecious, and polygynous (multidomestic). The last (24th) class included all clandestinely-married plants (i.e. having no flowers). This system, despite its artificial character (which was realized by Linnaeus himself), quickly gained recognition all over the world: its key features proved to be more essential compared to those of the previous systems, as well as more obvious and convenient in practical application.

The reformatory activity of Linnaeus in botany was perceived by many authoritative scientists ambiguously (for almost a hundred years after its appearance there were still disputes about the presence of the sexes in plants), but in general both the new methodology of plant description and the new system of their classification spread very quickly, because they allowed in a fairly short time to solve many problems of inventory of the accumulated data, to overcome the chaos and uncertainty that prevailed in botany before that.

In the second half of the 18th century the Linnaean system became almost universally accepted throughout the world. The use of the system continued into the first half of the nineteenth century, and in educational and popular scientific literature until the end of the nineteenth century. The Russian botanist Ivan Martynov, in his 1821 essay “Three Botanists”, wrote that in the plant kingdom “shine like three great luminaries”, Tournefort, Linnaeus and Jussieu, – and without understanding about the system of each of them it is impossible to see “the conception of methodical knowledge of this kingdom”. Of Linnaeus’ System, Martynov wrote: “Gifted by nature with all the talents necessary to bring about a revolution in Botany; animated by an active mind that does not allow itself any rest, … Linnaeus, having learned from many experiments that stamens and pistils were the true, single sexual organs of plants,” used their characteristics to create a “witty System” in which all plants “themselves are put in their proper place.

Linnaeus himself perceived his system primarily as a service system, intended “for diagnosis. Linnaeus regarded the desire to build a natural system (built according to the “natural method”) as “the first and last thing that botany strives for,” explaining this by the fact that “nature does not make leaps” and all plants “show affinity to one another. Linnaeus distinguished natural groups in his writings (e.g., 67 groups in The Philosophy of Botany), but he also remarked that these were only “fragments” of the natural method and that they “require study.

Linnaeus’ enormous authority also had a negative impact: for example, Linnaeus’ well-known neglect of plant anatomy greatly slowed the development of this discipline in the late 18th century; the transition from Linnaeus’ artificial system to the natural systems was also very difficult-as historian Emil Winkler wrote, “it was thought impossible to be a true Linnaean without going against the natural system.”

Classification of animals

Linnaeus divided the animal kingdom into six classes: mammals (in earlier editions the highest class of animals was called “quadrupeds” and did not include many mammals, including cetaceans), birds, amphibians (creepers), fish, insects, and worms to which all other invertebrates were assigned. The class of amphibians included both reptiles and amphibians, the class of insects corresponded to modern arthropods (that is, it included not only the modern class of insects, but also crustaceans, spiders, and millipedes). The class of worms was essentially a garbage taxon – that is, a systematic group composed on the residual principle: it included all the objects of the classification that could not be included in other groups. Among the significant innovations made by Linnaeus and confirmed by the further development of science, we should mention the inclusion of humans (in the order of primates of the class of mammals) (already in the 1st edition of the System of Nature), as well as the transfer of cetaceans, traditionally classified as fish, to the class of mammals in the 10th edition of the System of Nature.

The division into the main groups was based on anatomical features, while the classification within the classes was based mainly on external features and was largely artificial. For example, based on the structure of the beak, birds that, according to modern views, belonged to different groups, such as the ostrich, the cassowary, and the peacock, were assigned to one class.

Biological nomenclature

Another important achievement of Linnaeus was the introduction into scientific practice of the binominal (binary) nomenclature, in which each biological species is designated by a name consisting of two words: a genus name (genus name) and a species name (species epithet). Before Linnaeus, all natural bodies were described by researchers using traditional multi-word “differentia”-characteristics that served both as scientific names and for descriptive purposes. Such names, being poorly formalized, created confusion and uncertainty when used for purposes of nomenclature. Linnaeus, starting with the work of Pan Svecicus (1749), began to consistently apply to the described species single-word “differentiations” added to the generic name – the so-called “trivial names” (nomina trivialia), which could both reflect a characteristic property of the species and be of arbitrary origin. Such one-syllable differentiations, which had, in fact, the character of a permanent personal name of a species, turned out to be very convenient in use and memorization, and in general the transition to a strict system of sufficiently short names allowed to separate the questions of naming (biological nomenclature) from the questions of differential description of natural objects (that is, from the questions of taxonomy). In general, Linnaeus’s designation of the biological species as the basic structural taxonomic unit (before him, the genus had been considered the basic structural unit) was of great importance for the development of biological systematics. Linnaeus intuitively anticipated the results of studies of the supraorganismal level of genetic integration of living matter obtained only in the 20th century. Linnaeus also defined the criteria for classifying natural objects into a single species – morphological (similarity of offspring) and physiological (presence of fruiting offspring).

The total number of plant species described by Linnaeus is about 10,000, of which about 1,500 are new species (at the same time, since according to the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature the starting point of botanical nomenclature is May 1, 1753, the conventional date of the first edition of Linnaeus Species plantarum, Linnaeus is considered the author of the names of all the plants he described; all such names end in the designation L). In addition, Linnaeus described about 6,000 animal species.

Nutrix Noverca

In Linnaeus’s time it was not customary for ladies of high and even middle society to breastfeed their children, and nurses were usually hired for this purpose. Linnaeus joined the campaign to encourage maternal breastfeeding and to abolish the practice of hiring special breastfeeders for this purpose in Sweden. In 1752, together with Frederick Lindbergh, a medical student, he published a dissertation on the subject in Latin, Nutrix Noverca (“Nurse as Stepmother”), which was based on their personal experience. In keeping with the tradition of the time, the thesis was a student’s presentation and explanation of ideas suggested by the instructor. The thesis recounted Linnaeus’ observations of Sami children during his Lapland expedition: it noted how healthy they grew up with natural feeding – in contrast to “European” children who were fed by nurses; it told that among wild animals there were no cases of cubs being denied breast milk by their mothers. It was also reported that through the milk of the nursing mother the child can “absorb” her identity. In addition, the thesis suggested, new for its time, that noble ladies were more likely to suffer from breast cancer than farmers’ wives; this observation was attributed specifically to refusal of breastfeeding.

According to the American historian of science Londa Schiebinger, the work of Nutrix Noverca played a significant role in Linnaeus’ choice of the name Mammalia (from the Latin mamma ‘breast, udder’) for the class of higher animals to which he included humans. This name first appeared in 1758 in the 10th edition of the System of Nature (the previous nine editions used the name Quadrupedia, “quadrupeds”, for this group). By means of the new name, Linnaeus indicated a new understanding of the “anatomical essence” of the taxon: the presence in this group of special glands by which females nurse their offspring.

Other fields of science

Observations of the development of plants, including descriptions of various experiments on them, was another area of research, which is reflected quite extensively in Linnaeus’ works. Among such experiments we can single out the first experiments on plant hybridization that have been reliably documented in the history of science. These experiments, as well as other practical breeding work carried out by Linnaeus and his students, and some discoveries of “wrong” plant specimens, were the reason why two approaches to the question of the invariability of species can be found in Linnaeus’ works – the creationist and the evolutionist, transformist one. Initially, Linnaeus was a clear advocate of traditional creationism – the doctrine of the creation of the world from nothing by a divine act; plant and animal species according to this doctrine were also created simultaneously during this act and have remained unchanged ever since. There are numerous statements by Linnaeus on this subject (primarily in didactic works intended for use as teaching aids), especially his aphorism from the Philosophy of Botany is widely known: “We count as many species as the various forms were originally created.” A consequence of this approach as a task was the approach to systematics as an attempt to see in nature the order established by the “creator”. At the same time, in his various writings, Linnaeus repeatedly expressed doubts about the invariability of species, and in his last works he suggested that all species of the same genus once constituted one species, but later, as a result of interbreeding among existing species, there were more species.

Since the 18th century, along with the development of botany, phenology – the science of seasonal natural phenomena, their timing and the causes that determine these dates – began to actively develop. In Sweden, Linnaeus was the first to begin scientific phenological observations (later he organized a network of 18 observation stations, which existed from 1750 to 1752). One of the first scientific works on phenology in the world was Linnaeus’ 1756 work Calendaria Florae, which describes the development of nature mainly on the example of the plant kingdom.

According to one version, Linnaeus was the first to give the Celsius scale its modern form. Originally the thermometer scale, invented by Linnaeus’ colleague at Uppsala University, Professor Anders Celsius (1701-1744), had zero at the boiling point of water and 100 degrees at the freezing point. Linnaeus, who used thermometers to measure conditions in greenhouses and hothouses, found this inconvenient and in 1745, after Celsius’ death, “turned” the scale. However, there are other versions on this subject.

Linnaeus is Sweden’s most famous natural scientist. He is also valued in Sweden as a traveler who discovered their own country for the Swedes, studied the peculiarities of the Swedish provinces, and saw “how one province could help another. Swedes appreciate not even so much Linnaeus’s work on the flora and fauna of Sweden as his descriptions of his travels; these diary entries, full of specificity, rich in contrasts, and in clear language, are still being reprinted and read today. Linnaeus is one of those men of science and culture with whom the literary language of Sweden as we know it today finally took shape.

Even during his lifetime Linnaeus gained worldwide fame. The adherence to his teachings, conventionally called Linneanism, became ubiquitous at the end of the 18th century. Although the concentration of Linnaeus in the study of phenomena on the collection of material and its further classification looks excessive from today’s point of view, and the approach itself seems very one-sided, the activity of Linnaeus and his followers was very important for its time. The spirit of systematization that permeated this activity helped biology to become a full-fledged science in a fairly short period of time and, in a sense, to catch up with physics, which was actively developing during the 18th century as a result of the scientific revolution.

One form of Linneanism was the creation of “Linnean Societies,” scientific associations of naturalists who based their activities on Linnaeus’ ideas. In 1788 Smith founded the Linnean Society of London (“London Linnean Society”), the purpose of which was declared “the development of science in all its manifestations,” including the preservation and elaboration of Linnaeus’ teachings. Soon there appeared a similar society in Paris – the Linnean Society of Paris. Later similar “Linnean societies” appeared in Australia, Belgium, Spain, Canada, the United States, Sweden and other countries. Many of the Linnean Societies still exist today. “Today, the Linnean Society of London is one of the most authoritative scientific centers, especially in the field of biological systematics; a considerable part of the Linnaean collection is still kept in a special depository of the Society and is available for researchers. In 1888 the Society established the Linnaeus Medal, an annual honorary scientific award in the field of biology.

The “Swedish Linnaean Society,” founded in 1917, promotes knowledge of Linnaeus’ life and contributions to science and sustains interest in his scientific legacy. Under the leadership of the Society’s first president, Professor Tüko Tullberg, a descendant of Linnaeus, the old university garden of Uppsala University has been restored according to the detailed description in Linnaeus’ work Hortus Upsaliensis.

Even during his lifetime Linnaeus was given metaphorical names that emphasized his unique importance for world science. He was called Princeps botanicorum (there are several translations in Russian – “First among botanists”, “Prince of Botany”, “Prince of Botany”), “Northern Pliny” (in this name Linnaeus is compared to Pliny the Elder, author of Natural History), “Second Adam”, as well as “Lord of Paradise” and “He who gave names to the animal world”. As Linnaeus wrote of himself in one of his autobiographies, “from a small hut may come a great man.

The Swedish royal house was aware of Linnaeus, his scientific activities, and the fame he enjoyed both in Sweden and in other countries. In 1753, Carl Linnaeus was made a Knight of the Order of the Polar Star, the Swedish order of civil merit.

In April 1757 Linnaeus was granted the title of nobility (his elevation to nobility was officially announced at the Privy Council), after which his name was recorded as Carl von Linné. The family coat of arms he designed for himself had a shield divided into three parts, painted in three colors, black, green and red, symbolizing the three kingdoms of nature (minerals, plants and animals). In the center of the shield was an egg. At the top of the shield was a shoot of Linnaeus nordicus, a favorite plant of Carl Linnaeus. Under the shield was a motto in Latin: Famam extendere factis (“multiply the glory by deeds”). It was an unusual occurrence in Sweden for the son of a poor priest to be elevated to the rank of nobleman, even after he had become a professor and a renowned scholar.

Member of the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences (correspondent since 1738), member of the Royal Society of London (1753) and a number of other academies and scientific societies. Honorary member of the Imperial Academy of Sciences and Arts in St. Petersburg since December 18, 1753.

Carl Linnaeus, in terms of zoological nomenclature, is the lectotype of the species Homo sapiens, that is, the type specimen of this species that has been chosen by subsequent researchers as the nomenclatural type from among the specimens mentioned by Linnaeus as the author of the description of this taxon (or which he may have had in mind) in the protologue. In the 10th edition of the System of Nature, the conventional publication date of which, January 1, 1758, is accepted as the starting point for zoological nomenclature, Linnaeus described both the species itself and several groups belonging to the species. He did not, however, provide type specimens for Homo sapiens or for the subspecies he described, as scientists at the time were not typifying the taxa they were describing. Until 1959, no individual was recognized as a type specimen of Homo sapiens – until English professor William Thomas Stern, in his article on Linnaeus’ contributions to nomenclature and systematics, wrote that “Linnaeus himself must become the type of his Homo sapiens.” Since there had been no previous suggestions in the scientific literature regarding the typification of modern man as a taxon, William Stern’s article was sufficient to appoint Carl Linnaeus as the lectotype of both the species Homo sapiens and the nominative subspecies of that species Homo sapiens sapiens. It should be understood, however, that the designation of Linnaeus as the lectotype of Homo sapiens is of more symbolic than practical importance.

Many biological taxa (genera and species of plants and animals), terms, geographic and astronomical objects are named after Linnaeus. Organizations, publications, and botanical gardens are named after Linnaeus. Works of culture, including novels and short stories, have been dedicated to Linnaeus, and monuments to him have been erected in many countries around the world. Postage stamps dedicated to Linnaeus have been issued in many countries. Various events are held in honor of Linnaeus – in particular, every year on Linnaeus’ birthday a list of the most noteworthy species of living organisms described in the previous year is announced.

Major Monographs:

Research papers

Some of the most important works:

Autobiographical materials

Linnaeus wrote five autobiographies in different years of his life), and it is these that became the factual basis of his biography. The most important of these is the work compiled by Adam Afzellius (1750-1836), a student of Linnaeus, on the basis of his teacher’s “handwritten notes,” which he collected, supplemented and commented upon. This book was first published in 1823 in Uppsala, Sweden, under the title Karl Linnaeus’s own notes on himself with notes and additions:

In 1878 a book was published, compiled from Linnaeus’ notes in his notebooks, edited by Elias Magnus Fris and his son Theodorus Magnus Fris:

Russian translations


  1. Линней, Карл
  2. Carl Linnaeus
  3. Иван Мартынов в своём сочинении «Три ботаника» (1821) сообщает, что деньгами для поездки в Нидерланды Линнея снабдила дочь доктора Мореуса[21].
  4. El padre de Carlos Linneo, Nils, nació con el apellido Ingemarsson a partir del nombre de su padre, Ingemar Bengtsson. Sin embargo, cuando Nils ingresó en la universidad, debía tener un apellido. Inspirándose en un tilo que había en las tierras de la familia, Nils escogió el nombre Linnaeus forma latinizada de la palabra lind, «tilo» en idioma sueco.[1]​ Cuando Carlos Linneo nació, recibió el nombre de Carl Nilsson Linnaeus, tomando el apellido de su padre.[2]​
  5. Cuando Carl Linnaeus se matriculó en una escuela privada como estudiante en la Universidad de Lund, se registró como Carolus Linnaeus. Esta forma latinizada era el nombre que usaba cuando publicaba sus trabajos en latín. Después de que fuera nombrado noble, en 1761, cambió el nombre por el de «Carl von Linné». Linné es una versión reducida de ‘Linnaeus’, y von indica su ennoblecimiento, según la costumbre alemana adoptada por la aristocracia sueca de la época. A partir de ese momento, firma su correspondencia como «Carl v. Linné».[3]​
  6. Carlos Linneo nació el 13 de mayo de 1707 (según el calendario sueco de la época) o el 23 de acuerdo a nuestro calendario actual. Según el calendario juliano, nació el 12 de mayo.[1]​
  7. Ses écrits de jeunesse, dont les éditions successives du Hortus uplandicus, sont disponibles en ligne : (la) « Ungdomsskrifter », sur
  8. Linné reprend ainsi les catégories médicales décrivant les humeurs depuis l’Antiquité. Voir la théorie des humeurs d’Hippocrate.
  9. Gonçalves, Rebelo (1947). Tratado de Ortografia da Língua Portuguesa. Coimbra: Atlântida – Livraria Editora. p. 347
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