Boethius de Boodt and the Emergence of the Oriental/Occidental Distinction in European Mineralogy

  • Michael Bycroft
Part of the Europe's Asian Centuries book series (EAC)


The distinction between “Oriental” and “Occidental” gems, widespread in Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, is a puzzle for historians of global trade and natural history. The distinction seems to be a clear case of natural history being shaped by changes in the global circulation of gems. Yet the usual theories about how this shaping occurred do not apply to gems, since very few new species of gems entered Europe in the period. What mattered was not the novelty or abundance of foreign gems but their geographical distribution. As new gems arrived in Europe, so did new beliefs about where they came from. These new beliefs led European naturalists to expand the ancient and medieval category of “Indian” gems to produce the wider category of “Oriental” gems. This process is especially clear in Gemmarum et lapidum historia (1609), an influential treatise on gems written by the Prague physician Anselmus Boethius de Boodt.


Anselmus Boethius de Boodt Mineralogy Natural history Travel narratives Orientalism Gemstones 


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© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael Bycroft
    • 1
  1. 1.History DepartmentUniversity of WarwickCoventryUK

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