Thomas Bartholin

Thomas Bartholin (1616 – 1680) was a Danish physician, mathematician and theologian.

Bartholin published the first full description of the human lymphatic system in 1652

Bartholin’s journal, Acta medica et philosophica hafniensia, was published from 1673 to 1680 and served as a forum for disseminating his ideas.

  • Born 20 October 1616 in Malmø, Scania (Originally Denmark until the Treaty of Roskilde in 1658 when the town transferred to Sweden). Son of theologian and anatomist Caspar Bartholin the Elder (1585–1629)
  • 1625 – Birth of brother Rasmus Bartholin (1625-1698) discoverer of the double refraction of a light ray by Iceland spar (calcite) in 1669
  • 1649 – Professor of anatomy at the University of Copenhagen
  • 1655 – Father to Danish anatomist Caspar Bartholin the Younger (1655-1738), described the glands that bear the Bartholin name in 1677
  • 1662 – Personal physician to King Christian V of Denmark
  • 1673 – Published in Copenhagen – Acta Medica et Philosophica Hafniensia – a Danish scientific journal (1673-1680).
  • Died 4 December 1680

Medical Eponyms
Bartholin-Patau syndrome (1657, 1960)

HISTORIA XLVII. Monstrum sine oculis. In oppido Scaniae nostrae Vae, natum est monstrum parentibus honestis. Recte omnia in partu successerant. Sed infanti nulli oculi erant. Bregma apertum colore rubicundo patulum. Nasus latus oblongusque ex quo tumor protendebatur una parte osseus altera carneus cute tectus, sine foraminibus narium. Os latum et deforme. Maxilla superior unico osse constare videbatur. Utraque manus sex digitis aucta, ut et pes sinister. Miserando contiuoque ejulatu omnium in se misericordiam vertit donec exspiraret

Bartholin 1657: 66

CASE 47. The monster without eyes. In the town of Vä in Sweden a monster was born of honest parentage. In the parturition everything passed off well. But the child had no eyes. There was a wide, open void of red colour. The nose broad and oblong, from which a tumour protruded, one part bony, the other part fleshy, without nostrils. The mouth wide and deformed. The upper maxilla seemed to consist of one bone. Both hands had six fingers, as had the left foot. By pitiable and continual howling the child attracted everybody’s compassion until it breathed its last.

Bartholin 1657: 66

Other Eponyms
  • Bartholin Instituttet – Rigshospitalet, København: The institute carries out research within the fields of cancer and diabetes/immunology. “Our name originates from Thomas Bartholin, the Danish anatomist who discovered the lymphatic system, since many of the institute’s activities are related to the immune system.”
  • Bartholinsgade, København

Key Medical Attributions

Lymphatic system (1652)

  • 1651 – Jean Pecquet (1622-1674) described the thoracic duct and its entry into the veins, becoming the becoming the first person to describe the correct route of thelymphatic fluid into the blood. Bartholin provided arguably the first full description of the human lymphatic system.
  • 1652 – Olaus Rudbeck (1630-1702) presented at the court of Queen Christina of Sweden that the role of lymphatic vessels was not restricted to food absorption. Instead, lymphatic vessels are distributed throughout the body and recognized that these vessels form a special system, the lymphatic vascular system (published 1653)
  • 1652 – Independently confirmed the findings of Pecquet and Rudbeck and introduced the term lymphaticus

Refrigeration anaesthesia (1661)

  • Bartholin described the technique of Refrigeration anaesthesia in chapter XXII: Nix in cauteriis utilis, et lithotomia. Cucurbitule inditur et catbeteri of De nivis usu medico observationes variae. In this chapter he describes the use of freezing mixtures of snow and ice in the cautery of ulcers and amputation.
  • Bartholin credits the Italian surgeon and anatomist Marco Aurelio Severino (1580-1656) from whom he learned the technique in Naples in 1646, with the discovery.

Wormian bones

Thomas Bartholin coined the term Ossa Wormiana (Wormian bones – small irregular bones in the sutures of the skull) in honour of his uncle Ole Worm (1588–1654) in tribute to his contributions to osteology. [Anatome 1684: 704-6]

Major Publications

Published as Thomæ Bartholini; Thomas Bartholinus; Thomas Bartholine

The Bartholin family

Caspar Bartholin (the elder); two of his sons (Thomas and Rasmus); and his grandson (Caspar the younger) all served on the medical faculty of the University of Copenhagen. Between 1585 and 1738 they gained international acclaim for the institution with significant contributions to anatomical science, physics and medicine.



Eponymous term

Studied at the University of Oxford - BA BM BCh. British doctor working in Emergency Medicine in Poole, Dorset. Special interests include respiratory medicine, critical care, and wilderness medicine.

BA MA (Oxon) MBChB (Edin) FACEM FFSEM. Emergency physician, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital.  Passion for rugby; medical history; medical education; and asynchronous learning #FOAMed evangelist. Co-founder and CTO of Life in the Fast lane | Eponyms | Books | Twitter |

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