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Title page of the 1758 edition of Linnaeus's <i>Systema Naturæ</i>. <sup><a href="undefined" style="color:blue">[1]</a></sup>
Title page of the 1758 edition of Linnaeus's Systema Naturæ. [1]

Systema Naturae (originally in Latin written Systema Naturæ with the ligature æ) is one of the major works of the Swedish botanist, zoologist and physician Carl Linnaeus (1707–1778) and introduced the Linnaean taxonomy. Although the system, now known as binomial nomenclature, was partially developed by the Bauhin brothers, Gaspard and Johann, 200 years earlier,[2] Linnaeus was first to use it consistently throughout his book. The first edition was published in 1735. The full title of the 10th edition (1758), which was the most important one, was Systema naturæ per regna tria naturæ, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis or translated: "System of nature through the three kingdoms of nature, according to classes, orders, genera and species, with characters, differences, synonyms, places".

The tenth edition of this book (1758) is considered the starting point of zoological nomenclature.[3] In 1766–1768 Linnaeus published the much enhanced 12th edition, the last under his authorship. Another again enhanced work in the same style and titled "Systema Naturae" was published by Johann Friedrich Gmelin between 1788 and 1793. Since at least the early 1900s zoologists commonly recognized this as the last edition belonging to this series.[4][5] It was also officially regarded by the ICZN in Opinion 296 (26 Oct 1954) as the 13th edition of Systema Naturae.[6]


Linnaeus (later known as "Carl von Linné", after his ennoblement in 1761)[7] published the first edition of Systema Naturae in the year 1735, during his stay in the Netherlands. As was customary for the scientific literature of its day, the book was published in Latin. In it, he outlined his ideas for the hierarchical classification of the natural world, dividing it into the animal kingdom (regnum animale), the plant kingdom (regnum vegetabile), and the "mineral kingdom" (regnum lapideum).

Linnaeus's Systema Naturae lists only about 10,000 species of organisms, of which about 6,000 are plants and 4,236 are animals.[8] According to the historian of botany William T. Stearn, "Even in 1753 he believed that the number of species of plants in the whole world would hardly reach 10,000; in his whole career he named about 7,700 species of flowering plants."[8]

Linnaeus developed his classification of the plant kingdom in an attempt to describe and understand the natural world as a reflection of the logic of God's creation.[9] His sexual system, where species with the same number of stamens were treated in the same group, was convenient but in his view artificial.[9] Linnaeus believed in God's creation, and that there were no deeper relationships to be expressed. He is frequently quoted to have said: "God created, Linnaeus organized" (Latin: Deus creavit, Linnaeus disposuit).[10] The classification of animals was more natural. For instance, humans were for the first time placed together with other primates, as Anthropomorpha.

As a result of the popularity of the work, and the number of new specimens sent to him from around the world, Linnaeus kept publishing new and ever-expanding editions of his work.[11] It grew from eleven very large pages in the first edition (1735) to 2,400 pages in the 12th edition (1766–1768).[12] Also, as the work progressed, he made changes: in the first edition, whales were classified as fishes, following the work of Linnaeus' friend and "father of ichthyology" Peter Artedi; in the 10th edition, published in 1758, whales were moved into the mammal class. In this same edition, he introduced two-part names (see binomen) for animal species, something that he had done for plant species (see binary name) in the 1753 publication of Species Plantarum. The system eventually developed into modern Linnaean taxonomy, a hierarchically organized biological classification.

After Linnaeus' health declined in the early 1770s, publication of editions of Systema Naturae went in two directions. Another Swedish scientist, Johan Andreas Murray issued the Regnum Vegetabile section separately in 1774 as the Systema Vegetabilium, rather confusingly labelled the 13th edition.[13] Meanwhile, a 13th edition of the entire Systema appeared in parts between 1788 and 1793. It was as the Systema Vegetabilium that Linnaeus' work became widely known in England following translation from the Latin by the Lichfield Botanical Society, as A System of Vegetables (1783–1785).[14]


In his Imperium Naturæ, Linnaeus established three kingdoms, namely Regnum Animale, Regnum Vegetabile and Regnum Lapideum. This approach, the Animal, Vegetable and Mineral Kingdoms, survives until today in the popular mind, notably in the form of parlour games: "Is it animal, vegetable or mineral?". The classification was based on five levels: kingdom, class, order, genus, and species. While species and genus was seen as God-given (or "natural"), the three higher levels were seen by Linnaeus as constructs. The concept behind the set ranks being applied to all groups was to make a system that was easy to remember and navigate, a task which most say he succeeded in.

Linnaeus's work had a huge impact on science; it was indispensable as a foundation for biological nomenclature, now regulated by the Nomenclature Codes. Two of his works, the first edition of the Species Plantarum (1753) for plants and the 10th edition of the Systema Naturæ (1758), are accepted among the starting points of nomenclature. Most of his names for species and genera were published at very early dates, and thus take priority over those of other, later authors. In zoology there is one exception, which is a monograph on Swedish spiders, Svenska Spindlar,[15] published by Carl Clerck in 1757, so the names established there take priority over the Linnean names.[16] However, his impact on science was not because of the value of his taxonomy. His talent for attracting skillful young students and sending them abroad to collect specimens made his work far more influential than that of his contemporaries.[17] At the close of the 18th century, his system had effectively become the standard system for biological classification.

Only in the Animal Kingdom is the higher taxonomy of Linnaeus still more or less recognizable and some of these names are still in use, but usually not quite for the same groups as used by Linnaeus. He divided the Animal Kingdom into six classes; in the tenth edition (1758), these were:

The orders and classes of plants, according to his Systema Sexuale, were never intended to represent natural groups (as opposed to his ordines naturales in his Philosophia Botanica) but only for use in identification. They were used in that sense well into the 19th century.

The Linnaean classes for plants, in the Sexual System, were:

  • Classis 1. Monandria
  • Classis 2. Diandria
  • Classis 3. Triandria
  • Classis 4. Tetrandria
  • Classis 5. Pentandria
  • Classis 6. Hexandria
  • Classis 7. Heptandria
  • Classis 8. Octandria
  • Classis 9. Enneandria
  • Classis 10. Decandria
  • Classis 11. Dodecandria
  • Classis 12. Icosandria
  • Classis 13. Polyandra
  • Classis 14. Didynamia
  • Classis 15. Tetradynamia
  • Classis 16. Monadelphia
  • Classis 17. Diadelphia
  • Classis 18. Polyadelphia
  • Classis 19. Syngenesia
  • Classis 20. Gynandria
  • Classis 21. Monoecia
  • Classis 22. Dioecia
  • Classis 23. Polygamia
  • Classis 24. Cryptogamia

Linnaeus's taxonomy of minerals has long since fallen out of use. In the 10th edition, 1758, of the Systema Naturæ, the Linnaean classes were:


Gmelin's thirteenth (decima tertia) edition of Systema Naturae (1788–1793) should be carefully distinguished from the more limited Systema Vegetabilium first prepared and published by Johan Andreas Murray in 1774 (but labelled as "thirteenth edition").[13]

The dates of publication for Gmelin's edition were the following:[19]

  • Part 1: pp. [1–12], 1–500 (25 July 1788)
  • Part 2: pp. 501–1032 (20 April 1789)
  • Part 3: pp. 1033–1516 (20 November 1789)
  • Part 4: pp. 1517–2224 (21 May 1790)
  • Part 5: pp. 2225–3020 (6 December 1790)
  • Part 6: pp. 3021–3910 (14 May 1791)
  • Part 7: pp. 3911–4120 (2 July 1792)

See also

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