Schlemm, the body snatcher?

Ann Anat. 2008;190(3):223-9. doi: 10.1016/j.aanat.2007.12.002. Epub 2008 Feb 29.


Friedrich Schlemm (1795-1858) is well known for his original description of the scleral venous sinus, known since as Schlemm's canal. He grew up in a village in the Duchy of Braunschweig (Brunswick). As his family could not afford higher education, he was apprenticed to a barber-surgeon in Braunschweig. This gave him the opportunity to study anatomy and surgery at the local Anatomico-Surgical Institute. Recently discovered archival sources demonstrate that, in June of 1816, Schlemm and a fellow student disinterred the body of a deceased woman late at night in a Braunschweig churchyard to bring the body to this Institute and study the effects of rickets on the woman's bones. They were caught and sentenced to 4 weeks of prison. Subsequently, Schlemm left Braunschweig and found work as a low-rank army surgeon in Berlin. Professor Rudolphi, the director of the Berlin Institute of Anatomy, took note of Schlemm's manual dexterity in anatomical dissection and supported his impressive career. Schlemm eventually became full professor of anatomy in 1833 and spent his remaining 25 years in Berlin with a focus on teaching students and training surgeons. As historical background information is largely lacking in this regard, it is impossible to decide whether Schlemm's episode of grave robbing was a solitary instance or a more common method of acquiring bodies for anatomical instruction in early 19th century Germany.

Publication types

  • Biography
  • Historical Article
  • Portrait

MeSH terms

  • Anatomy / history*
  • Dissection
  • Germany
  • Grave Robbing / history
  • History, 18th Century
  • History, 19th Century
  • Human Body*
  • Humans
  • Retinal Vein / anatomy & histology*
  • Sclera / blood supply*

Personal name as subject

  • Friedrich Schlemm