Thomas of Cantimpré


Also known as Thomas Cantimpratensis, Thomas Brabantinus, and Thomas van Bellenghem, Thomas was a medieval writer, preacher, and theologian. He was born in 1201 to the noble family of De Monte of Bellenghem (today Bellingen) near Leeuw-Saint-Pierre (the Brussels region) in the Brabant (hence two of his surnames). At the age of five his education began at Liège, where he studied the trivium and quadrivium. In 1217 he became a canon of the Canons Regular of St. Augustine in the Abbey of Cantimpré (the source of his third and most commonly used surname) and eventually became a priest. Sometime between 1230 and 1232 he entered the Order of St. Dominic at Louvain. In 1233 he was sent to Cologne to pursue the higher theological studies of the order, under Albert the Great. After four years in Cologne, he went to the Dominican studium of St. James in Paris to study the sciences and to prepare for preaching. After his return to Louvain in 1240, he was made professor of philosophy and theology, and traveled and preached throughout Brabant and into Germany, Belgium, and France. He died around 1272.


Thomas wrote several saint's lives (hagiology), including Vita Christinae virginis mirabilis dictae Vita B. Margaritae Iprensis Vita Piae Lutgardiâ Vita Joannis abbatis primi monasterii Cantimpratensis et ejus Ecclesiae undatoris and Supplementun ad vitam B. Mariae d'Oignies a B.M. Jacobo de Vitriaco. In his Bonum universale de apibus he uses an allegory of bees and beehives to expound on the conduct and the duties of superiors and subjects, a work which was widely used by spiritual writers for many centuries. The work for which he is most well known is the Liber de natura rerum, written around the years 1230-1245.

The Liber de natura rerum was Thomas's last "scientific" work. Because of a growing hostility toward scientific studies in the Dominican order, Thomas devoted the rest of his life to pastoral care. His last book was the Bonum universale de apibus (The universal good of bees), dedicated to Humbert de Romans (master of the preaching friars from 1254 to 1263), which was based in part on Book 9 of the Liber de natura rerum.

Liber de natura rerum

In the enormous encyclopedia the Liber de natura rerum (Book on the nature of things), Thomas compiled the natural history knowledge of his time, including what would now be called anthropology, zoology, botany, mineralogy, astronomy, astrology, and meteorology. His intent was to create a text that would serve as an introduction to "natural sciences" for the use of preachers and other ecclesiastics. The encyclopedia is known in two versions, one of 19 books (written around 1228), the other of 20 books (written around 1244). The contents of the 20 books are:

  1. The parts of the human body
  2. The soul and its natural virtues
  3. The monstrous human races of the East
  4. Animals (quadrupeds)
  5. Birds
  6. Marine monsters
  7. Fish
  8. Serpents
  9. Worms (insects)
  10. Common trees
  11. Aromatic (spice) and medicinal trees
  12. Properties of the aromatic and medicinal plants
  13. Fountains and streams
  14. Valuable stones (gems)
  15. Seven metals
  16. Seven celestial regions
  17. The spheres of the Earth and seven planets
  18. The motion of the air (winds, weather)
  19. The four elements
  20. Eclipses and celestial motion

Other encyclopedias based on Liber de natura rerum

Thomas's encyclopedia was used as the basis for later encyclopedias. In particular, the Der Naturen Bloeme of Jacob van Maerlant is an almost exact copy of the work, translated into Flemish/Middle Dutch. It was also used by Albert the Great in his De Animalibus, by Bartholomaeus Anglicus in his De proprietatibus rerum, and by Vincent of Beauvais in his Speculum naturale. The text was also translated into German and French.


As with the authors of other medieval encyclopedias, Thomas relied on the works of earlier sources, while adding some ideas of his own. His understanding of his sources was not perfect and so his references and quotes do not always match the earlier work. Thomas often confused the descriptions of two different animals, combining their attributes; he also included text from his sources that happened to follow the description of an animal, but actually had nothing to do with it. The principle sources are:

  • Aristotle: When Thomas was writing his encyclopedia, Aristotle's Historia animalium was only recently made available in Latin in western Europe. Thomas used the Latin translation produced by Michael Scotus from an Arabic translation of the Greek text in 12??. The translation sequence (Greek to Arabic to Latin) resulted in many errors, and Thomas's misunderstanding of parts of the text led to more.
  • Pliny the Elder: Pliny's Naturalis Hisioria was used as a source by many medieval (and earlier) writers. Thomas quotes extensively from Pliny, though not always correctly; he sometimes mistakenly combined unrelated passages and mangled others.
  • Gaius Julius Solinus: Solinus's De mirabilibus mundi/Collectanea Rerum Memorabilium was based in part on Pliny. Thomas's quotes from Solinus are usually fairly accurate.
  • Augustine of Hippo: Augustine's City of God contains several references to animals. Thomas quotes a few of them.
  • Saint Ambrose:Ambrose's Hexaemeron, a series of homilies on the six days of creation, has numerous animal descriptions; Thomas quotes a few of them.
  • Basil the Great: Basil's Hexaemeron, on the six days of creation, has many animal descriptions; Thomas quotes a few of them.
  • Alexander Neckam: Thomas used parts of Alexander Neckham's De naturis rerum libro duo, without attribution.
  • Jacques de Vitry: Thomas quoted this author as Jacobus [Jacobus de Vitriaco]. He was the author of Historia Hierosolymitana or Historia Orientalis, an account of nature and geography of Palestine during the Crusades.
  • Experimentator: Thomas quotes extensively from this unknown author. Only the passages Thomas quotes are known; the original text is lost.
  • Andelmas: This author is uncertain, but may be Aldhelm. Thomas quotes him only occasionally.
  • Liber rerum (Book of things): No copies of this work still exist, and the author is unknown. The text is only found in Thomas's quotes.


The Liber de natura rerum was very popular, and over 150 manuscript copies (or partial copies) still exist. Some of these are extensively illustrated. A selection of manuscripts can be seen under the Manuscripts tab above. A more complete list can be found on the ARLIMA Thomas de Cantimpré web page.


Thomas describes about 470 animals in the Liber de natura rerum. Some are duplicated, with the same animal described under two or more names. The full list of animals found in the Liber de natura rerum is very long, so it has been divided here into several lists based on the categories shown above. Click the arrow to the left of the category name to show or hide the list for that category.

The lists are based on the animals described in manuscript Bibliothèque Municipale de Valenciennes, MS 320.

  1. Primo generaliter
  2. Asinus (ass)
  3. Aper silvester (boar (wild))
  4. Aper domesticus (pig (domestic))
  5. Aloy (elk)
  6. Anabulla (giraffe)
  7. Alches (elk)
  8. Achanes (ahanes)
  9. Ana (ana)
  10. Bubalus (buffalo)
  11. Bonachus (bonnacon)
  12. Camelus (camel)
  13. Canis (dog)
  14. Castor vel fiber (beaver)
  15. Cama (lynx)
  16. Calopus (antelope)
  17. Camelopardus (giraffe)
  18. Capra (goat)
  19. Capreolus vel rubricapra (capreola)
  20. Cacus (cacus)
  21. Cefusa (cefusa)
  22. Cervus (stag)
  23. Chimera (chimera)
  24. Cyrogrillus (squirrel)
  25. Cuniculus (rabbit)
  26. Cricetus (hamster)
  27. Corocrotes (leucrota)
  28. Cathapleba (catoblepas)
  29. Damma (demma)
  30. Dammula (doe)
  31. Duran (duran)
  32. Daxus (badger)
  33. Elephas (elephant)
  34. Equus (horse)
  35. Equicervus (equicervus)
  36. Eale (yale)
  37. Hemchires (bonnacon)
  38. Hemtra (hemtra)
  1. Erinacius vel ericius (hedgehog)
  2. Erminius (ermine)
  3. Falena (falena)
  4. Furunculus (ferret)
  5. Furionz (furionz)
  6. Feles (cat)
  7. Finge (finges)
  8. Glis (dormouse)
  9. Gali (weasel)
  10. Genetha (genetha)
  11. Guessules (weasel)
  12. Ibices (ibex)
  13. Ibrida (hybrid animals)
  14. Istrix vel porcus spinosus (porcupine)
  15. Hyena (hyena)
  16. Leo (lion)
  17. Leopardus (leopard)
  18. Lamia (lamia)
  19. Lanzani (lanzani)
  20. Linx (lynx)
  21. Lycaon (lycaon)
  22. Lupus (wolf)
  23. Lincisius (lincisius)
  24. Leucrocota (leucrota)
  25. Leoncophona (leontophone)
  26. Lachta (lacta)
  27. Lepus (hare)
  28. Luther (otter)
  29. Locusta bestia (locust)
  30. Mulus (mule)
  31. Monocheros (monocerus)
  32. Molosus (molosus)
  33. Mauricomorion (manticore)
  34. Manticora (manticore)
  35. Musquelibet (musquelibet)
  36. Mammonetus (mammonetus)
  37. Migale (shrew)
  1. Musio (cat)
  2. Mustela (weasel)
  3. Mus et eorum genera (mouse)
  4. Neomon (ichneumon)
  5. Onager (onager)
  6. Onager Indie (unicorn)
  7. Onocentaurus (onocentaur)
  8. Orix (oryx)
  9. Oraflus (giraffe)
  10. Ovis (sheep)
  11. Pardus (pard)
  12. Panthera (panther)
  13. Pirander (parandrus)
  14. Pegasus (pegasus)
  15. Pilosus (wild man)
  16. Papiones (papiones)
  17. Pathio (pathius)
  18. Putorius (polecat)
  19. Pyrolus (squirrel)
  20. Rangiver (reindeer)
  21. Symia (ape)
  22. Tigris (tiger)
  23. Taurus (bull)
  24. Taurus Indie (Indian bull)
  25. Tranez (tranes)
  26. Tragelaphus (tragelaphus)
  27. Trogodite (trogodite)
  28. Talpa (mole)
  29. Unicornis (unicorn)
  30. Ursus (bear)
  31. Vesontes (buffalo)
  32. Urin (buffalo)
  33. Uranoscopus (uranoscopus)
  34. Vulpes (fox)
  35. Varius (squirrel)
  36. Zubrones (buffalo)
  37. Zybo (hyena)

  1. Primo generaliter
  2. Aquila (eagle)
  3. Aquila septentrionalis (Northern eagle)
  4. Arpia (harpy)
  5. Agochiles (nightjar)
  6. Ardea (heron)
  7. Alio genere ardearum (heron)
  8. Anseres (goose)
  9. Anas (duck)
  10. Accipitre qui vulgariter dicitur ostors (hawk)
  11. Hamraham (vulture)
  12. Achantis (anthus)
  13. Asalon (merlin)
  14. Alauda (lark)
  15. Alciones (kingfisher)
  16. Aeriophilon qui et aelion (aeriophylon)
  17. Avibus que dicuntur paradisi (paradisi)
  18. Bubone (owl)
  19. Buteus (hawk)
  20. Butorius (bittern)
  21. Bistarda (bustard)
  22. Bonosas (grouse)
  23. Barliatibus que et bernece dicuntur et sunt aves arborum (barnacle goose)
  24. Caladrius (caladrius)
  25. Cinamologus (cinnamologus)
  26. Cignus (swan)
  27. Cariste (cariste)
  28. Cyconie (stork)
  29. Choretes (chloreus)
  30. Calendris (lark)
  31. Corvus (raven)
  32. Cornices (crow)
  33. Cornica (cornica)
  34. Cuculus (cuckoo)
  35. Coredulus (coredulus)
  36. Columba (dove)
  37. Palumbos (wood-dove)
  38. Carchates (catarrhactes)
  39. Corturnix (quail)
  40. Carduelis (goldfinch)
  41. Crochilus qui est rex avium dicitur (trochilus)
  1. Crochilus qui est rex avium dicitur (trochilus)
  2. Dyomeda (dyomeda)
  3. Dariata (dariata)
  4. Egythus (titmouse)
  5. Herodius (gyrfalcon)
  6. Fenice (phoenix)
  7. Fulica (coot)
  8. Fatatore (fatatore)
  9. Fetice (fetix)
  10. Ficedula (figpecker)
  11. Diversis generibus falconum, sive accipitrum (falcon, hawk)
  12. Falconibus in speciali (falcon)
  13. Griphes semiave (griffin)
  14. Gracocenderon (gracocenderon)
  15. Gosturdus (gosturdus)
  16. Grues (crane)
  17. Glutis (glutis)
  18. Gallus (cock)
  19. Gallina (hen)
  20. Gallus gallinacio (cock)
  21. Gallus silvester (pheasant)
  22. Garralus (jay)
  23. Graculus (jackdaw)
  24. Ibis avis (ibis)
  25. Iboz (anthus)
  26. Incendula (crow)
  27. Hyrundine (swallow)
  28. Isopigi (wagtail)
  29. Isida (isida)
  30. Kiliodromos (kiliodromos)
  31. Kim (kim)
  32. Karkolaz (cuckoo)
  33. Komor (komor)
  34. Kyches (kyches)
  35. Larus (gull)
  36. Lucidiis vel herciniis avibus (hercinia)
  37. Luciana (nightingale)
  38. Linachos (linachos)
  39. Lagepus (ptarmigan)
  40. Milvus (kite)
  41. Magnales (magnales)
  42. Melancoriphus (melancoriphus)
  1. Morplex (morplex)
  2. Mennonides aves (memnonides)
  3. Meauce (meauce)
  4. Merillionibus (merilliones)
  5. Muscicapis (flycatcher)
  6. Merops (bee-eater)
  7. Merula (blackbird)
  8. Monedula (jackdaw)
  9. Mergulis vel mergis (mergus)
  10. Nisus (hawk)
  11. Nycticorax (owl)
  12. Nepa (nepa)
  13. Onocrotalus (bittern)
  14. Othus (owl)
  15. Osina (pelican)
  16. Oriolis quod est genus pico martii (oriole)
  17. Pellicanus (pelican)
  18. Porphirio (porphirio)
  19. Pavo (peacock)
  20. Perdix (partridge)
  21. Platea (spoonbill)
  22. Pluvialibus (plover)
  23. Pica (magpie)
  24. Pico martio (woodpecker)
  25. Passeribus (sparrow)
  26. Passer arundineus (sparrow)
  27. Philomena (nightingale)
  28. Psitaco (parrot)
  29. Strutione (ostrich)
  30. Strix (owl)
  31. Sturnis (starling)
  32. Turture (turtledove)
  33. Trogopales (trogopales)
  34. Turdis (thrush)
  35. Vespertilione (bat)
  36. Vanellis que et simphalides dicunt (stymphalis)
  37. Ulula (owl)
  38. Huppupa (hoopoe)
  39. Vulture (vulture)
  40. Zelencides (zelencides)

  1. Primo generaliter
  2. Abides (abides)
  3. Hahune (mullet)
  4. Beluis maris orientalis (Unnamed marine monster)
  5. Barchora (sea turtle)
  6. Chetho vel ballena (whale)
  7. Cocodrillus (crocodile)
  8. Cervus marinus (sea-stag)
  9. Caab (caab)
  10. Cricos (crab)
  11. Celethi (celethi)
  12. Chylon (chylon)
  13. Canibus marinis (sea-dog)
  14. Ceruleum (ceruleum)
  15. Draco maris (sea-dragon)
  16. Delphinis (dolphin)
  17. Delphinis alterius generis (dolphin)
  18. Equus maris (sea-horse)
  19. Equinilus (equinilus)
  20. Equo fluminis (hippopotamus)
  1. Exposita bestia (exposita)
  2. Helchus (seal)
  3. Focha bos marinus (sea-cow)
  4. Fastaleon (mullet)
  5. Galalca (galalca)
  6. Gamanez (catfish)
  7. Galdius monstrus maris (swordfish)
  8. Ypotamus (hippopotamus)
  9. Koki (seal)
  10. Kylion (kylion)
  11. Karabo (lobster)
  12. Luligo (cuttlefish)
  13. Ludolachra (ludolacra)
  14. Monachi maris (sea-monk)
  15. Monocheros (narwhal)
  16. Nereides (nereid)
  17. Nautilus (nautilus)
  18. Onos (sea-ass)
  19. Orcha (orca)
  20. Perna (perna)
  1. Pyster (sperm whale)
  2. Plataniste (dolphin)
  3. Polypus (octopus)
  4. Serra (sawfish)
  5. Serra altius (sawfish)
  6. Syrenis (siren)
  7. Scilla (scilla)
  8. Scinnocis (skink)
  9. Testudine Indie (Indian sea turtle)
  10. Tygnus (tuna)
  11. Tygnus ponthi (tuna)
  12. Tunnus (tuna)
  13. Testeum (testeum)
  14. Tortuca maris (sea-turtle)
  15. Vacca maris (sea-cow)
  16. Vitulis marinis (seal)
  17. Zedrosis (zedrosis)
  18. Zydrach (sea-horse)
  19. Zytiron (sea turtle)
  20. Zyfius (zifius)

  1. Primo generaliter
  2. Anguilla (eel)
  3. Alphoraz (alphoraz)
  4. Astaraz (astaraz)
  5. Allecia (allec)
  6. Albirez (albirez)
  7. Aries piscis (sea-ram)
  8. Aureum vellus (golden fleece)
  9. Aberenon (abarenon)
  10. Accipender (sturgeon)
  11. Amius (amia)
  12. Haniger (haniger)
  13. Aforus (aphorus)
  14. Australis piscis (australis)
  15. Aranea marina (sea-spider)
  16. Bothis (bothis)
  17. Borbothis (borbothis)
  18. Babilonici pisces (Babylonian fish)
  19. Cethe (whale)
  20. Cancris (crab)
  21. Clautius (catfish)
  22. Congris (eel)
  23. Conchis (conchis)
  24. Carpera (carp)
  25. Capito (capito)
  26. Capitones (capitones)
  27. Corvus maris (sea-raven)
  28. Capa (capa)
  29. Cocleis (snail)
  30. Dies piscis (day-fish)
  31. Delphinorum (dolphin)
  1. Dentrice (bream)
  2. Echinus (echeneis)
  3. Ezox (pike)
  4. Ericius (sea urchin)
  5. Ezochius (flying fish)
  6. Ezochius maris (ezochius maris)
  7. Eracliodes (eracliodes)
  8. Fundula (fundula)
  9. Gonger (eel)
  10. Gobio (gudgeon)
  11. Granus (uranoscopus)
  12. Irundo maris (sea-swallow)
  13. Kalaoz (mullet)
  14. Kyloc (kylok)
  15. Lolligines (cuttlefish)
  16. Locusta maris (lobster)
  17. Lepus maris (sea-hare)
  18. Lepus maris etiam alius (sea-hare)
  19. Lucius piscis (pike)
  20. Murenis (eel)
  21. Mugilus (mullet)
  22. Margaritis piscibus (pearl-oyster)
  23. Megaris (megaris)
  24. Multipes (octopus)
  25. Murices (sea-snail)
  26. Mus marinus (sea-mouse)
  27. Mulus (mullet)
  28. Mullus (mullet)
  29. Milago (millago)
  30. Ostree (pearl-oyster)
  31. Purpuris (sea-snail)
  1. Pina (pina)
  2. Pungitivus (pungitivus)
  3. Pectines (scallop)
  4. Porcus marinus (sea-pig)
  5. Pavus piscis (sea-peacock)
  6. Rana maris (sea-frog)
  7. Rumbus (turbot)
  8. Raithe (ray)
  9. Salmones (salmon)
  10. Sturio (sturgeon)
  11. Spongiis (sponge)
  12. Scolopendre (sea-centipede)
  13. Stella piscis (starfish)
  14. Siluris (catfish)
  15. Solaris piscis (sunfish)
  16. Scuatina (skate)
  17. Salpa (salpa)
  18. Sepia (cuttlefish)
  19. Scorpio piscis (sea-scorpion)
  20. Sparus (sparus)
  21. Scaurus (scarus)
  22. Torpedo (torpedo)
  23. Trebius (trebius)
  24. Truitis (trout)
  25. Tymallus (thymallus)
  26. Vulpes marine (sea-fox)
  27. Uranoscopus (uranoscopus)
  28. Viperis maris (sea-viper)
  29. Venth (bitterling)
  30. Vergiliales (vergiliales)

  1. Primo generaliter
  2. Aspis (asp)
  3. Ansibena (amphisbaena)
  4. Basiliscus (basilisk)
  5. Boa angue (boa)
  6. Berus (berus)
  7. Cornutis (cornutis)
  8. Cameleon (chameleon)
  9. Cerastes (cerastes)
  10. Cecula (cetula)
  11. Centupeda (centipede)
  12. Celidro serpente (chelydros)
  13. Centris (centris)
  14. Dypsa (dipsa)
  15. Draco (dragon)
  1. Draconcopedes (draconcopedes)
  2. Emorrois (asp)
  3. Iaculis (jaculus)
  4. Ipnapis (asp)
  5. Idros (hydrus)
  6. Idro serpente fluvialis (hydros)
  7. Lacerta (lizard)
  8. Serpentibus maris (sea-serpent)
  9. Natrix (natrix)
  10. Naderos (naderos)
  11. Pester (asp)
  12. Pharias (parias)
  13. Rutela (rutela)
  14. Salamandra  (salamander)
  15. Salpiga (salpuga)
  1. Stellio (newt)
  2. Stellio (newt)
  3. Scaura (lizard)
  4. Sytula (scitalis)
  5. Syrene (siren serpent)
  6. Scorpio serpens (scorpion)
  7. Serps (seps)
  8. Serpentibus Indie (snakes of India)
  9. Tortuca (tortoise)
  10. Tarans (scorpion)
  11. Tysus (tysus)
  12. Tyrus (tyrus)
  13. Tyliacus (tyliacus)
  14. Vipera (viper)

  1. Primo generaliter
  2. Apes (bee)
  3. Aranea (spider)
  4. Adlacta (cricket)
  5. Buffones (buffones)
  6. Buffones qui et cornuti (buffones)
  7. Borax (botrax)
  8. Blactis (moth)
  9. Bombax (silkworm)
  10. Brucus (caterpillar)
  11. Cervus volans (stag-beetle)
  12. Cyncendula (glow-worm)
  13. Cynomya (dog-fly)
  14. Cyniphes (gnat)
  15. Culex (gnat)
  16. Cantarides (cantharis)
  17. Crabrones (hornet)
  18. Cymex (bedbug)
  1. Cicade (cicada)
  2. Eruca (caterpillar)
  3. Engulas (tick)
  4. Formica (ant)
  5. Formicarum leo (ant-lion)
  6. Formicis indie (ant)
  7. Lymax (slug)
  8. Locusta vermie (locust)
  9. Lanificus (silkworm)
  10. Multipes vel centipes (centipede)
  11. Musca (fly)
  12. Musca cypri (fly)
  13. Opimacus (opimacus)
  14. Papiliones (butterfly)
  15. Phalangia (spider)
  16. Pulices (flea)
  17. Pediculus (louse)
  18. Rana (frog)
  1. Rana rubeta (frog)
  2. Rana parvula muta (frog)
  3. Rana coriens dicit (frog)
  4. Stelle figura vermis (salamander)
  5. Spoliator colubri (spoliator colubri)
  6. Seta (seta)
  7. Stuprestis (buprestis)
  8. Sanguisuga (leech)
  9. Thamur (thamur)
  10. Tappula (tapula)
  11. Testudo vermis (snail)
  12. Tynea (clothes-moth)
  13. Teredine (woodworm)
  14. Tharmus (tarmus)
  15. Uria (tarmus)
  16. Vespis (wasp)
  17. Vermes (worm)
  18. Vermes Celidonie (worm)