The history of homeopathy in the Russian Empire
until World War I, as compared with other European countries and the USA: similarities and
by Alexander Kotok, M.D.
On-line version of the Ph.D. thesis improved and enlarged
due to a special grant of the Pierre Schmidt foundation.
Allopathy vs. Homeopathy: Homeopathy in Russia during the period under study
I found it to be a most appropriate approach to start my research with a sketched history of
homeopathy in Russia, representing main landmarks of the relationship allopathy-homeopathy on the
Russian soil during the period under study. I am not going to explore the development of homeopathy
in Russia in a detailed manner in this chapter, as other chapters will serve this purpose. I aim
firstly at introducing the reader to the 90 years existence of the homeopathic doctrine in the
Russian Empire, enabling the reader to follow further chapters with more understanding of the times
and events of the period. Nevertheless, such important topics as conversion to homeopathy and
anti-homeopathic propaganda will be analyzed in this chapter.
1.2 The 1820s and the beginning of the 1830s — the decisive years for Russian
1.2.1 Homeopathy in Russia: its first steps
For a long time in the Russian Empire professional homeopathy, i.e., homeopathy practiced by
doctors, was connected with foreign physicians, especially of German origin. Those doctors were
invited by the government or by private persons to practice in the Russian Empire.
According to Bojanus,
Homeopathy entered Russia in the last years of Emperor Alexander
In 1824, Dr. Adam, who had become acquainted one year before to Hahnemann, arrived
in Russia from Germany. [...]. He introduced to homeopathy Dr. Scherring, who later became the
Chief physician of the Special Guardian Board1.
At about the same time,
When Hahnemann's ideas, little by little, became known in St. Petersburg
circles, the new method of treatment had been practiced at the Western frontier areas of the
Russian Empire by two doctors, ardent adherents of Hahnemann [...], [namely] Stegemann in Lifland
and Bigel in the Kingdom of Poland2.
I have little information about these persons and rely mainly on the facts reported by Bojanus.
It is known that Dr. O. F. Scherring, as mentioned above, who had been first introduced to
homeopathy by Dr. Adam, successfully used homeopathy to treat the wide spread inflammation of eyes
in the Russian army. This was in the Krasnosel'sk and Medvedď military hospitals years
later, in 1854—55 and 1856 respectively. His treatment was not purely homeopathic in a
Hahnemannian sense of a word: Scherring applied undiluted tinctures taken as 1/100, 1/30, 1/2 of
grain and even as much as one grain, but nevertheless all these were prescribed according to the
law of similars. Mainly such medicines as Belladonna, Aconitum, Mercurius solubilis, Arsenicum,
Conium, Rhus tox., Pulsatilla, Acidum nitricum, Thuja and Sulphur were
himself called this method "specific" (since the late 1820s the word
"homeopathy" had had an effect on the Russian medical establishment similar to that of
the red tissue on bull), and not homeopathic. While then demonstrating convincingly the advantages
of homeopathic treatment, Dr. Scherring introduced homeopathy to several doctors, among them Drs.
Iosif Kazakevich (1826—1871) and Stepan
Stetkevich (1812—1894) — both became then convinced homeopaths. The Tsar Nicholas I, who was familiar with the "half-homeopathic" method of Dr.
Martin Mandt (see the chapter "Homeopathic
facilities") and often visited the hospital, both encouraged Dr. Scherring to continue
with the treatment and regretted that such a fine "specific" treatment was not widely
used in all Russian medical facilities. On November 5, 1862, Russian homeopaths celebrated a
fiftieth anniversary of Scherring's medical service. The Grand Duke Nicholas presented him
personally with the Tsar's reward, the order of St. Vladimir of the Second Class4. Scherring died in 1864
Dr. Adam did practice homeopathy but also called it "specific treatment" and, most
probably, was never involved in the open struggle with allopaths. The next and the last time we
hear about him is when Bojanus mentions that he took part in the activity of the Commission created
by the State Council in 1833 (see below)5.
Prussian Dr. Stegemann (?—1835) had graduated from Jena University and converted to
homeopathy around 1821. He arrived in Riga in 1823. Bojanus failed to find any exact data on his
activity. In the late 1820s he left Riga for Germany to study homeopathy there more thoroughly.
Until his death in 1835, he practiced in Riga again, also in Dorpat and in Switzerland6.
A little more is known about the French Dr. Jean Bigel (1769—?). He had graduated from the
Strasbourg University. In 1822—32 he was physician-in-ordinary of the Grand Duke Constantine.
In 1822, he visited Dresden and was a witness to the vivid discussions
between Hahnemann's adherents and opponents. Bigel purchased Hahnemann's "Organon", studied it and then
started applying homeopathy in his day-to-day practice. From 1825 to 1847, he published several
writings on homeopathy, whilst one of them ("Examen théoretique et pratique de la
méthode curative du Dr. Hahnemann nommée homéopathie", Lyon, 1832) won
him the Order of the Honorary Legion. In 1829, Dr. Bigel was entrusted with the treatment of the
cantonists (the sons of soldiers obliged to serve in the army according to the laws of the Russian
Empire of that time) at a cantonist school in Warsaw, whilst the treatment provided there was
The first professional work (and, probably, the first altogether) on the subject of homeopathy,
which appeared in the Russian Empire, was written in German. This was the work of Dr. Gottlieb
Sahmen (1789—1847) from Dorpat University8 entitled "Concerning the present position of homeopathy as
compared with medicine until now"9. Bojanus supposes that it was Dr. Stegemann who told Dr. Sahmen about this
new doctrine and convinced him to examine it10.
Before speaking of Sahmen's book, I have to mention that the first time Hahnemann's name
was spelled in Russian, was in 1793, in the first Russian medical newspaper entitled "St.
Petersburg Vrachebnye vedomosti" (St. Petersburg Medical Reports). This periodical was issued
in 1792—94, by the German doctor Fedor (Friedrich) Uhden (1754—1823), who graduated
from Halle University in 1776. Two of Hahnemann's small articles were published in No. 14
The following two articles were sent from Leipzig to be reported to a respectful
Russian public. Their author, Dr. Hahnemann, has been made famous for his invention of the very
useful soluble mercury, which is being currently used by all skillful doctors. Since the wine test
described below, as well as a domestic remedy for necrosis of organs, both based on many
experiments, seem to be especially helpful, we insert them into our 'Vedomosti'11.
Those two scholarly papers were "Contributions to the Wine Test", first published in
"Scherf's Beiträge zum Archiv der medicinischen Polizei", Leipzig, 1792 and
"The most reliable domestic medicine against necrosis of organs (Sphacelus)", which, most
probably, represents a part of one of Hahnemann's earlier writings, for I could find papers
with similar titles neither in the list of Hahnemann's works by Wilhelm Amecke in his book
"Die Entstehung und Bekampfung der Homöopathie" (1884), nor in the book "Samuel
Hahnemann. His Life and Work" (1922) by Richard Haehl, i.e. in the
most detailed sources dealing with Hahnemann's life and works.
As to the book by Sahmen, Bojanus regarded it with great respect and sympathy:
In this work [...] the advantages and shortcomings of homeopathy were analyzed
with such impartiality and exemplary restraint and modesty that [this book] may be recognized as
the only one within the literature of our opponents, deserving the attention and respect of the
Bojanus briefly described the contents of the book and the main conclusions of Dr. Sahmen. As
this book has long ago become a bibliographic rarity, I allow myself to refer to Bojanus'
comments on it, limiting myself to citing several of the chief thoughts of Dr. Sahmen. Sahmen
certainly rejected Hahnemann's claims for building an universal system of healing. Sahmen
asserted that Hahnemann did not revolutionize medicine, but found that there has always been a
special attitude of medicine toward disease; this was what Hahnemann revived. Nevertheless, this
fact does not mean that other specific attitudes do not exist. Thus, homeopathy has no right to
dissociate itself from allopathic medicine. The results obtained from testing homeopathic drugs on
healthy persons, Sahmen considered as unreliable, as being too subjective, and also because
diseases artificially caused can never develop to be similar to idiopathic diseases. Despite these
objections, Sahmen recognized that the successes of homeopathy have been evident. Sahmen himself
examined such remedies like Nux vomica, Colocynthis and Opium with good
results. When he became convinced that homeopathy often had important advantages as compared with
allopathy, Sahmen urged his colleagues to continue research on the effect of medicines upon
symptoms in order to enrich general medicine with new remedies and new approaches to
Around 1826, a nephew of Hahnemann, Dr. Carl Trinius (1778—1844),
who had studied in the universities of Jena, Halle and Leipzig, and who was a distinguished
botanist and a physician-in-ordinary to the Tsar family since 1824, and a future tutor of young
Alexander II (from 1829), converted to homeopathy. Probably he was the person who established the
continued connection of homeopaths with the Tsar's Court. In 1826, Dr. Herrmann (?—1836),
arrived in St. Petersburg from Saxony. The family of Countess Ostermann-Tolstaya hired him as
domestic doctor. At the same time, he had a large and profitable practice in the higher St.
Petersburg circles. He attracted special attention of his patients and of the Tsar's family, by
his successful treatment of a bloody flux in Oranienbaum (a suburb of St. Petersburg).
The homeopathic method of treatment, as one could have expected beforehand, became
suited to the taste of many noble persons. They viewed it as the salvation from all diseases. These
rumors became known to the Tsar14.
The first official paper in Russian dealing with homeopathy, appeared in 1827 in the journal "Vrachebnye
zapiski" (Medical Letters), issued in 1827—29, in the section "Pathology and
Therapy"15. The paper was written by the editor Mikhail
Marcus (1790—1865), who in 1841 became the President of the Medical Council
(Meditsinsky Sovet) at the Ministry of Interior. The paper bore the title "Homeopathy
Despite the many present days objections, the homeopathy of Hahnemann has been
spread widely all over Germany, attracting the attention of all sensible doctors. The latter
reasonably suppose that if homeopathy included nothing useful, it would not have been a subject of
so many thorough investigations...16
In his paper, Dr. Marcus analyzed in detail the essence of Hahnemann's doctrine, the main
objections made by Hahnemann's opponents as well as the arguments of his adherents. Further
Marcus rejected any "easy" judgment on homeopathy:
In order to judge homeopathy with certainty, one should go deep into the essence
and significance of this distinguished invention, and then demonstrate its relationship to other
medical theories. This will allow [the 'judge'] to follow the connection between homeopathy
and these facts. The explanation of this connection would make homeopathy an important part of the
new development of medicine [...]17.
The conclusions of Dr. Marcus concerning homeopathy and its impact were doubtless
While not returning to the shortcomings of homeopathy, one cannot deny the fact
that the influence of Hahnemann's works on medicine in general is impressive. The empirical
nature of homeopathy discourages one-sided speculative theories, adding a new significance to the
experiments and forcing its opponents to expand its own field of experimentation.
By the assertion that all diseases are dynamic and that they originated only [...]
from the conditions of vital functions, homeopathy removes medicine from the chemical and
mechanical explanations attached to it.
By the investigation of drugs' action in their simple form on the healthy,
[homeopathy] paves the way to the exact understanding of the spontaneous powers of medicines
While rejecting physiology as not being satisfactory, homeopathy induces
[researchers] to find firmer ground and to caution us against too precocious conclusions drawn from
particular phenomena which are observed during experiments made on animals18.
As we see, the first reception of homeopathy in the Russian Empire was rather benevolent. When
Grand Duke Constantine openly patronized homeopathy by keeping a homeopathic doctor as
physician-in-ordinary, two of his brothers, Grand Duke Mikhail and Tsar Nicholas I, also became
interested in the new teaching. According to Bojanus, to whom this story was told by Vasily Deriker19, Tsar Nicholas even proposed in 1825
to Dr. Scherring who had been converted to homeopathy by Dr. Adam, and treated successfully an
epidemic of eye inflammation with homeopathic medicines, although, as mentioned above, calling this
method "specific", "to promote this method of treatment decidedly". However, at
that time the "promotion" of homeopathy under Nicholas I, even when called "specific
treatment", did not go through for Scherring's fear to be accused by his medical
Several years later, Grand Duke Mikhail Pavlovich reportedly turned to
the Tsar, asking him to support homeopathy. According to the Highest (i.e., Tsar's) Order, the
Medical-Military Department was requested to conclude a contract with Dr. Herrmann in February
1829. Dr. Herrmann pledged that for over a year he would treat homeopathically patients suffering
from different diseases, like diarrhea, fevers of different origin, etc., in the military hospital
which was to be established in the small town of Toulchin (Podolian province, Ukraine) for a reward
of 12,000 rubles. Moreover, if Dr. Herrmann was successful in his treatment, his contract would be
renewed. The contract provided independence in all the matters concerning Herrmann's covenanted
activity, which granted him also freedom from customs' restrictions, including the non-opening
of the box with homeopathic drugs at the customs21. Later this experiment was continued in St. Petersburg
Military hospital. The story of these experiments is analyzed shortly in the chapter
"Homeopathic facilities", whilst the statistics and their interpretation by the Russian
highest medical authorities are presented further in this chapter.
Copyright © Alexander Kotok 2001
Mise en page, illustrations Copyright © Sylvain Cazalet 2001