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Karl Theodor Paul Polykarpus Axenfeld

Born  1867
Died  1930

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German ophthalmologist, born June 24, 1867, Smyrna, Asia Minor; died July 29, 1930, Freiburg im Breisgau.

Biography of Karl Theodor Paul Polykarpus Axenfeld

Karl Theodor Paul Polykarpus Axenfeld was the son of Julius Heinrich Axenfeld (1834-1892) and Antonie Link. At the time of his birth his father worked as pastor of the Prussian Lutheran community of Smyrna (Ottoman Empire). His grandfather Leon Axenfeld was a physician.

The family returned to Godesberg, Germany, during his childhood and he entered the University of Bonn. He then studied medicine at the universities in Marburg and Berlin, and received his medical doctorate at Marburg in 1890. That year he became assistant at the Marburg eye clinic, being habilitated in 1895. In 1896 he moved to Breslau as the assistant of Wilhelm Uhthoff (1853-1927), but in 1897, at the age of 30 years, he accepted an invitation to become professor and director of the university ophthalmological clinic in Rostock. In 1901 he assumed the chair of ophthalmology in Freiburg im Breisgau, where he worked until his death in 1930.

Axenfeld made fundamental contributions to the anatomy, bacteriology and histology of the eye, as well as operative eye medicine. He had a special interest in infections of the eye and in Freiburg his excellent clinical and laboratory facilities enabled him to expand his researches in this field.

The excellence of his ophthalmological service, his teaching abilities and his operative skills attracted many postgraduates and Axenfeld gained an international reputation. In 1925 he was elected to the presidency of the German Ophthalmological Society (Deutsche ophthalmologische Gesellschaft), from whom he received the Graefe medal for his works on metastatic ophthalmia. He was also the recipient of the gold medal of the American Ophthalmological Society for his services to the speciality.

Axenfeld maintained his acute intellectual facilities until the end of his career. He became unwell after a brief academic visit to Japan and, following an abdominal operation in Freiburg; he died on July 29, 1930 at the age of 64 years.

He was married with Bertha Stürmer, with whom he had five children.

In 1902 Axenfeld published a monograph on trachoma, and numerous articles followed this on tuberculosis of the eye. By 1907 he published a book on ophthalmological bacteriology and in 1909 his Textbook of Ophthalmology, which became the standard work in its field. In addition to his books Axenfeld was the author or co-author of almost 200 medical articles.

From 1899 Axenfeld was co-editor of the Klinische Monatsblätter für Augenheilkunde. He was a collaborator of Otto von Schjerning (1853-1921) in the Handbuch der ärztlichen Erfahrungen im Weltkriege 1914-1918 (Leipzig, 1921-1922), and in Wilhelm Kolle (1868-1935) and August Paul von Wassermann (1866-1925), publishers: Handbuch der pathogenen Microorganismen. 6 volumes; Jena, 1903-1909.

We thank Patrick Jucker-Kupper, Switzerland, for information submitted.


  • Über die eitrige metastatische Ophthalmie, besonders ihre Aetiologie und prognostische Bedeutung.
    Habilitation thesis, Marburg, 1890.
    [Albrecht von Graafes] Archiv für Ophthalmologie, Berlin 1894, 40, Abt. 3: 1129.
  • Die eitrige Keratitis des Menschen.
    With Wilhelm Uhthoff. Leipzig 1896.
  • Beiträge zur Bakteriologie der Bindehaut. 1895-1896.
  • Beiträge zur Aetiologie der Bindehautentzündungen. Ueber chronische Diplobacillenconjunctivitis.
    Berichte der ophthalmologischen Gesellschaft Heidelberg, (1896), 1897, 25: 140-145.
    Description of the diplobacillary form of chronic conjunctivitis.
  • Vordere Ciliarnerven.
  • Die Bakteriologie der Augenheilkunde. Jena 1907. Translated into English.
  • Lehrbuch und Atlas der Augenheilkunde.
    Jena, 1909; 3rd edition, Jena, Fischer, 1912. 761 pages; 5th edition, Jena, 1919. 845 pages.
    7th edition, 1923; translated into English, French, Russian, and Spanish.
  • Die Ätiologie des Trachoms. Jena 1914.
  • Operationen gegen Symblepharon.
    In Anton Elschnig’s (1863-1939) Augenärztl. Operat., Graefe-Saemisch, volume 1, Berlin, 1922.
  • Embryotoxon cornea posterius.
    Berichte der Deutschen ophthalmologischen Gesellschaft, 1920, 42: 301.

Julius Pagel:
Biographisches Lexikon hervorragender Ärzte des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts.
Berlin, Wien 1901, Sp. 64.
Edih Heischkel-Artelt:
Axenfeld, Theodor. In: Neue Deutsche Biographie, vol. 1, Berlin 1953, p. 471.

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