The Industry of Evangelism: Printing for the Reformation in Martin Luther's Wittenberg

Drew Brandon Thomas

Research output: Other contribution


When Martin Luther supposedly nailed his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517 to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, the small town had only a single printing press. By the end of the century, Wittenberg had published more books than any other city in the Holy Roman Empire. Of the leading print centres in early modern Europe, Wittenberg was the only one that was not a major centre of trade, politics, or culture. This thesis examines the rise of the Wittenberg printing industry and analyses how it overtook the Empire’s leading print centres. Luther’s controversy—and the publications it produced—attracted printers to Wittenberg who would publish tract after tract. In only a few years, Luther became the most published author since the invention of the printing press. This thesis investigates the workshops of the four leading printers in Wittenberg during Luther’s lifetime: Nickel Schirlentz, Josef Klug, Hans Lufft, and Georg Rhau. Together, these printers conquered the German print world. They were helped with the assistance of the famous Renaissance artist, Lucas Cranach the Elder, who lived in Wittenberg as court painter to the Elector of Saxony. His woodcut title page borders decorated the covers of Luther’s books and were copied throughout the Empire. Capitalising off the demand for Wittenberg books, many printers falsely printed that their books were from Wittenberg. Such fraud played a major role in the Reformation book trade, as printers in every major print centre made counterfeits of Wittenberg books. However, Reformation pamphlets were not the sole reason for Wittenberg’s success. Such items played only a marginal role in the local industry. It was the great Luther Bibles, spurred by Luther’s emphasis on Bible reading, that allowed Wittenberg’s printers to overcome the odds and become the largest print centre in early modern Germany.
Original languageEnglish
Media of outputPhD Thesis
Publication statusPublished - May 2018


  • Reformation
  • Book History
  • Martin Luther
  • Wittenberg
  • Holy Roman Empire


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