Life and work
Pallas was born in Berlin, the son of Professor of Surgery Simon Pallas. He studied with private tutors and took an interest in natural history, later attending the University of Halle and the University of Göttingen. In 1760, he moved to the University of Leiden and passed his doctor's degree at the age of 19.
Pallas travelled throughout the Netherlands and to London, improving his medical and surgical knowledge. He then settled at The Hague, and his new system of animal classification was praised by Georges Cuvier. Pallas wrote Miscellanea Zoologica (1766), which included descriptions of several vertebrates new to science which he had discovered in the Dutch museum collections. A planned voyage to southern Africa and the East Indies fell through when his father recalled him to Berlin. There, he began work on his Spicilegia Zoologica (1767–80).
Title of the book Travels through the southern Provinces of the Russian Empire, in the years 1793 and 1794
In 1767, Pallas was invited by Catherine II of Russia to become a professor at the St Petersburg Academy of Sciences and, between 1768 and 1774, he led an expedition to central Russian provinces, Povolzhye, Urals, West Siberia, Altay, and Transbaikal, collecting natural history specimens for the academy. He explored the Caspian Sea, the Ural and Altai Mountains and the upper Amur River, reaching as far eastward as Lake Baikal. The regular reports which Pallas sent to St Petersburg were collected and published as Reise durch verschiedene Provinzen des Russischen Reichs (Journey through various provinces of the Russian Empire) (3 vols., 1771–1776). They covered a wide range of topics, including geology and mineralogy, reports on the native peoples and their religions, and descriptions of new plants and animals. In 1776, Pallas was elected a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.
Pallas settled in St Petersburg, becoming a favourite of Catherine II and teaching natural history to the Grand Dukes Alexander and Constantine. He was provided with the plants collected by other naturalists to compile the Flora Rossica (1784–1815), a Russian flora, and started work on his Zoographica Rosso-Asiatica (1811–31), a zoography of Russia and Asia. He also published an account of Johann Anton Güldenstädt's travels in the Caucasus. The Empress bought Pallas's large natural history collection for 2,000 rubles, 500 more than his asking price, and allowed him to keep them for life. During this period, Pallas helped plan the Mulovsky expedition, which was cancelled in October 1787.
Between 1793 and 1794, Pallas led a second expedition to southern Russia, visiting the Crimea and the Black Sea. He was accompanied by his daughter (by his first wife who had died in 1782) and his new wife, an artist, servants, and a military escort. In February 1793, they travelled to Saratov and then downriver to Tsaritsyn. They explored the country to the east, and in August travelled along the banks of the Caspian Sea and into the Caucasus Mountains. In September, they travelled to the Crimea, wintering in Simferopol. Pallas spent early 1794 exploring to the southeast, and in July travelled up the valley of the Dnieper, arriving back in St Petersburg in September. Pallas gave his account of the journey in his P. S. Pallas Bemerkungen auf einer Reise in die Südlichen Statthalterschaften des Russischen Reichs (1799–1801). Catherine II gave him a large estate at Simferopol, where Pallas lived until the death of his second wife in 1810. He was then granted permission to leave Russia by Emperor Alexander, and returned to Berlin, where he died in the following year. His grave is preserved in the Protestant Friedhof I der Jerusalems- und Neuen Kirchengemeinde (Cemetery No. I of the congregations of Jerusalem's Church and New Church) in Berlin-Kreuzberg, south of Hallesches Tor.
In 1809 he became associate member of the Royal Institute of the Netherlands.