Theodor Mommsen

Statut : academic


Notes : Theodor Mommsen (1817-1903) was born and educated in Schleswig-Holstein, which was then part of Denmark. From 1838 to 1843 he read jurisprudence at the University of Kiel and wrote his doctoral dissertation on Roman law. By the time Mommsen lived in Italy from 1844 to 1847, the plan of a comprehensive collection of Latin inscriptions had already been conceived. During the political upheaval of 1848 Mommsen, a Liberal in politics, worked as a journalist advocating German unity, freedom in constitutional matters and independence from foreign influence in all German countries. Between 1848 and 1851 he held a professorship of law at the University of Leipzig, which he lost because of his involvement in protests against the constitution imposed by the king of Saxony. In 1852 he accepted a chair of jurisprudence in Zürich, and in 1854 he was offered a professorship in law at the University of Breslau, where he stayed until 1858. The first three volumes of Mommsen’s “Römische Geschichte”, for which he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1902, were written during this period of his life. The work covers the development of Roman history from the beginnings until 46 B.C. and idealizes the political achievements of the Roman Republic including those of Caesar. Especially with regard to the establishment of national unity Mommsen attempted to draw parallels between ancient history and his own times, for which he was criticised by some of his opponents. While the first edition of these volumes has no author’s preface, his introductions to subsequent editions are reproduced below. Mommsen disapproved of Rome’s expansion to a world power and the imperial phase of its history, in which he could no longer detect internal coherence. Accordingly, the fourth volume of his “History”, which would have dealt with this period, was never written. The fifth volume was published in 1885 and included the history of the Roman provinces until Diocletian, comprising lucid sketches of economic and cultural history. In 1858 Mommsen became a Member of the Berlin Academy of Sciences at the recommendation of Alexander von Humboldt, which allowed him to concentrate on the publication of the “Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum”. In 1861 he was appointed to the chair of Roman history at the University of Berlin, and he taught regularly until 1887. Moreover, Mommsen remained an active politician. For several years he was a member of the Prussian Landtag (1863-66 and 1873-79) and the Reichstag (1881-84), where he became known for his criticism of Bismarck. One of Mommsen’s distinctive achievements was the encouragement of large-scale research projects, and he acted as an adviser to a wide range of such enterprises including the “Monumenta Germaniae Historica”, the “Thesaurus Linguae Latinae” and many others. His historiography was characterized by the professional criticism of a wide range of sources in which he drew extensively on his legal expertise, and works such as his “Römisches Staatsrecht” (1871-75) which was greatly influenced by Niebuhr and Savigny, and his “Römisches Strafrecht” (1899) reflect his original training in jurisprudence.

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