Theodor Mommsen (November 30, 1817 - November 01, 1903)
Born: 30th November, 1817
Died: 1st November, 1903
Nationality: German
Profession/Occupation: Historian
Region: Germany, Charlottenburg
Notable works: ancient Rome, constitutional law, epigraphy, Roman law, Roman Empire

Theodor Mommsen Facts

Biography

Theodor Mommsen, in full Christian Matthias Theodor Mommsen, (born November 30, 1817, Garding, Schleswig [now in Germany]--died November 1, 1903, Charlottenburg, near Berlin, Germany), German historian and writer, famous for his masterpiece, Romische Geschichte (The History of Rome). He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1902.

Early years

Mommsen was the son of a Protestant minister in Garding, Schleswig, and he grew up in Oldesloe (now Bad Oldesloe). He received his basic classical training in the senior classes of the Gymnasium (secondary school) Christianeum in Altona, then part of the Duchy of Holstein. From 1838 to 1843 he studied jurisprudence at the University of Kiel; inasmuch as the study of jurisprudence in Germany at the time was largely a study of Roman law, this had an essential influence on the direction of his future research. He owed his idea of the close interrelationship between law and history not so much to his teachers as to the writings of Friedrich Karl von Savigny, one of the founders of the historical school of jurisprudence. After he had received his master's and his doctor's degrees, a research scholarship granted by his sovereign, the king of Denmark, allowed him to spend three years--from 1844 to 1847--in Italy. During this time Italy became his second home and the Archaeological Institute in Rome one of the headquarters from which he pursued his research. By that time Mommsen had already conceived the plan for the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, a comprehensive collection of Latin inscriptions preserved since antiquity on stone, iron, and other enduring materials, arranged according to the basic principles of philological methodology. Having been prepared for this field by the young Kiel professor Otto Jahn, he soon became a master of epigraphy--the study and interpretation of inscriptions--under the guidance of Bartolomeo Borghesi, the learned statesman of San Marino. Within the next several decades Mommsen made the corpus of Latin inscriptions into a source work that was essential in complementing the one-sidedly literary tradition and that, for the first time, made a comprehensive understanding of life in the ancient world possible.

When he returned from Italy, Mommsen found his country in a state of mounting unrest. As a native of Schleswig he was a subject of the Danish king, but he considered himself German, wanted to remain German, and looked forward to German unity. For him freedom meant not only the independence of the German states from foreign influence but also the freedom of the German citizen to adapt himself to any sort of constitution except that of despotism or a police state. A liberal, he considered the republic the ideal state, yet he was quite content with a constitutional monarchy so long as it was not a cover for some sort of pseudo-constitutional autocracy. Mommsen's political activities began with his editorship of the Schleswig-Holsteinische Zeitung for the provisional government established during the revolution of 1848. Yet journalism was not much to his taste; he was happy when, at the end of 1848, he was offered a professorship in civil law at the University of Leipzig. Nevertheless, he remained politically minded as long as he lived--as a thoughtful and critical observer as well as an active politician. (He was a deputy in the Prussian Landtag from 1873 to 1879 and in the German Reichstag from 1881 to 1884.) He continued to devote time and energy to politics, but it is doubtful that he thereby served his country's and his own best interests. While he was an acknowledged authority in his field of scholarship, in politics he remained a camp follower, who achieved no more than many others. Moreover, he more than once jeopardized his career by his political activities. Because of his participation in an uprising in Saxony in May 1849, he lost his professorship and almost landed in prison.

After his dismissal from his post in Leipzig, Mommsen in 1852 accepted a professorship in jurisprudence in Zurich. The grief he expressed about being an "exile" showed how deeply he felt himself to be a German. In 1854, however, he was offered a professorship in Prussia at the University of Breslau. It was at this time that he married Marie Reimer, daughter of a bookseller. Their long and happy marriage produced 16 children.

The historian and his works

During the years he spent at Leipzig, Zurich, and Breslau, Mommsen wrote the first three volumes of the Romische Geschichte, up to the Battle of Thapsus, 46 bc. This work embodied the new historical method applied to the history of Rome. Mommsen critically examined hitherto unquestioned traditions and rejected the attitude of the Enlightenment, which had idealized the classical age. He readily acknowledged himself to be a disciple of the historian Barthold Georg Niebuhr, who introduced rigorous criticism of sources into historiography, however much their methods of research and presentation differed and despite the fact that he went considerably beyond his great predecessor in demythologizing Roman history. In Mommsen's view it was important that the ancients should come down to earth from the Olympian heights upon which they appeared to the mass of the public. This modern style was not to everyone's taste, for, in bringing the past to life, he used the political and sociological vocabulary of the 19th century. When he speaks of the squirearchy and the cloth exerting their "malignant" influence even in ancient Rome, it is Mommsen the liberal politician speaking. Nevertheless, his Romische Geschichte is not a politically tendentious work but a piece of scholarship of the highest rank, which gains from its distinction of style.

The philologist is regarded as the preserver of verbal tradition, but as a philologist Mommsen was more than that: he was an artist, and he proved his artistry in his treatment of language. He disliked any incongruous mixture of prose styles and, in the Romische Geschichte and Romisches Staatsrecht ("Roman Constitutional Law"), he created two works, both of which attain exemplary unity of form and content yet demonstrate two different styles. Without being a creative poet, he used the means of poetry and enjoyed exercising his poetic talent. An excellent testimony to his abilities is the Liederbuch dreier Freunde ("Songbook of Three Friends"), which he published in 1843 together with his brother Tycho and the writer and poet Theodor Storm. Throughout his life Goethe was his ideal not only as a poet but also as "the wisest man of the century." His perfect command of English, French, and Italian did much to make his journeys of research successful; he quoted Shakespeare in his letters almost as often as Goethe.

To many critics Mommsen's glorification of the dictator Caesar and his disparagement of Caesar's opponents, Pompey and Cicero, seem strangely inconsistent with his political liberalism. He tried to make his critics understand that he had praised Caesar only as a saviour of the decaying state; yet Mommsen's admiration for the autocrat reveals something of his own character. He himself was an autocrat in his own branch of scholarship, adopting a manner that his opponents labeled "caesarism." At the same time, however, he had an unusual need for the fellowship of like-minded men. He held personal contacts to be one of the most important elements of life; indeed, it might be said that he had a genius for friendship. Yet it was mostly a friendship with men who looked up to him. With anyone who considered himself Mommsen's equal, a friendly relationship was not likely to last long.

It was only as a member of the Prussian Academy of Sciences that Mommsen could pursue his project of publishing his collection of Latin inscriptions, and for this reason in 1858 he was offered a post in Berlin. In 1861 he also became a professor in the philosophy faculty at the university; because of his philological and historical interests he chose that faculty rather than that of law. As a teacher of Roman history and epigraphy--especially in his seminars--he trained many students who were later to make their mark in these fields. The main part of his scholarly work was taken up with the continuation of the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum (published 1863 and after). He also acted as adviser on many other great scholarly enterprises, such as the Monumenta Germaniae Historica, the exploration of the limes (Roman border fortifications in southwestern Germany), the numismatic work of the Prussian Academy, and the Thesaurus Linguae Latinae. Even in old age his mind was open to the new demands of scholarship, as shown by his interest in the new study of papyrology.

Mommsen's historical work was interrupted by his work on inscriptions; thus, the Romische Geschichte was never completed. Its first three volumes had been published in 1854-56. When, several decades later, in Berlin, Mommsen set out to complete his history, he abandoned the idea of writing the fourth volume, which was to contain the history of the emperors, because he felt that he would not be capable of writing it in the same brilliant style as his history of the republic. The fifth volume (1885) deals with the history of the Roman provinces in the first three centuries of the empire. No one but Mommsen could have depicted this period in so authoritative a manner, for no one else knew the nonliterary sources--the inscriptions and coins--as did he. The Romische Geschichte has been translated into English as The History of Rome, with the fifth volume entitled The Provinces of the Roman Empire.

The greatest monument to Mommsen's scholarship, the work which is of even greater significance for scholars than the Romische Geschichte, is Romisches Staatsrecht ("Roman Constitutional Law"), published in 3 volumes between 1871 and 1888. He himself said that if he were to be remembered by anything, it would be by this work. The Romans themselves never codified their constitutional law; Mommsen was the first to do it. His historical approach to classical scholarship led him to systematize the innumerable legal details upon which the Roman constitution was based and to explain this complex body of law through an understanding of its historical development. Only an individual who, like Mommsen, was grounded both in law and in the classics would be in a position to investigate the public law of the Romans, and only an individual trained to think in historical concepts could understand it.

In public law, criminal law stands side by side with constitutional law, and Mommsen's last great work, published in 1899, is Romisches Strafrecht ("Roman Criminal Law").

When Mommsen, who had already become a mythical figure for his contemporaries, died just four weeks before his 86th birthday, he had attained what he had always wanted. The task which he had set himself to fulfill, according to his own almost superhuman standards, he had completed.

Top 27 Theodor Mommsen quotes

The Mediterranean Sea with its various branches, penetrating far into the great Continent, forms the largest gulf of the ocean, and, alternately narrowed by islands or projections of the land and expanding to considerable breadth, at once separates and connects the three divisions of the Old World.
Branches
Breadth
Connects
Considerable
Continent
Divisions
Expanding
Far
Forms
Great
Gulf
Islands
Land
Largest
The ancient boundary of Italy on the north was not the Alps but the Apennines.
Ancient
Boundary
Italy
North
We have no information, not even a tradition, concerning the first migration of the human race into Italy. It was the universal belief of antiquity that in Italy, as well as elsewhere, the first population had sprung from the soil.
Antiquity
Belief
Concerning
Elsewhere
Even
First
Had
Human
Human race
Information
Italy
Migration
Population
Race
Individual tribes or, in other words, races or stocks, are the constituent elements of the earliest history.
Earliest
Elements
History
In other words
Individual
Other
Races
Stocks
Tribes
Words
When the Romans in the last age of the republic came into immediate contact with Iran as a consequence of the occupation of Syria, they found in existence the Persian empire regenerated by the Parthians.
Age
Came
Consequence
Contact
Empire
Existence
Found
Immediate
Iran
Last
Occupation
Persian
Republic
Romans
The language of the land in the Parthian empire was the native language of Iran. There is no trace pointing to any foreign language having ever been in public use under the Arsacids.
Any
Been
Empire
Ever
Foreign
Foreign language
Having
Iran
Land
Language
Native
Pointing
Public
Trace
Under the Julian and Claudian emperors, the Parthians seem to have been the leading power at the mouth of the Indus.
Been
Leading
Mouth
Power
Seem
If it was in the interest of Rome to extend her conquests towards the East, and to enter on the inheritance of Alexander the Great there in all its extent, the circumstances were never more favourable for doing so than in the year 716.
Alexander
Circumstances
Doing
East
Enter
Extend
Extent
Favourable
Great
Her
Inheritance
Interest
More
Never
The Dalmatian tribes and the Pannonians, at least of the region of the Save, for a short time obeyed the Roman governors; but they bore the new rule with an ever increasing grudge, above all on account of the taxes, to which they were unaccustomed, and which were relentlessly exacted.
Above
Account
Bore
Ever
Governors
Grudge
Increasing
Least
New
Obeyed
Region
Relentlessly
Roman
Rule
The battle of Varus is an enigma, not in a military but in a political point of view - not in its course, but in its consequences.
Battle
Consequences
Course
Enigma
Military
Point
Political
View
The defeat of the Augustan policy, as the peace with Maroboduus and the sufferance of the Teutoburg disaster may well be termed, was hardly a victory of the Germans.
Defeat
Disaster
Germans
Hardly
May
Peace
Victory
Well
If, as the emperor Augustus says, from his time the coast of the ocean from Cadiz to the mouth of the Elbe obeyed the Romans, the obedience in this corner of it was far from voluntary and little to be trusted.
Coast
Corner
Emperor
Far
His
Little
Mouth
Obedience
Obeyed
Ocean
Romans
Says
Time
Trusted
When Sulla died in the year 676, the oligarchy which he had restored ruled with absolute sway over the Roman state; but, as it had been established by force, it still needed force to maintain its ground against its numerous secret and open foes.
Absolute
Against
Been
Died
Established
Foes
Force
Ground
Had
He
Maintain
Needed
Numerous
Oligarchy
Marcus Crassus cannot, any more than Pompeius, be reckoned among the unconditional adherents of the oligarchy.
Among
Any
Cannot
More
Oligarchy
Reckoned
Than
Unconditional
Sertorius was far from being strong enough to renew the gigantic enterprise of Hannibal. He was lost if he left Spain, where all his successes were bound up with the peculiarities of the country and the people; and even there, he was more and more compelled to renounce the offensive.
Being
Being strong
Bound
Compelled
Country
Enough
Enterprise
Even
Far
Gigantic
Hannibal
He
His
Left
In the Roman commonwealth, even on the conversion of the monarchy into a republic, the old was as far as possible retained.
As far as
Commonwealth
Conversion
Even
Far
Monarchy
Old
Possible
Republic
Roman
About the time of the expulsion of the Tarquins from Rome, the Etruscan power had reached its height.
About
Had
Height
Power
Reached
Rome
Time
To acquire possession of Latium was of the most decisive importance to Etruria, which was separated by the Latins alone from the Volscian towns that were dependent on it and from its possessions in Campania.
Acquire
Alone
Decisive
Dependent
Importance
Latin
Most
Possession
Possessions
Separated
Towns
Were
Which
The Celtic, Galatian, or Gallic nation received from the common mother endowments different from those of its Italian, Germanic, and Hellenic sisters.
Celtic
Common
Different
Endowment
Italian
Mother
Nation
Received
Sisters
Those
The Phoenicians are entitled to be commemorated in history by the side of the Hellenic and Latin nations; but their case affords a fresh proof, and perhaps the strongest proof of all, that the development of national energies in antiquity was of a one-sided character.
Affords
Antiquity
Case
Character
Development
Energies
Entitled
Fresh
History
Latin
National
Nations
One-sided
Perhaps
Little do we find any Phoenician architecture or plastic art at all comparable even to those of Italy, to say nothing of the lands where art was native.
Any
Architecture
Art
Comparable
Even
Find
Italy
Lands
Little
Native
Nothing
Plastic
Say
Those
The power which the Hellenes and even the Italians possessed, of civilizing and assimilating to themselves the nations susceptible of culture with whom they came into contact, was wholly wanting in the Phoenicians.
Came
Contact
Culture
Even
Italians
Nations
Possessed
Power
Susceptible
Themselves
Wanting
Which
Wholly
Whom
During the most flourishing times of Sidon and Tyre, the land of the Phoenicians was a perpetual apple of contention between the powers that ruled on the Euphrates and on the Nile, and was subject sometimes to the Assyrians, sometimes to the Egyptians.
Apple
Between
Contention
Egyptians
Flourishing
Land
Most
Nile
Perpetual
Powers
Ruled
Sometimes
Subject
Times
An independent state does not pay too dear a price for its independence in accepting the sufferings of war when it cannot avoid them; a state which has lost its independence may find at least some compensation in the fact that its protector procures for it peace with its neighbours.
Accepting
Avoid
Cannot
Compensation
Dear
Does
Fact
Find
Independence
Independent
Least
Lost
May
Neighbours
The order of things established by the Romans in Libya rested in substance on a balance of power between the Nomad kingdom of Massinissa and the city of Carthage.
Balance
Balance of power
Between
City
Established
Kingdom
Libya
Nomad
Power
Rested
Romans
Substance
Things
For a whole generation after the battle of Pydna, the Roman state enjoyed a profound calm, scarcely varied by a ripple here and there on the surface.
After
Battle
Calm
Enjoyed
Generation
Here
Profound
Ripple
Roman
Scarcely
State
Surface
Varied
Whole
The history of Rome presents various men of greater genius than Scipio Aemilianus, but none equalling him in moral purity, in the utter absence of political selfishness, in generous love of his country, and none, perhaps, to whom destiny has assigned a more tragic part.
Absence
Assigned
Country
Destiny
Generous
Genius
Greater
Him
His
History
Love
Men
Moral
More

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