Christian Matthias Theodor Mommsen (30 November 1817 – 1 November 1903) was a German classical scholar, historian, jurist, journalist, politician, archaeologist, and writer generally regarded as the greatest classicist of the 19th century. His work regarding Roman history is still of fundamental importance for contemporary research. He received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1902, and was also a prominent German politician, as a member of the Prussian and German parliaments. His works on Roman law and on the law of obligations had a significant impact on the German civil code (BGB).
Mommsen studied jurisprudence at Kiel from 1838 to 1843. Thanks to a Danish grant, he was able to visit France and Italy to study preserved classical Roman inscriptions. During the revolution of 1848 he supported monarchists and worked as a war correspondent in then-Danish Rendsburg, supporting the German annexation of Schleswig-Holstein and constitutional reform. He became a professor of law in the same year at the University of Leipzig. When Mommsen protested against the new constitution of Saxony in 1851, he had to resign. However, the next year he obtained a professorship in Roman law at the University of Zurich and then spent a couple of years in exile. In 1854 he became a professor of law at the University of Breslau where he met Jakob Bernays. Mommsen became a research professor at the Berlin Academy of Sciences in 1857. He later helped to create and manage the German Archaeological Institute in Rome.
In 1858 Mommsen was appointed a member of the Academy of Sciences in Berlin, and he also became professor of Roman History at the University of Berlin in 1861, where he held lectures up to 1887. Mommsen received high recognition for his academic achievements: the medal Pour le Mérite in 1868, honorary citizenship of Rome, and the Nobel prize for literature in 1902 for his main work Römische Geschichte (Roman History)(He is one of the very few non-fiction writers to receive the Nobel prize in literature). Mommsen had sixteen children with his wife Marie (daughter of the editor Karl Reimer from Leipzig), some of whom died in childhood. Two of his great-grandsons, Hans and Wolfgang, are prominent German historians.
Mommsen worked hard. He rose at five and began to work in his library. Whenever he went out, he took one of his books along to read, and contemporaries often found him reading whilst walking in the streets.
At 2 a.m. on 7 July 1880 a fire occurred in the upper floor workroom-library of Mommsen's house at Marchstraße 6 in Berlin.. Several old manuscripts were burnt to ashes, including Manuscript 0.4.36 which was on loan from the library of Trinity College, Cambridge; There is information that the Manuscript of Jordanes from Heidelberg University library was burnt. Two other important manuscripts, from Brussels and Halle, were also destroyed.
Mommsen published over 1,500 works, and effectively established a new framework for the systematic study of Roman history. He pioneered epigraphy, the study of inscriptions in material artifacts. Although the unfinished History of Rome has been widely considered as his main work, the work most relevant today is perhaps the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, a collection of Roman inscriptions he contributed to the Berlin Academy.
A bibliography of over 1,000 of his works is given by Zangemeister in Mommsen als Schriftsteller (1887; continued by Jacobs, 1905).
In 1879, his colleague Heinrich von Treitschke (the so-called Berliner Antisemitismusstreit) began a political campaign against Jews. Mommsen strongly opposed anti-semitism and wrote a harsh pamphlet in which he denounced von Treitschke's views. Mommsen viewed a solution to anti-semitism in voluntary cultural assimilation, suggesting that the Jews could follow the example of the people of Holstein, Hanover and other German states, which gave up some of the special customs when integrating in Prussia.
Mommsen was a violent supporter of German nationalism, maintaining a militant attitude towards the Slavic nations.
Fellow Nobel Laureate (1925) Bernard Shaw cited Mommsen's interpretation of the last First Consul of the Republic, Julius Caesar, as one of the inspirations for his 1898 (1905 on Broadway) play, Caesar and Cleopatra. The playwright Heiner Müller wrote a 'performance text' entitled Mommsens Block (1993), inspired by the publication of Mommsen's fragmentary notes on the later Roman empire and by the East German government's decision to replace a statue of Karl Marx outside the Humboldt University of Berlin with one of Mommsen.
5 & 8 (vol. 6 & 7 do not exist) in German
Roman Monument: Anthony Grafton Remembers Theodor Mommsen, the Great German Historian of the Roman Republic and Literary Giant of His Day
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