Theodor Mommsen

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Mommsen, Theodor

(tā`ōdōr môm`sən), 1817–1903, German historian. Appointed (1848) professor of civil law at the Univ. of Leipzig, he supported the Revolution of 1848 and lost his chair because of his political opinions. He subsequently taught Roman law at Zürich and Breslau and, from 1858, ancient history at the Univ. of Berlin. After the unification (1870) of Germany he came to publicly oppose the policies of Bismarck. His greatest work is his History of Rome (3 vol., 1854–56; several English translations), a classic of historical writing. The fourth volume was never completed, but the fifth appeared in 1885. Mommsen's work, an unmatched re-creation of Roman society and culture, is based largely on his study of ancient coins, inscriptions, and literature. His liberal politics prejudiced his view of ancient history; his German contemporaries are clearly visible on his Roman scene. Although a great admirer of Caesar, he vigorously denounced Caesarism. Mommsen also wrote authoritatively on Roman law, notably in Römisches Staatsrecht (3 vol., 1871–76) and Römisches Strafrecht (1899), and on archaeology. He edited several volumes of the Monumenta Germaniae historica. Mommsen received the 1902 Nobel Prize in Literature.

Mommsen, Theodor


Born Nov. 30, 1817, in Garding; died Nov. 1, 1903, in Charlottenburg. German historian. Specialist on the history of ancient Rome and Roman law. Son of a priest. Professor at the universities of Leipzig (from 1848), Zurich (from 1852), Breslau (Wroclaw; from 1854), and Berlin (1858–1903).

Joining the left wing of the German bourgeoisie during the Revolution of 1848–49, Mommsen supported the annexation of Schleswig by Prussia. He was the editor of the press organ of the provisional government of Schleswig-Holstein. Nominated to the Prussian Landtag and the German Reichstag by the Progressive Party, he served as a deputy to the Landtag from 1863 to 1866 and from 1873 to 1879 and as a deputy to the Reichstag from 1881 to 1884.

Mommsen’s History of Rome brought him fame (Russian translation, parts 1–2, 1858–61; vols. 1–3, 5, 1936–49). Written under the influence of the historian’s impressions of the Revolution of 1848–49, it reflected the aspirations of the German bourgeoisie of the 1850’s, who had an interest in the elimination of the vestiges of feudalism and the unification of Germany. In the History of Rome, Mommsen substantiated and developed the idea of “democratic monarchy,” which, in his opinion, was exemplified by the dictatorship of Julius Caesar. His account of events ends with the battle at Thapsus (46 B.C.). In the fifth volume of the work (the fourth volume was not issued) he surveyed the history of the Roman provinces under the Empire. The book is written vividly and entertainingly in a popular style and has a vast quantity of factual material. Essentially, it focuses on military and political history, but it touches on some elements of social history. Mommsen ascribed an exceptional role to great men, such as Alexander of Macedonia, Hannibal, Gaius Gracchus, and Caesar.

Mommsen wrote more than 1,500 works on virtually all aspects of Roman history: public law, numismatics, epigraphy, chronology, metrology, literature, and linguistics. In Roman Public Law (vols. 1–3, 1871–87) and Roman Criminal Law (1899) he gave a highly detailed survey of the institutions of Rome, the territories dependent on Rome, the various categories of citizenship, and the legal foundations of imperial power. He also compiled a number of masterly source publications with commentaries, including The Acts of Augustus the Divine, Cassiodorus’ Chronicle, Jordanes’ The Goths, the Theodosian Code, and various digests. Publication of the collection of Latin inscriptions Corpus inscriptionum Latinarum (from 1863) was begun on his initiative and under his direction. Mommsen received the Nobel Prize in 1902.


Oskische Studien. Berlin, 1845.
Die unteritalischen Dialekte. Leipzig, 1850.
Römische Geschichte, vols. 1–3, 5. Berlin, 1854–85.
Die römische Chronologic bis auf Caesar. Berlin, 1858.
Römische Forschungen, 2 vols. Berlin, 1864–79.
Reden und Aufsätze. Berlin, 1905.
Gesammelte Schriften, 8 vols. Berlin, 1905–13.


Kovalev, S. I. “Mommzen i ego “Istoriia Rima.’” In T. Mommsen, Istoriia Rima, vol. 1. Moscow, 1936.
Kulakovskii, lu. A. Pamiati Mommzena. Kiev, 1904.
Hartmann, L. M. T. Mommsen. Gotha, 1908.
Wucher, A. M. T. Mommsen: Geschichtsschreibung und Politik. Göttingen, 1956.


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