Barthold Georg Niebuhr

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Niebuhr, Barthold Georg


Born Aug. 27, 1776, in Copenhagen; died Jan. 2, 1831, in Bonn. German historian of antiquity. Son of the Danish traveler and Orientalist Carsten Niebuhr.

Niebuhr taught at the University of Berlin from 1810 to 1813 and at the University of Bonn from 1823. His chief work is Roman History, which is incomplete; the account goes to the end of the First Punic War (241 B.C.). He is the founder of the critical method in the study of history. Niebuhr sought to trace the origin of Roman historical tradition and, by carefully analyzing the sources, to extract the truly historical kernel. He believed that the ancient Romans had their own epic literature, which was not written down and therefore did not survive. In altered form, the lost epic songs on historical subjects became the basis for the legends about the earliest period of Rome’s history.

Ethnologic data and the method of analogy played a major role in Niebuhr’s constructions. In order to explain certain phenomena in ancient Rome he studied contemporary survivals of tribal relations among different peoples. He advanced the theory that Rome’s emergence was the result of the merging of communities of diverse tribes and the theory that the plebeians arose as a result of the conquest by Roman rulers of Latin settlements. Niebuhr was the first to acknowledge the existence among the ancient Romans (as among other peoples) of the clan system, but he considered the clan (gens) an artificial organization (group of families). His views greatly influenced the development of European, in particular Russian, historiography (P. N. Kudriavtsev and T. N. Granovskii, for example).


Rőmische Geschichte, new edition, vols. 1–3. Berlin, 1873–74.
Kleine historische und philologische Schriften, vols. 1–2. Bonn, 1828–43.
Historische und philologische Vorträge, parts 1–4, vols. 1–8. Berlin, 1846–58.


Kudriavtsev, P. N. “O dostovernosti istorii.” Soch., vol. 1. Moscow, 1887.
Eyssenhardt, F. B. G. Niebuhr, ein biographischer Versuch. Gotha, 1886.
Kornemann, E. “Niebuhr und der Aufbau der altrőmischen Geschichte.” Historische Zeitschrift, 1931, vol. 145, issue 2.