Niebuhr, Barthold Georg

Niebuhr, Barthold Georg

(bär`tôlt gā`ôrkh nē`bo͝or), 1776–1831, German historian, b. Copenhagen; son of Karsten NiebuhrNiebuhr, Karsten
, 1733–1815, German traveler in Arabia. He was sole survivor of a party of five (of whom the best known was Peter Forskal, a Swedish naturalist) sent by Frederick V of Denmark to explore Arabia (1761–63).
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. He served in the Danish and, after 1806, in the Prussian civil service, took part in the foundation of the Univ. of Berlin, and was (1816–23) Prussian ambassador to the Holy See. From 1823 to his death he taught at the Univ. of Bonn. Niebuhr's history of Rome (3 vol., 1811–32; tr. 3 vol., 1828–42) may be said to have inaugurated modern scientific historical method. Niebuhr related individual events to the political and social institutions of ancient Rome; he sought to recreate the past in terms understandable to the modern reader. An admirer of the Roman republic, he favored agrarianism as the basis of a well-balanced state. He regarded Prussia as a modern parallel of the Roman state and advocated Prussian leadership in the unification of Germany. His liberalism was antirevolutionary, and he was sympathetic to reforms instituted from above.


See his translated Collected Lectures (8 vol., 1852–53); A. Guilland, Modern Germany and Her Historians (tr. 1915, repr. 1970).

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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.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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[11.] Niebuhr, Barthold Georg (1873), Romische Geschichte, Berlin: S.