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Theodor Mommsen

Mommsen, Theodor (tāˈōdōr mômˈsən) [key], 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.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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