Theodor Mommsen

Theodor Mommsen

THE LAUREATE: Theodor Mommsen was a largely self-taught classicist who revolutionized the way we read and interact with ancient texts. He was also apparently a protester in the 1848 rebellions (which is awesome) and was generally a pretty liberal guy (which is pretty unexpected). His most well-known work is his monumental History of Rome, stretching from the founding of the city to Julius Caesar. He is also well-known among classicists for his exhaustive collection of Greek and Roman inscriptions.

WHAT I’M READING: A few chapters from the History of Rome about the Punic Wars.REVIEW: Other than a few references to race as opposed to culture (The Roman vs. Phoenician racial temperament, for instance), the basic outline of what Mommsen is saying is identical to my fancy Oxford histories from the last decade. (No need to go into detail here. You can google the Punic wars yourself). The fact that even in a hidebound discipline like Roman history, nothing fundamentally new has been written about political history (you know, man-history, not all the social stuff) in over a hundred and fifty years is pretty impressive. Granted, German classicists did a whole lot of the groundwork that modern Greco-Roman history relies on (mostly because a good deal of it got bombed), and we have found some new literary and material sources (like the trash heaps in Oxyrhyncus that are turning up letters and literature a hundred and thirty years later).

RECOMMENDED: If you need a good history of Rome that is aggressively grounded in material remains and a sober look at primary source documents and you are also broke, Mommsen is your man. (All his work is public domain, you see.)

WHAT’S NEXT: Doris Lessing’s The Good Terrorist

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