Christian Matthias Theodor Mommsen (MAWM-zuhn), winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1902 and the preeminent historian of ancient Rome during his era, was the son of a Protestant minister. After completing a secondary school curriculum with a rigorous emphasis on Latin, ancient Greek, and classical literature, Mommsen read law (which was essentially Roman law in nineteenth century Germany) at the University of Kiel (1838-1843). He departed with a doctorate in that subject and immediately assumed a traveling fellowship that enabled him to conduct research in Italy (1844-1847), where he mastered the science of epigraphy, which concerns the editing and interpretation of documents inscribed on stone or another durable material.
Mommsen returned to Germany in time to become an advocate of the “liberal” causes of the Revolution of 1848: the unification of the states that constituted the German Confederation, the transformation of the autocratic regimes of these states into constitutional monarchies, and the granting of the franchise to the propertied classes. He briefly served as editor of a liberal newspaper before he began his academic career by assuming, in 1848, a professorship in civil law at the University of Leipzig in Saxony. The collapse of the revolution failed to sap Mommsen’s political energies, and his support of a rebellion in Saxony earned for him a dismissal from his post at Leipzig in 1850.
Mommsen’s scholarly reputation, however, was already established, and in 1852 he was appointed professor of law at the University of Zurich in Switzerland. Two years later, he gladly returned to Germany, which he regarded as his native land, to accept...
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