Theodor Mommsen

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Christian Matthias Theodor Mommsen (30 November 1817 – 1 November 1903) was a German classical scholar, historian, jurist, journalist, politician, archaeologist,[1] and writer generally regarded as the greatest classicist of the 19th century. His work regarding Roman history is still of fundamental importance for contemporary research. He received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1902,[2] and was also a prominent German politician, as a member of the Prussian and German parliaments. His works on Roman law and on the law of obligations had a significant impact on the German civil code (BGB).



Mommsen was born in Garding in Schleswig in 1817, and grew up in Bad Oldesloe, where his father was a Lutheran minister. He studied mostly at home, though he attended the gymnasium Christianeum in Altona for four years. He studied Greek and Latin and received his diploma in 1837, with the degree of Doctor of Roman Law. As he could not afford to study at one of the more prestigious German universities, he enrolled at the University of Kiel in Holstein.

Mommsen studied jurisprudence at Kiel from 1838 to 1843. Thanks to a Danish grant, he was able to visit France and Italy to study preserved classical Roman inscriptions. During the revolution of 1848 he supported monarchists and worked as a war correspondent in then-Danish Rendsburg, supporting the German annexation of Schleswig-Holstein and constitutional reform. He became a professor of law in the same year at the University of Leipzig. When Mommsen protested against the new constitution of Saxony in 1851, he had to resign. However, the next year he obtained a professorship in Roman law the University of Zurich and then spent a couple of years in exile. In 1854 he became a professor of law at the University of Breslau where he met Jakob Bernays. Mommsen became a research professor at the Berlin Academy of Sciences in 1857. He later helped to create and manage the German Archaeological Institute in Rome.

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