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The death of Theodor Mommsen in November, 1903, brought to a close the fruitful activity of one who was, in the words of Freeman, "almost the greatest scholar of all time," and deprived Germany of the last and greatest of that line of historical investigators who made her in the nineteenth century the Mecca of students from all parts of the world. From 1843 down to within a few weeks of his death Mommsen continued to pour forth a flood of dissertations, articles, and books that revolutionized the study of Roman history. The number of his writings, great and small, is almost incredible. A Heidelberg librarian prepared a bibliography of his works in 1887 as a memorial for the historian's seventieth birthday, in which the titles aggregated somewhat over nine hundred, while at the time of his death, sixteen years later, it was estimated that the number of his learned productions of every kind would reach the grand total of 1300.
Not only are the results of Mommsen's activity astounding in quantity, but his work is equally remarkable in quality. No branch of Roman history was left untouched by him, and in many departments his researches were epoch-making, and rendered the labors of his predecessors obsolete. This is true of his investigations in the field of early Italian dialects, of Roman coinage, and of the constitutional history of the republic, as well as in various other lines. Such achievements were due to the union of striking mental characteristics supplemented by exceptional training. Mommsen was an indefatigable worker with a capacity for infinite pains and a powerful grasp of details. He also possessed the power of organization and combination, and a vivid imagination which clothed the abstruse facts of Roman history with the flesh and blood of real life. He had been trained as a philologist and as a lawyer, and thus brought a double faculty of interpretation to his work. Finally he took an active interest in the political life of his own time, and in this way was able to employ in the solution of the problems of history the practical experiences of a
political career. He was driven from his native Schleswig in 1848 for joining in the efforts of the young patriots to free the duchy from Denmark; he was expelled from the chair of Roman Law at the University of Leipzig in 1850 and banished from Saxony for championing Prussia, through whom he hoped to see the attainment of German unity; and, as a member of the Prussian Diet from 1873 to 1882, he incurred the bitter hostility of Bismarck for opposing the latter's domestic policy, and was prosecuted for libel for characterizing that policy as a " swindle." Though finally acquitted by the superior court, this incident caused his retirement from active political life.
The work by which Mommsen is most widely known is his "History of Rome," in three volumes, published in 1854-1856. The original plan of the author was to cover the whole field from the foundation of the city to the German invasions, in five volumes. Of these, the first three, bringing the story down to the battle of Thapsus, appeared in rapid succession, but the fourth, covering the dynastic history of the empire, was never written, owing partly to 4he fact that the .period was already treated in easily accessible works and partly to his distaste for the intrigues and bloodshed of the early empire. In 1885, however, appeared the fifth volume on a somewhat different plan, covering the imperial administration of the provinces from Caesar to Diocletian. From the student's point of view this is more important than the earlier portion of the work, as it surveys a practically untrodden field. Mommsen's work as editor of the great "Corpus 1'nscriptionum Latinarutn" had put into his hands a wealth of information derived from inscriptions in every part of the empire, and enabled him to set forth for the first time the true significance and value to the world's progress of the four hundred years of imperial administration in Mediterranean lands. But this fifth volume never attained the popularity of the three earlier ones. It dealt with the dry facts of organization and government, and lacked the dramatic qualities and brilliant characterizations which have made the history of the republican period one of the literary masterpieces of the German language.
The first three volumes of the " History of Pome" were written in the midst of the German struggle for unity, and show throughout the author's political convictions and philosophy. Thi: is especially true of that portion which deals with the last centurj of the republic. Here his dislike of a narrow aristocracy such as had for so long controlled the destinies of the German states, and his admiration of the strong arm which is capable of guiding the blind efforts of the common people, led him to form estimates of the leading statesmen of Rome which have provoked the sharpest criticism. His condemnation of Cicero as a man of words rather than deeds, of Pompeius as a mere soldier, and of Cato as a tactless visionary, has perhaps not excited so much opposition as his extreme laudation of Caesar and his undisguised hero-worship for a man who accomplished things without hesitating as to the means employed. But a readiness to form opinions as to character and to judge men by a clearly defined standard does not make history less interesting to read, nor indeed less valuable to the reader, provided that the author's bias is kept constantly in mind.
The popularity and importance of the "History of Rome" is attested by the fact that by 1875 the work had run through six German editions and had been translated into Italian, English, French, Russian, Polish, and Spanish. The English version in four volumes was prepared in 1862 by the Rev. W. P. Dickson, D.D., and passed into a fourth edition in 1894. The work also appeared in English in 1889, condensed into one volume by C. Bryans and F. J. Hendy, and it is this abridgment which now appears with such changes as were necessary in order to bring it within the required compass for the series in which it is published. The alterations in Bryans and Hendy's text consist mainly in the omission of details of military campaigns and the condensation of certain paragraphs of less interest to the general reader. Mommsen's views as expressed in his original work remain unaltered. On many points they have been strongly controverted by other scholars, but, where no new evidence has come to light since he wrote, Mommsen's opinions are still regarded with the greatest respect. Conflicting interpretations and views may be found in many of the works indicated in the bibliography appended to this volume. In only one important field have Mommsen's conclusions lost all weight owing to an untenable method pursued by him, viz., in regard to the primitive races of Italy. It is now generally agreed that the ethnologists and not the philologists have the last word to speak concerning the relationships of prehistoric peoples, and therefore this part of the history has ceased to be of much value.