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History of Rome by Theodor Mommsen
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History of Rome

by Theodor Mommsen

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I don't know about other disciplines, but I'm pretty sure that in most specialties of history, there are some basic, "classic" volumes, often 19th century, that are assumed to contain the "facts" which subsequent academic careerists are assumed to know and therefore need not recall. Much more fun to speculate with interpretation and "revisionist" readings without having to remember who did what when. In ancient history, one of these is "Mommsen". I was surprised, therefore, to find, on reading the great Herr Doktor Professor's "History of Rome" (which became available cheap, that is, free, on Kindle) that the proportion of fact to imagination and speculation was pretty small. Mommsen is the quintessential nineteenth century authority. He plows through eight centuries of pre-imperial history with magnificent assurance, confidently judging the historical figures whose doings he describes, giving extensive resumes of their thoughts and assigning moral strengths and defects with aplomb, all leading up to his hero, Julius Caesar, who is praised so fulsomely that one really does rub one's eyes in disbelief. Lack of source material is no real hindrance to the good professor-- he knows. He can provide a character sketch and a psychoanalysis of just about anybody in ancient times.

Professor Mommsen makes no pretense of explaining or justifying his point of view--it is simply and self-evidently correct. In English writers of the same period this assurance is often bracing--translated from German, where it is based on slightly different conventional attitudes, it is ridiculous.

My undergraduate years left me with scant respect for academia. Otherwise, I imagine Mommsen would have grieved me. Possibly ancient and medieval history is unusual in the vast and evident superiority of modern efforts over those of the more distant historiographical past. But I bet it's not.

This work, all five volumes, is mighty entertaining. Either Professor Mommsen or his translator was able to avoid the dullness of so much academic writing--but at what cost! I recommend it to anyone who is inclined to admire authority--it should be a good corrective.
1 vote cstebbins | Sep 5, 2011 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Theodor Mommsenprimary authorall editionscalculated
Walter-Schomburg, Kurt L.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Lo scrittore non deve cercare di abbagliare con la sua storia i lettori, amplificando le cose.

POLIBIO
Arduum res gestas scribere.

SALLUSTIUS
Dedication
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Sulle sponde di quel mare Mediterraneo che, insinuandosi nella terraferma, forma il più vasto golfo dell'Oceano ed ora restringendosi per mezzo di isole o promontari, ora estendendosi ampiamente, unisce e separa ad un tempo le tre parti del mondo antico, si stabilirono fin dai tempi remoti genti varie che, se sotto l'aspetto etnograficao e linguistico appartengono a stirpi diverse, storicamente formano un unico complesso.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0415149533, Hardcover)

Mommsen's The History of Rome was a major influence on the concept of ancient history during the last half of the nineteenth century. His book was translated into every major language and gained favour with a huge international public. It has remained the most indispensable core work in the field of Roman studies, its lasting success lying in Mommsen's 'incomparable mastery of every aspect of civilization'.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:22 -0400)

This abridged edition makes the great German scholar's multi-volume work accessible to a larger audience. Rivaling Gibbon, Macaulay, and Burckhardt in its scope and power, it chronicles Roman society and government from the second century BC to the end of the Republic and rise of Julius Caesar - and helped earn Mommsen the 1902 Nobel Prize in Literature.… (more)

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