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A History of Rome under the Emperors Hardcover – Aug 8 1996
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Theodor Mommsen (1818^-1903), a great German historian, never completed his projected four-volume history of Rome; the manuscript for the final volume, covering the period from the fall of the republic to the collapse of imperial authority in the west, was destroyed by fire in 1880. A century later, Alexander Demandt discovered extensive notes compiled by two of Mommsen's students on his lectures between 1863 and 1886. The result is this "reconstruction," which serves as a faithful rendering of Mommsen's interpretation of the imperial age. Mommsen focuses almost exclusively on political and military history. Those readers wishing detailed examination of Roman struggles for territory or political power will not be disappointed. His analysis of the response to barbarian incursions in the fourth century is particularly compelling. However, his lectures were predictably lacking in analysis of social and cultural factors, and no effort was made to view the Roman world from a "bottom up" perspective. Still, the publishing of this great historian's views is an invaluable contribution to classical historiography. Jay Freeman
'Reading this book now puts you in touch with two worlds: ancient Rome and the austere scholarship of nineteenth century, pre-Wilhelmine Germany.' - Daily Telegraph
'The editors do a valiant job in their introduction, trying to catch something of the spirit of this extraordinary man.' - The Independent
'Historians of Germany as well as Rome may profit from this splendid volume.' - The Times
'It has been superbly done. Demandt gives the full story both of Mommsen's history and the Hensels' lecture notes, while Wiedemann puts Mommsen in his historical context.' - Peter Levi, Sunday Telegraph
'It is a marvellous book, striking in detail, lucid and pleasingly unfair in argument, deeply sound in its root feelings and prejudices and genuinely helpful. It is the best book for those who dislike the Roman Empire, and is often very funny, and what underlies the remarkably dotty view he takes, for example of Virgil, is in itself most illuminating. It is years since I came across such a great book.' - Peter Levi, The Spectator Books of the Year
'This edition, with its extensive notes, is a tremendous achievement and a gift to anyone interested in the full story of the Roman Empire.' - Contemporary Review
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His monumental contributions explain why he is the only historian that was awarded in 1902 the Nobel Prize for literature.
Having explained this, now I must say WHY I ONLY GIVE ONE STAR TO THIS BOOK.
FIRST AND FOREMOST, because THIS IS NOT A BOOK THAT WAS WRITTEN BY MOMMSEN, although it has been published under his name. The three volumes of the History of Rome that M. wrote (mostly from 1854 to 1855) which I recommend, tell the tale of Rome up until Caesar's victory at Tapsus (46 BC). That is to say, until the demise of the Republic. Mommsen never really intended to publish the IV volume about the Empire, and as the historian Alexander Demandt writes in the introduction of this book: "When Mommsen died on 1 November 1903 volume IV had not still been written.." But then he goes on alleging that Mommsen's History of the Emperors ranks alongside Kant's System of Pure Philosophy, Goethe's Nausicaa and Nietzsche's the Will to Power as one of the unwritten books of German literature. Mommsen clearly and publicly stated his discomfort with writing a book about the Imperial Period, for a number of reasons recorded in the introduction by Demandt. Maybe M. felt that he couldn't write it based on the references of Suetonius, Martial or Juvenal because they were biased and/or used courtesan's gossip that could seriously impair the objective treatment of the subject. Or maybe Mommsen didn't really make up his mind about what brougth about the collapse of the Roman Empire. The historical truth is that Mommsen went on to write a V volume of the History of Rome, concerning the Roman provinces, but he never wrote the one about the emperors. His son in law congratulated M. in 1897 for not having written the book, a book that M. himself felt he was no longer able to write because he lacked the impudence of the young person, who will have his say on everything and challenge everything in order to qualify himself to be an historian.
THE SECOND REASON FOR ALLOWING IT ONE STAR is that this is not a good history book: it is plagued with errors and fragmentary in its evolution. Why? because the content is not even based on something written by M. and published post-mortem. It is based on class notes (or transcripts) taken by students (in one case by the student's father!) of lectures given by M. at the University of Berlin. Two main bodies of classroom transcripts ( the Hensels and the anonymous Wickert transcripts) have been edited and compiled by Demandt who, by the way, found the Hansels transcript of the lecture in a second-hand bookshop in 1980. This concoction not only constitutes a gross violation of Mommsen's explicit wishes, but the final product is a bad example of literature and history as well. By the same token, somebody could exhume an anonymous transcript of an informal conversation by Alfred Nobel that could reveal a special proviso or clause to revoke Mommsen's Prize for this supernatural book.....
IN THE THIRD PLACE, let us consider the tragicomical effects of this resurrection of M. This is a book that was not written by him or based on a non published manuscript, but contains a tale that he never wanted to write, published by a historian that aknowledges in his introduction that it is difficult to give a reliable answer to the question of what kind of picture of the age of emperors would have emerged had Mommsen published his IV volume!!! Certainly not the one in this book. The final irony, and not a surprising one given the circumstances, is that Demandt dwells and revels in his introduction with the "hardly reasonable assessments", contradictions, "incongruities" and multiple and manifest errors committed by MOMMSEN THE RESUSCITATED !!!!! The great german historian colossus should have been spared this posthumous affront. There are much better books now about Imperial Rome and I sincerely hope that professor Demandt could write one by himself.