Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Version at BMCR home site
Volker Losemann (ed.), Alte Geschichte zwischen Wissenschaft und Politik: Gedenkschrift Karl Christ. Philippika, 29. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2009. Pp. 420. ISBN 9783447059053. €68.00.
Reviewed by Gary Beckman, University of Michigan

Table of Contents

This volume presents thirteen (often lengthy) essays expanded from oral presentations delivered at a conference held at the Universität Marburg on April 4-6, 2008. Planned as a celebration of the eighty-fifth birthday of Karl Christ, longtime leader of the University’s Seminar für Alte Geschichte, on April 6, the occasion became a memorial when the honoree passed away just days before its opening. Consequently, the gathering’s proceedings also became a Gedenkschrift.

The contributions, all in German save one in Italian, represent divergent approaches toward the modern historiography of the Classical world. Following the honoree’s dictum that “Wissenschaftsgeschichte ist Wissenschaftlergeschichte,” Wilfried Nippel (“Droysen als Politiker”) examines the participation of J. G. Droysen in the Frankfurt parliament of 1848-1849. On the evidence of contemporary records, the pioneering historian of Hellenism stands revealed as a devious operator behind the scenes of the national assembly (74), and his later Geschichte der Preussischen Politik is condemned as a tendentious work, unworthy of a conscientious historian (83).

Hartmut Leppin (“Hermann Strasburger--Die Vindizierung des Zeitgenossen”) situates his subject’s lifelong interest in the question of the “greatness” of historical figures, in particular that of Julius Caesar, within the differing German academic environments of the 1930s and the 1950s.

Similarly, the essay of Stefan Rebenich (“Hermann Bengston und Alfred Heuss. Zur Entwicklung der Alten Geschichte in der Zwischen- und Nachkriegszeit”) considers the development of the field of ancient history in Germany in the mid-twentieth century as exemplified by the careers of two very different, but both basically politically conservative, practitioners. Bengston is seen as resistant to new approaches to the source material, while Heuss was open to influences from neighboring disciplines.

An example of institutional history is provided by Eckhard Wirbelauer (“Alte Geschichte an der Strassburger Kaiser-Wilhelms-Universität (1872-1918)”), who outlines the progress of the field at his own school from its establishment to its takeover by the French following the First World War.

Broad topical surveys are represented by Helmuth Schneider’s piece on the study of the economy of the ancient Mediterranean (“Die Erforschung der antiken Wirtschaft vom Ende des 18. Jahrhunderts bis zum Zweiten Weltkrieg: Von A.H.L. Heeren zu M.I. Rostovtzeff”) and Ingomar Weiler’s on slavery (“Moderner Menschenhandel und antiker Sklavenhandel. Eine vergleichende Betrachtung”), which stresses the difficulties posed for the comparison of ancient and modern systems of personal subjection by the great differences in the respective underlying societies and by the incommensurate terminology in play (266-67).

The evolving historical reputation of a major figure of the past is investigated by Christiane Kunst (“Das Liviabild im Wandel”), who shows that opinions concerning the widow of Augustus have varied according to differing views of the first emperor himself as well as changing general conceptions of the role of women in political life (313). Indeed, she may be said to have served as “Folie für ein zeitgenössisches Frauenbild” (336). In the same vein, Reinhold Bichler (“Wie lange wollen wir noch mit Alexander dem Grossen siegen?”) historicizes judgments on the career of the Macedonian conqueror, from the hero of modern European colonizers of Asia (38) to murderous tyrant (54) and political failure (55-56) in the post-colonial world of the late twentieth century.

Finally, publication and exegesis of new source material is to be found in the contribution of the prolific Alexander Demandt (“Religionsgeschichte bei Eduard Meyer”). He presents the full transcription of lecture notes taken by Elfriede Petri, a student in a course on “Allgemeine Religionsgeschichte” given by Meyer in Berlin in the winter semester of 1920. Those familiar with the elitist views of the great synthesizer of ancient history will not be surprised to learn that he held that the ideas of theologians of all periods have been closer to one another than to those of common believers of their respective epochs and cultures (90). All in all, the participants in this conference and volume well demonstrate Christ’s precept as displayed in his own Von Gibbon bis Rostovtzeff (1972), Neue Profile der Alten Geschichte (1990), and Klios Wandlungen (2006), that those who are firmly grounded in a scholarly discipline are the ones best qualified to write its history (9).

The volume concludes with a personal bibliography of the Jubilar (589 items!), and a list of the twenty-three dissertations and three Habilitations he directed.

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