Wednesday, June 28, 2017


Jürgen von Ungern-Sternberg, Les chers ennemis: deutsche und französische Altertumswissenschaftler in Rivalität und Zusammenarbeit. Collegium Beatus Rhenanus, 7. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2017. Pp. 309. ISBN 9783515116121. €54.00 (pb).

Reviewed by François Gauthier, McGill University (

Version at BMCR home site

[The Table of Contents is found at the end of the review.]

Modern tourists visiting the French region of Burgundy may encounter a large statue of the Gallic chieftain Vercingetorix near Alise-Sainte-Reine. On it, one can read: "La Gaule unie, Formant une seule nation, Animée d'un même esprit, Peut défier l'Univers (Gaul united, Forming a single nation, Animated by a common spirit, Can defy the Universe)." The text was taken from Caesar's Gallic War (7.29) and the statue was commissioned by Napoleon III a few years before the Franco-Prussian War. If the same tourists continue their way into Germany and towards Detmold (North Rhine-Westphalia), they might come upon a huge statue dedicated to Arminius (or Hermann), the German leader who defeated a Roman army in the forest of Teutoburg in 9 CE. The statue holds a sword which bears the following inscription: "Deutsche Einigkeit, meine Stärke. Meine Stärke, Deutschlands Macht (German unity, my strength. My strength, Germany's might)." These two monuments are a vivid reminder of how both France and Germany used ancient history to bolster their political agenda in the late 19th century, the period Jürgen von Ungern-Sternberg's volume mostly deals with.

Les chers ennemis is a collection of essays previously published by von Ungern-Sternberg along with a few unpublished contributions. The volume takes its name from a passage in a letter written by the French scholar Ernest Renan addressed to Theodor Mommsen in the context of the Franco-Prussian War: "Tenez donc pour certain, mon cher ennemi que, quoi que vous disiez ou fassiez, vous aurez toujours en moi un admirateur et un ami." (9) The book offers an overview of the relations between French and German classicists in roughly the period 1850-1930.

The first two contributions highlight the collaboration between French and German scholars but also their different understanding of Roman history. Vercingetorix and Arminius are depicted through a detailed look at several French and German late 19th century ancient history works. German historians tended to represent Vercingetorix as a tragic hero whose defeat was ultimately positive because it brought about the emergence of Roman culture in Gaul. On the other hand, their French colleagues, especially after 1871, embittered by the war, depicted Arminius and the Germans in an unfavourable light. The most influential of them, Camille Jullian, the volumes of whose seminal Histoire de la Gaule were published before and over the course of World War 1, while praising Mommsen, went on to declare that: "Toute mon histoire de la Gaule est une œuvre d'insurrection contre les pages de Mommsen qui ont pesé sur toute la science française pendant cinquante ans." (59) A troubling feature of nearly all French and German classicists of the time, even men of immense and unequaled erudition such as Mommsen, was to attribute modern features of national character to the ancient Gauls and Germanic tribes.1 Although some scholars acknowledged that this was nothing more than projecting modern ideas into the ancient world, they were more prone to denounce this tendency among their neighbours on the other side of the Rhine than to admit that they were doing the same.2

The discussion on clientelae by Jean-Michel David was originally published in a Franco-German volume in the early 1990s and offers a useful summary of the origins of modern scholarship on clientelae. David highlights the fact that the first German studies on clientelae in the 19th century focused on the patricians in early Rome as the matrix of Roman society whereas those of the early 20th century (most famously Gelzer) tried to understand the functioning of the entire system. David's chapter is followed by a short response from von Ungern-Sternberg. The next essay zooms in on the work of Gaston Boissier, Matthias Gelzer, and Eugen Täubler on the Roman republic. Von Ungern-Sternberg shows how the society in which each historian lived influenced his perception of Roman history. While Boissier witnessed the power politics of his time in Paris, Gelzer observed the declining aristocratic structures in Switzerland. Partly due to this, both focused on the Roman aristocracy in their work at the expense of other social classes. On the other hand, Täubler, who lived in the province of Posen (modern-day Poznań), was influenced by his perception of the Prussian state in arguing that it was the state which was the most important force in society.

Three essays deal with Mommsen and his relations with French classicists. The great German scholar, whose main works were quickly translated in French, was highly praised in France and he was honoured with membership in several sociétés savantes. While happily working with French colleagues, Mommsen was a staunch German patriot and saw war between France and the German states as unavoidable, though allegedly without wishing it. (135) The letters he wrote to the Italian people advocating the conquest of Alsace-Lorraine infuriated many of his colleagues in France.3 Still, some French scholars expressed their admiration for Mommsen's scientific achievements while criticizing his political views.4

"Die deutsch-französische Zusammenarbeit bei der Edition der Inschriften von Delos" is a tale of cooperation and then confrontation. Originally a project profiting from a well-established bond between French and German scholars, the Great War severed this tie, and the work had to be carried on by the French. Collaboration would only slowly resume in the 1920s.

"Vom Ende einer Freundschaft. Maurice Holleaux und Georg Karo im Herbst 1914" opens with a very moving exchange of letters between Maurice Holleaux und Georg Karo who were good friends before the outbreak of the First World War. While being very respectful of each other in their letters, Holleaux and Karo express very contrasting views, each aligning with his country's political agenda. Their discussion mostly focuses on the German shelling of the cathedral of Reims and the early aerial bombing of Paris. Karo's last letter was never granted a response by Holleaux and the two never met again. After the end of the war Karo was very bitter about Germany's treatment by the Entente. He was especially angry at paragraph 231 of the Versailles treaty which made Germany and the Central Powers solely responsible for the outbreak of the war. Karo's bitterness against the Entente did, however, make it possible to retain his position, under the National-Socialist government, at the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut in Athens until 1936, despite his being Jewish. He then wisely took the decision to move to the United States in 1939.

"Deutsche Altertumswissenschaftler im Ersten Weltkrieg" and "Les conséquences de la guerre sur la communauté scientifique en Europe" cover similar themes. Many enlisted classicists were killed in action and the war created a profound divide between German and French scholars. Several works published after the war made comparisons between Sparta and France on the one hand, and Athens and Germany on the other. The French were keen on banning German and Austrian scholars from international scientific conferences. Although initially somewhat successful, the ban gradually lost its power and German scientists were admitted again in the 1920s.

Von Ungern-Sternberg's book will appeal to those interested in the reception and interpretation of classics in the modern world. More generally, it is also relevant for all classicists since it highlights the social and political background in which several key works of ancient history still relevant today were written. It might be tempting for us in the 21st century to look down upon French and German historians of the late 19th century as shamelessly using ancient history to serve the political agenda of their country. But I wonder whether we would really fare better today.

As is perhaps difficult to avoid in a largely bilingual volume, the book contains some typographical errors, mostly concerning French diacritical signs.5 Moreover, since the tome consists of a collection of articles published in various volumes and journals, there are some repetitions between contributions. The title of the book could have specified a more precise time- frame as there is no essay dealing with the period of the Second World War or its aftermath. This was also a time (sadly) in which classical scholars were pressed into service and when ancient history was twisted for political reasons. The idealization of Sparta by the National-Socialists is a notable example. Thus, a more accurate title for the volume would add: 1850-1930.

Despite these minor criticisms, the book is a useful contribution for all those interested in the founding figures of German Klassische Altertumswissenschaft and French études classiques. By putting modern pioneers of ancient history such as Mommsen and Holleaux in context, the volume successfully demonstrates how historians are always the product of their own time, influenced as they are, for better or worse, by the world in which they live.

Table of Contents

Avant-propos. Notizen zu einer deutsch-französischen Zusammenarbeit
Deutsche und französische Altertumswissenschaftler vor und während des Ersten Weltkriegs
Der deutsche Blick im 19. Jahrhundert auf Vercingetorix – der französische auf Arminius und Varus
La clientèle, d'une forme de l'analyse à l'autre (Jean-Michel David)
Forschungen zur Klientel in Rom. Kommentar zum Beitrag von Jean-Michel David
Drei Beiträge zu einer römischen Gesellschaftsgeschichte: Gaston Boissier – Matthias Gelzer – Eugen Täubler
Rezension zu Elisabeth Erdmann, Die Römerzeit im Selbstverständnis der Franzosen und Deutschen. Lehrpläne und Schulbücher aus der Zeit zwischen 1850 und 1918, 2 Bde., Bochum 1992
Rezension zu Sarah Rey, Écrire l'histoire ancienne à l'École française de Rome (1873–1940), Rom 2012
Theodor Mommsen und Frankreich
Mommsen in Frankreich: Übersetzungen und Rezensionen
Theodor Mommsen und Straßburg
Die deutsch-französische Zusammenarbeit bei der Edition der Inschriften von Delos
Vom Ende einer Freundschaft. Maurice Holleaux und Georg Karo im Herbst 1914
Deutsche Altertumswissenschaftler im Ersten Weltkrieg
Les conséquences de la guerre sur la communauté scientifique en Europe
Vorreden zu den CBR-Newslettern 1998 – 1999 – 2000 – 2007 – 2008


1.   p. 58: "[…] Mommsen wie fast alle seine Zeitgenossen den Nationalcharakter für Zeitlos fortdauernd gehalten hat."
2.   p. 70, According to the French scholar Jules Zeller: "Trop souvent l'histoire, en faisant d'Armin [Arminius] un héros de la liberté germaine, lui a prêté des idées classiques de patriotisme qu'il n'avait pas." Zeller goes to say that Vercingetorix is celebrated in France without being a national hero (!).
3.   p. 142: "Vogliamo non la conquista, ma la rivendicazione, vogliamo il nostro, non più, non meno."
4.   p. 157 The French scholar René Pichon wrote: "Nous admirerons en lui [e.g. Mommsen] le professeur d'histoire romaine, mais nous détesterons le professeur de brutalité germanique."
5.   For example: p. 28: operations; p. 33: majorité; p. 35: è (for à), especes, presenter; p. 37: societies; p. 39: democratique, a (for à); p. 41: a (for à); p. 42: tous les déprédrations; p. 44: a (for à); p. 65 trahision; p. 68: représanter; p. 70: und (for une); p. 72: recontre, greco; p. 135: Louis XIV., Italienne et Espagnol; p. 138: ideal,; p. 142 patriot; p. 149: a detester; p. 153 pluspart; p. 155 doleur; p. 156 mâitre; p. 217 Premiere.

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