Nobel Prize in Literature Recipient. Theodor Mommsen, a German author, received world-wide notoriety as the recipient in 1902 of the second Nobel Prize in Literature. According to the Nobel Prize committee, he was awarded this coveted prize for being "the greatest living master of the art of historical writing, with special reference to 'A History of Rome,' his monumental work." He is one of the few Nobel Prize in Literature recipients, who received the prize for non-fiction writings. Besides this five-volume masterpiece on Roman history, he was known for his 17-volume “Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum,” an organized collection of Latin inscriptions, which became the authoritative source for the study of classical antiquity. He published a three-volume text, “Roman Constitutional Law” between 1871 and 1888. and his last great piece, “Roman Criminal Law,” was published in 1899. A vivid and powerful, yet a prolific author, he produced about 1,500 articles and books. As well as being an author. he was considered a classical scholar, historian, jurist, politician, and archaeologist. Born Christian Matthias Theodor Mommsen, his hometown, which is today in the most northern of Germany's sixteen states, was ruled by the Danish king at the time of his birth. As the son of a poor Lutheran minister, he could not afford a private education, hence finances played a role in his college education. After being educated at home, he took classical courses at a local school. He studied law and classics at Kiel from 1838 to 1843 earning his PhD; on a Danish scholarship, spent a few years in France and Italy; and after a short career in journalism, he became a professor of law at the University of Leipzig. Since he was involved in the German Revolution of 1848 to 1849, working as a war correspondent, he was dismissed from the university in 1850, leaving the country in exile. Being a German, he had supported the German annexation of his homeland from the Danes and the unification of all German states to make one empire. After academic positions at the universities of Zürich and Breslau, he came out of exile and accepted a position at the University of Berlin, being appointed chairman of the Ancient History Department in 1858, becoming a full professor of Roman History in 1861, and giving lectures until 1887. Serving from 1863 to 1866, 1873 to 1879 and 1881 to 1884, he was an active and prominent member of the Prussian Parliament, who often used such strong language to prove a point that he narrowly escaped prosecution. He supported educational reforms, which would allow the poor to be educated; supported the newly-formed 1871 German Empire; maintained a militant attitude towards the Slavic nations; and was anti-Semitic, writing a pamphlet for that cause. On July 7, 1880 in the wee hours of the morning, a house fire in his second-story library occurred destroying a number of irreplaceable ancient masterpieces that were on loan to him from Rome, Brussels, and Cambridge University in England as well as several German institutions. He received burns attempting to save these documents. Other awards and honors include a membership of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Science in 1859, the Prussian medal Pour le Merite in 1868, elected member of the American Antiquarian Society in 1870, and honorary citizen of Rome. In 1895, he was made an honorary citizen of the city of Garding with a permanent exhibit honoring him is in the city hall, and a high school in his hometown was named in his honor. He married and had sixteen children, with a few of his children and future generations following in his interest of being an historian. At the age of 85, he received the Nobel Prize and was the oldest recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature until 2007.
Bio by: Linda Davis