MOMMSEN, THEODOR° (1817–1903), German classical scholar and historian; a vigorous opponent of antisemitism. A staunch liberal member of the Prussian and German parliaments and a luminary of Berlin University, Mommsen was active on behalf of Russian Jewry and consistently opposed all antisemitic manifestations, from the appearance of Adolf *Stoecker, the court preacher (1878), to the electoral success of Hermann *Ahlwardt (1902). He was also a prominent member of the *Verein zur Abwehr des Anti-semitismus and signed the public declaration of German notables against antisemitism (1880). Mommsen was the most renowned Christian to attack his colleague, Heinrich *Treitschke, the nationalist historian and antisemite. Paradoxically, a passage in his History of Rome, in which he described the Jews as one of the elements leading to the breakdown of the Roman state and the growth of cosmopolitanism, was repeatedly utilized by antisemites. Whereas Mommsen took a positive attitude to the Jewish role in furthering universalism, antisemites viewed the passage in a contemporary, ultra-nationalist setting. Despite his liberalism, Mommsen had no sympathy with the Jews' wish to preserve their cultural inheritance and religious independence. He called upon them to abandon their separateness and assimilate in a more thorough fashion; thus he shared the theoretical assumptions and principles of some conservative German leaders.
H. Liebeschuetz, Judentum im deutschen Geschichtsbild (1967), index. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: A. Heuss, Theodor Mommsen und das 19. Jahrhundert (1956, 1996); L. Wickert, Theodor Mommsen, 4 vols. (1959–80); C. Hoffmann, Juden und Judentum im Werk deutscher Althistoriker… (1988), index; St. Rebenich, Theodor Mommsen (2002); K. Krieger (ed.), Berliner Antisemitismusstreit, 2 vols. (2003), index..
[Michael J. Graetz]
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.