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Niebuhr, Barthold Georg

A great historian and critic, born at Copenhagen, August 27, 1776. He studied at the Universities of Kiel and Göttingen, and entered the Danish public service in 1796, holding various offices. In 1806 he removed to Berlin, where he served the Prussian governor in the bureau of finance; but owing to various personal disputes resigned, and in 1810 was made Historiographer to the King of Prussia, delivering in the same year the first of a course of lectures in the newly founded University of Berlin. The subject of this course was the early history of

Barthold Georg Niebuhr.

Rome, and his treatment of the subject was so new, so brilliant, and so profoundly learned as to excite widespread notice. He applied to the hitherto accepted narrative the laws of evidence and the searching methods of historical research, demonstrating that the whole account of the founding and the early regal period is purely mythical and legendary. This demonstration he elaborated more fully in his Römische Geschichte, 3 vols. (1811-32), which carries the story of Rome down to the First Punic War. The negative and destructive part of his work has completely revolutionized the views of Rome's historians, so that all writers now accept the view of Niebuhr in the main as sound; his constructive work, however, has been generally rejected, especially his “epic hypothesis,” which traces the source of the Roman legends to ballads and sagas which he assumes to have existed. Niebuhr inaugurated a new epoch in the study of history by establishing and demonstrating a fundamental difference between legend and history, and his critical methods have been universally adopted as sound.

Niebuhr's later life was one of great activity. From 1816-22 he served as Prussian ambassador to the papal court at Rome; and in the latter year accepted a call to the chair of History in the University of Bonn. Here he founded the Rheinisches Museum (1827), and took part with Bekker in the publication of the Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae, besides issuing Kleine historische und philologische Schriften, 2 vols. (1828), an edition of Fronto (1816), and Griechische Heroengeschichte (1842). His Roman history has been translated into English by Hare, Thirlwall, and Smith, and a volume of lectures on Roman history appeared in 1850, edited by Leonhard Schmitz. Dr. Schmitz also published English editions of Niebuhr's lectures on ancient history (1852), and on ancient ethnography and geography (1853). See Winkworth, Life and Letters of Niebuhr, 3 vols. (London, 1852); Eyssenhardt, Barthold Georg Niebuhr (Gotha, 1886); and Bursian, Geschichte der class. Philologie in Deutschland, pp. 647-663 (Munich, 1883).

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