• Date of Birth: April 6, 1858
  • Born City: Riverside, California
  • Born State/Country: United States
  • Parents: Samuel, a rabbi, & Fanny Schwarzchild D.
  • Date of Death: April 12, 1931
  • Death City: Columbia
  • Death State/Country: United States
  • Married: Joanna Ellinger, 1888.
  • Education:

    Study in Berlin, 1874-6; Ph.D., Strasbourg, 1877; Phil. Habil., Berlin, 1884.

  • Dissertation:

    De sodalibus et flaminibus Augustalibus ad summos in philosophia honores…ab amplissimo philosophorum ordine Argentoratensi (Strasbourg, 1877).

  • Professional Experience:

    Privatdozent, Berlin, 1884-1912; Beamter (scientific officer), Prussian Academy, 1900-22; prof. extraordinarius, Berlin, 1912-17; prof. ordinarius (hon.), 1917-22.

  • Publications:

    Inscriptiones Latii veteris LatinaeCIL vol.14, (Supplementum Ostiense by Lothar Wickert, 1976) (Berlin: Reimer, 1887-1933; with additions, 1892, 1910); “Über Zeit und Persönlichkeit der Scriptores Historiae Augustae,” Hermes 24 (1889) 337-92, 27 (1897) 561-605; Inscriptiones Latinae Selectae 3 vols. (1892-1916; repr. Chicago: Ares, 1979); Prosopographia Imperii Romani (with Elimar Klebs and Paul von Rohden), 3 vols. (Berlin: Reimer, 1897-8); Inscriptiones Africae latinae, Supplementum 3-4, with René Cagnat & Hans Schmidt (Berlin: Reiner, 1916) Geschichte der römischen Kaiserzeit 3 vols. (unfinished) (Berlin: Weidmann, 1924-30; repr. New York: Arno,1975); Bis zum ersten Thronwechsel (1924); Lateinisch Epigraphik (Leipzig & Berlin: Teubner, 1925); Die Kaiser von Tiberius bis Vitellius (Berlin: Weidmann, 1926); Mommsen und das Monumentum Ancyranum (Leipzig: Dieterich, 1928) Die Länder und Völker des Reich sim ersten Jahrhundert der Kaiserzeit (Berlin: Weidmann, 1930); Mommsen und Tacitus (1931).

  • Notes:

    Hermann Dessau received his early education at the municipal grammar school in Frankfurt led by Tycho Mommsen (1819-1900). Recognizing the aptitude of his student, Mommsen referred him to his brother, Theodor (1817-1903), who taught him and directed the research of his Strassbourg dissertation. His career was largely devoted to major contributions to Mommsen’s great project, the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, but he also did major work on the Scriptores Historiae Augustae, prosopography, and Roman imperial history, providing scholars with a multitude of new discoveries for the study of the Roman world. Having come from a rabbinical family (on both his mother’s and father’s side) he refused to deny his religion and so, although he achieved both a doctorate and a habilitation, he was not able to find a professorship because of his religion. He therefore became an assistant to Mommsen, based at the headquarters of the CIL, the Prussian Academy which he served from 1884 to 1929. The two historians were large presences in the Academy for a number of years. Mommsen sent Dessau to Italy and North Africa (1877-82) to gather inscriptions for what would be the 14th (Latium) and the supplement to the eighth (North Africa) volumes of the CIL. Dessau was second only to Mommsen in the number of contributions to the CIL and was instrumental in maintaining the project after Mommsen’s death. The Inscriptiones Latinae Selectae(known familiarly to scholars as “the Dessau”) contains over 9500 inscriptions. In 1889 he argued that the Scriptores Historiae Augustae was probably written by a single author, not a combination of six authors, in the late 4th century CE. As A. Glock shows in the Hermann Dessau (1856-1931), his article revised understanding of the work, but brought him into disagreement with Mommsen (and his successor Otto Hirschfeld), but without any breaking of relations. After Mommsen’s death Dessau edited the epigraphic portion of his Kleine Schriften. His ILS was revised after his death by Lothar Wickert (1900-89), Dessau’s only student. Reserved by nature, Dessau gave learned but uninspiring lectures but did not attract a cadre of students.  

  • Sources:

    Arthur Stein, Klio 25 (1932) 226-44; S. Frankfurter, BBJ 241 (1933) 80-107; Peter Robert Franke, NDB 3 (1957) 615; Katja Wannack, Hermann Dessau der fast vergessene Schüler Mommsens und die Großunternehmen der Berlin Akademie der Wissenschaften (Hamburg: Kovač, 2007); Herman Dessau 1856-1931) zum 150. Geburtstag des Berliner Althistorikers und Epigraphikers, ed. Manfred G.Schmidt (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2009); Thomas Gerhardt, Brill, 150. 

  • Author: Ward Briggs