European Scholar

MEYER, Eduard

  • Image
  • Date of Birth (YYYY-MM-DD): 1855-01-25
  • Born City: Hamburg
  • Born State/Country: Germany
  • Date of Death (YYYY-MM-DD): 1930-08-31
  • Death City: Berlin
  • Death State/Country: Germany
  • Married: Rosine Freymond, 1884
  • Education:

    Study at Johanneum, Hamburg; study oriental and classical languages, Bonn, 1872; study of Oriental studies & Egyptology, Leipzig, 1872-3; Ph.D. 1875; habilitation, 1879. 

  • Professional Experience:

    Tutor to family of Sir Phillip Francis, British ambassador to Constantinople, 1875-9; prof. ancient history, Breslau, 1885-9; first prof. ordinarius ancient history, Halle, 1889-1902; ordinarius Berlin, 1902-23.

  • Dissertation:

    "Set-Typhon; Eine religionsgeschichtliche Studie" (Leipzig, 1875); "Geschichte des Königreiches Pontos" (Leipzig, 1879)..

  • Publications:

    Books

    For complete list see bibliography.)

    Geschichte von Troas (Leipzig, 1877); Geschichte des Königreiches Pontos (Leipzig, 1879)Geschichte des Altertums. Vol. 1: Geschichte des Orients bis zur Begrundung des Perserreichs (Stuttgart, 1884); 2d ed. in two parts: Vol. 1.1: Einleitung. Elemente der Anthropologie (Stuttgart and Berlin, 1907); 7th ed., 1965. Vol. 1.2: Die ältesten geschichtlichen Völker und Kulturen bis zum sechzehnten Jahrhundert (Stuttgart and Berlin, 1909; 8th ed., 1965); Supplement to the first volume: Die dltere Chronologie Babyloniens, Assyriens und Agyptens (Stuttgart and Berlin, 1925; 2d ed. [revised], ed. Hans Erich Stier. Stuttgart and Berlin, 1931); Geschichte des alten Ägyptens (Berlin, 1887; Italian edition, Milan, 1895; 1896; 1897); Forschungen zur alten Geschichte. Vol. 1: Zur älteren griechischen Geschichte (Halle, 1892); Geschichte des Altertums. Vol. 2: Geschichte des Abendlandes bis auf die Perserkriege (Stuttgart, 1893); 2d ed. completely revised in two parts: Vol. 2.1: Die Zeit der Ägyptischen Grofimacht. Stuttgart and Berlin, 1928; Vol. 2.2: Der Orient vom zwolften bis zur Mitte des achten Jahrhunderts. Edited from the Nachlaß by Hans Erich Stier (Stuttgart and Berlin, 1931; 4th ed., 1965); Die wirtschaftliche Entwickelung des Altertums (Jena, 1895); Die Entstehung des Judenthums. Eine historische Untersuchung (Halle, 1896; reprinted Hildesheim, 1965); Die Sklaverei im AItertum (Dresden, 1898); Forschungen zur alten Geschichte. Vol. 2: Zur Geschichte des fünften Jahrhunderts vor Christ (Halle, 1899); Geschichte des Altertums. Vol. 3: Das Perserreich und die Griechen. Bis zu den Friedensschliissen von 448 und 446 vor Christ (Stuttgart, 1901); 2d ed. completely revised: Der Ausgang der altorientalistischen Geschichte und der Aufstieg des Abendlandes bis zu den Perserkriegen ed. Hans Erich Stier (Stuttgart, 1937; 4th ed., 1965); Geschichte des Altertums. Vol. 4:3d ed. Das Perserreich und die Griechen. Athen vom Frieden von 446 bis zur Capitulation Athens im Jahre 404 vor Christ (Stuttgart, 1901); in two parts: Vol. 4.1: Das Perserreich und die Griechen bis zum Vorabend des Peloponnesischen Krieges, ed. Hans Erich Stier (Stuttgart, 1939); Vol. 4.2: Der Ausgang der griechischen Geschichte, ed. Hans Erich Stier; 5th ed., 1965; Geschichte des Altertums. Vol. 5: Das Perserreich und die Griechen. Fourth Book: Der Ausgang der griechischen Geschichte (Stuttgart and Berlin, 1902; 5th ed., 1969); Zur Theorie und Methodik der Geschichte. Geschichtsphilosophische Untersuchungen (Halle, 1902; Russian edition, Moscow, 1904; Japanese edition, Tokyo, 1924); Aegyptische Chronologie (Berlin, 1904); Die Israeliten und ihre Nachbarstämme. Alttestamentliche Untersuchungen, with contributions by Bernhard Luther (Halle, 1906; reprinted Darmstadt, 1967); Theopomps Hellenika. Mit einer Beilage über die Rede an die Larisäer und die Verfassung Thessaliens (Halle, 1909); Kleine Schriften zur Geschichtstheorie und zur wirtschaftlichen und politischen Geschichte des Altertums (Halle, 1910); Der Papyrusfund von Elephantine. Dokumente einer jüdischen Gemeinde aus der Perserzeit und das alteste erhaltene Buch aus der Weltliteratur (Leipzig, 1912); Ursprung und Geschichte der Mormonen. Mit Exkursen über die Anfänge des Islams und des Christentums (Halle, 1912); Reich und Kultur der Chetiter (Berlin, 1914); England. Seine staatliche und politische Entwicklung und der Krieg gegen Deutschland (Stuttgart and Berlin, 1915); Nordamerika und Deutschland (Berlin, 1915); Weltgeschichte und Weltkrieg. Gesammelte Aufsätze (Stuttgart and Berlin, 1916); Deramerikanische Kongreß und der Weltkrieg (Berlin, 1917); Caesars Monarchie und das Principat des Pompeius. Innere Geschichte Roms von 66 bis 44 vor Christ (Stuttgart and Berlin, 1918; 3d ed., 1922; reprinted Darmstadt, 1963); Die Vereinigten Staaten von Amerika. Geschichte, Kultur, Verfassung und Politik (Frankfurt-am-Main, 1920); Ursprung und Anfänge des Christentums. Vol. 1: Die Evangelien; vol. 2: Die Entwicklung des Judentums und Jesus von Nazaret (Stuttgart and Berlin, 19210; vol. 3: Die Apostelgeschichte und die Anfänge des Christentums (Stuttgart and Berlin, 1923; vols. 1-3 reprinted Darmstadt, 1962); Kleine Schriften. Vols. 1 and 2 (Halle, 1924); Blute und Niedergang des Hellenismus in Asien (Berlin, 1925).

    Articles (Selected)

    (A selection of articles not included in Forschungen zur alten Geschichte or in the Kleine Schriften; for a complete list see bibliography.)

    Über einige semitische GötterZeitschrift der deutschen Morgenlandischen Gesellschaft 31 (1877) 716-741; “Bevolkerung des Altertums,” Handwörterbuch der Staatswissenschaften (Jena, 1891) 2:443-456; 2d ed. (1899) 2:674-689; 3d ed. (1909) 2:898-913; “Homerische Parerga.” Hermes 27 (1892) 363-380; “Griechische Finanzen,” Handwörterbuch der Staatswissenschaft. Supplement (Jena, 1897) 2:448-61; 2d ed. (1900) 3:936-49; 3d ed. (1909) 4:134-46; “Sumerier und Semiten in Babylonien,” Abhandlungen der Königlich Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften 3 (Berlin, 1906); “Uber die Anfänge des Staats und sein Verbältnis zu den Geschlechtsverbanden und zum Volkstum,” Sitzungsberichte der Königlich Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften (Berlin, 1907) 508-38; “Die altesten datierten Zeugnisse der iranischen Sprache und der zoroastrischen Religion,” Kuhns Zeitschrift für vergleichende Sprachwissenschaft 42 (1908) 1-27; “Untersuchungen über die alteste Geschichte Babyloniens und über Nebukadnezars Befestigungsanlagen,” Sitzungsberichte der Königlich Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften (Berlin, 1912) 1062-1108; “Die Gemeinde des neuen Bundes im Lande Damaskus. Eine jüdische Schrift aus der Seleukidenzeit,” Abhandlungen der Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften. Philologisch-historische Klasse 9 (Berlin, 1919); “Spengler’s Untergang des Abendlandes,” Deutsche Literaturzeitung 45 (1924) 1759-1780. (Review.)

  • Notes:

    In the annals of ancient studies, the name of Eduard Meyer stands for the bold attempt of a single scholar to construct a comprehensive account of the history of the ancient world from its oriental beginnings down to Roman times, on the basis of his own independent study of the sources. Meyer’s concept of a universal history of antiquity was not actually new; new was the intensity with which he succeeded in uniting a broad synchronistic view with the most exact research into details, thus bringing the history of Egypt and the Near East (including Israelite and Jewish history) into the ancient historian’s range of vision. When Meyer died in 1930 it was clear to all scholars in his field that, because of the expanding wealth of material and because of the increasing specialization of research, no single historian would probably ever again be able to control so extensive a field of work.

    The foundations of Meyer’s universal lifework were laid in his parents’ home and in school. The son of a scholarly preparatory-school teacher in Hamburg, he grew up in a cultivated atmosphere in which classical German poetry and ancient literature were central. At the age of twelve he wrote a tragedy in five acts: Brutus oder die Ermordung Cœsars; the play was inspired by Shakespeare, but its details were based on the author’s own study of sources (chiefly Plutarch). The Johanneum in Hamburg—a school designed to educate scholars and at that time a center of research on Thucydides—gave the highly gifted pupil a philological training that was at university level. In particular, the director of the Johanneum, Johannes Classen (1805-91), a student of Niebuhr, exerted a decisive influence on Meyer by making him familiar with Niebuhr’s style of viewing ancient history from the perspective of universal history. While still at school Meyer learned, along with Greek and Latin, Hebrew and the basics of Arabic.

    In his first semester, at the age of seventeen, he had his eyes firmly fixed on the goal of his studies. The history of antiquity interested him not because it was to serve as a model for modern civilization nor because of its classicism, but because it was “the first epoch in the evolution of the human spirit” (Hoffmann, Calder-Demandt). He sought in antiquity answers to the fundamental anthropological questions that had been raised since Darwin, of the descent and primitive history of man and of the origin of language, religion, culture, and morality. The young Meyer was persuaded that he could use positivistic methods of research to illuminate an area that had hitherto lain in the semi-obscurity of religious or philosophical speculation. In conformity with his universalist anthropological approach, Meyer devoted himself during his university studies (one semester in Bonn, five semesters in Leipzig) almost exclusively to the ancient Orient as the earliest form of human civilization. With admirable tenacity and sense of purpose, he studied the most important oriental languages: Arabic, Persian, and Turkish with H. L. Fleischer (1801-88) and O. Loth (1844-81), Sanskrit with the Indo-Europeanist E. Kuhn (1846-1920), and Egyptian with G. Ebers (1837-98). He later added a knowledge of cuneiform inscriptions. In addition, he devoted himself—for the most part autodidactically—to studies in the history of languages and religions. The young student’s appraisal of religion as “the most interesting part of the history of illusions” is entirely in the tradition of the rationalistic criticism of religion. He attended Christian worship services “as a cultural study” and grew indignant at the “hypocrisy, mendacity, and immorality that religion brought into the human race” (Hoffmann, Juden und Judentum: 136 n. 10).

    At the early age of twenty he received his doctorate with a thesis directed by Ebers, on the Egyptian god Set-Typhon. Next, as a tutor to the children of the British general consul in Constantinople, Sir Philip Francis (1740-1818), Meyer had the opportunity in 1875-1876 to become acquainted with the Orient by personal observation. In his long wanderings through the city and by means of his contacts with European diplomats Meyer investigated political, social, and religious conditions in the Ottoman Empire, which had been weakened by serious crises. Longer excursions took him also to the ancient sites in Asia Minor, to Bithynia and Troy. As the product of this personal observation, he published in 1877 the short treatise Geschichte von Troas, in which he took a critical attitude toward Schliemann’s (1822-90) hypotheses.

    In 1879 Meyer habilitated in ancient history in Leipzig with a study on the history of Pontus, the foundations for which he had laid in a paper written while he was still a schoolboy. In the same year the twenty-four-year-old Privatdozent accepted a proposal from the publisher Cotta to write a Handbuch and textbook on ancient history. From now on, the Geschichte des Altertums (GdA) was his life’s work. The five volumes of the first edition appeared between 1884 and 1902; they covered an expanse of time from the earliest days of Egypt to Philip of Macedon. Meyer modeled the basic plan of his work on the universal-historical conception of A. H. L. Heeren (Handbuch der Geschichte der Stmten des Alterthums, 1799), but in the execution of the plan Meyer conformed to the source-critical standards that since Heeren’s time had become obligatory for the scholarly writing of history. Detailed chapters on sources and on chronology introduce each book of the history; political history stands in the foreground, but cultural, religious, and economic history is also dealt with. The most significant and generally acknowledged achievement of the GdA is that here the histories of the individual peoples are set free from their isolation and are integrated, on the basis of synchronistic treatment, into the totality of universal history. Thus the epochs of Menes and Hammurabi, of Moses, Homer, and Zoroaster, of Alexander the Great and the Roman empire all appear together as a necessary unity, and the unique characteristics of individual peoples, placed against a background of the universal tendencies and developments that influenced them all, can be portrayed with especial vividness.

    Meyer’s work was criticized chiefly on points of specialized research, in which the state of knowledge was being rapidly expanded by new excavations and discoveries, and Meyer sometimes passed over such problems with excessive self-assurance. Meyer’s decided proclivity toward constructing analogies was also perceived as problematic by his contemporaries, as it is today. For example, to the Homeric and early archaic periods (ca. 1000-650 BCE) Meyer had attached the name “Greek Middle Ages” in order to denote a specific level of cultural development, and he described Athenian society in the Periclean Age in terms of modem categories and perspectives (“agrarians vs. capitalists”). In his justified attempt to free Greek history from the classicizing aestheticism of an Ernst Curtius (1814-96) and to reveal its true conditions, Meyer emphasized too greatly the “modernity” of antiquity. Finally, objections were raised against the form of the work. Meyer wrote in a dry style that mingled general description and specialized investigation. The “Handbuch" form of the GdA, its division into paragraphs, and the extended discussion in the text of detailed problems, rather than in the footnotes, aimed chiefly at an audience of specialists and lessened the work’s popularity among the general public. The judgment of Mommsen, who found the “Handbuch” form scarcely bearable in an historical work, is characteristic: “The narrare breaks down entirely in this book written capitulatim” (Mommsen und Wilamowitz, Briefwechsel 1872-1903, Berlin, 1935: 485-86).

    In this same period further important works took shape in connection with the GdA—some as preliminary studies, some as supplements. The Geschichte des alten Ägyptens (1887) was a decisive advance in comparison with previous works, because it went beyond merely enumerating the deeds of particular pharaohs or listing cultural- historical facts and in addition furnished a lively picture of the different epochs of Egyptian history in their historical development.

    Meyer’s study Die Entstehung des Judenthums (1896) caused a sensation. Here he maintained that the Persian decrees transmitted in Ezra 4-7 are largely genuine; he defended them against the hypercritical objections of contemporary Biblical scholarship and emphasized the decisive importance of Persian religious policies for the growth of postexilic Judaism. Meyer’s study brought on a sharp controversy with the grand old man of Protestant Biblical scholarship, Julius Wellhausen (1844-1918), in Göttingen. The ostensible point of dispute was the criticism and use of sources, but more important were the two scholars’ differing approaches to the study of Jewish history. Whereas Wellhausen sought to understand the history of Israel and of Judaism from itself alone and stressed its internal development, Meyer strongly emphasized the external influences that were exerted on the Jewish people by the surrounding oriental nations. On the question of authenticity, scholarship has largely supported Meyer’s view (Parente, Calder-Demandt). The fragmentary decree of Darius II from the year 419 BCE, discovered among the Elephantine papyri ten years after Meyer’s investigation was published, in which the rite of the feast of unleavened bread is made binding on the whole Persian Empire, provided brilliant confirmation of Meyer’s main thesis (cf. DerPapyrusfund von Elephantine, 1912: 95).

    In close connection with the GdA he also published the two volumes of Forschungen zur alten Geschichte (1892 and 1899) in which individual problems in Greek history—from the Pelasgians and Lycurgus of Sparta to the history of Attic finances in the fifth century BCE to the historical works of Herodotus and Thucydides—were subjected to intensive analysis.

    Meyer also took part in two important debates within German historiography at the turn of the century. Characteristically, his expressions were more edged and polemical than calm and judicious. In the question as to how economic conditions in antiquity were to be fundamentally evaluated, Meyer (as well as K. J. Beloch) stubbornly opposed the thesis defended by the Leipzig national economist K. Bücher (1847-1930)—and before him by J. K. Rodbertus (1805-75)—that autonomous household economies (Oikenwirtschaft) had been the predominant economic entity in the ancient world. Meyer, on the other hand, sought by numerous isolated examples to support his contention that the ancient economy was already familiar with well-developed trade, commerce, money economies—even “factories,” “division of labor,” and “big business” (Die wirtschaftliche Entwickelungdes Altertums, 1895). Meyer saw a direct parallel between economic development in archaic and classical Greece on the one hand, and early modern Europe on the other; he emphasized that one’s view of economic conditions in certain epochs of antiquity (e.g., in Hellenistic times) “cannot be modern enough” (Kleine Schriften,1:141). In opposition to the evolutionist interpretation of ancient economic history, Meyer proposed a cyclical model, according to which economic development proceeds in circular fashion from rather primitive beginnings through highly developed forms of money economy and mobilized labor forces, returning to a natural economy and serfdom at the end of ancient times. The course of the “Bücher-Meyer controversy” was unfortunate in that it led to no more far-reaching scholarly discussion between the two opponents—e.g., on the fundamental problem of applying modern economic theories to the history of the ancient economy or on the differentiation between the too-rigid alternatives of “ancient” and “modern.” Meyer’s unusually brusque rejection of Bücher’s views was largely to blame for this (Schneider, Calder-Demandt; on Max Weber’s criticisms cf. Deininger, Ibid.).

    Meyer’s treatise Zur Theorie und Methodik der Geschichte (1902) was also primarily a polemical attack on contemporary theories—those of Karl Lamprecht (1856-1915) and Kurt Breysig (1866-1940), among others—that held that the goal of historical study was analogous to that of the natural sciences and consisted of discovering laws and constructing general models. Meyer maintained that defining historical research as a “science of laws” was utterly mistaken. “History is no systematic science,” reads the very first sentence of his treatise, and in support of this proposition he cites the “enormous” importance of chance, of “free will,” and of the “power of ideas,” which a priori exclude any “obedience to law” in the historical process. To Meyer the objective of historiography was not to depict “mass phenomena” or “typical” conditions but to investigate and portray the “individual” event (29). He saw the significance of a historical phenomenon solely in the influence it exerted. “That is historical which is or has been influential” (36). Consequently, the historian in his work must start from the historical effect and proceed thence to its causes. The subjective element inherent in this procedure was, in Meyer’s view, inescapable. “At all times we can arrive at nothing but our own understanding of history, never an absolute and unconditionally valid understanding” (45). Max Weber, in his Kritische Studien auf dem Gebiet der kulturwissenschaftlichen Logik (1906), subjected Meyer’s thoughts on the theory of historiography to extensive and suggestive criticism (Deininger, Calder-Demandt).

    As his scholarly oeuvre increased, Meyer’s reputation in the academic world grew. His career took him to Breslau (1885) and Halle (1889), and in 1902 he was called to the University of Berlin, after he had declined invitations from universities outside Prussia (1887 to Tübingen, 1900 to Munich). He taught in Berlin, as a colleague of Otto Hirschfeld (1843-1922), Hermann Diels (1848-1922), and Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff (1848-1931), until his retirement in 1923. In contrast to Wilamowitz’s concept of a universal Altertumswissenschaft that united the fields of classical philology and ancient history in the Institut für Altertumskunde, Meyer always stressed that ancient history, because of the questions that it posed and the methods that it employed, belonged rather to the general field of history and at best ought to be connected with classical philology for purely pragmatic reasons (e.g., a common library). (On the difference between the views of Wilamowitz and Meyer, see Calder, Calder-Demandt.) During his years at Berlin, Meyer’s academic influence grew as he became a member of the Akademie der Wissenschaften, the Deutsche Orientgesellschaft, the board of directors of the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, and later the Notgemeinschaft Deutscher Wissenschaft as well. Nevertheless, his scholarly productivity suffered no ill effects because of his new duties nor because of social obligations, which in Berlin, the capital, were much more numerous than in Breslau or Halle. A series of specialized studies from this period deserves mention: Ägyptische Chronologie (1904), Die lsraeliten und ihre Nachbarstämme (1906), Theopomps Hellenika (1909), and Der Papyrusfund von Elephantine (1912).

    In Berlin Meyer also continued to work on the GdA, but he did not, as many readers had hoped, bring the work down to Hellenistic and Roman times. Rather, he undertook a fundamental revision of the first volume. This had become necessary because the scholarly picture of the eastern Mediterranean world and the Near East in the third and second millennia BCE had been fundamentally altered since the appearance of the first edition by archaeological discoveries and the growth of knowledge. The first volume appeared in reworked form in 1909 (in final form in 1913); it contains, in a scant thousand pages, the history of the Near Eastern and Mediterranean world down to the sixteenth century BCEMeyer had prefaced the volume with a half-volume methodological introduction to historiography in general and to prehistory and early history in particular (Elemente der Anthropologie, 1907). This book—a remarkable production for a historian—documents Meyer’s intensive preoccupation, dating from his student days, with questions of anthropology, ethnology, and the comparative study of religions. But aside from its impressive display of the author’s knowledge of the subjects, it also exhibits doctrinaire traits—for example, in the exaggerated thesis, which goes back to Aristotle, that the state, as the pre-condition for all human development, “is in its origin older than the human race” (11) or in the “consistent style of imperturbable certainty” with which Meyer sets forth his pronouncements, whether they are based on his own investigations or are taken at second hand or are founded simply on common knowledge (Nippel, Calder-Demandt).

    In 1904 Meyer was guest professor at the University of Chicago and in 1909-1910 exchange professor at Harvard University. He was quite enthusiastically received by the American scholarly community. Americans called him “the most eminent living historian” (Chambers, Calder-Demandt). He got to know the country as he traveled about on extended lecture tours. His stay in America was also productive in a scholarly sense; in 1912 appeared his book Ursprung und Geschichte der Mormonen. The ancient historian Meyer found the origin and history of the Mormons of interest, because he hoped to gain insights, by means of the concept of historical analogy, into comparable phenomena in the history of ancient religions, particularly the rise of the prophetic religions Christianity and Islam (Henrichs, Calder-Demandt).

    The First World War brought about a harsh break in Meyer’s life of scholarship. Convinced that the Allies had forced the war on Germany and especially aggrieved by England’s entry into the war, he set aside work on the GdA and concentrated on lectures, manifestos, memorials, and pamphlets for “the cause of the Fatherland” (Fischer; Soseman, Calder-Demandt). Hitherto Meyer had taken hardly any part in politics, but in the course of the war he increasingly became the convinced champion of expansionist war aims and the embittered critic of the moderate policies of Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg (1856-1921), especially on the question of submarine warfare. He attributed plans for world domination to England and saw in her Germany’s chief opponent; his war writings thus document his attempt “to ideologize the war between Germany and England into a fundamental spiritutal and cultural struggle” (Lehmann, 278). Meyer’s outlook while he was engaged in his political and publicistic activities was basically pessimistic. The outbreak of the war was for him the end of the modern European world, which had been characterized by fruitful competition and mutual respect between the nations. For the future he now expected the irresistible decline of European civilization, analogous to the “fall” of the ancient world that followed Rome’s seizure of unopposed domination throughout the Mediterranean world (on this analogy of Meyer’s see Ungern-Sternberg, Calder-Demandt). To Meyer, who had been sixteen years old when the German empire was founded and who was always a loyal supporter of the monarchy, Germany’s military collapse and the revolution of 1918-1919 was a catastrophe in which he saw the signs of the political, intellectual, and moral collapse of the German people. He rejected the parliamentary democracy of the Weimar Republic, even though he was aware that the monarchy, once toppled, could never again be reestablished. But Meyer looked on parliamentarianism, democracy, and political parties as evils which the victorious powers had imposed on Germany in order to weaken her. As Rector of the University of Berlin, Meyer worked against the existing order, most notably in the Kapp-Lüttwitz putsch, in which he was involved, though tangentially. As a protest against the “surrender of war criminals” demanded by the Versailles treaty, Meyer organized a proclamation at the German universities, and he announced publicly that he had torn to pieces the honorary degrees that English and American universities had conferred upon him.

    After his turbulent year as Rector, Meyer withdrew more and more from politics. But even in these years of energetic public labors he found the energy for scholarly work. In the spring of 1918 he published the monograph sars Monarchie und das Principat des Pompeius. Roman internal policy in the period of transition from Republic to dictatorship to principate was among the subjects that Meyer was able to “really understand” during the years of the World War. Consciously distancing himself from Mommsen and his idealized picture of Caesar, Meyer traced the struggles for power in the late Republic back to a rivalry between three conceptions of the Roman state: the old Republic in the form of senatorial rule, the “absolute monarchy” of Caesar, and the military and political leadership of the state by the Senate’s “trusted minister without portfolio,” the princeps. Pompey, Meyer maintained, had already aimed at the third solution, and thus (the book’s central thesis) the “principate of Pompey” was Augustus’ model. This equation of Pompey’s position, which was based solely on force, and the specific form of Augustus’ personal rule, which evolved in the course of a long reign, has generally been rejected by the scholarly world as exaggerated (cf. Stahlmann, Imperator Caesar Augustus, 87).

    Meyer was also the first to apply the approach and the methods of the ancient historian to the history of Christian origins (Ursprung und Anfänge des Christentums I-III, 1921-23). In contradistinction to theological literary criticism of the New Testament, Meyer underscored the relative trustworthiness of the tradition. He believed that one could derive from the Gospel of Mark and the subsequent traditions a dependable picture of the historical Jesus and his goals. In his treatment of the history of Christianity, which also dealt in detail with the evolution of Judaism, Meyer laid stress on the Jewish roots of Jesus’ teaching. “Jesus’ religious world-view was entirely that of the Pharisees” (II, 245). In his conception of the binding nature of the ritual law, however, Jesus transcended Pharisaism and established a religious ethic that Meyer (here gazing through Kantian lenses) regarded as the high point in the human race’s moral development. But toward Christianity Meyer was clearly more critical. He rejected the views of other scholars—e.g., that of Bossuet (1727-1704) or Reitzenstein (1861-1931), who emphasized Hellenistic influences on Christianity—and pointed to the popular and mythical character of Christian practices, which had nothing in common with the “Hellenistic Enlightenment.” In Meyer’s opinion the spread of Christianity was an essential factor in the increasing “Orientalization” of the Western world. Meyer received an honorary doctorate from the theological faculty at Berlin for his three- volume work, but all the same his history of Christianity was criticized, especially by professional theologians. Meyer’s analysis of sources was regarded as a step backward in comparison with the contemporary state of New Testament research, because he ignored the question of the synoptic gospels’ intentions in their portrayal of Jesus and the influence they aimed to exert on their readers. “For him [Meyer] criticism still means: to reduce the tradition as it stands, by means of operative abridgements, to history, whereas it is far more to the point to recognize the process that is frozen in the tradition” (von Soden: 433). This negative judgment is still current today among theologians (Plümacher, Calder-Demandt). But historians judge Meyer’s book more positively. Victor Ehrenberg (1891-1976) ranks it among the “great creative works” (Ehrenberg: 506), and Momigliano (1908-87) prophesied “that in a not very distant day ancient historians and theologians will make a pilgrimage to the tomb of Eduard Meyer, whom nowadays nobody quotes any longer. He remains after all the only historian of this century who succeeded in producing (inter alia) a diptych, however crude, of pre-rabbinic Judaism and New Testament Christianity” (Sesto Contributo 2:778).

    After his retirement in 1923, Meyer once more devoted himself entirely to the GdA and before the end of his life he was almost able to complete the revision of the second volume, down to the golden age of the new Assyrian empire in the eighth century BCE After Meyer’s death in 1930 the remaining volumes were reworked and republished by Meyer’s student Hans Erich Stier (1902-78), who used Meyer’s notes and specialized studies. Nonetheless, one must admit that Meyer’s monumental universal history of antiquity remained, in the end, a torso.

    Meyer’s influence as a teacher was incomparably less than that of, e.g., Mommsen. Of the approximately thirty-five doctoral candidates who wrote their dissertations under Meyer only two (Ulrich Kahrstedt (1888-1962) and Hans Erich Stier) became professors of ancient history. Arthur Rosenberg (1889-1943) was also among the inner circle of Meyer’s students. Toward his students Meyer was a tolerant teacher and (in contrast to his attitude in politics) by no means doctrinaire. He did not have the ambition to lead a “school”; rather, he let his students go their own ways in scholarship, just as he had autodidactically found his own way to the universal history of antiquity. Meyer was no great speaker; he influenced his students chiefly through his lively seminars and by his open and friendly nature and his legendary booming laugh.

    As for the effectiveness of Meyer’s life work, he chiefly influenced the conceptions and the content of the works of those historians who also took the universal-historical approach, e.g., Max Weber, Oswald Spengler (whose Untergang des Abendlandes Meyer reviewed critically but quite positively), or Arnold Toynbee. In the study of ancient history Meyer’s universalism remained an outstanding and isolated phenomenon, but his insistence that all real historical research must proceed from the universal point of view certainly found imitators (Toynbee). The modern reader is impressed by the total mass of Meyer’s scholarly work, which comprises over five hundred titles. To be sure, specialized research has superseded much of it, Meyer’s style is bare of ornament and inclines toward stereotypical formulae, his conceptualization is sometimes inappropriately modernizing, his judgments are always a bit too unequivocal, and his appraisals are not seldom distorted by contemporary attitudes and polemical exaggerations. Nevertheless, because of the breadth of his historical perspective, because of his capacity to make the universal visible in and through the particular, and not least because of his insistence on adhering closely to the sources, Meyer’s great works continually repay rereading.

    Translated by Michael Armstrong

  • Sources:

    Bibliography

    Heinrich Marohl, Eduard Meyer Bibliographie. Mit einer autobiographischen Skizze Eduard Meyers und der Gedachtnisrede von Ulrich Wilcken (Stuttgart, 1941).

    Biographical

    William M. Calder III,“ ‘Credo gegen Credo; Arbeit gegen Arbeit; Anschauung gegen Anschauung.’ Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff contra Eduard Meyer,” Calder-Demandt (see below); William M. Calder Ill and Alexander Demandt, eds. Eduard Meyer—Leben und Leistung eines Universalhistorikers (Leiden: Brill, 1990); Luciano Canfora, “Die Kritik der bürgerlichen Demokratie durch Eduard Meyer.” In “Klassische" Antike und moderne DemokratieArthur Rosenberg zwischen alter Geschichte, Politik und politischer Bildung, ed. R. W. Müller and G. Schafer (Göttingen and Zurich, 1986) 46-58; –––––, “Eduard Meyer zwischen Kratippos und Theopomp.” Quademi di storia 27 (1988) 93-99; Mortimer Chambers, “The ‘Most Eminent Living Historian, the One Final Authority’: Meyer in America,” Calder-Demandt; Karl Christ, Von Gibbon zu Rostovtzeff. Leben und Werk führender Althistoriker der Neuzeit, 2d ed. (Darmstadt, 1979) 286-333; Jürgen Deininger, “Eduard Meyer und Max Weber,” Calder-Demandt; Victor Ehrenberg, “Eduard Meyer,” Historische Zeitschrift 143 (1931) 501-11; Moses I. Finley, ed., The Bücher-Meyer Controversy (New York, 1979); Kurt Fischer, "Die politische und publizistische Tätigkeit Eduard Meyers im ersten Weltkrieg und in den ersten Jahren der Weimarer Republik," Sonderdruck [typescript] (Potsdam, 1963); Albert Henrichs, “Alte und neue Propheten als Stifter von Offenbarungsreligionen: Der Ursprung der Religionen nach Eduard Meyer,” Calder-Demandt; Christhard Hoffmann, Juden und Judentum im Werk deutscher Althistoriker des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts (Leiden, 1988): 133-89; “Die Selbsterziehung des Historikers. Zur intellektuellen Entwicklung des jungen Eduard Meyer (1855-1879).” Calder-Demandt; Johanna Jantsch, Die Entstehung des Christentums bei Adolf von Harnack und Eduard Meyer, (Diss., Marburg, 1988); Gustav Adolf Lehmann, “Eduard Meyer,” Berlinische Lebensbilder. Vol. 4. Geistes' wissenschaftler, ed. M. Erbe (Berlin, 1989) 269-85; Hans Liebeschütz, Das Judentum im deutschen Geschichtsbild von Hegel bis Max Weber. (Tübingen, 1967) 269-301; M. Mazza, “Meyer vs. Bücher: II dibattito sull’ economia antica nella storiografica tedesca tra otto e novecento.” Societa e storia 29 (1985) 508-546; Momigliano, Arnaldo. “Premesse per una discussione su Eduard Meyer.” Rivista Storica Italiana 93 (1981) 384-98; ------ Sesto Contribute alia storia degli studi classici e del mondo antico (Rome, 1980) 845-60; Wilfried Nippel, “Prolegomena zu Eduard Meyers Anthropologie,” Calder-Demandt; Walter Otto, “Eduard Meyer und sein Werk,” Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft85 (1931) 1-24; Fausto Parente, “Die Enstehungdes Judenthums: Persien, die Achameniden und das Judentum in der Interpretation von Eduard Meyer,” Calder-Demandt; Eckhard Plümacher, “Eduard Meyers Ursprung und Anfänge des Christentums. Verhaltnis von Fachwissenschaft und Zeitgeist.” Calder-Demandt; Kay Frederik Schmidt-Phiseldeck, Eduard Meyer og de historiske Problemer (Aarhus, 1929); Helmuth Schneider, “Die Bueher-Meyer Kontroverse,” Calder-Demandt; H. von Soden, “Die Anfänge des Christentums in der Darstellung Ed. Meyers,” Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte 43 (1924) 429-40; Bernd Sosemann, “ ‘Der kühnste Entschluß führt am sichersten zum Ziel.’ Eduard Meyers Vorstellungen zu partei- und weltpolitischen Entwicklungen,” Calder-Demandt; Ines Stahlmann, Imperator Caesar Augustus. Studien zur Geschichte des Principatsversttindnisses in der deutschen Altertumswissenschaft bis 1945(Darmstadt, 1988) 67-90; Friedrich H. Tenbruck, “Max Weber und Eduard Meyer,” in Max Weber and his Contemporaries, ed. W. J. Mommsen and J. Osterhammel (London, 1987) 234-67; A. Toynbee, “Die ‘Alte Geschichte’ und die Universalhistorie,” Saeculum 21 (1970) 91-105; Jürgen von Ungem-Sternberg, “Politik und Geschichte. Der Althistoriker Eduard Meyer im Ersten Weltkrieg.” Calder-Demandt.

    Letters

    Gert Audring, Christhard Hoffmann, and Jürgen von Ungem-Sternberg, eds. Eduard Meyer und Victor Ehrenberg. Ein Briefwechsel (1914-1930) (Berlin and Stuttgart: Teubner, 1990); Leandro Polverini, “Il carteggio Beloch-Meyer,” in Die Antike im neunzehnten Jahrhundert, ed. Karl Christ and Arnaldo Momigliano (Berlin, 1988)ß: 199-219.

    Papers

    Akademie der Wissenschaften der DDR, Zentrales Akademiearchiv, Berlin/DDR. Nachlaß Eduard Meyer (the major part of the Nachlaß); Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin (West): Manuscript Department; Nachlaß No. 213: Eduard Meyer. (A small but important collection.) Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Hamburg, Manuscript Department; Nachlaß Eduard Meyer. (A small collection.) See “Ein Orientalist, der auch am Ilissus und am Tiber heimisch ist,” ed. Edgar Pack, Der Teilnachlaß des Althistorikers Eduard Meyer in der Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Hamburg (Cologne, 1989).

  • Author: Christhard Hoffmann