Eduard Meyer

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Eduard Meyer, painting 1910/11 by Lovis Corinth , ( Kunsthalle Hamburg )

Eduard Meyer (born January 25, 1855 in Hamburg , † August 31, 1930 in Berlin ) was an important German ancient historian , Egyptologist and ancient orientalist . He was one of the last historians to write a complete history of antiquity . His brother was the Celtologist Kuno Meyer (1858-1919).

Meyer's main work is the history of antiquity (5 volumes, 1884–1902). By looking at the historical development in the Middle East, Egypt and Greece up to around 355 BC Chr. Placed in a comprehensive political, economic and cultural-historical framework, he freed Greek history from the previously customary isolated consideration. The work is considered to be a first-rate contribution to classical studies.


School time in Hamburg

Eduard Meyer grew up in his native Hamburg . His parents were Henriette and Eduard Meyer. His father was a liberal Hanseatic and studied classical philology. He was interested in history and published several books on the history of Hamburg and antiquity . At an early age, he taught his sons Eduard and Kuno (who later made a name for himself as a Celtologist) the ancient languages ​​that he taught at the Johanneum . His sons also attended this school.

The Johanneum was the city's most traditional grammar school. During Meyer's school days, it was directed by the classical philologist Johannes Classen , who is considered Meyer's mentor and supporter. Study of Latin and ancient Greek was compulsory and even reached a scientific level in the upper school. Here Meyer was taught by teachers such as the Graecist and Thucydides specialist Franz Wolfgang Ullrich (1795–1880) and the Latinist and Horace specialist Adolph Kießling . In the case of Kiessling, for example, it was customary to discuss Horace in Latin. Even as a schoolboy Meyer dealt with the history of ancient Asia Minor . His later habilitation was based on the preparatory work from high school. He also began to learn Hebrew and Arabic during his school days. In the spring of 1872 he passed the Abitur examination. Because of his excellent performance, he was awarded a scholarship.

Study time

Meyer's study objective was initially to learn as many languages ​​of the ancient Orient as possible in order to be able to use them for historical studies. First, Meyer went to the University of Bonn . However, the high demands of the student were not met here. Above all, the ancient historian Arnold Schaefer disappointed him. After only one semester, he therefore moved to the University of Leipzig for the winter semester of 1872/73 .

At that time, Leipzig was a center of oriental studies . There Meyer's studies were extremely fruitful. He learned Sanskrit , Persian and Turkish from the Indo-Europeanist Adalbert Kuhn , Arabic from Otto Loth , Syriac from Heinrich Leberecht Fleischer and Egyptian from Georg Ebers . He also studied history, philosophy and ethnology . In addition to the Indo-European and Semitic linguistics, Meyer also turned to the ancient history of religion . In 1875 he received his doctorate in philosophy with a study of the history of religion on the ancient Egyptian deity Set-Typhon , written by the Egyptologist Georg Ebers .

Between studies and professorship

By chance, after completing his doctorate, Meyer got a job with the British Consul General in Constantinople , Sir Philip Francis . There he was employed as an educator for the children. This was ideal for Meyer, as it gave him the opportunity to visit some sites of ancient oriental and ancient culture. However, Francis died a year later and Meyer's employment ended a few months later. He accompanied the family back to England. There he could visit the British Museum .

After returning to Germany, Meyer initially did his military service in Hamburg. In 1878 he went back to Leipzig , where he completed his habilitation in the subject of ancient history in the spring of 1879 . His habilitation thesis dealt with the history of the kingdom of Pontus . Several years as a private lecturer in Leipzig followed. It was a time that Meyer later fondly remembered, as he enjoyed the contact and exchange of views with his colleagues of the same age. He also liked it, forced by the teaching assignment, to cover the entire spectrum of ancient history. He saw it as a wholesome compulsion, which ultimately also led him to deal with ancient history in its entirety and within the other ancient cultures. The plan for a total history of antiquity arose. The first volume appeared in 1884 and established the author's excellent reputation in specialist circles.

Due to his language skills, Meyer was also able to carry out well-founded research into the area of ​​ancient oriental history. His work in this regard, which was detached from the often one-sided idealization of Greco-Roman antiquity, only extended to the 4th century BC. Chr .; even later there was no comparable publication by a single author.

In 1884 Eduard Meyer married Rosine Freymond.


After receiving the professorship in Leipzig, he was appointed full professor to the chair of ancient history in Breslau in 1885 . There he continued his history of antiquity and published other works. In 1889 he accepted an appointment as the first professor of ancient history at the University of Halle . In 1900 he turned down an offer from the University of Munich ; In 1902, however, he accepted an appointment at the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität zu Berlin . On Winckelmannstag 1899 he was appointed a full member of the German Archaeological Institute . Since 1904 Meyer has visited the USA several times to attend congresses and to visit professorships. In the 1919/20 academic year he was rector of Berlin University.

He died in Berlin in 1930. The grave is located in the Parkfriedhof Lichterfelde in department 15-Ugt.-218.

Political position

During the First World War , Meyer advocated extensive territorial annexations . In 1915 he was in favor not only of annexing "large areas in the east", but also of permanently degrading Belgium to a "vassal state" and revising the Franco-German border "ruthlessly according to our needs". In August 1917 he was one of the founders of the German Fatherland Party (DVLP) . After the end of the war, Meyer joined the German National People's Party (DNVP). In protest against the policies of the victorious powers towards Germany, Meyer returned the honorary doctorates that had been awarded to him by English and American universities - including Oxford and Harvard.


  • History of Antiquity (5 volumes, 1884–1902; numerous reprints).
  • The economic development of antiquity. A lecture (1895).
  • Egyptian Chronology (1904).
  • The Israelites and their Neighboring Tribes , Halle 1906.
  • The Elephantine papyrus find. Documents of a Jewish community from the Persian era and the oldest surviving book of wisdom literature , Leipzig 1912.
  • Origin and history of the Mormons. With excursions on the beginnings of Islam and Christianity , Halle 1912.
  • Caesar's monarchy and the Principate of Pompey (1918).
  • Origin and Beginnings of Christianity (3 volumes, 1921–1923).
  • Oswald Spengler and the Fall of the West (1925).


Web links

Wikisource: Eduard Meyer  - Sources and full texts

Individual evidence

  1. H.-J. Mende: Lexikon Berliner Grabstätten , Haude & Spener, Berlin 2006, ISBN 3-7759-0476-X .
  2. ^ Steffen Bruendel : Volksgemeinschaft or Volksstaat. The "Ideas of 1914" and the reorganization of Germany in the First World War . Akademie Verlag, Berlin 2003, pp. 148–149.
  3. Michael Grüttner u. a .: History of the University of Unter den Linden. Volume 2: The Berlin University between the World Wars 1918–1945 . De Gruyter, Berlin 2012, pp. 22 and 146.