Heinrich von Sybel

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Heinrich von Sybel, 1857
Signature Heinrich von Sybel.PNG
Relief portrait on his grave in the Old St. Matthew Cemetery in Berlin-Schöneberg

Heinrich Karl Ludolf Sybel , from 1831 von Sybel (born December 2, 1817 in Düsseldorf , †  August 1, 1895 in Marburg ) was a German historian , archivist and politician.


Sybel came from a long-established Protestant family of pastors and teachers from Soest , Westphalia , and was the son of Heinrich Ferdinand Philipp von Sybel (1781–1870), a lawyer who was very wealthy by marriage and hereditary in 1831 . His mother was Charlotta Amalie Brügelmann (1798–1846), a daughter of the Elberfeld manufacturer Karl Friedrich Brügelmann (1758–1824). His brother Alexander (1823-1902) was an important Rhenish Prussian civil servant and economic politician.


After graduating from high school, he began to study history in Berlin ; from 1834 he became Leopold von Ranke's pupil in this subject . In 1838 Sybel finished his studies with a doctorate to become Dr. phil. Two years later he was at the University of Bonn habilitation and already published in 1841, a history of the First Crusade , in which he proved that Peter the Hermit of the authors and not Godfrey of Bouillon had not been the leader of the crusade. Then he got a job as a lecturer there and in 1844 he was entrusted with an extraordinary professorship.

In the fall of 1845, Sybel accepted a call as a full professor at the University of Marburg . There he was also politically active and supported the liberal movement.

He became a member of the preliminary parliament in Frankfurt am Main , which met between March 31 and April 3, 1848 in the Paulskirche in Frankfurt . Between 1848 and 1849 Sybel was also a member of the Kassel Estates Assembly , where he was to be counted among the moderates. As such, he rejected popular sovereignty as well as universal suffrage.

Between March 20 and April 29, 1850 Sybel worked in the Ständehaus of the Erfurt Union Parliament , which met in the Erfurt Augustinian Church. Between 1862 and 1864 and again between 1874 and 1880 Sybel was a member of the Prussian House of Representatives . He was also a member of the constituent Reichstag of the North German Confederation in 1867 . As an opponent of Catholicism , Sybel was involved in the Kulturkampf .

From 1856 Sybel was a professor of history at the University of Munich . There he founded the historical seminar that still exists today. In addition, on behalf of the then Bavarian King Maximilian II , he tried to set up historical seminars at the other two state universities, the University of Erlangen and the University of Würzburg . In Erlangen, this was done in close cooperation with the historian and Ranke student Karl Hegel , with whom he was also closely connected through the Historical Commission he founded in 1858 together with Leopold von Ranke at the Bavarian Academy of Sciences in Munich. He was its secretary until 1862 .; from 1886 to 1895 he was its president. In 1859 he founded the historical magazine and ran it until the end of his life. The plan for the edition of the Reichstag files (RTA) also fell during his time in Munich . The preliminary conceptual work came from the historian Georg Voigt , who was supported by Sybel's students Wilhelm Maurenbrecher and Hans Delbrück .


In 1861 Sybel accepted a position at the University of Bonn . In 1867/68 he was the rector of the university. In 1875 he was entrusted with the management of the Prussian state archives . He was also instrumental in founding the German Historical Institute in Rome. In addition, he oversaw the reports of the papal nunciature for years. In 1875 the Prussian Academy of Sciences elected him to its full member, after he had been accepted into the Prussian Order pour le merite for science and the arts on May 31, 1874. He had been a foreign member of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences since 1861 .

Heinrich von Sybel died on August 1st, 1895 at the age of 77 in the house of his son Ludwig in Marburg. He was born next to his wife Caroline Eckhardt (1817–1884) was buried in the St.-Matthäus-Kirchhof in Schöneberg near Berlin, in a hereditary burial that he himself had acquired in 1884. The effect of the grave complex - a simple, two-axis wall grave by master builder Carl Mittag - is determined by two relief tondos created by Fritz Schaper , which depict Sybel and his wife in profile. Sybel's grave was dedicated as a Berlin honorary grave from 1952 to 2013 .


In 1841 he married Karoline Eckhardt (1817–1884), a daughter of the geodesist Christian Eckhardt (1784–1866). The couple had several children:

Work and impact

Basic scientific positions

Heinrich von Sybel , 1862, illustration by Hermann Scherenberg

As a student of Ranke, Sybel founded modern history. The focus of his research lay in the imperial history of the Middle Ages and the associated source customers, not least because this was seen as the basis of his legitimation in Sybel's time in the newly founded German Empire . Sybel is a prime example of the fact that objectivity in historiography must by no means be understood in the sense of political neutrality, which, incidentally, also applies to Ranke. With Johann Gustav Droysen this is downright rejected.

Sybel saw it as a task of medieval German historical research to legitimize the new German Empire. He also wrote a story of the establishment of an empire, which is to be understood as a confirmation of the question of the legitimation of the German Empire. For him, one of the tasks of studying history lay in the educational significance of the profession both as a specialist historian and as a history teacher for the state and the nation.

Sybel Ficker Controversy

This view was also and especially in a widely noticed controversy between Sybel and the Innsbruck historian Julius Ficker , the so-called Sybel-Ficker controversy from 1859 to 1861. Sybel asserted that the Italian and imperial policies of the German rulers of the Middle Ages must be assessed as fatal because it prevented the creation of a German nation-state. Ficker rejected this view with the argument that one should not judge the Middle Ages from the perspective of the present and that the nation state is by no means the only desirable goal of history. Even if Sybel's opinion was supported by Georg von Below in 1927 , Ficker's assessment prevailed in the long run.

Controversy with Ernst Hermann

Since 1861 he also led a controversy with Ernst Herrmann about the origin of the European coalition against revolutionary France at the end of the 18th century.


It is not surprising that hardly any of Sybel's works have survived. Its importance in historical studies lay more in the role of a science organizer than that of a specialist historian. One of his important contributions as an organizer was the parallel structuring of the training of specialist historians and history teachers as part of the professionalization and institutionalization of history training at universities, which went hand in hand with the establishment of a seminar structure.

A historical seminar differs from a historical exercise society, as it was used at universities well into the second half of the 19th century, in that it not only holds exercises, but also has a library that is institutionally linked to the seminar, which in turn has a budget.

One of Sybel's most important students was Friedrich Philippi .

Political attitudes

Sybel took part in the debate about the enrollment of women at universities in the second half of the 19th century against women's studies . For example, he explained, “[the] area of ​​women is the apparently narrow and monotonous area of ​​inner domestic life; the man’s domain is the world outside, science, the legal system, the state. "

Fonts (selection)

  • History of the first crusade , Schreiner, Düsseldorf 1841. ( full text ), ( digitized version )
  • The holy skirt in Trier and the twenty other holy unsewn skirts. A historical investigation (with Johann Gildemeister ). Buddeus, Düsseldorf 1844/45.
  • History of the Revolution from 1789–1795 , 5 vols., Düsseldorf 1853–1879.
  • The German nation and the empire. A historical-political treatise. Buddeus, Düsseldorf 1862.
  • Small historical writings , 3 vols., Munich 1869–1880.
  • Lectures and essays , Berlin 1874.
  • The founding of the German Empire by Wilhelm I primarily according to the Prussian state acts. 7 vols., Munich 1889–1894.
  • Lectures and treatises , ed. v. Conrad Varrentrapp , Munich 1897.


Web links

Wikisource: Heinrich von Sybel  - Sources and full texts
Commons : Heinrich von Sybel  - Collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. See Hessian State Archives Marburg (HStAMR), Cat. 915 no. 5678, p 279 ( digitized ) ..
  2. Short biography and picture in: Horst Conrad, Bernd Haunfelder : Prussian parliamentarians. A photo album 1859–1867 . Preface by Lothar Gall . Droste Verlag, Düsseldorf 1986, p. 140 (= photo documents on the history of parliamentarism and political parties ); see also short biography in: Bernhard Mann (arr.) with the collaboration of Martin Doerry , Cornelia Rauh , Thomas Kühne : Biographisches Handbuch für das Prussisches Abrafenhaus 1867–1918 (= handbooks on the history of parliamentarism and political parties. Volume 3). Droste, Düsseldorf 1988, ISBN 3-7700-5146-7 , p. 382.
  3. See last Marion Kreis: Karl Hegel. Historical significance and scientific history location (= series of publications of the historical commission at the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. Vol. 84), Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen u. a. 2012, ISBN 978-3-525-36077-4 , especially p. 159 ff. ( E-book and reading sample ).
  4. See 150 years of historical commission at the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. A chronicle by Helmut Neuhaus , Munich 2008, ISBN 978-3-929691-12-2 , p. 182.
  5. See ibid., P. 181.
  6. The order Pour le mérite for science and art. The members of the order , Volume I: (1841–1881) , Gebr. Mann-Verlag, Berlin, 1975, p. 338.
  7. Hans-Jürgen Mende: Alter St. Matthäus-Kirchhof Berlin. A cemetery guide . 3rd, revised and expanded edition. Edition Luisenstadt, Berlin 2012, ISBN 978-3-936242-16-4 , pp. 10-11.
  8. Wolfgang J. Mommsen: Objectivity and partiality in the historiographical work of Sybels and Treitschke . In: Reinhart Koselleck , Wolfgang J. Mommsen , Jörn Rüsen (eds.): Objectivity and partiality in the science of history . Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, Munich 1977, pp. 134–158 (= contributions to history , vol. 1).
  9. ^ Ernst Adolf Herrmann Meyer's Large Conversation Lexicon 1905.
  10. ^ Heinrich von Sybel: On the emancipation of women , lecture from February 12, 1870 in Bonn ( digitized version ). See: Annette Kuhn (Ed.): 100 Years of Women's Studies. Women of the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn. Dortmund 1996, p. 22.