Michael Rostovtzeff

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Michael Rostovtzeff

Michael Rostovtzeff (also Michael I. Rostovtzeff , originally Russian Михаил Иванович Ростовцев / Mikhail Ivanovich Rostovtsev , scientific. Transliteration Mikhail Ivanovich Rostovcev ; born October 29 . Jul / 10. November  1870 greg. In Zhytomyr ; † 20th October 1952 in New Haven ) was a Russian ancient historian who worked as a professor at the universities of St. Petersburg (1908–1918), Madison (1920–1925) and Yale (1925–1944). He is considered the most important ancient historian of his generation and dealt intensively with the economic history of the Hellenistic and Roman times.

life and work

Michael Rostovtzeff was the son of the curator Ivan Jakovlevič Rostovcev, who worked in the Kiev Ministry of Education. Michael Rostovtzeff studied at the University of Saint Petersburg , where he was particularly influenced by Victor Jernstedt and Tadeusz Stefan Zieliński .

Wandering years

After graduating, he went on extensive educational trips through Europe to deepen his studies at various universities. Around 1900 he stayed at the University of Vienna and studied archeology and epigraphy with Otto Benndorf and Eugen Bormann . He then went to Berlin and Leipzig , where Ulrich Wilcken made him familiar with papyrology and directed his interest to the Roman administration. During a stay in Italy Rostovtzeff visited the site of Pompeii , where the archaeologist August Mau guided him, and Rome, where in 1903 he came into contact with the Berlin philologist and science organizer Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff ; in the same year the German Archaeological Institute appointed him a full member. For the purpose of his doctorate , Wilamowitz recommended that he contact Georg Wissowa in Halle . There Rostovtzeff published his dissertation Römische Bleitesserae in 1905. A contribution to the social and economic history of the Roman Empire , which was reprinted in 1963 and 1979. As a result of Wilamowitz's recommendation, Rostovtzeff also wrote various articles for the revision of the Realencyclopedia of Classical Antiquity , which was led by Wissowa . His article on the grain supply in the Roman Empire ( frumentum , in: RE 7 (1912), Sp. 126–187) signified a new beginning in Roman economic history.

Professor in St. Petersburg

Rostovtzeff returned to Russia in November 1908 when he was appointed full professor by the University of St. Petersburg. One of his students was Natalja Dawidowna Flittner . Here, too, he maintained his scientific contacts abroad. The Prussian Academy of Sciences appointed him a corresponding member in the spring of 1914.

A world collapsed for Rostovtzeff as a result of the Russian civil war and the October Revolution . He left his library and manuscripts behind and first emigrated via Finland and Norway to England, where he was rejected by the professor of ancient history Hugh Last . In the USA , too, Rostovtzeff initially had difficulties: he had to convince the authorities that he was neither a communist nor a Jew. Finally, on January 3, 1920, he was appointed to the Westermann Chair in Ancient History at the University of Wisconsin .

Exile in the USA

Rostovtzeff later described the years in Madison as his happiest; nevertheless he moved to Yale University in 1925 as Sterling Professor of Ancient History and Classical Archeology , because the library there was better equipped and the history department had a larger catchment area. Starting in 1927, Rostovtzeff embarked on a multi-year expedition to Dura Europos from Yale , which was a great success: Due to the warm and dry climate in Mesopotamia , colored wall paintings, clothing, wooden objects and papyri had survived in large numbers. Despite the economic crisis of the 1920s, Rostovtzeff managed to carry out the expedition until 1938. Through the contact with Franz Cumont , which came from his study trip, he received help from the French Académie des Sciences . He published the excavation reports in sixteen volumes: ten volumes with preliminary reports and six with the final report of the expedition. In order to promote the processing of the material, Rostovtzeff put numerous students from Yale on with their dissertations, including Alfred R. Bellinger, RO Fink, James Frank Gilliam , Clark Hopkins, Carl Hermann Kraeling and Charles Bradford Welles, his later successor at Yale.

In 1923 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and in 1929 to the American Philosophical Society .

Rostovtzeff formed an archaeological school in the two decades of his tenure at Yale University that was unique in the United States.

In addition, Rostovtzeff worked hard to make it possible to rescue Jews threatened by the Shoah from Europe. Setbacks and the feeling of personal responsibility towards those at risk exhausted his mental health and led him to nervous exhaustion and severe depression. After electroshock therapy , a frontal lobotomy put an end to his active scientific work in 1944. He died in New Haven on October 20, 1952 .


Rostovtzeff is considered to be the most important ancient historian of the generation between Eduard Meyer (1855–1930) and Ronald Syme (1903–1989). During his career he received honorary doctorates from the universities of Leipzig (1909), Oxford (1919), Wisconsin (1924), Cambridge (1934), Harvard (1936), Athens (1937) and Chicago (1941). His work made Yale the most important ancient science center in the USA at the time.

Rostovtzeff's merits as an academic teacher are matched by outstanding achievements in research. His preoccupation with Roman history was shaped by his experience with the Russian October Revolution. He saw the decline of the Roman Empire in the light of the decline of Russian society in the civil war of 1918–1920. But despite his staunch rejection of the Bolsheviks, he introduced Marxist views (terms such as capital and social revolution) into his explanation of ancient history. In economic and social history, he presented fundamental works that are still widely used today. His main works are the Social and Economic History of the Roman Empire (published 1926) and A Social and Economic History of the Hellenistic World (published 1941; both have also been published in German and Italian translation).


  • History of state leasing in the Roman Empire up to Diocletian, Philologus supplementary volume 9, 1902
  • Roman lead esserae. A contribution to the social and economic history of the Roman Empire, Klio, supplement 3, 1905
  • Studies on the history of the Roman colonies, archive for papyrus research and related areas, supplement 1, Leipzig, Berlin 1910, reprint Teubner 1970, archive
  • Iranians and Greeks in South Russia. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1922. Archives
  • A large estate in Egypt in the third century BC A study in economic history. Madison: University of Wisconsin, 1922.
  • Society and economy in the Roman Empire, Leipzig: Quelle and Meyer 1931, new print Aachen: Scientia Verlag 1985
    • English edition: The social and economic history of the Roman empire, Oxford 1926, 2nd edition edited by P. Fraser, Oxford 1957
  • The Hellenistic World, Society and Economy, 3 volumes, Kohlhammer, 1955, 1956
    • English edition: The social and economic history of the hellenistic world, Oxford, Clarendon Press 1941, 2nd edition 1953, other German edition: Social and economic history of the hellenistic world, 2 volumes, Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft 2012
  • Caravan cities, Oxford, Clarendon Press 1932
  • History of the Old World, 2 volumes, Bremen: Schünemann 1961
    • English edition: A history of the ancient world, 2 volumes, Oxford: Clarendon Press 1926, 1927, volume 2, Archives
  • Mystic Italy, New York: Henry Holt 1927, Archives
  • Scythia and the Bosporus, Berlin, H. Schoetz 1931
    • Volume 2 (Rediscovered chapters and related matters, editor Heinz Heinen), Historia Einzelschriften 83, Franz Steiner Verlag 1993
  • Rostovtzeff's correspondence with German-speaking classical scholars (editor Gerald Kreucher), Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz 2005


  • C. Bradford Welles, MI Rostovtzeff †. In: Gnomon . Volume 25, 1953, pp. 142-144.
  • Karl Christ : From Gibbon to Rostovtzeff. Life and work of leading ancient historians of the modern age. Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 1972, ISBN 3-534-06070-9 , pp. 334-349.
  • William M. Calder III : Rostovtzeff, Michael. In: Ward W. Briggs (Ed.): Biographical Dictionary of North American Classicists. Greenwood Press, Westport CT et al. 1994, ISBN 0-313-24560-6 , pp. 541-547.
  • Gerald Kreucher (Ed.): Rostovtzeff's correspondence with German-speaking scholars of antiquity. Introduction, edition and commentary (= Philippika. Volume 6). Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 2005, ISBN 3-447-05200-7 .
  • Heinz Heinen : Michael Ivanovich Rostovtzeff. In: Lutz Raphael (Ed.): From Edward Gibbon to Marc Bloch (= classics of historical science. Volume I). CH Beck, Munich 2006, ISBN 3-406-54118-6 , pp. 172-189.
  • Helmuth Schneider : Rostovtzeff, Michael Iwanowitsch. In: Peter Kuhlmann , Helmuth Schneider (Hrsg.): History of the ancient sciences. Biographical Lexicon (= The New Pauly . Supplements. Volume 6). Metzler, Stuttgart / Weimar 2012, ISBN 978-3-476-02033-8 , Sp. 1083-1089.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. a b c Calder in Briggs (1994) 541.
  2. The typewritten letter with the copy is in Wissowa's estate in the University and State Library of Saxony-Anhalt .
  3. Calder in Briggs (1994) 542.
  4. Marinus Wes, The Russian Background of the Young Michael Rostovtzeff, Historian in Exile: Russian Roots in an American Context , Historia-Einzelschriften 63 (1988), pp. 207-221.
  5. a b Calder in Briggs (1994) 543.
  6. Book of Members 1780 – present, Chapter R. (PDF; 508 kB) In: American Academy of Arts and Sciences (amacad.org). Retrieved January 26, 2019 .
  7. Member History: Michael I. Rostovtzeff. American Philosophical Society, accessed January 26, 2019 .
  8. ^ Albert I. Baumgarten: Elias Bickerman as a Historian of the Jews: A Twentieth Century Tale. Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen 2010, ISBN 978-3-16-150171-5 ( Texts and Studies in Ancient Judaism . 131.), page 140f in the Google book search