Rigobert Günther

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Rigobert Günther (born May 18, 1928 in Magdeburg ; † April 2, 2000 in Leipzig ) was a German ancient historian .

life and career

Rigobert Günther, the child of a working-class family from Magdeburg, began an apprenticeship as a publishing clerk in 1944 after completing secondary school. Work and military service interrupted the training since December 1944. At the beginning of April 1945 Günther was taken prisoner by the Soviets . The war experiences and imprisonment were to shape Günther. After he was released from captivity in August 1945, he continued his apprenticeship, which he finished in 1947. In the same year he also joined the SED , in 1948 the Society for German-Soviet Friendship . Until 1948 he worked as an accountant for the “Freiheit” publishing house. 1948/49 he made at the Workers' and Peasants Faculty (ABF) of the Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg his High School and studied then 1949-1953 prehistory , history , English literature and Latin . In 1953 Günther became a graduate historian .

This was followed by a time as a research assistant at the Marx-Engels-Lenin-Stalin Institute (later the Institute for Marxism-Leninism ) of the Central Committee of the SED until 1955 and, from 1955, a scheduled academic traineeship at the Institute for General History of the Karl Marx University Leipzig , which also meant moving to Leipzig . One of his formative teachers was the important ancient historian Franz Altheim , who, however, was burdened by his closeness to the Nazi regime. 1957 took place Promotion at Werner Peek and Franz Dornseiff with a thesis on "Economic, slavery, and stalls fight in the most ancient Rome," 1962 Habilitation on "The political and ideological struggle in the Roman religion in the last two decades BCE" with Sergej L. Uttschenko , Imre Trencsényi-Waldapfel (1908–1970) and Franz Altheim . In between there was a scheduled academic post-doctoral degree at the Department of Ancient History of the Institute for General History at Leipzig University. Günther's habilitation thesis was mainly attacked by the Egyptologist Siegfried Morenz because of the scientific deficits - but also because of the expert Altheim and his involvement in the Nazi system .

From 1962 Günther was professor for the history of antiquity at the University of Leipzig, since 1965 professor with teaching position, from 1968 finally professor at the Institute for General History, later in the field of science for the history of antiquity . From 1965 to 1969 he was head of the history department , from 1969 to 1973 head of the prehistory / ancient history department and from 1973 to 1978 deputy section director for research . In addition, Günther was director of the history section from 1982 to 1987 and head of the prehistory / ancient history department in Leipzig from 1985 until his retirement in 1992 . One of his academic students is Klaus Mylius , who became internationally known especially as an Indologist .

The end of his exposed position coincides with the end of the GDR. His diverse functions in editorial offices, associations and so on had become obsolete with the end of the GDR. After his retirement he mainly wrote articles for ancient historical periodicals and worked for the specialist publisher for ethics and philosophy Militzke in Leipzig. There he also published one of his last major works, “Roman Empresses” (1995). The end of his academic teaching activity at the University of Leipzig took place in the winter semester 1992/93, where it was carried out as part of an evaluation . His successor was initially the ancient historian Hartwin Brandt , before it was taken over by Charlotte Schubert in 1993 .

Research focus and impact

Günther's main research areas were the history of the early Roman Republic , social utopias in antiquity, the history of Christianity and late antiquity . His view was shaped by the Soviet perspective on history, especially ancient history. Günther was an ambivalent figure. On the one hand, he helped to enforce the strictly Marxist view of antiquity (see historical materialism ) in GDR antiquity, but on the other hand he opposed Liselotte Welskopf-Henrich and what he saw as a too universal and generalizing perspective on antiquity. He has represented since 1956, when he published a basic writing with Gerhart Schrot , the departure from the periodization of history in ancient, medieval and modern times . In his view, history should be divided into the primitive, patriarchal, ancient, classical and late periods ( Sidorov model ). The "Asian epoch", that is, the ancient oriental societies, was assigned to the first group. In addition to Aleksej A. Sidorov , he was also shaped by the Soviet researchers Uttschenko (class struggle research) and Nikolaj A. Maskin (a strictly Stalinist view of Roman history).

Günther consciously sought the scientific dispute with “bourgeois”, i.e. western, scientists. At conferences at home and abroad, he often made strongly ideological, “loyal” contributions. Overall, he and his view of ancient history were denied any long-term effects or acceptance in the international professional world. However, this was not primarily due to his Marxist-materialist worldview, which was fundamentally shared by not a few ancient historians in the West, especially in Great Britain (e.g. Geoffrey de Ste Croix ), but rather because, in the opinion of most researchers, Günther was so different ideological considerations led that this was detrimental to an impartial interpretation of the sources. Essentially, Günther was only trying to confirm the correctness and irrefutability of the Marxist-Stalinist view of history. In retrospect, it can be stated that Günther was unable to give any lasting impetus to ancient historical research for this reason.

In addition to his teaching activities, Günther also worked at various institutions from an early age. Towards the end of the GDR he was a member of the Presidium of the Historians 'Society of the GDR , Chairman of the Specialized Commission for Ancient History of the Historians' Society , since 1982 Chairman of the Scientific Advisory Board for Classical Studies and since 1984 a member of the Scientific Advisory Board for Historical Studies at the Ministry of Higher and Technical Education. Furthermore, he was deputy chairman of the Central Council for Archeology and Ancient History at the Academy of Sciences of the GDR since 1982 and since 1984 a full member of the Saxon Academy of Sciences in Leipzig . In 1987 he became a member of the Eduard Meyer Commission of the Academy of Sciences of the GDR. Günther was awarded the “ Labor Banner ” II. Class and the “ Pestalozzi Medal for Faithful Service ” in gold.


Günther was very active as a journalist and editor. He worked in leading positions in the periodicals Zeitschrift für Geschichtswwissenschaft (ZfG) from issue 1/1956 to issue 12/1990 and Klio until 1990. He has published 40 books, some with co-authors, as well as over 200 articles, reviews, commemorative publications and essays. Günther was therefore one of the most productive ancient historians in the GDR. His most famous works include:

  • The Romans on the Rhine and Danube. (1975)
  • The uprising of Spartacus. (1979)
  • GDR university textbook Roman history up to 476, published with Horst Dieter . (1979)
  • From the fall of western Rome to the empire of the Merovingians. (1982)
  • Germanic tribes conquer Rome. (1986)
  • with Reimar Müller : Social utopias in antiquity. (1987)
  • Roman empresses. (1995).


  • Karl Christ : Klio's changes. The German ancient history from neo-humanism to the present. CH Beck, Munich 2006, ISBN 3-406-54181-X , pp. 121-124, 126-128.
  • Burkhard Meißner : The ancient history at the Karl Marx University Leipzig. Notes on the historical picture by Rigobert Günther. In: Isolde Stark (ed.): Elisabeth Charlotte Welskopf and the old history in the GDR. Contributions to the conference from November 21 to 23, 2002 in Halle / Saale. Steiner, Stuttgart 2005, ISBN 3-515-08457-6 , pp. 90-107.
  • Burkhard Meißner: Günther, Rigobert. 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. 518-520.
  • Lothar Mertens : Lexicon of the GDR historians. Biographies and bibliographies on the historians from the German Democratic Republic. Saur, Munich 2006, ISBN 3-598-11673-X , pp. 252-253.
  • Matthias Willing : Ancient historical research in the GDR (= historical research. Volume 45). Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1991, ISBN 3-428-07109-3 (see index).

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Isolde Stark (ed.): Elisabeth Charlotte Welskopf and the ancient history in the GDR. Steiner, Stuttgart 2005, pp. 101-102.
  2. ^ Lothar Mertens : Lexicon of the GDR historians. Munich 2006, pp. 252-253, speaks of the settlement in 1991
  3. ^ For evaluations of Günther's work and effect, see Burkhard Meißner: Günther, Rigobert. 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. 518-520. and Isolde Stark (ed.): Elisabeth Charlotte Welskopf and the ancient history in the GDR. Steiner, Stuttgart 2005, especially pp. 106-107.