Walter Otto (historian)

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Walter Otto (born May 30, 1878 in Breslau ; † November 1, 1941 in Munich ) was a German ancient historian.


As the son of a Prussian officer, Otto attended the König-Wilhelm-Gymnasium in Breslau . Already there he conducted extensive source studies in Greek, Latin and Hebrew. After graduating from high school, he actually wanted to become an officer in the Prussian army ; but his “by no means robust health” stood in the way of this. From 1896 he studied ancient history , classical philology and oriental studies at the Silesian Friedrich Wilhelms University . He immediately became active in the Corps Borussia Breslau . In 1897 he was reciprocated . In the first semesters, he expanded the language skills he had brought with him from school to include Assyrian and cuneiform scripts . Ulrich Wilcken , the "old master of papyrology", became aware of him. Further teachers were Conrad Cichorius , Eduard Norden , Franz Skutsch , Friedrich Delitzsch and Heinrich Zimmer . With a doctoral thesis at Wilcken, he was promoted to Dr. phil. PhD ; his dissertation was entitled The Organization of the Greek Priesthood in Hellenistic Egypt . He then studied two more semesters at the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität zu Berlin with Adolf Erman , Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff , Hermann Diels and Eduard Meyer . He completed his habilitation in 1907 in Breslau (also through priests in Hellenistic Egypt). At the Royal University of Greifswald , he received a in the same year professorship and in 1909 a chair . In 1914 he switched to the chair at the Philipps University of Marburg . In 1916 he returned to Breslau as the successor to Cichorius. In 1918 he succeeded Ulrich Wilcken on the chair of ancient history at the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich . In addition to the seminar for ancient history, Otto also headed the historical department of the Institute for Papyrus Research and Ancient Legal History at Munich University and (with Fritz Hommel ) the seminar for Egyptology and Near Eastern Antiquity, founded in 1923. He held the ordinariate for 23 years until his death.


Otto was a member of the German National People's Party from 1918 to 1930 . The Munich Soviet Republic aroused his political commitment. He tried to win the Social Democrats over to the state and to form a united bourgeois front. That didn't work. On May 18, 1919, he wrote to his corps brothers about the end of the Soviet republic:

“It was also a matter of preparing the internal military uprising so that we could be on the post immediately in the event of external aid. At first I had a representative of the Reichswehr Ministry, who had sneaked in, a good support [...]. As a result of the hostage murder, the uprising broke out one day too early [...]. On the second day you could experience a really big battle with 15 cm grenades, mortars, tanks, etc. I was very busy on the streets; It was a strange feeling to see the heavy projectiles hit the places where the Munich bourgeoisie usually stroll leisurely and happily about their lives [...]. In the city of the Prussian baiting, I, the Prussian, welcomed the incoming high command as a representative of all bourgeois parties and the citizens' council [...] and am always active for him as a representative of the entire non-socialist citizenship. [...] Through all of this, I am in the middle of the big Bavarian-German politics, and I have a lot to do with the Reichswehr [...] Ministry. In addition, I have to take part in the meetings of the employers' association or the Bavarian industrialists as well as the Christian trade unions, I am now involved in [...] the anti-Bolshevik enlightenment and much more. "

- Walter Otto

He did not join the NSDAP and kept a critical distance from National Socialism .


The focus of Otto's work, beginning with his dissertation and habilitation, was the history of Hellenism (which, in his opinion, also included the Roman Empire). In numerous studies he examined above all the empires of the Ptolemies and the Seleucids . In addition, he repeatedly dealt with the history of the Roman Empire , but above all with the entire history of antiquity under universal historical aspects. Planned basic presentations of Greek constitutional law and Greek history remained unfinished. From 1920 Otto published the handbook of classical studies founded by Iwan von Müller , the thematic area of ​​which he expanded to include Byzantine studies and archeology. Otto had numerous students in the 23 years of his work in Munich, of which Helmut Berve , who received his doctorate in 1921 and qualified as a professor in 1926, and Hermann Bengtson (doctorate in 1935, habilitation in 1939) were the most important. Even Franz Josef Strauss studied with Otto, was the intended doctorate on Pompey Trogus but not complete because of the Second World War.

Memberships in academies


  • Priests and temples in Hellenistic Egypt. A contribution to the cultural history of Hellenism. 2 volumes, Leipzig 1905–1907 (contains dissertation and habilitation thesis).
  • Herod. Contributions to the history of the last Jewish royal family. Metzler, Stuttgart 1913 (improved and supplemented separate printing of eight RE articles, digital copies ).
  • The German question. State or unitary state. Berlin 1921.
  • Cultural history of antiquity. An overview of new releases . Beck, Munich 1925.
  • On the history of the time of the 6th Ptolemaic. A contribution to the politics and constitutional law of Hellenism (= treatises of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. Philosophical-Historical Department. New series, issue 11). Publishing house of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences, Munich 1934.


Web links

Wikisource: Walter Otto  - Sources and full texts

Individual evidence

  1. Kösener Corpslisten 1960, 78 , 667