The New International Encyclopædia/Niebuhr, Barthold Georg
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Niebuhr, Barthold Georg
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NIEBUHR, nē'bōōr, Barthold Georg (1776-1831). A German historian, critic, and philologist, born August 27, 1776, at Copenhagen, where his father, Carsten Niebuhr, then resided. He showed singular aptitude for learning in his earliest youth, and his powers of acquiring knowledge kept pace with his advancing years. After preliminary education, under the superintendence of his father, he studied law and philosophy at Kiel, and then went to Edinburgh, where he devoted himself more especially to the natural sciences. On his return to Denmark he became private secretary to the Finance Minister, Schimmelmann, and from that period held several appointments under the Danish Government, being made director of the Government bank in 1804. He entered the Prussian civil service in 1806, and during the three succeeding years he shared in the vicissitudes which befell the Government of his chief, Count Hardenberg. The opening of the University of Berlin in 1810 opened a new era in the life of Niebuhr. He resigned his Government position and gave at the university a course of lectures on Roman history, which, by making known the results of the new critical methods which he had applied to the elucidation of obscure historical evidence, established his position as a leader in the scientific study of history, and effected an important change in historical method. In 1813 he reëntered the Government service. Appointed in 1816 Prussian Ambassador at the Papal Court, Niebuhr was enabled to verify many of his conjectures and test his methods by the actual sources of ancient Roman history. On his return from Rome in 1823, Niebuhr took up his residence at Bonn, where he delivered classical and archæological lectures and expositions. The Revolution of 1830 again stirred his interest in public affairs. He died January 2, 1831. Niebuhr's scholarship was broad, vigorous, and independent. He was an accomplished linguist and a philosophical and scientific thinker. He was a path-breaker in the modern method of historical criticism, and while all his conclusions are not accepted to-day, he showed the way by which they might be tested in the light of more complete knowledge. He was the founder of the Rheinisches Museum at Bonn. Among his important works are: Römische Geschichte (3 vols., Berlin, 1811-32; new ed. 1873; the first two volumes translated by Hare and Thirlwall, and the third by Smith and Schmitz); Griechische Heroengeschichte (1842; 11th ed. 1896), written for his son Marcus; Geschichte des Zeitalters der Revolution (1845). The Kleine historische und philologische Schriften (1828-43) contains his introductory lectures on Roman history, and many of the essays which had appeared in the transactions of the Berlin Academy. Besides these, and numerous other essays on philological, historical, and archæological questions. Niebuhr coöperated with Bekker and other learned annotators in reëditing the Scriptores Historiæ Byzantinæ; he also discovered hitherto unprinted fragments of classical authors, as, for instance, Cicero's Orations, and portions of Gaius; published the Inscriptiones Nubienses (Rome, 1821); and was a constant contributor to the literary journals of Germany. His Lectures on Ancient History is familiar in English translation. Consult: Winkworth, Life and Letters of Niebuhr (London, 1852); Lieber, “Reminiscences of an Intercourse with Niebuhr,” in Miscellaneous Writings (Philadelphia, 1884); and for his biography, Classen (Gotha, 1876) and Eyssenhardt (ib.,1886).