BMCR 2005.11.08

Antike. Oldenbourg Geschichte Lehrbuch.

, , Antike. München: R. Oldenbourg, 2004. 526 pages : illustrations, maps ; 26 cm. ISBN 3486566636. €34.80.

Anyone expecting the Oldenbourg Geschichte Lehrbuch (OGL) Antike to be yet another introduction to contents and/or methods of Ancient History, will clearly be disappointed. The OGL Antike, which has been written by thirty German-speaking, predominantly younger scholars led by Eckard Wirbelauer, offers an approach to the contents as well as to the methods of Ancient History, but in a completely new and odd way.

The new didactic concept of the OGL series focuses on the three “T”s — theme, technique, theory — and is aimed at undergraduate students of historical studies and at the historical subjects of the “gymnasiale(n) Oberstufe” (7).1 Accordingly, after a foreword by Hans-Joachim Gehrke (9-12) which stresses the importance of conveying antiquity today ( delectare et prodesse), the book is divided into four main parts. Antiquity is supposed to be mastered chronologically (“Epochs of Antiquity”, 13-101), systematically (“Approaches to Antiquity”, 117-330), under the aspect “Methods of Research” (331-452) and by a look at “Research Institutions” (453-492). Information about the authors (495f.) and detailed indices of persons, geography, and objects (497-526) conclude the book, but there is no index of the illustrations.

Some strengths and weaknesses of the book can be discovered in the first, chronological based main part. One obvious virtue is the extensive and well produced maps and illustrations with accurate descriptions. Useful for the beginning student are the timetables, standing at the beginning of each epoch and hints to further reading at the end of each chapter. Likewise useful are the laterally printed cross-references to chapters with further information to the topic, which help counteract the tendency to spread information on a theme over all the main parts. However, the attempt to cover antiquity in chronological order in a meagre 90 pages is a failure. In spite of the authors efforts, the shortness of presentation is too great for the defined target group, undergraduates in basic courses or even candidates for final secondary-school examinations. This becomes especially obvious in the presentation of the history of the Roman Republic: Roman history up to 100 B.C. is confined to the description by Michel Humm (“The Hellenization of the Mediterranean Region”, 45-66) who is forced by space constraints to omit discussing the time of the Gracchi and their reforms, a topic of fundamental importance for the history of the Late Republic.2 Moreover, interconnections between historical developments are neglected by this strange arrangement of historical facts. This also applies to the division of history into a chronological and a structural part. For example, the issue of “Attic Democracy” is referred to in both the chronological (29f.) and the structural (184-188) parts, as well as in a special chapter in the part on reception (392-399). For that reason other works need to be consulted to gain a chronological introduction to antiquity.3

After the first main part Eckard Wirbelauer explains how to research and structure an imaginary scholarly paper concerning the Colosseum (103-116). This short section would have been better placed later, where, for a second time, techniques to handle ancient sources are described, since Wirbelauer gives a concise introduction to working with sources, even though terms like “source”, “kinds of sources” and “source criticism” are not used.

The second main part, “Approaches to Antiquity” (117-330), analyzes antiquity under various historic-anthropological perspectives and introduces working with sources to antiquity (“The Work with Sources to Antiquity”). The historic-anthropological part first notes that Ancient History involves questions about the conditions, possibilities and forms of human acting in antiquity. The relations of the ancient people are described in five steps. In the first, ancient people are localized in their natural environment (121-142), then in their nearest connexions like households (143-180), afterwards in the context of their societies (181-236) and their gods (237-267); and finally their self-reflection and self-contemplation in literature and art are analyzed (268-290). All in all these chapters are excellent because they all offer vast quantities of information, many potential topics and hints about literature for further research. There are some problems: the important role of the army as a stabilization of society as well as an engine for socio-cultural as well as economic stimulation and innovation is totally neglected; all we have is a short and old-fashioned treatment of military history in the chapter “International Affairs”, despite new research.4 The quantity of cross-references in this structural part to the first part demonstrates clearly the absurd division of these two perspectives in modern historical studies, notably the overlaps between the contribution by Jochen Martin (“The Transformation of the Mediterranean Region in Late Antiquity”, 87-101) in the chronological part and that by Christoph Schaefer (“Ancient People in their Societies. Late Antiquity”, 213-224) in the structural.

In some way, this criticism is also valid for the second large chapter on techniques. One feels the lack of a systematic presentation on sources, kinds of sources and source criticism. Also the concise overview of the history of Greek and Roman literature by Jochen Althoff and Ursula Gaertner in the chapter on self-contemplation (263-272, 273-283) overlaps with “Historiography” (291-296) and “Other Literary Sources” (296-306) by Martin Zimmermann and Mischa Meier. What we need is a systematic chapter on modern media and their use, but all we get are some hints about databases and websites and the cross-reference to the fourth main part, where Christoph Schaefer deals in depth with the world of new media (“Connected Knowledge”, 481-492). One might also want an online update of the media mentioned, similar to the OGL Neuzeit in the OGL series,5 because links can change6 or become obsolete.7 So, again, the disadvantages of the division between issues that belong together are enormous.8 Even the chapter “Technique: The Presentation of the Work with Sources” by Rosmarie Guenther, though it focuses excessively on techniques of performance and less on systematic structuring of scholarly papers and research papers, would have been better situated here and not in the third main part on methods of research.

The third main part (331-452) is dedicated to methods of research. Jochen Martin’s article on the possibilities and limitations of perceptions (335-351) is followed by a description of the actual procedure of research with regard to three (modern) key concepts: “Power and Control” (353-361), “Identity and ‘Alteritaet'” (362-375) and “Gender and Gender Discourse” (376-390). A second component follows that stresses the “Reception of Antiquity” (391-436) under the topics of Attic democracy, classical Greek sculpture, ancient philosophy, Roman law, ancient international law, papacy and antiquity in literature and film.

The fourth and last main part discusses the history of Classics itself. The history, the dispersion and the differentiation in the 19th and early 20th century, as well as the gaps caused by WW I and WW II, are presented by Stefan Rebenich (457-468). The article “Classics today” by Eckard Wirbelauer (469-480) follows. Here one misses an argument for a rethinking of Classics on the grounds that today the formerly required sub-disciplines, Ancient History, Archeology and Classical Philology, impede each other and thwart research.

To sum up, the OGL Antike is both good and bad. The substantial contributions appear to commend the book, while the inconsistent and complicated structure advises aga


1. See Oldenbourg Geschichte Lehrbuch Online for more detailed information about the series.

2. Though the reforms of the Gracchi are presumed on p. 68. In addition, detailed description of the Conflict of the Orders is missing, even in the chapter “Ancient People in their Societies. Rome” (194-211). On p. 77 one could conclude that cives Romani were exempt from taxes, but the sentence “Daneben wurden weitere Steuern erhoben, von denen diejenigen auf Freilassung oder Verkauf von Sklaven sowie auf Erbschaften die wichtigsten waren” has to be related to provincial inhabitants as well as to Roman citizens.

3. E.g., Hans Joachim Gehrke / Helmuth Schneider (edd.), Geschichte der Antike. Ein Studienbuch, Stuttgart [u.a.] 2000.

4. Cf. O. Stoll, Roemisches Heer und Gesellschaft: gesammelte Beiträge 1991-1999, Stuttgart 2001 (MAVORS Roman Army Researches, 13); O. Stoll, Zwischen Integration und Abgrenzung: die Religion des Roemischen Heeres im Nahen Osten. Studien zum Verhaeltnis von Armee und Zivilbevoelkerung im roemischen Syrien und den Nachbargebieten, St. Katharinen 2001 (Mainzer Althistorische Studien, 3); Paul Erdkamp (ed.), The Roman Army and the Economy, Amsterdam 2002.

5. See Oldenbourg Geschichte Lehrbuch Online Service.

6. So the site “Fonts for Patrologists”, now under Fonts für Patristiker.

7. So the link given ( for Geschichte der Antike. Ein multimedialer Grundkurs.

8. Some links, mentioned in the chapters on technique, do not appear in the media list and vice versa. Better editing would have avoided this.