Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in History (PhD)

Degree Level





J. Laurence Hare

Committee Member

Freddy Dominguez

Second Committee Member

Richard Sonn


Fichte, German History, natural law, Roman law, Savigny, Winckelmann


It has been over two thousand years since the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest (9 A.D.). What really happened at the battle is anyone’s guess. It is this silence that allowed for the Germans to appropriate this battle and turn it into a major moment of German history. In the modern German imagination this story became one of Hermann liberating the ancient Germans from the tyranny of Rome. This battle preserved the purity of the ancient Germans and prevented a Roman corruption of their world. From the rediscovery of Tacitus in the fifteenth century to the era of Hitler, ancient Rome was on the minds of the Germans. Hermann and the German resistance to ancient Rome became rallying cries of the emerging sense of German nationalism.

Yet, for all the antipathy directed at ancient Rome during this period, there was also a deep fascination with ancient Rome. One need only look to the thought of Conrad Celtis or Friedrich Karl von Savigny to find Germans advocating a closer linkage between modern Germany and ancient Rome. Was Rome to be Germany’s friend or foe? This question lingered for centuries. The German reception and adherence to Roman law was the most important aspect of this exchange, but ideas on the Holy Roman Empire and Hermann mythology were also vital. Despite the complexity of this relationship, modern scholars have often overlooked the influence of ancient Rome on Germany. The appropriation of antiquity in Germany has been studied thoroughly, but the focus has been on the ancient Germans, Greeks, and Orient. While these studies have proved quite useful to a deeper penetration of the German conception of self, they have not touched on this vital appropriation of ancient Rome. Whether as a model for emulation or as the villain of the ancient German world, Rome helped steer the German national project. This dissertation will trace the appropriation of the ancient Roman past from the fifteenth century to the early nineteenth century, underscoring the vital role it played in shaping modern Germany through law and its national conception.

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