Press releases


Dec 16 2014

The Frankfurt ancient historian is distinguished with the top prize of the German Research Foundation

Leibniz Prize for Hartmut Leppin

FRANKFURT.  The steering committee of the German Research Foundation last week in Bonn announced that the Frankfurt ancient historian Prof. Hartmut Leppin was awarded the 2015 Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize, which is endowed with a grant of 2.5 million Euro. Prof. Werner Müller-Esterl, President of Frankfurt University, congratulated the researcher who was selected along with seven other scholars. Müller-Esterl called the prize a "distinction for a scholar who has made significant contributions to profiling the historical studies at Goethe University through his research on ancient history. The prize is the 'icing on the cake' of the anniversary year at Goethe University." Leppin has become renowned internationally thanks to his diverse publications and his involvement in joint research projects with good international exposure. "Leppin is the fifth recipient of the Leibniz Prize at Goethe University since 2010 alone, underscoring the level of excellence in research at our university", Müller-Esterl is happy to say. "And it is already the fourth award to be won by the humanities and social sciences."

The 51-year-old historian has been with Goethe University as a professor of ancient history since 2001, declining reputable appointments in Hannover, Cologne and the Humboldt University in Berlin in its favour. His research centres around the history of political thought in Ancient Greece and the history of Christianity in antiquity. Many of his publications extend across the boundaries between antiquity and the Middle Ages. His research covers a period of 600 years – from the birth of Christ to the beginnings of Islam.

Leppin is extremely well connected in the humanities and social sciences, and also seeks dialogue with fellow historians. This is evidenced by his latest success in obtaining a grant from the DFG for the special research centre "Discourses on weaknesses and resource regimes", for which Leppin acts as speaker. Additionally, the ancient historian is involved in the Frankfurt Cluster of Excellence "The Formation of Normative Orders", as well as participating in the research training group on "theology as a science". Furthermore, he is a supporter of the Research Centre for Historical Humanities at Goethe University. The Volkswagen Foundation describes this centre as "original, innovative and exemplary" and is providing 820,000 Euro for the centre's work.

Leppin's monograph "Das Erbe der Antike" (The Legacy of Antiquity), published by C.H. Beck Verlag 2011, also highly appreciated by non-historians and drew a lot of attention. He clearly demonstrates that Europe as we know it today originated in the Mediterranean world of antiquity, and illustrates the history of antiquity based on three ideas: freedom, empire and true faith. He addresses important eras with these terms: "freedom" for Ancient Greece during the Attic democracy, "empire" for the Roman Empire, and finally the empire of late antiquity with "true faith".

Leppin is currently focusing most of his efforts in his research on "Christianisations in the Roman Empire". This work is being sponsored by the German Research Foundation with a 500,000 Euro grant over five years within the framework of a Koselleck project. While lots of work has been done on Hellenisation and Romanisation, little research has been done on Christianisation to date. The project is intended to close this gap through theoretical and empirical research into fundamental processes during the Imperial and Late Antiquity periods, which are important to the broader history within and beyond Europe. Christianisation occurred at varying times and degrees in different regions and fields, such as royal self-portrayal and the use of Christian symbols in art. This is why Leppin intentionally uses the term Christianisations in the title. Leppin's book "Antike Mythologie in christlichen Kontexten der Spätantike" (Ancient Mythology in the Christian Contexts of Late Antiquity) is due for publication by de Gruyter soon. This comprehensive project ties in well with Leppin's research in the excellence cluster "The Formation of Normative Orders". There he is researching imperial politics and religious spheres in the 3rd century. With the endowment from the Leibniz Prize, Leppin is planning to delve more deeply into the question of the degree to which the Christian Empire permitted or restricted religious and cultural diversity. The ancient historian is hoping to make inroads into research on early Islam and to help answer the question of the historical significance of the spread of three monotheistic religions.

Biography of the Leibniz Prize recipient: Leppin studied history, Latin, Greek and pedagogy at Marburg, Heidelberg, Pavia, and Rome. He completed his first state examination for teaching History and Latin in 1988, received his doctorate from Marburg in 1990 with a study on Roman stage artists, followed by a post-doc at the Free University of Berlin in 1995 with a study on the Greek church historians of the 5th century AD. He has been teaching at Goethe University since 2001. He is liaison professor of the  German National Academic Foundation and sits on the DFG review board. Leppin is also active as advisor and associate editor for various publications: Antike Welt, Centro Ricerche e Documentazione sull’antichità classica, Handwörterbuch der antiken Sklaverei, Historische Zeitschrift, Millennium, and Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum.

Hartmut Leppin is the 16th scientist at Goethe University to be awarded this prize. In 1986, the philosopher Jürgen Habermas and the later Nobel Prize winner and biochemist Hartmut Michel received the coveted prize. They were followed by historian Lothar Gall (1988), physicist Reinhard Stock (1989), legal historian Michael Stolleis (1991), mathematician Claus-Peter Schnorr (1993), physicist Theo Geisel (1994), chemist Christian Griesinger (1998), paleontologist Volker Mosbrugger (1999), biologist Stefanie Dimmeler (2005), historian Bernhard Jussen (2007), economist  Roman Inderst (2010), philosopher Rainer Forst (2012) biochemist Ivan Dikic (2013) and legal scholar Armin von Bogdandy (2014).

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