Max Weber's Dissertation

The title page of Max Weber's dissertation, written while being a student of Levin Goldschmidt.


The title page of Weber's first book, which was based on his dissertation.

Weber in 1893.

Max Weber, who later would be remembered as the Mythos von Heidelberg, wrote his dissertation under Levin Goldschmidt in Berlin. Goldschmidt was one of the leading authorities in commercial law at the time. Weber graduated 'magna cum laude' in 1889; his dissertation was entitled Entwickelung des Solidarhaftprinzips und des Sondervermögens der offenen Handelsgesellschaft aus den Haushalts- und Gewerbegemeinschaften in den italienischen Städten (Development of the Principle of Joint Liability and a Separate Fund of the General Partnership out of the Household Communities and Commercial Associations in Italian Cities). The dissertation became part of Weber's first book, published in 1889 under the title Zur Geschichte der Handelsgesellschaften des Mittelalters. Nach südeuropäischen Quellen (On the History of Commercial Partnerships in the Middle Ages, Based on Southern European Documents).

This is the abbreviated table of contents:

Prefatory Remarks
I. Roman and Current Law. Plan of the Investigation
II. The Partnerships of Maritime Law
III. Family Communities and Communities of Labor
IV. Pisa. The Law of Partnership According to the Constitutum Usus
V. Florence 
VI. The Legal Literature. Conclusion
Overview of the Documents

Legend has it that at the end of Weber's viva voce examination Theodor Mommsen, the aging doyen of Roman history in Germany and a long-standing friend of the Weber family, remarked to the 25-year old Weber: "But when I have to go to my grave someday, there is no one to whom I would rather say, 'Son, here is my spear; it is getting to heavy for my arm' than the highly esteemed Max Weber.'"

Weber did not further pursue his studies in commercial law. He quickly turned to writing his Habilitation on Roman agrarian history with another renowned scholar, August Meitzen. Some of the arguments Weber had made in his dissertation and first book later resurfaced in The Protestant Ethic, Economy and Society, and General Economic History.

My English translation of Weber's History of Commercial Partnerships, with an introductory essay on the historical and biographical context of the study, its major argument, and its influence on Weber's later work has been published as

Max Weber, The History of Commercial Partnerships in the Middle Ages, translated, edited, and introduced by Lutz Kaelber. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2003.

See also my on-line version of my essay on Max Weber's personal situation.