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Pierre Willems

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Philologist, born at Maastricht, 6 January, 1840; died at Louvain, 23 February, 1898. Following the custom of Belgian students he did not confine himself to the courses at Louvain but went to Paris to hear Oppert, Egger, and Patin, and to Berlin, Utrecht, and Leyden, where he followed the courses of Cobet. On his return in 1865 he was appointed professor of Latin philology at the University of Louvain; here he spent the remainder of his life, the only events being his lectures and his works. His two chief works are "Le droit public romain", first issued under the title, "Les antiquités romains envisagées au point de vue des institutions politiques" (Louvain, 1870; 7th ed. by his son Joseph Willems, Louvain, 1910), and "Le sénat de la republique romaine" (3 vols., Louvain, 1878-85). The first work is a handbook which stops at Constantine in the first three editions and now goes as far as Justinian. The author combined systematic and historical order by dividing the history of Roman institutions into "epochs" and "periods", viz., epoch of royalty, epoch of the republic, epoch of the empire, subdivided into the period of the principate and that of monarchy. In each of these sections Willems studies the conditions of persons, government, and administration. The book is a clear, concise, and very practical compendium, provided with a good bibliography, and is an excellent handbook for students. The book on the Roman Senate is more learned and shows more evidence of personal research. It contains a new opinion concerning the recruiting of the Senate; Willems does not admit that there were plebeian senators in the century following the expulsion of the kings. It was by the exercise of the curule magistracies that the plebs entered the Senate, in fact after 354-200; a plebiscite proposed by the tribune Ovinius and accepted at the end of the fourth century hastened the introduction of the plebeians, and, in short, made the Senate an assembly of former magistrates. The doctrine of Willems was discussed and eventually accepted. He completed his work by a series of studies on the composition of the Roman Senate in 575-179, in 699-55 in his great work, and in A.D. 65 in the "Musée belge" (published by his son, 1902). He also contributed to the "Bulletins" of the Brussels Academy a memoir on the municipal elections of Pompeii (1902). He assisted in the foundation of the second Belgian periodical for classical philology, "Le Musée belge" (1897), and organized a "Societas philologa", at Louvain, one of the oldest members of which was the Liège professor, Charles Michel, author of the "Recucit d'inscriptions grecques" (1900-12). He belonged to the Flemish party and collected materials for a work on the Flemish dialects, which remains unfinished. While not especially profound Willems was an exact and conscientious scholar.


BRANTS in l'Annuaire de l'Academie de Bruxelles (1889); LAMY, Bulletins de l'Academie de Bruxelles (1898), 297; WALTZING, Musée belge, II (1898), 94; SANDYS, A History of Classical Scholarship, III (Cambridge, 1908), 306.

About this page

APA citation. Lejay, P. (1912). Pierre Willems. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Lejay, Paul. "Pierre Willems." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Thomas M. Barrett. Dedicated to the Poor Souls in Purgatory.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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