Ancient Greek historians

"Great deeds are usually wrought at great risks." - Herodotus, Histories

ancient greek historians, ancient greek history

Herodotus was a Greek historian who was born in Halicarnassus, Caria (modern-day Bodrum, Turkey) and lived in the fifth century BC (c. 484–425 BC). Widely referred to as "The Father of History" (first conferred by Cicero), he was the first historian known to collect his materials systematically and critically, and then to arrange them into a historiographic narrative. The Histories — the only work he is known to have produced — is a record of his "inquiry" (or historía, a word that passed into Latin and acquired its modern meaning of "history"), being an investigation of the origins of the Greco-Persian Wars and including a wealth of geographical and ethnographical information. Although some of his stories were fanciful and others inaccurate, he states he was reporting only what was told to him and was often correct in his information. Despite Herodotus' historical significance, little is known of his personal history.

Today, The Histories is generally regarded as a masterpiece of non-fiction.

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Thucydides (c. 460 – c. 400 BC) was an Athenian historian, political philosopher and general. His History of the Peloponnesian War recounts the 5th century BC war between Sparta and Athens to the year 411 BC. Thucydides has been dubbed the father of "scientific history" because of his strict standards of evidence-gathering and analysis of cause and effect without reference to intervention by the gods, as outlined in his introduction to his work.

He has also been called the father of the school of political realism, which views the political behavior of individuals and the subsequent outcome of relations between states as ultimately mediated by and constructed upon the emotions of fear and self-interest. His text is still studied at both universities and advanced military colleges worldwide. The Melian dialogue remains a seminal work of international relations theory while Pericles' Funeral Oration is widely studied in political theory, history, and classical studies.

More generally, Thucydides showed an interest in developing an understanding of human nature to explain behaviour in such crises as plague, massacres, as in that of the Melians, and civil war.

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Xenophon (c. 430 – 354 BC), son of Gryllus, of the deme Erchia of Athens, also known as Xenophon of Athens, was a Greek historian, soldier, mercenary, and student of Socrates. While not referred to as a philosopher by his contemporaries, his status as such is now a topic of debate. He is known for writing about the history of his own times, the late 5th and early 4th centuries BC, especially for his account of the final years of the Peloponnesian War. His Hellenica, which recounts these times, is considered to be the continuation of Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War. His youthful participation in the failed campaign of Cyrus the Younger to claim the Persian throne inspired him to write his most famous work, Anabasis.

Despite his birth-association with Athens, Xenophon affiliated himself with Sparta for most of his life. His pro-oligarchic views, service under Spartan generals in the Persian campaign and beyond, as well as his friendship with King Agesilaus II endeared Xenophon to the Spartans, and them to him. A number of his writings display his pro-Spartan bias and admiration, especially Agesilaus and Constitution of Sparta. Other than Plato, Xenophon is the foremost authority on Socrates, having learned under the great philosopher while a young man. He greatly admired his teacher, and well after Socrates’ death in 399 Xenophon wrote several Socratic dialogues, including an Apology concerning the events of his trial and death. Xenophon’s works cover a wide range of genres and are written in very uncomplicated Attic Greek. Xenophon’s works are among the first that many students of Ancient Greek translate on account of the straightforward and succinct nature of his prose. This sentiment was apparent even in ancient times, as Diogenes Laertius states in his Lives of Eminent Philosophers that Xenophon was sometimes known as the "Attic Muse" for the sweetness of his diction.

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