In This Article Greek Historiography

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Collected Essays
  • Bibliographies
  • Journals
  • Origins
  • Relationship with Other Genres
  • Kindred Genres
  • Early Historians
  • Herodotus
  • Thucydides
  • Xenophon
  • Fourth-Century Historians
  • Western Greek Historians
  • Alexander Historians
  • Polybius
  • Hellenistic Historians
  • Jewish Historians
  • Greek Historians under the Roman Empire
  • Later Greek Historians
  • Fragments
  • Inscriptions
  • Place in Society
  • Time/Chronology
  • Influence on Roman Historiography

Classics Greek Historiography
by
Christopher A. Baron
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 October 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0078

Introduction

The writing of history in ancient Greece, an activity which occurred over a period of one thousand years (500 BCE–500 CE), is a subject of great interest to modern scholars for a number of reasons. First, the very term “history” derives from the Greek word historiê (“inquiry”) which Herodotus uses to describe his work, and the subject of historical inquiry decided upon by Herodotus and his successor Thucydides—description and explanation of political and military events in the past—remained standard for many centuries. Though the fundamental differences between the activity, methodology, and expectations of the ancient Greek historians and ourselves has been increasingly highlighted in recent years, we are still in many ways the inheritors of their achievement. Secondly, the writings of the Greek historians represent one of the basic sources of our knowledge of what happened in the ancient world. As with any historical document, then, it is important for scholars to examine the nature of this evidence and the circumstances of its production. Finally, Greek historians aimed both to relate the past and to produce works of literary merit. While some have been reluctant to admit this fact, it is no longer a controversial claim, and scholars have largely moved past arguments over whether Greek historians were writing history or fiction and begun to apply techniques of literary analysis to their works. Of course, this recognition has raised questions about whether some notions central to modern historical writing—truth, accuracy, proper use of sources—operated in the same way in ancient Greek historiography. As with any field of study, the shape of scholarship has been determined by the available evidence. We can examine the texts of Herodotus, Thucydides, and Xenophon in their entirety; for other authors we have substantial amounts of continuous narrative (Polybius, Dionysius, Arrian, and others). The last three decades have seen increasing work on the hundreds of Greek historians whose works are known only in fragmentary form, through the quotations, paraphrases, and references in later, extant authors; and more attention has been given to the methodological difficulties posed by the nature of this evidence. The loss of so much historical writing contributes to the ongoing debates over the origins of Greek historiography, its development through the centuries, its essential nature and methodology, and its relationship to other forms of literary production.

General Overviews

There is no overview in English of the whole of ancient Greek historical writing, that is, from Hecataeus c. 500 BCE to Herodian c. 250 CE (or beyond, if one wishes). Lendle 1992, in German, represents the only recent attempt to approach comprehensive coverage. Marincola 2001 and Luce 1997 provide narratives, for the scholar and student respectively, starting from Herodotus (and his predecessors) and ending with Polybius. Harrison 2010 offers a very brief, up-to-date introduction to the major figures and issues. Marincola 2007 contains contributions from many of the most prominent scholars in the field and can easily be consulted for a wide range of authors, genres, and themes. Feldherr and Hardy 2011 includes a number of essays on Greece in company with treatment of historical writing in the ancient world as a whole. Immerwahr and Connor 1985 played a crucial role in shaping the late 20th-century study of Herodotus and Thucydides, and its sections on these two authors provide nice summations of their views; the treatment of later writers is more uneven. Brown 1973 is still useful especially for nonextant historians: it has full chapters or sections on Ctesias, Megasthenes, Timaeus, and Agatharchides, authors who are usually passed over quickly or neglected in other overviews.

  • Brown, Truesdell S. 1973. The Greek historians. Lexington, MA, and London: Heath.

    E-mail Citation »

    Focuses on the changes in Greek historical writing from the 5th to the 2nd century BCE. In addition to chapters on Herodotus, Thucydides, and Polybius, contains good discussions of some important fragmentary historians. Occasional quotations from the historians provide a flavor of their works.

  • Feldherr, Andrew, and Grant Hardy, eds. 2011. The Oxford history of historical writing. Vol. 1, Beginnings to AD 600. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    E-mail Citation »

    Seven chapters bear upon Greek historiography, including its origins in prose and poetry, inscriptions, the Hellenistic period, Josephus, and the historians of imperial and Christian Rome.

  • Harrison, Thomas. 2010. Greek historiography. In The Edinburgh companion to ancient Greece and Rome. Edited by Edward Bispham, Thomas Harrison, and Brian Sparkes, 377–383. Edinburgh: Edinburgh Univ. Press.

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    Encyclopedia-style entry that concisely conveys essential background information and a sense of the scholarship and its concerns. Brief sections on Herodotus, Thucydides, the 4th century, Hellenistic and Roman eras, scholarly attitudes, and fragments, as well as a list of further reading.

  • Immerwahr, Henry R., and W. R. Connor. 1985. Historiography. In The Cambridge history of classical literature. Vol. 1, Greek literature. Edited by P. E. Easterling and B. M. W. Knox, 426–471. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CHOL9780521210423E-mail Citation »

    Sections on Herodotus and Thucydides, emphasizing the continuities between the two authors’ historical writing. These are followed by a briefer section on historical writing in the 4th century and Hellenistic age (Xenophon and Polybius are touched on more fully). Emphasis on the influence of rhetoric.

  • Lendle, Otto. 1992. Einführung in die griechische Geschichtsschreibung: von Hekataios bis Zosimos. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.

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    An attempt to cover the full extent of Greek historiography; thus, while the extant historians are treated at greater length, space is also reserved for many fragmentary historians. Chronological scope from 500 BCE to 250 CE, with a very brief conclusion on late antiquity.

  • Luce, T. J. 1997. The Greek historians. London and New York: Routledge.

    E-mail Citation »

    Useful introduction for undergraduates. Chapters on the origins of historical writing, Herodotus (two), Thucydides (two), 4th-century and Hellenistic historians, and Polybius. Clear and engaging, plentiful examples cited from ancient authors. No footnotes, but a “Further Reading” section at end (pp. 146–148).

  • Marincola, John. 2001. Greek historians. Greece & Rome, New Surveys in the Classics 31. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Survey of Herodotus, Thucydides, and Polybius concentrating on the most common scholarly questions of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. Also includes an introductory chapter on the origins of historical writing and a short chapter on the Hellenistic historians. Thorough knowledge of the texts and the literature conveyed in concise form.

  • Marincola, John, ed. 2007. A companion to Greek and Roman historiography. 2 vols. Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

    E-mail Citation »

    Excellent starting point for many aspects of the field. Broad surveys of issues and genres as well as close readings from most extant authors. All contributions are short (ten to fifteen pages), with suggestions for further reading.

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