In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Herodotus

  • Introduction
  • Biography
  • General Overviews
  • Introductory Works
  • English Translations
  • Cultural and Intellectual Milieu
  • Historical Methods
  • Causation and Explanation
  • Reception and Influence

Classics Herodotus
Emily Baragwanath, Mathieu de Bakker
  • LAST REVIEWED: 14 December 2009
  • LAST MODIFIED: 14 December 2009
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0018


Herodotus of Halicarnassus (c. 485—c. 425 BCE) is the author of the Histories, the oldest surviving historiographical work of Antiquity. Four times the size of Homer’s Iliad, it describes the origins and course of the conflicts between the Persian Empire and the Greek city-states at the beginning of the 5th century BCE. In the first four books, Herodotus focuses on the growth of the Persian Empire under the Achaemenid kings and the ethnography of the peoples they attempted to subject. The main strand of Books 5 and 6 is the account of the Ionian Revolt, which led to the Persian expeditions against Greece. The last of these, Xerxes’ failed invasion (481–479 BCE), is the subject of the concluding Books 7–9. No other works of Herodotus are known to have existed.


The sparse information about Herodotus’s life has come to us through scattered references in ancient works, as well as his entry in the Byzantine encyclopedia known as the Suda. Most scholars assume that Herodotus left his city of birth, Halicarnassus (Isager 1999), to travel across the Mediterranean world (Jacoby 1913, Myres 1953, Asheri 2007). The particular attention he pays to Egypt, Samos, and Athens suggests that he stayed in those places for some time and became familiar with local traditions (Lloyd 1975, Mitchell 1975, Forrest 1984, Ostwald 1991). More disputed are his visits to the East and the North; aspects of his descriptions of Babylon and the Scythians seem to rely on garbled oral traditions rather than empirical research (Armayor 1978). It is also believed that Herodotus was involved in the foundation of the Panhellenic colony Thurii at the end of his life (Jacoby 1913).

  • Armayor, O. K. 1978. Did Herodotus ever go to the Black Sea? Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 82:45–62.

    DOI: 10.2307/311020

    A skeptical approach to Herodotus’s claims about his travels.

  • Asheri, David. 2007. General introduction. In A commentary on Herodotus Books I–IV. Edited by Oswyn Murray and Alfonso Moreno, 1–56. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    A brief and balanced discussion of the biographical material both inside and outside the Histories, pp. 1–7.

  • Forrest, W. G. 1984. Herodotos and Athens. Phoenix 38:1–11.

    DOI: 10.2307/1088084

    Historical analysis of Herodotus’s possible relationship with Athens.

  • Isager, Signe. 1999. The pride of Halicarnassus: Editio princeps of an inscription from Salmakis. Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 123:1–23.

    A Greek inscription from Roman times in which Halicarnassus claims Herodotus as her own citizen.

  • Jacoby, F. 1913. Herodotos. In Paulys Real–Encyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft, supp. II. Edited by W. Kroll, 205–520. Stuttgart: Buchhandlung J. B. Metzler.

    An overview of most of the available biographical material on pp. 205–280. Paulys is available on microfiche, Leipzig: Saur, 1991; subscribers can access Neue Pauly.

  • Lloyd, A. B. 1975. Herodotus, Book II. Vol. 1, Introduction. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

    Discusses Herodotus’s travels in Egypt (pp. 61–76), with suggestions about the date of his journey and his itinerary.

  • Mitchell, B. M. 1975. Herodotus and Samos. Journal of Hellenic Studies 95:113–122.

    Contains an examination of Herodotus’s Samian narrative and its sources.

  • Myres, J. L. 1953. Herodotus: Father of history. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    A historicizing approach based mainly on information from within the Histories (see pp. 1–16). Reprinted in 1999 (Oxford: Clarendon).

  • Ostwald, Martin. 1991. Herodotus and Athens. Illinois Classical Studies 16:137–148.

    Argues that Herodotus, although he does not mention individual Athenian informants, became thoroughly familiar with the literary and philosophical world of Athens. He may have left the city for Thurii in an attempt to escape the imminent war with the Peloponnesians.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.