The Comparison Of Herodotus’ & Thucydides’ Writings

June 22, 2022 by Essay Writer

Herodotus and Thucydides

Before V BC, the Greeks had mythological scripts as a form of pre-historic work. Later on, by the end of V BC, people started to take out of myths the most reliable facts in their opinion and completed them with their own writings about events they had actually witnessed or heard. The most notorious historical writers of that time were Herodotus and Thucydides. There is not much known about Herodotus. He was born in a Greek city of Halicarnassus about 485 BC, and he is often called “Father of history”. Some sources tell that he came from a wealthy family, but later on, they all had to flee following an unsuccessful riot against the city ruler.

Herodotus spent most of his young years travelling. He went to see Greek colonies of the Black Sea, Eastern Mediterranean, explored Egypt and visited Eastern Europe where he described Scythians (which is believed the first mentioning about them in history), and even reached Babylon (currently in Iraq). Later on, he settled in Athens where he was close friend with the scientists and writers that were concentrated around Pericles – a powerful politician and orator. Herodotus compiled all this chronicles and scripts into a series of 9 books (as of 9 muses) and mostly concentrated on history of Greek-Persian wars. First 4 books are dedicated to the East: Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Egypt and Scythia. Having visited many countries in the region, he had quite realistic notion about the area, and in his books, he spoke about 3 continents: Europe, Africa, and Asia. However, he didn’t speak eastern languages, so many originals were unreachable to him; although, he used translators sometimes.

Herodotus used many methods for the first time in his era, interpreted his own observation and even interviewed various people belonging to different nationalities across the countries he visited. However, his writing was not completely reliable. Sometimes, he would not (or could not) distinguish facts from narrative, used unverified sources like rumors and myths, and even present two different description of events inviting the reader make their own opinion and decide for themselves.

Another notorious historian, Thucydides, was born in 460 BC in Athens. He is most renowned for his work of History of the Peloponnesian War, which described the 27 year long war between Athens and Sparta. He was elected as one of the city’s generals, has been assigned to lead a fleet along Thracian coast but lost to Spartans. As a punishment, Athenians exiled him from Athens for 20 years. As he had a lot of time, Thucydides decided to write a chronicle about the war that he himself participated. He visited war regions, described battles, even interviewed both Athenian and Spartan war leaders and soldiers, and also used related documents and chronicles depicting the war events.

Unlike Herodotus, Thucydides refused to tell only about pleasant stories with myths and gossip intertwined with real facts. He relied heavily on events he himself had an account for or those that had a solid reference. He tried extensively to stay unbiased, did not mention oracles and common beliefs, and did his best to stay impartial, precise, and accurate. He quoted speeches, but only if they in fact took place, or he heard them himself. Herodotus’ notion of history was to focus focusing on the variety of the common human experience within different peoples and cultures, and is often referred as “cultural history”, Thucydides, who considered presented history in perspective, focused more on actual and valid facts and events of his times, many of them he had witnessed himself, is believed to form a “scientific” perspective of history.

When comparing Herodotus’ style with that of Thucydides, it can be noticed that Herodotus tries to stay as an unbiased observer, sometimes quoting hearsay and accepting gods as reasons for causes and outcomes of historical events. On the contrary, Thucydides’ system and methods are based on accurate, valid evidence and include a systematic approach towards analyzing human behavior and military politics, extensively using written documents and eyewitness reports, to support his viewpoint.

Herodotus’ and Thucydides’ writings, so different in many ways, also have numerous common characteristics like the scale of their work, the input to the understanding of ancient societies, the causes and sequence of war, their closeness to the originals or their perceptions. Although their styles and writing manners are somewhat different, they both are being considered as great historians of their times who tried to tell the historical truth and greatly influence whole Western civilizations for centuries.

References:

  1. Foster, Edith and Lateiner, Donald, ed. Thucydides and Herodotus. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.Gomme, Arnold Wycombe. Thucydides. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Thucydides-Greek-historian
  2. Potter, Ben. Thucydides Versus Herodotus: Who Was the Real Father of History? https://www.ancient-origins.net/history-famous-people/thucydides-herodotus-history-0010439
  3. “History of Greece.” Wikipedia. September 22, 2018. Accessed October 01, 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Greece.
  4. Gomme, Arnold Wycombe. “Thucydides.” Encyclopædia Britannica. February 08, 2018. Accessed October 01, 2018. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Thucydides-Greek-historian

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