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Thucydides (between 460 and 455 BC - 395 BC) was an ancient Greek historian. Thucydides was a wealthy Athenian noble and the son of the Athenian Olorus. His wealth came principally from his family's goldmines at Scapte Hyle on the Thracian coast. Thucydides was connected through family to Miltiades and Cimon, leaders of the old aristocracy supplanted by the Radical Democrats. Thucydides lived between his two homes, one in Athens and one in Thrace. His family connections brought him in to contact with the very men who were shaping the history he wrote about.

Quote "The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding, go out to meet it." ~ Thucydides


Timeline of his life

Before 431 he took no prominent part in Athenian politics. He was in his twenties when the Peloponnesian War occurred, and was in active service at the time. In 427 he caught the plague and recovered. In 424 (his mid thirties) he was appointed strategos (general). He failed to save Amphipolis from Brasidas during the War in 424 (see Battle of Amphipolis). He was exiled for seven years. From 423 to 404 he lived in Thrace. During this time he travelled the Peloponnese, using his status as an exile from Athens to assimilate in to the Peloponnesian allies. He may have travelled to Sicily for the Sicilian Expedition, as there are excellent examples of local knowledge. During this period of time he conducted important research. He returned to Athens in 404, but was only there for a short time before he returned to Thrace to work on his book. His book contains the description of the war up until the year 411. The sudden end of his work suggests that he may have died a sudden death, and there is strong evidence to suggest he did not live longer than 399. His remains were returned to Athens and were laid in Cimon's family vault.

Who was Thucydides

His character was said to be dry, humourless and pessimistic. Thucydides admired Pericles and approved of his power over the people, though he detested the more pandering demagogues who followed him. Thucydides did not approve of the radical democracy Pericles ushered in, but thought that it was acceptable when in the hands of a good leader.

Thucydides would have been schooled by Sophists. They were the teachers in Athens but today would be considered more like Philosophers and Astronomers Thucydides would have been taught by them not to accept things at face value, to question things. They would have taught Thucydides the mechanics of his writing, and they endowed him with his skills to assess the truth.

Thucydides is generally regarded as one of the first true historians, along with Herodotus (who wrote "The Histories" about a generation prior). However, Thucydides, unlike Herodotus (who is often called "the father of history"), did not include references to myths and the gods in his writing. He vigorously consulted written documents and interviewed participants in the events that he records.

In addition to disputing his status as the first historian, some authors including Richard Ned Lebow reject the common perception of Thucydides as a historian of naked real-politik. Actors on the world stage who had read his work would all have been put on notice that someone would be scrutinizing their actions with a reporters dispassion, rather than the mythmakers and poets compassion and thus consciously or unconsciously participating in the writing of it. His Melian dialogue is a lesson to both reporters and to those who believe ones leaders are always acting with perfect integrity on the world stage.

The Peloponnesian War

Thucydides does not take the time to discuss the arts, literature or society in which the book is set and in which Thucydides himself grew up. Thucydides was writing about an event and not a period and as such took lengths not to discuss anything which he considered unrelated.

The Peloponnesian War was under major revision by Thucydides at the moment of his death, following a renewed realization on his part of the significance of the Persian influence to the events of the war.

Writings by Thucydides

Last updated: 02-08-2005 14:46:39
Last updated: 02-27-2005 18:56:35