“The historian must
serve two masters, the
past and the present.”
“It was those “great and marvelous deeds” and
the attempt to explain why they came about that
justified the whole effort, including the broader
inquiries into earlier times and distant peoples.”
Donald Kagan
Despite the professed aim to accurately record the
deeds of men, ancient authors were blinkered by
their personal class bias, by their social context
and gender bias and by their Historical context
where events were the outcome of capricious
gods or great men. Their writings were more
about belief than truth.
Herodotus (c. 484-425 B.C.), as the first historian
proper, is called the father of history. He was born in
the essentially Dorian (Persian colony) of Halicarnassus
on the southwest coast of Asia Minor (then a part of
the Persian Empire), during the Persian Wars shortly
before the expedition against Greece led by the
Persian king Xerxes. Herodotus was exiled from
Halicarnassus for his involvement in a revolt to
overthrow the Persian tyrant. He travelled widely
before settling in Greece.
Thucydides (born c. 460-455 B.C.) had first hand information
about the Peloponnesian War from his pre-exile days as an
Athenian commander. During his exile he interviewed
people on both sides and recorded their speeches in his
History of the Peloponnesian War. Unlike his predecessor,
Herodotus, he didn't delve into the background but laid out
the facts as he saw them, chronologically. He does admit
that where there were gaps in his knowledge he invented
speeches for his characters. He is sometimes referred to as
the Father of Scientific History since his History was heavily
political and military, unlike Herodotus.
An Athenian, Xenophon was born c. 444 B.C.
and died in 354 in Corinth. Xenophon served in
Cyrus' forces against the Persian king Artaxerxes
in 401. After the death of Cyrus Xenophon led a
disastrous retreat, which he writes about in the
Anabasis. He was exiled from Athens and fled to
Sparta where he became good friends with the
King Agesilus. He so admired the Spartan
society that he stayed and raised a family there.
He later served the Spartans even when they
were at war against the Athenians. He wrote a
text on Spartan Society.
Aristotle was born around 384 BC in Stagirus on the
Chalcidic peninsula of northern Greece, to
Nicomachus, a medical doctor, and Phaestis. Born at
Stagira in northern Greece, Aristotle was the most
notable product of the educational program devised
by Plato; he spent twenty years of his life studying at
the Academy. He wrote on many different subjects,
including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music,
logic, rhetoric, politics, government, ethics, biology
and zoology. His admiration for 4th century Athens
caused him to be very critical of her enemy Sparta, not
only their constitution but the power women held in
Polybius (c. 203? - 120 BC) was a Greek historian and influential
politician of the Achaean League prior to Roman influence. Against
local Greek and Macedonian interests in the Macedonian Wars,
Polybius was deported and went to Rome.
While in Rome he became a patron of such people as Aemilius
Paullus and the Scipio family where he developed a great
appreciation for Roman culture and power. In this arrangement,
Polybius began his great work of history covering the
Mediterranean world between the years 220 and 146 BC. Of the
40 book epic, only 5 have survived intact, but large fragments of
others are still available.
Polybius was a meticulous researcher and his work shows a great
deal of unbiased accuracy. Of particular importance is his
treatment on the Punic Wars.
A Patrician born Caesar lived in the last century of the
Roman Republic. He rose to become Dictator of Rome and
extended the empire adding Gaul.. Caesar meticulously
tracked his own campaigns in Gaul and in the Civil War, not
only for the historical record, but as propaganda against his
political enemies. With his deeds in writing, and available
for the populace, the Senate found it impossible to attack
Caesar's popularity with the common people.
Aside from an account of his campaign, "The Conquest of
Gaul" is one of the few primary source pieces of literature
regarding the tribes and customs of Gallic Celts. The Civil
War provides additional in-depth, though biased, analysis of
this turbulent time in Roman history.
Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 - 43 BC) was one of the most
influential players in the period of Rome's late Republic. He
was a conservative statesman, politician, lawyer and
general defender of Republican principals. Generally
regarded as the greatest orator in the history of the world,
Cicero was an opponent, and sometimes rival to Caesar,
reflecting the Senatorial hatred of a populare.
Thanks in large part to Cicero's diligent letters and
speeches; the modern world has a brilliant historical view of
the closing days of the Roman Republic. While speeches
were written the rhetoric and political bias for public
consumption many surviving letters and other works tell a
more intimate tale of these turbulent times.
Diodorus Siculus was a Sicilian Greek historian who
lived from 90 to 21 BC. He wrote, a world history in
40 books, ending it near the time of his death with
Caesar's Gallic Wars. Fully preserved are Books I-V
and XI-XX, which cover Egyptian, Mesopotamian,
Indian, Scythian, Arabian, and North African history
and parts of Greek and Roman history.
His histories, while not considered great scholarly
material in their own right, borrowed heavily from
other writers whose works are now lost. In this
regard, Siculus is valuable as a historical record for
those writers who came before him.
Josephus (AD 37 – c. 100), and, after he became a Roman
citizen, as Titus Flavius Josephus, was a first-century Jewish
who survived and recorded the destruction of Jerusalem in
AD 70.
He fought the Romans in the First Jewish-Roman War of 66–
73 as a Jewish military leader in Galilee, but somehow not
only survived but earned the patronage of the Flavian
Emperors. He acted as mediator between Rome and the
Jews and later wrote an account of the Jewish revolt. He has
been criticized for his very pro Roman view of events.
( 90-160AD )Appian is an often underrated Roman
historian, who lived during the height of Roman
power and the era of the '5 Good Emperors'.
Because of the nature of his work, a collection of
many separate geographic and period histories,
his contribution to Roman history is sometimes
However, his original 24 books, written in Greek,
provides valuable insight into several aspects of
the Roman world. Of considerable value is his
treatment on the civil wars of the late Republic.He
writes from a very Pro Roman , elite standpoint.
Plutarch is known for writing biographies of famous
ancient people ( Parallel Lives where he sought to
show how Greek and Roman leaders were similar )
Since he lived in the first and second centuries A.D. he
had access to material that is no longer available to us
which he used to write his biographies. His material is
easy to read in translation., however he writes with a
vice or virtue agenda. Given the biographical nature he
was able to select those events which supported his
P. Cornelius Tacitus (A.D. 56 - c. 120) may have been the
greatest Roman historian. Gre up in a very wealthy
provincial family, possibly in Gaul. He held the positions of
senator, consul, and provincial governor of Asia. He wrote
"Annals," "Histories,“ about the Julio Claudian emperors. His
thesis was in understanding what qualities made a good
ruler and whether people had the right to overthrow a bad
ruler. "Agricola,“ was about his Father in Law and his
governorship of Britain, "Germany," and a dialogue on
oratory. In his Histories he was scathing of Domitian’s rule
although owed much of his career fortunes to Domitian
Titus Livius (59 BC-AD 17) is among the more important Roman
historians. He lived most of his life in Rome where he had a
prominent education and studied diligently. It was suggested that
Livy was a major source of encouragement for the future Emperor
Claudius in his historical studies.
Livy's life work, the History of Rome from its founding, is a richly
detailed account of Rome's early history. Livy, however, was filled
with Roman patriotism and painted a romantic view of the ancient
world. His sources were mainly the writings of earlier authors and
word of mouth legends of the day. Unfortunately, while he paints
one of the few existing ancient source pictures of ancient Rome, lack
of careful evaluation of his sources make some facts disputable.
Regardless, the description of early legendary Rome, as well as the
complete work, is a lasting and supremely important testament to
Roman history. Living in the time of Augustus, later historians, such
as Tacitus labeled him as a Republican sympathizer, but
unfortunately, Livy's books covering this period have not survived.
Dio Cassius Cocceianus (155 - 235? AD) was a Roman
historian and Senator who began a steady rise in Roman
politics under Commodus. While an able administrator and
military commander, he was appreciated more for his
literary work both by his contemporaries and in the modern
His great work partially lost, was a history of Rome (written
in Greek) from the earliest times until the early 3rd century
AD. Of the original 80 books, 19 survive in full. They are a
distinguished and invaluable source for the period of the
later republic and the first two centuries AD. Dio Cassius
worked diligently to relate his history in an unbiased nature,
while understanding the necessity for certain balances
when it came to reporting on the various Emperors or
political powers of the time